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Indispensable to my Observing

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#1 Inkie

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Posted 05 February 2024 - 06:55 PM

I went out last night for the first observing session I have embarked on in over 22 years.  I have a new 127mm Mak, and am learning how to use it, and in some ways learning some aspects all over again. The night wasn't a bust, but it could have been quite a bit better.  For one thing, even though I could see stars as I parked at my dark local site, as soon as I turned on a flashlight to scout out my spot, I could see a pall of white at the top of the beam, covering the entire area.  It was fogging.  Fortunately, it dissipated a lot and I got in an hour.  I also forgot about reaching final position using only the 'up' and 'right' direction keys.  My bad.  First time out with a GoTo and forgot this.  This diminished the accuracy of the alignment.  But, to keep this short and focused, I did enjoy the scope, it was a fine night, and the fog only surrounded me about the time I decided it was time to return home.  And thick it was.  I'm glad I had one of the items in the list to follow:

What Are Indispensable to My Observing

 

1. A flashlight .  I have seen claims that people don’t need a flashlight, not even a red one.  Good for them.  I do.  If I drop a lens cap from an eyepiece, I’m not going home without it.  I’m not going to step on something that I dropped.   Also, when packing up, if I’m tired and cold, a little light will make a big difference;

 

2. A seat of some kind. I never was adept at standing rigidly.  Even in the military, when standing on parade, we are taught to slowly move our feet at the ankles, and to lean back and forth.  But at the eyepiece, it’s almost impossible to stand still.  For me, anyway.  This means keeping the exit pupil visible is impossible. So, I use a perch of some kind and that improves my experience immeasurably;

 

3. An observing outline or plan.  I have gone out and had fun with no plan.  I have also found my session to be much more focused and comprehensive when it has some planning behind it.  When the season doesn’t let you have but three or four decent nights in six weeks, like we have in the PNW, and you’re tied up with other commitments on two or three of those, an observing plan tightens things up really well on that one clear (and free) night of the month;

 

3. A pocket warmer. For anyone who has spent an hour with no hand protection and trying to handle small set screws,  or other tasks that require dexterity, and the temperature dips below about 35 deg F, a pocket warmer can be a session saver.  Also, if you manage to tough it out before turning one on (digital/rechargeable), at least you can warm the fingers for a few minutes before you dismantle and pack everything away out in the darkness.  In fact, years ago, I had large rawhide mittens into which I threw one of those old-fashioned charcoal pocket warmers.  I just had to slip my cold hands into each mitten for a minute or two.  Mnmmmm.....; and

 

4. A small, light, table.  If it won’t be in the way, and you won’t stumble over it in the dark, a small table can hold charts, a set of eyepieces, the pocket warmer (if you don’t want its bulk in a pocket), a cup of warm tea or coffee, or any number of other items you’d like to have at arm’s length, and not in a pocket.  Maybe those warmed mittens?

 

If you'd like to add anything of your own, I would welcome the exchanges of idea.


Edited by Inkie, 05 February 2024 - 06:57 PM.

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#2 Inkie

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Posted 05 February 2024 - 07:02 PM

I just remembered something I did all those years ago on the cold prairie winter nights.  I used to wear a scarf or a purpose-built lower face mask to keep me from huffing on the eyepieces and focuser.  It requires full coverage of the nose and mouth, and maybe some kind of chute or orifice to direct exhalations out to the side, or at least downward, and not wafting around the cold items near your face.


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#3 Sebastian_Sajaroff

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Posted 05 February 2024 - 07:34 PM

All of them are a must to me !



#4 Mike G.

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Posted 05 February 2024 - 07:48 PM

Right on the money. I have 2 different adjustable chairs and for flashlight I use a headband unit that has red, flashing red (never used), white spot and white flood. It's perfect and will run for about 3 hours continuous on a single charge. Chemical handwarmers are always in my EP box and battery box until about May. Not only do they do duty in my pockets but a couple in the bottom of the EP box keep them warm when not in use. 2 tables on my observing deck and a small folding table if I go out on my own or with friends. But never for outreach. Someone will invariably kick it and whatever is on it goes crashing to the ground. For really cold weather, Carrharts.

#5 mountain monk

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Posted 06 February 2024 - 09:36 PM

Sounds right to me. I would add my music stand.

