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Is the Herschel 400 a realistic (and pleasurable) goal?

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#1 kas20amc02

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Posted 01 December 2021 - 09:46 PM

Hello everyone.  I have a question that has been burning inside me for a while, even though it is not yet germane to my astronomy life.  

 

I am interested in becoming a master observer for the AL.  I have been doing astronomy for just over a year and am 95% to Observer, having completed H alpha, Sunspotter, Nothern Constellation Hunter, Lunar I (regular + binocular), Asteroids, Solar System, Stellar Evolution and honorary Messier.  I am 95% done with Urban and Galileo.  I am at least 50% done with Double Stars, Carbon Stars, Open Clusters and Caldwell.  I plan on completing these before starting the Herschel program.

 

My observing sites are my backyard (Bortle 9), which is only good for bright things.  Once a month I go out to my club's observatory (Bortle 4).  I recently went about 2 hours away to Bortle 2 skies, which was great (just not convenient).

 

I am an entirely visual observer.  I have a 10 inch Apertura Dob and an 80 mm Lunt modular H alpha telescope.  I have a Lumicon UHC filter for nebula.  I know some clubs in Arkansas have ~15 inch Dobs you can borrow; I

have even heard of a 30 inch Dob but no direct experience with that and am not sure if I could use that equipment for the days on end that it would require to complete the program.  

 

Given my experience level, equipment and sites, do I have a shot at completing the Herschel list?  Furthermore, will it even be enjoyable given the above limitations?  If I just glimpse a featureless, fuzzy patch of light intermittently with averted vision x400 objects, I would say that is not enjoyable.  I read on the website they did it with a 6 inch with some light pollution which sounds very optimistic to me, but I don't have that much experience.  Also, I understand that you can photograph these objects, making seeing detail easier but probably making the entire process harder and more protracted on other levels.  

 

So what do you think?  Is this a reasonable goal?  Thanks for your advice.

 

 

Karl

 

ps:  I have noticed in my short time in this hobby there are two sorts of people....the Debbie Downers who make Eeyore look like an optimist and the cheery, rosy people.  I would appreciate as balanced an argument as you can make!  ;)


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#2 Hubbletrouble

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Posted 01 December 2021 - 10:08 PM

I have about 100 objects completed on the H400 and am really enjoying it.
I too have a 10” Dob and observe from Bortle 7 to Bortle 3 sites.
There is a great variety of objects on this list well worth a look.
Yes, some of the open clusters and fainter galaxies can get redundant in trying to describe “yet another faint, fuzzy oval shape”.  However, when I pause and think about what I am actually seeing with my own eyes I’m amazed.
I would suggest adding a good Oiii filter (Lumicon) to your arsenal.
With it, I’ve found I can see many of the planetary nebula on the list even under my Bortle 6-7 skies.
Happy hunting.


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#3 ShaulaB

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Posted 01 December 2021 - 10:22 PM

I am impressed that you have earned so many AL awards in such a short time. Several of my observing friends are Master Observers of the AL. All of them took years to get to that level.

Yes, you can easily earn the Herschel I award with your scope. You probably have looked at the magnitudes, angular sizes, and coordinates for these objects to know what they will look like in the eyepiece. Coordinates because some may be fairly southern for your location, giving you just a few days in a year for viewing them.

My advice, which you are free to ignore, is to chill a bit. Back in the 1980's, it took me three years to find, view, and log the Messier objects with a 6 inch f8 reflector on a GEM. I was working, raising kids, running a household, and had to drive a ways for dark enough skies.

I fear you might suffer from burn out if you look at earning this award as an onerous chore. Find some observing buddies and help them out, as your skills are probably much better than theirs. Have fun!
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#4 TOMDEY

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Posted 01 December 2021 - 10:22 PM

It most certainly sounds like you have the personality for it! The only thing to at least be aware of is pacing yourself regarding quantity and quality of observations and goal-setting --- realistic and not overly-aggressive. Otherwise, crash and burnout become a concern. I was a marathon runner most of my life... and still hike almost every day. So I'd say go for the Herschel 400... but confirm that the pleasurable metric maintains without fatigue setting in. PS: Marathoners actually experience a natural ~letdown~ even after a fine performance. Expect that... even welcome it!    Tom


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#5 Augustus

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Posted 01 December 2021 - 10:26 PM

I did some of the hardest H400s with a Tak 3" refractor and a Criterion 6" Newtonian from my B6 backyard.

 

I would highly recommend finding a site with at least slightly better skies than home, but with a 10" it should be quite doable and enjoyable.


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#6 Knasal

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Posted 01 December 2021 - 11:08 PM

Absolutely! 
 

