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When is it considered to be too cold to observe

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#1 finiteguy

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:31 AM

I like observing and I have a lot of good equipment, but it's really tough to go out in the bitter cold. Do many people here go out and observe in the dead of winter?  Boston area is not the greatest place for this hobby. Any suggestions on how to observe in the cold other than dress warm? I'm not a young guy anymore and it will probably become more difficult in years to come. Also,  I would think that it's not great for the optics as well. I'm  wondering what rapid temperature does to aluminized mirrors with the mis match in CTE between the aluminum coating and the fused silica glass.   



#2 pyrasanth

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:37 AM

I don't like the cold either. I switched to astrophotography and have never desired to look through an eyepiece again. I uncover my telescope and within 5 minutes I can be imaging from the warmth of my office with the "remote" observatory in the garden connected by a very fast wireless interface from my imaging processing and capture server back to office.



#3 AstroBrett

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:40 AM

I find the wind more bothersome than the cold. A sky box or other type of wind barrier makes observing possible on nights when otherwise the wind chill would drive you inside in short order. I use fingerless gloves to help keep my hands warm, but to maintain dexterity, and pocket hand warmers are also a big plus.

 

I'm not sure there is a lower limit to when one can observe. I recall seeing a Canadian observer with a selfie on his web site showing him observing at -79 F. Where there is a will, and proper preparation, a way can usually be found to do it.  

 

I've never had any issues with my equipment, other than shortened battery life, but I am sure they are specialized cases where this might be a problem.

 

Brett


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#4 mborland

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:41 AM

This is just my personal experience, but I suspect the equipment is more tolerant of cold than people are. I regularly have my equipment out all night imaging in temperatures around 0deg F. I haven't had any malfunctions or other issues. The only obvious problem is that cables get stiff in the cold, which I suppose can cause a drag on the mount and makes the cables harder to put away neatly (I try not to bend them too hard).

 

I do imaging mostly from my driveway, in which case I sit in the garage to stay warm, or from a remote site, in which case I take shelter in my car. In both cases, everything is operated remotely via laptop.

 

--Michael


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#5 DLuders

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:44 AM

It's n-n-never too c-c-cold to go out there!   coldday.gif


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#6 BKBrown

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:47 AM

"When is it considered to be too cold to observe?"

 

Answer: When you can't stand to be outside. In the first reply pyrasanth gave a good option, imaging while controlling the scope from indoors. This can be a great option for EAA in light polluted (or very cold) environments. Astro gear is remarkably robust, though electronic cameras and mount drives/controls may require heating elements to stay in the game under extreme conditions. Optics should be cased and/or covered to allow them to slowly come to indoor temps after a winter observing session in the cold. There are lots of tips available here on CN.

 

Clear Skies,

Brian snoopy2.gif


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#7 kathyastro

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:56 AM

My personal limit was about -5C.  Since I got my observatory fully automated, I enjoy being able to go to bed and be nice and warm while it takes pictures for me.


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#8 csrlice12

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 11:59 AM

It's in the low 20s/high teens at night usually with an 8-10mph wind...it's 70* indoors with a fresh batch of warm brownies and a Godzilla marathon on TV......what would you do?


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#9 Starsareus

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:03 PM

I recall using my 6" f/12 Newtonian, a Jr. High School Science Fair project, during one Winter. TOO cold was when my eyebrow Froze to the eyepiece! Removal painful. Now at 72 any cold is too cold !  Except the Freezer-Ice Cream Oooo!


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#10 Mattimac

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:04 PM

I’ve gone out at -30F in South Dakota, but I only use binoculars. The only problem I have had is a cracked eye cup, but the warranty replaced it. You can find some top notch gear at Everestgear.com but it is not inexpensive. “Good enough” is a hooded parka over a full length insulated Carhartt body suit with pac boots and good mittens. I like to head into sheltered valleys with snow so I can build a nest and hunker down like the critters do. I realize that’s probably not an option in Boston. smile.gif


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#11 pyrasanth

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:09 PM

I’ve gone out at -30F in South Dakota, but I only use binoculars. The only problem I have had is a cracked eye cup, but the warranty replaced it. You can find some top notch gear at Everestgear.com but it is not inexpensive. “Good enough” is a hooded parka over a full length insulated Carhartt body suit with pac boots and good mittens. I like to head into sheltered valleys with snow so I can build a nest and hunker down like the critters do. I realize that’s probably not an option in Boston. smile.gif

Must be fantastic to head out into the wilderness.......the crunch of the snow under your feet and the sounds of Big foot fighting in the distance.........shocked.gif


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#12 Katharine

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:14 PM

"When is it considered to be too cold to observe?"

 

Answer: When you can't stand to be outside.

