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Keeping Interest Alive Over the Years

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#1 Rustler46

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Posted 24 July 2021 - 04:25 PM

One of the things that has kept my interest in astronomy alive for 57 years is to slow down and observe. That means more than a quick glance and say "there it is - another faint fuzzy". And go-to the next target. Don't get me wrong. After decades of star-atlas and star hopping my 75-year old body very much appreciates the convenience of modern electronics. But amateur astronomy can be different from coin or stamp collecting. While life lists of our observing collection can be useful, repeated observations can also be most interesting. I try to avoid the "been there - done that" mind-set. Especially for the sky's best (think Messier, Caldwell, etc.) repeated observing is well worth the effort.

So what do I mean to "observe". Well, whatever observing conditions you have, keep looking and compensate as best you can for unfavorable circumstances. And take note of how you see more with extended scrutiny. Protect your eyes from extraneous light, including the iPad screen or flash light used to see the star atlas or other printed observing aids. Remember it takes time for your eyes to recover night vision after light exposure - as much as 20 minutes. We all have differing light pollution regimes at our observing sites. Just make the best of what you have. Even in a bright sky there is more to see than we have time to see it. Just enjoy observing without being rushed.

 

Back on "observing". Extended scrutiny is most valuable in this regard. First, on a single night, keep looking at your subject. Take note of how details initially invisible are apparent as conditions change - for example how long since extraneous light impacted night vision. Sky transparency and seeing are things that can change as you observe.

 

Also train your eye to see what can be seen, that is improve your observing skills. This takes time and effort. I have little doubt that some things I can see with a trained eye are completely invisible to the untrained eye. Objects seen near the limit of a trained eye (i.e. "faint fuzzy") will be unseen by another who does not have an eye trained to use averted vision. And that ability is something that is acquired by practice and experimentation. An example is where in your eye's field of view is the "sweet spot" where averted vision is most effective.

Another thing that has kept my interest alive for so long is to keep a record of what was observed. At first in my case this was a written record with ball-point pen on sometimes dew-dampened log book. This can admittedly be difficult, since some light is needed to see what you are writing. Over 4 decades this method has filled two logbooks of memories from the past. At some point I transferred all written records to an Excel spreadsheet. Therein is recorded such things as date, location, observing conditions, instrument, object, magnification and observing notes. At present my spreadsheet has around 4100 individual entries that can be examined to benefit on "cloudy nights". The list can be sorted by date (now from 1957 to the present). Another useful sort is by object, where all recorded observations over the years for a single object are shown sequentially. This shows how observations have changed depending on observing conditions, OTA, observer skill and other factors. 


In later years what has vastly improved my records is using a digital voice recorder at the eyepiece. During extended scrutiny what is progressively observed is captured. Later when back inside at the computer, these voice recordings are transcribed and edited for clarity and conciseness. Here are some examples:

 

Here are some of my last observations with an ascending date sort.

Latest Observation SPD.jpg

 

Here is part of the entire spreadsheet sorted by object. Observations of M80 are shown.

M80 over the years.jpg

 

The highlighted cell contains my entire recorded observation for that night. Only part of that is visible. But here is the entire observation of M80 that was transcribed from the voice recorder into that cell:

  • Globular cluster - at this low power it's just a small fuzzy glow with a real bright center, no individual stars are seen, @ 133X I'm starting to see a little granularity,  there's a 9-10 mag. star about 1/2 the radius from center, this helps with focusing, with extended scrutiny there are a few individual stars seen, @ 290X this little guy is showing a lot of little stars seen w/ AV despite low elevation and so-so seeing, even the brighter core has some lumpiness evident, there are a few very faint stars visible that come and go with the seeing, but the cluster is resolved except in the core, there it's just lumpy, but it is very bright there, there's a 12th mag. star 1/2 way between cluster and previously mentioned 10th mag. star, there are a few scattered field stars, I get the sense that at least the brightest central region is a bit elliptical, also the core may not be exactly centered on the outer envelope, but this is a pretty nice view

So the above shows the utility of capturing observations in a spreadsheet. Others have found various astronomy apps useful for the same thing. But the Excel spreadsheet is just what I started using some years ago and have stuck with it.

 

Another thing I find interesting is not only observing what can be seen, but also considering what is known about the subject. SkySafari or other astronomy apps can be most useful in this regard. Reading about your subject can occupy part of the time you spend while regaining maximum dark vision.