I agree with ShaulaB - you are really getting a lot of programs done in a short amount of time!

 

It took me 7 years to get my H400, and 13 years to get the AL Master Observer. I went through the Messier list twice before I “counted it” by going through it a 3rd time for my AL Messier Program.

 

A lot of life things happened in those 13 years and there were several years in there that I most likely could’ve observed more but didn’t. In the end it all came together, and I earned it. 
 

Nothing wrong with taking your time. I think your scope will be fine to use: find some dark skies. I started my H400 with a 10” but finished with a larger aperture scope. 
 

Know that many of your descriptions may read “small fuzzy football shaped (edge on or face on) galaxy. Cannot see a lot of detail” Just do your best, have fun and don’t worry too much about the time it takes.

 

Since earning my M.O. five years ago, I’ve only done 2 other AL programs.

 

Kevin


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#7 RobbC

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Posted 01 December 2021 - 11:08 PM

I completed the H400 last year with a 10" dob. Strictly star hopping. About half of this was from my backyard (Bortle 4-5) and half from my nearby "dark sky" site (Bortle 3), with occasional trips to Bortle 2 sites. It took me about 2 years observing 1 to 3 times per month. I feel that completing this challenge has greatly increased my abilities as a visual observer. I very much enjoy the thrill of the hunt, but it is also the case that there are a lot of stunning objects out there that Charles Messier missed and that are delightful to view, many of them not especially dim or difficult. On the other hand, it IS true that there are a quite a few faint and obscure objects, especially once you get into the seemingly endless list of galaxies in Virgo/Leo/Coma/Ursa Major, and I will admit that at times this was a bit of a grind (my log entries sometimes have descriptions like "yet another barely visible smudge"). Overall, though, I think I came away with much greater confidence about finding and observing more challenging objects and this has really upped my game. It gave me a good deal of pride and satisfaction. I would say it has significantly improved my visual acuity/discernment. It also forced me to get much more organized about logging observations, and this is a habit I intend to continue as I've been surprised at the many benefits that it brings. 

 

In my humble opinion the H400 program is very do-able and well worth tackling. Given the greater light pollution at your site I would say do the best you can with high contrast filters and trips to your Bortle 4 site as often as possible.    


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#8 adlibitum

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Posted 02 December 2021 - 01:28 AM

Yes it's a reasonable goal given your capabilities. Will it be enjoyable? On that score, opinions differ on the H400. That list is heavy on open clusters, and frankly many of them are rather boring and uninteresting in my opinion. 

 

I would highly recommend the DeepMap 600 observing list from Orion, I think it is a far superior, curated list of objects to be observed after the Messiers, for example. You've already seen a number of them, in my opinion it's far more enjoyable, diverse and interesting than the H400 list. All the objects are visible with an 8" scope in reasonably dark skies. Some are easier, some are more difficult, but that's part of the fun. The DeepMap 600 comes as a fold out map with observing notes on the over 600 galaxies, open cluster, globulars, nebulas, double stars and variable stars down to about -50 declination or so.

 

Good luck, and clear skies.


Edited by adlibitum, 02 December 2021 - 01:36 AM.

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#9 DSO Viewer AZ

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 08:05 AM

I say ABSOLUTELY!!!

Sounds like you have really put in a lot of the work so far. What’s another 400? lol.gif

Congratulations on your achievements so far! I started the 400 earlier this year, and so far so good. I am shooting for master as well, but nowhere close to the number of programs you have knocked out. Keep it up. It’s inspiring. 
So far I have not really had trouble finding or observing to be an issue as much as just being overwhelmed. I loaded the list into sky safari then highlighted the list, and was just amazed at how full the sky is with targets. But, I’m around 1/4 of the way through now, and it’s clearing up fast. I took the messier list by seasons, but seems to work better for me to take the 400 by constellation. I go to dark skies for all recorded observations, but try for many first from my city skies. I use a xt10 in city and my 18 in dark skies so the comparison is quite stark. But I’m sure the equipment you have would be just fine. Good luck, and clear skies!  waytogo.gif



#10 John Miele

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 10:36 AM

It's worth it. Took me around 5 years to complete but I was casual with it. Mostly observing 3 or 4 times a year at dark sites and and the rest from home. I used a 16" dob for the first 300 or so and then I downsized to a C11 for the remainder. I starhopped them all! There's a lot of faint smudges but also a lot of good looking objects.