Pretty much this.  I can bundle up and go out for a while, but if the cold and/or wind make me unable to feel my face in short order, I won't be out very long (yeah, I know, I could wear a balaclava or something, but...).  Preferably it will also be warm enough that if I take my gloves off for a couple minutes to fiddle with binocular adjustment, sketch something or thumb through a book, etc. that I'll still be able to move my fingers.

 

Lately I have given myself a mantra, when I'm marching in place to keep warm or apprehensively bundling up to go out: We are a scientist.  We do not get cold.  LOL.  (I mean, the Herschels are rolling their eyes at me while I'm out there going "It's 30 degrees and I've been out here 10 minutes; this sucks!", right?)

 

 

(Hm... just remembered one I forgot to put in the "astronomy memories" thread... my astronomy class in college, when we were tasked with a project and I chose to do star trails.  I was in a relationship with a photography buff, so of course I got him to go out with me.  It was January or February in Michigan, and this was back before winters had started to get warmer/less snowy, ouch.  I had to do several exposures-- something like 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes... something like that.  We were out there freezing our tails off, going on periodic marches around the field we were set up at to try to keep warm, and as north was the same direction as the driveway into the field, I was terrified the cops would show up to ask what we were doing, with their headlights pointed right into the camera, and I'd have to start over... )


Edited by Katharine, 24 January 2021 - 12:50 PM.

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#13 Rickycardo

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:18 PM

I've shot in -20F before. I was out before dawn shooting the Moon and planets for about an hour. Not long but long enough to finish the project.


Edited by Rickycardo, 24 January 2021 - 12:18 PM.


#14 Jethro7

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:18 PM

I like observing and I have a lot of good equipment, but it's really tough to go out in the bitter cold. Do many people here go out and observe in the dead of winter?  Boston area is not the greatest place for this hobby. Any suggestions on how to observe in the cold other than dress warm? I'm not a young guy anymore and it will probably become more difficult in years to come. Also,  I would think that it's not great for the optics as well. I'm  wondering what rapid temperature does to aluminized mirrors with the mis match in CTE between the aluminum coating and the fused silica glass.   

Hello,

With cold weather I get some of the best sky conditions that I will have. I do not notice very much visual aberrations due to the temperature drop as the night goes on. I live in N.W. Florida, and what we call cold, some one in Galgary BC. would have a belly laugh at 25° or 30°  that I get here. I just dress warm and go for it. When I am viewing the rest of the world melts away around me and before I know it the skies are turning purple in the East. I would be more uncomfortable if I wasted that perfect night that only happens now and again.

 

How cold is too cold you ask? When I have to thaw out my fire.

 

HAPPY SKIES AND KEEP LOOKING UP Jethro 


Edited by Jethro7, 24 January 2021 - 12:23 PM.

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#15 rocketsteve

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:18 PM

It's too cold for me when I start doing this...

 

Looking in the Wrong End.png


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#16 psychwolf

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:19 PM

It's sometimes not fun if you live in the city and don't have a yard for a pier. But, equipment-wise, I haven't had any horrible problems in -5/-10 F here in WI with the equipment itself. Sure the hand controllers will look like gibberish. I've found a need to get a bigger battery for winter, as my heater strips and laptop would drain everything, so batteries and old displays get hit the most. My scopes always seemed a little crisper vs a humid summer shot when I do make the trips to bortle 4 zones within striking distance. I usually only use refractors, but this is not by necessity just that I find cool down times easier to manage, less need to re-focus or check the setup all the time when fingers are frozen.

 

Then along came an eVscope - and I can just pop it in the backyard, be observing indoors while being present and not preparing for a journey out..

Echoing others, remote is key. ASI Air Pro gets a lot of use in my apartment while the scopes are outside as well.

 

But winter is hard..  it's a mix of being tired, not having much time after work to prep a mount or plan in the rare window amidst a lot of weather systems moving about.

But also rewarding to see more stars, hear the quiet of night, explore Orion and the winter sky in crisp air..

This year has especially been hard since I am avoiding going in to an enclosed dome at the club or university, so it's pushed me even more into remote imaging and EA as others have also noted - even in the middle of the city.


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#17 csrlice12

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:22 PM

I’ve gone out at -30F in South Dakota, but I only use binoculars. The only problem I have had is a cracked eye cup, but the warranty replaced it. You can find some top notch gear at Everestgear.com but it is not inexpensive. “Good enough” is a hooded parka over a full length insulated Carhartt body suit with pac boots and good mittens. I like to head into sheltered valleys with snow so I can build a nest and hunker down like the critters do. I realize that’s probably not an option in Boston. smile.gif

Then this happens and you wish you had stayed indoors...

ice-gojira-new-godzilla-2020-anime-incarnation-design-revealed-70.jpg


Edited by csrlice12, 24 January 2021 - 12:23 PM.

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#18 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:28 PM

When I get too cold for observing to be fun or interesting, I close up and go inside, whatever the temperature.