 

Anyway I thought I'd share with the forum what has enabled me to keep interested in astronomy even after over 5 decades. My physical stamina is not what it used to be. Usually it's just an hour or so of observing before I call it quits, especially during the summer months when it gets dark so late. Another thing that helps is reducing the time and effort needed to set up for observing. My permanent pier-supported Losmandy G-11 mount resides under a Telegizmo 360 cover during the day. When the cover is removed, the counterweight and shaft are in place, balanced for the OTA to slide in the dovetail. Usually I use a C-8 for its lighter weight, instead of the much heavier C-11. Yes conditions change over the years. Just make the best of what you have.

 

Best Regards,

Russ


Edited by Rustler46, 24 July 2021 - 04:58 PM.

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#2 Tyson M

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Posted 24 July 2021 - 04:58 PM

Voice recorder app is very handy.  I should be more diligent with my paper logs though.

 

Sketching is fun for me, but during the day for solar work only.  Cant get into the night sketching. Maybe ill use the voice recorder for that, to draw during the next day.

 

Agreed that Sky Safari is an outstanding tool to help you learn as you observe to help engage you more.

 

Great post.



#3 Supernova74

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Posted 24 July 2021 - 05:56 PM

One of the things that has kept my interest in astronomy alive for 57 years is to slow down and observe. That means more than a quick glance and say "there it is - another faint fuzzy". And go-to the next target. Don't get me wrong. After decades of star-atlas and star hopping my 75-year old body very much appreciates the convenience of modern electronics. But amateur astronomy can be different from coin or stamp collecting. While life lists of our observing collection can be useful, repeated observations can also be most interesting. I try to avoid the "been there - done that" mind-set. Especially for the sky's best (think Messier, Caldwell, etc.) repeated observing is well worth the effort.

So what do I mean to "observe". Well, whatever observing conditions you have, keep looking and compensate as best you can for unfavorable circumstances. And take note of how you see more with extended scrutiny. Protect your eyes from extraneous light, including the iPad screen or flash light used to see the star atlas or other printed observing aids. Remember it takes time for your eyes to recover night vision after light exposure - as much as 20 minutes. We all have differing light pollution regimes at our observing sites. Just make the best of what you have. Even in a bright sky there is more to see than we have time to see it. Just enjoy observing without being rushed.

 

Back on "observing". Extended scrutiny is most valuable in this regard. First, on a single night, keep looking at your subject. Take note of how details initially invisible are apparent as conditions change - for example how long since extraneous light impacted night vision. Sky transparency and seeing are things that can change as you observe.

 

Also train your eye to see what can be seen, that is improve your observing skills. This takes time and effort. I have little doubt that some things I can see with a trained eye are completely invisible to the untrained eye. Objects seen near the limit of a trained eye (i.e. "faint fuzzy") will be unseen by another who does not have an eye trained to use averted vision. And that ability is something that is acquired by practice and experimentation. An example is where in your eye's field of view is the "sweet spot" where averted vision is most effective.

Another thing that has kept my interest alive for so long is to keep a record of what was observed. At first in my case this was a written record with ball-point pen on sometimes dew-dampened log book. This can admittedly be difficult, since some light is needed to see what you are writing. Over 4 decades this method has filled two logbooks of memories from the past. At some point I transferred all written records to an Excel spreadsheet. Therein is recorded such things as date, location, observing conditions, instrument, object, magnification and observing notes. At present my spreadsheet has around 4100 individual entries that can be examined to benefit on "cloudy nights". The list can be sorted by date (now from 1957 to the present). Another useful sort is by object, where all recorded observations over the years for a single object are shown sequentially. This shows how observations have changed depending on observing conditions, OTA, observer skill and other factors. 


In later years what has vastly improved my records is using a digital voice recorder at the eyepiece. During extended scrutiny what is progressively observed is captured. Later when back inside at the computer, these voice recordings are transcribed and edited for clarity and conciseness. Here are some examples:

 

Here are some of my last observations with an ascending date sort.

attachicon.gifLatest Observation SPD.jpg

 

Here is part of the entire spreadsheet sorted by object. Observations of M80 are shown.

attachicon.gifM80 over the years.jpg

 

The highlighted cell contains my entire recorded observation for that night. Only part of that is visible. But here is the entire observation of M80 that was transcribed from the voice recorder into that cell:

  • Globular cluster - at this low power it's just a small fuzzy glow with a real bright center, no individual stars are seen, @ 133X I'm starting to see a little granularity,  there's a 9-10 mag. star about 1/2 the radius from center, this helps with focusing, with extended scrutiny there are a few individual stars seen, @ 290X this little guy is showing a lot of little stars seen w/ AV despite low elevation and so-so seeing, even the brighter core has some lumpiness evident, there are a few very faint stars visible that come and go with the seeing, but the cluster is resolved except in the core, there it's just lumpy, but it is very bright there, there's a 12th mag. star 1/2 way between cluster and previously mentioned 10th mag. star, there are a few scattered field stars, I get the sense that at least the brightest central region is a bit elliptical, also the core may not be exactly centered on the outer envelope, but this is a pretty nice view

So the above shows the utility of capturing observations in a spreadsheet. Others have found various astronomy apps useful for the same thing. But the Excel spreadsheet is just what I started using some years ago and have stuck with it.