#11 cliff mygatt

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 12:08 PM

I took ten years to complete the Master Observer requirements.  I love the Heschel objects as they are varied and I got hooked on galaxy work after completing the program.  I have done the Heschel II list as well.  The H1 was with an 8 inch SCT and the H2 with a 12 inch dob.  I now have a 16 inch dob so can go a bit deeper.  I think it so cool to follow in the footsteps of our famous astronomers.  I did dark nebulae and fell in love the EE Barnard, what a great guy.  I have just wrapped up the Northern Arp list as well.  The thing about the master observer progression is the variety of programs required makes one a well rounded observer.  I am one of the National observing program directors so if you have questions or concerns, please let me know.  Good Luck!


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#12 kas20amc02

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 10:35 PM

Thanks to everyone who responded.  I appreciate all of your (well thought out) comments.

 

As to several people who commented on burn out...I am <just a wee bit> driven.  I am a physician and own my own practice.  I run my own finances and have lots of spreadsheets.  For better or worse I jump into things with both feet.  I really like astronomy (it is a lot like medicine actually) and have enjoyed my journey, seeing my astronomy abilities increase and reaping the benefits of better equipment.  I started off with a 5 inch reflector and could not name any stars or constellations but can find dozens now from memory.  The only time I felt "burned out" was doing 17 straight days of Jupiter's moons for the Galileo program.  I also enjoy doing astronomy at my house (at least the bright objects), while my young kids are sleeping. Most of my other hobbies require daylight hours and leaving the house.

 

I was greatly encouraged to read that most of yall completed the program with equipment similar to my own.  I may still get that 15+ inch Obsession but am happy to know I don't have to.  Wife will be happy with that one.  

 

Lastly, the Deep Map 600 sounds interesting as well.  I had not heard of that before but will check it out.

 

Planning on enjoying all of it,

Karl


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#13 Knasal

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 10:37 PM

I think it so cool to follow in the footsteps of our famous astronomers.  I did dark nebulae and fell in love the EE Barnard, what a great guy.  I have just wrapped up the Northern Arp list as well.  The thing about the master observer progression is the variety of programs required makes one a well rounded observer. 

Completely agree. At a star party some year ago, after an all night observing session, a friend sat down next to me and I had a bunch of my AL program notebooks in front of me. He asked me about the programs, what I was doing and he took interest, starting some AL programs himself shortly thereafter. Fast forward 5 months and I’m at his observatory. His comment then was, “I’ve never been forced to really think about different aspects of my observing, not until I started these programs. They’re making me a better observer.” A couple years later, he earned his Master Observer. He has told me numerous times how the programs helped him immensely enjoy the hobby more.

 

Thanks Cliff and good luck to the OP.

 

Kevin



#14 kas20amc02

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 10:43 PM

ps:  The only other thing I feel is a grind is binocular work.  The Messier binocular program has been unpleasant.  Maybe because I have cheap binocs without a tripod or maybe I just can't hold them still.  Everything looks the same "fuzzy patch of light" or "oblong fuzzy patch."  I did some wide doubles with them as well and that wasn't any better. I don't get it because everyone says binoculars are great.  



#15 kas20amc02

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 10:47 PM

Yes, I agree with Cliff and Kevin.  AL programs make you study things that you do not understand and teach you a lot.  eg I had no idea Venus had phases until I tracked them for the Solar System program.  Nor did I know you could observe Venus during the daytime (another requirement).  Furthermore, being forced to make careful observations and sometimes sketches, allows you to get more out of the observations and see more.  


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#16 Knasal

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 11:10 PM

ps:  The only other thing I feel is a grind is binocular work.  The Messier binocular program has been unpleasant.  Maybe because I have cheap binocs without a tripod or maybe I just can't hold them still.  Everything looks the same "fuzzy patch of light" or "oblong fuzzy patch."  I did some wide doubles with them as well and that wasn't any better. I don't get it because everyone says binoculars are great.  

A good pair of tripod mounted 10x50 binoculars makes a good match for astronomical observation. Some of the magic for me is pushing the limit of the binoculars and finding myself saying, “I didn’t think I could see that, but I can!”

 

Same is true with any scope. And the more you observe, the more you see. Keep at it! 
 

It’s fun to read your posts because I think it reminds many of us where we were when we were getting our initial AL programs (or, if you don’t do the AL programs, just spending time observing) and expanding horizons. 

 

Kevin
 



#17 Knasal

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Posted 03 December 2021 - 11:11 PM

Yes, I agree with Cliff and Kevin.  AL programs make you study things that you do not understand and teach you a lot.  eg I had no idea Venus had phases until I tracked them for the Solar System program.  Nor did I know you could observe Venus during the daytime (another requirement).  Furthermore, being forced to make careful observations and sometimes sketches, allows you to get more out of the observations and see more.  

Sketching will definitely make you a better observer, and I think keeping a logbook of your sessions and observations does as well.