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#19 rhetfield

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:31 PM

For me, it is often when my fingers get cold. Thick gloves make focus and eyepiece swaps hard, so I have to swap for thin gloves.
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#20 skybsd

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:40 PM

Hello, 

 

I like observing and I have a lot of good equipment, but it's really tough to go out in the bitter cold. Do many people here go out and observe in the dead of winter?  Boston area is not the greatest place for this hobby. Any suggestions on how to observe in the cold other than dress warm? I'm not a young guy anymore and it will probably become more difficult in years to come. Also,  I would think that it's not great for the optics as well. I'm  wondering what rapid temperature does to aluminized mirrors with the mis match in CTE between the aluminum coating and the fused silica glass.   

I'm visual-only and the coldest I've been out in was in the garden in Surrey, UK - it got down to -11°C. It wasn't too bad until it got quite windy and the C14 starting to feel like a sail, so I felt it best to head in. 

 

I don't believe the optics would be in any danger until it gets way past that.., 

 

Best., 

 

skybsd 



#21 byi

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:40 PM

There is a saying that I can't remember if I got from sailing or from the Buffalo branch of my family. "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."

I find the tipping point is when the effort of gearing up for a task outweighs the enjoyment of the task or when my gear isn't up to the task. In practice, that means 45F for going out for the hell of it, 35F for most driveway sessions, 25F for dark site camping, and so far no lower bound for a long session for the new moon.
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#22 rocketsteve

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 12:43 PM

It's too cold when even these guys don't want to see the rings of Saturn in your telescope...

 

Emperor Penguins.jpg


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#23 JumboFlex

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 01:37 PM

I prefer cold weather observing. No bugs. Skies seem steadier. Darker earlier. 
 

Have gone out at -20C and it was ok for visual comfort wise. Just made sure skin never touched metal and was careful assembling things with gloves on. Dew heaters are a must. If it’s the only clear sky I get I’m going out when it’s cold. My gear can handle it and I make sure I have enough power to run stuff, usually stay powered from mains. 
 

Cold weather just requires preparation. Layers. Good boots. Thick and thin gloves, you put the thicker over the thinner when you observe. Controlled breathing so as not to frost up your EPs. I don’t find it bothersome but windchill will go after exposed bits so that’s the only thing that might prevent me going out on a cold night. 

 

Put everything you can back in cases or cover it before you go back inside as the frost will be crazy when you enter. This is more important for electronics that might not be water tight. After a spell open up the case or uncover to let stuff dry. 
 

Clear skies and me being available to go out are rare things so cold is just something to manage. 


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#24 sickfish

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 01:50 PM

When I lived up north 10 or 15 was around my cut off.

Cold is not a factor any more since I moved. It is going down to 63 tonight.


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#25 Sketcher

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 02:28 PM

Simple:  It's up to you to decide when it's too cold for you.

 

Different people draw the line at different temperatures -- often with windchill being another factor that gets considered.

 

Personally, I have no hard and fast limits.  If I want to go out and observe, I go out and observe.  If I prefer to stay inside, I'll stay inside -- regardless of the temperature.

 

My record cold observation was an observation, and sketch, of a comet when the air temperature was minus 50 degrees F.

 

Sometimes with comets it's best to not let the temperature interfere with one's observing.  Comets can change from night to night.  Add to that cloudy spells and if one doesn't "jump" when the iron is hot then one might just miss out entirely.

 

Consider Comet Hyakutake.  When it was at it's best, I had only one shot at it -- between 3 and 4am, beneath a pristine sky, with no moonlight.  A huge number of people missed this one.  For my part, I woke up the rest of the family and we all went outside to see this:

 

Comet Hyakutake Sketcher
 
The sketch is perhaps a little misleading.  Obviously, the comet's head was in the northern part of my sky.  The comet's body was straight overhead, at our zenith.  The end of the tail was near the south horizon.  And all (along with the color) was easily visible to the naked eye.  This comet was huge, bright, and completely dominated the naked-eye sky.
 
The temperature was minus 17 degrees F.  My wife subsequently wrote a poem, specifically mentioning Halley, Hale-Bopp, and Hyakutake.  From her poem, "Hairy Stars":
 
     Hyakutake.
     You took my breath away,
     And used it for a veil that stretched
     Behind you and burned the
     Starry sky with its cold grandeur.
     Breathless then, I stood and stared
     Finally, I understood
     The awe the ancients felt
     When they beheld a comet.

 

To this day, no one has ever complained about being awakened at 3am to go outside on a sub-zero night (with school or work on the following day) to see that comet.  Instead, all still occasionally reminisce about that  magical night.

 

You snooze (or stay inside).  You lose.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

As for cold and equipment, if one chooses wisely and learns how to care for the equipment under extreme temperatures, then it'll remain operational at any earthly temperature.  But as with many things in this hobby, there's a "learning curve" for such things.


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