 

Another thing I find interesting is not only observing what can be seen, but also considering what is known about the subject. SkySafari or other astronomy apps can be most useful in this regard. Reading about your subject can occupy part of the time you spend while regaining maximum dark vision.

 

Anyway I thought I'd share with the forum what has enabled me to keep interested in astronomy even after over 5 decades. My physical stamina is not what it used to be. Usually it's just an hour or so of observing before I call it quits, especially during the summer months when it gets dark so late. Another thing that helps is reducing the time and effort needed to set up for observing. My permanent pier-supported Losmandy G-11 mount resides under a Telegizmo 360 cover during the day. When the cover is removed, the counterweight and shaft are in place, balanced for the OTA to slide in the dovetail. Usually I use a C-8 for its lighter weight, instead of the much heavier C-11. Yes conditions change over the years. Just make the best of what you have.

 

Best Regards,

Russ

What a great thread and thankyou for sharing.



#4 Asbytec

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Posted 28 July 2021 - 08:31 PM

One of the things that has kept my interest in astronomy alive for 57 years is to slow down and observe

 

Best Regards,

Russ

Right on, Russ. Because of that, I spent the last 10 years under excellent tropical seeing becoming personal friends with the planets like no other time. Galaxies are back on the menu, too. They are not just another faint fuzzy, anymore. Even double stars have become both more challenging and more beautiful. 



#5 astronz59

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Posted 28 July 2021 - 11:32 PM

Great practice, Russ. Nothing like observing with purpose. One soon gets tired of simply looking, rather than observing.....Thanks for sharing. waytogo.gif



#6 alphatripleplus

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Posted 30 July 2021 - 12:24 PM

 

 

Anyway I thought I'd share with the forum what has enabled me to keep interested in astronomy even after over 5 decades. My physical stamina is not what it used to be. Usually it's just an hour or so of observing before I call it quits, especially during the summer months when it gets dark so late. Another thing that helps is reducing the time and effort needed to set up for observing. My permanent pier-supported Losmandy G-11 mount resides under a Telegizmo 360 cover during the day. When the cover is removed, the counterweight and shaft are in place, balanced for the OTA to slide in the dovetail. Usually I use a C-8 for its lighter weight, instead of the much heavier C-11. Yes conditions change over the years. Just make the best of what you have.

 

Best Regards,

Russ

Very good tips, Russ. I think organisation and notes definitely help with keeping interest going. I too find that I don't have the  energy to stay out really late on those summer nights.



#7 Daniel Guzas

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Posted 30 July 2021 - 10:03 PM

Man this post was timely for me!

 

After a “Covid Lost Year” of observing (Travel restrictions) I managed to get a clear night on a weekend at my NH home and although I saw a lot of targets I felt a bit underwhelmed at the faint fuzzies and DSO’s I was looking at. Just punching in one object to another trying to get that “wow” factor again. What I realized after reading Russ’s post is that I need to slow down and spend time on an object. What I thought was observing wasn’t even close. I was looking quickly and if I didn’t see anything of particular interest it was on to the next target. No pondering, no dwelling.

 

So next opportunity I am going to take a mindfulness approach to observing objects. Really taking them in and letting them reveal themselves to me using techniques like averted vision, different eyepiece powers and most importantly, try and make a list and describe what I am seeing. This may help me eventually reveal what my favorite objects are and more importantly why.

 

Till tonight I was feeling a bit like been there done that with the night sky. But with purposeful and deliberate “Observing” I feel I can try to elevate my observing to another interest level. Looking forward to my next session with open eyes, mind and heart.

 

Thanks for the post!!


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#8 Jarnett51

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Posted 01 August 2021 - 07:07 AM

Rustler46 - I enjoyed your post! What a great way to keep your interest alive.
Although I have had a few scopes over the past 10 years (not counting the dime store ones from 50+ years ago), I have not yet gotten into some serious observing. But after doing a bit of reading, and researching, and following cn forums and folks like you, I am really looking forward to getting out there, accepting my conditions and equipment, and enjoying the night sky.
Thank you


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