 

Kevin



#18 Tony Flanders

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Posted 04 December 2021 - 08:50 AM

Lastly, the Deep Map 600 sounds interesting as well.  I had not heard of that before but will check it out.


I use Deep Map 600 almost every time I go out. It gives a superb overview of the entire sky visible from mid-northern latitudes, and the data lists are very useful, too. They include superb concise descriptions by Steve Gottlieb, one of the giants of modern deep-sky observing.
 
However, the list of objects in Deep Map 600 is much more limited than the Herschel 400. Remember that of the 600 objects listed, about 100 are variable stars  and double stars, another 110 are Messier objects, and at least 100 are too far south to show well for observers north of latitude 40N. That leaves a considerably shorter selection than the Herschel 400, and that's achieved by leaving out quite a number of faint but fascinating galaxies and clusters.
 
My favorite short supplement to the Messier list is the RASC 110. When I first observed the Herschel 400, I actually did the superset (union) of the Herschel 400 and RASC 110. That ended up including a somewhat richer collection than the Herschel 400 alone. There is, of course, a huge amount of overlap between those two lists -- and with any other list designed specifically as an "do this after the Messiers."


Edited by Tony Flanders, 04 December 2021 - 08:50 AM.

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#19 adlibitum

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Posted 04 December 2021 - 10:00 AM

I use Deep Map 600 almost every time I go out. It gives a superb overview of the entire sky visible from mid-northern latitudes, and the data lists are very useful, too. They include superb concise descriptions by Steve Gottlieb, one of the giants of modern deep-sky observing.
 
However, the list of objects in Deep Map 600 is much more limited than the Herschel 400. Remember that of the 600 objects listed, about 100 are variable stars  and double stars, another 110 are Messier objects, and at least 100 are too far south to show well for observers north of latitude 40N. That leaves a considerably shorter selection than the Herschel 400, and that's achieved by leaving out quite a number of faint but fascinating galaxies and clusters.
 
My favorite short supplement to the Messier list is the RASC 110. When I first observed the Herschel 400, I actually did the superset (union) of the Herschel 400 and RASC 110. That ended up including a somewhat richer collection than the Herschel 400 alone. There is, of course, a huge amount of overlap between those two lists -- and with any other list designed specifically as an "do this after the Messiers."

If the OP is in Arkansas which looks like about 33-36 degrees north latitude, I think many of the more southern objects in DeepMap 600 are quite reachable. Yes, there are a number of "deep south" objects but I've found that from 38 degrees north where I observe, I can do pretty well down to about -45 declination. If you can see under the tail of Scorpius, for example NGC 6231 the False Comet, there are only about 25 DM600 objects further south. 

 

Here is a link to a page with more about DeepMap 600 which has the object list so that the OP can see for himself (I think this might be for the first edition, the current edition may be slightly different). http://www.raycash.org/dm600.htm

 

One more thing, as I've just finished the list myself after 4 years, many of the objects listed mention other nearby objects in the notes, so the total number is higher than 600 for sure. In any case a great resource as you point out!

 

Agree the RASC 110 is excellent.


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#20 SNH

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Posted 07 December 2021 - 10:06 PM

HI KARL, you fellow Arkansan!

 

I live a little north of you in Bortle 2/3 skies. I have never completed and submitted for any of the Astronomical League's program's even though I'm a member. However, I have done several of the programs or just worked on them for fun. With simply a pair of handheld (but well braced) 8x56 binoculars, I was able to see over 2/3 of the Herschel 400 objects. So most of them are bright. I think you would enjoy it since up until the faintest stuff, it has a decent mix of things other than galaxies. Bortle 4 and a 10-inch telescope with a magnification of no more than 150x should nab you all of them...with pleasure?

 

I was also able to see 70 Caldwell objects in my 8x56s, which is enough to quality for the silver award. That program is also a good mix. Keep on it!

 

Scott



#21 kas20amc02

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Posted 08 December 2021 - 06:01 PM

As an update, I have decided to go through with it. Yall's comments were encouraging!  Also, a member of my club said he did it with a 14 inch at our observatory successfully, although many objects were just smudges.  

 

I ordered the book from the AL and skimmed it. As I said, I will first finish the other projects but will probably start on it fall 2022.

 

All the best,
Karl


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#22 Chris K

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Posted 22 December 2021 - 12:26 AM

Wow. Took me a year to complete the Carbon Star program. When do you sleep?!!

#23 Procyon

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Posted 22 December 2021 - 07:33 PM

Ceating my own list per constellation and concentrating on that just seems like more fun.

Edited by Procyon, 22 December 2021 - 07:33 PM.



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