 

Dark skies.

 

Jack



#6 Inkie

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Posted 06 February 2024 - 11:20 PM

I have thought about music, but we have cougars and black bears around us.  Vancouver Island has the highest density of black bears of any place on Earth. I doubt the music would attract them, or scare them off, but it might mask the giggle just before they swipe at me. I also like the idea of some kind of warmth for the eyepieces.  I keep mine in a closed, foam-lined, case, so they'll be good for a few hours, unless I grab one and forget to close the lid. 


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#7 TheChosen

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 05:36 AM

I have added USB heating pads to my clothes for much of the year. The level of comfort is out of this world and in most cases I don't even have to wear gloves to keep warm, as my body is already very warm from the pads.

 

Another must have is a nice blue tooth speaker for some relaxing music. Makes a big difference.

 

I also have a PVC tarp under my telescope and chair in case I am observing from a grassy place (I drive with my car to observe)

 

And of course, I never observe without an eye-patch. Absolutely critical for me to use one.

 

The small foldable table is a no brainer for my box of eyepieces or laptop (when imaging)



#8 Tony Flanders

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 06:36 AM

Nice post! I particularly like adding one totally intangible item -- a plan or an outline -- to what's otherwise a list of equipment. I would add one item that's even more intangible: A positive attitude is the key to success in every sphere of life. With that you can do anything. Without that you can do nothing.

 

All the listed items -- including that plan -- can certainly be useful or important, but as far as I'm concerned, the only truly essential items are my own two eyes and a pair of eyeglasses. Let's take the suggestions one by one:

 

It's pretty rash to do astronomy without a flashlight, though I've done it inadvertently many times. It's important to distinguish here between a red light (red for most people, anyway) that you expect and intend to use during observing and an emergency and/or breakdown-only light, which you want to be white, and bright enough to illuminate the ground clearly. Yes, just the other night I used my smartphone light to locate two end caps that I had misplaced. A red light might not have been bright enough, given that I had moved in the interim, and I wasn't quite sure where I had set up the first time.

 

On the other hand, I could always go back the next morning to look for the lost items. I've done that a fair number of times.

 

A chair is always a nice amenity, but I don't mind standing for an hour as long as I take breaks to move around. Perhaps more to the point, I'm quite happy sitting or lying on the ground. I usually observe from a standing position with my small refractors and with my 12.5-inch Dob.

 

Likewise, a table is a very nice amenity, but I often just put my backpack on the ground and use it as a surface. And pockets, lots of pockets. It helps that I have many sessions where I use only 2 or 3 eyepieces and no filters.

 

I do in fact keep a pair of chemical handwarmers, together with a spare pair of gloves, permanently in my equipment backpack. It may sound silly in mid-summer, but I've used them even then. On the other hand, I am blessed with what my wife calls bionic hands, so I can observe for quite lot periods at 32F with no hand protection at all. And I can always stop and warm my hands against my neck or belly.

 

As for the plan, I like it both ways. I find it very productive and rewarding to go out with an observing list, but I also have great sessions where my only plan is to go outside and do whatever happens to take my fancy. I can always fall back on observing the seasonal Messier objects -- that never gets old, no matter how often I do it.


Edited by Tony Flanders, 07 February 2024 - 06:40 AM.

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#9 Migwan

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 08:35 AM

A clear path.   Social matters, deep snow that didn't get plowed and last Saturday, a big pine tree lying across a two track, are things that have gotten in the way. 


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#10 12BH7

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 09:22 AM

You got it right.

 

Although, I don't think that I've ever heard anyone ever say that they didn't need a red flashlight. 

 

I was at a club outing where someone forgot their eyepieces. Hey buddy, can you lend me a Nagler?



#11 bunyon

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 09:30 AM

Great list. I suspect chair/no chair is an individual choice. I used to prefer standing, but age and, um, expansion, have made me appreciate sitting more and more lately.

 

Tony and 12BH7 make the point but I want to emphasize: You will hear observers preach dark adapation and keeping light, even red light, dim or, better, off, when making observations. The less light the better when looking at the sky.

 

But that does not mean don't take a flashlight. On the contrary, for the reasons Inkie states, I take a couple of red lights and several white lights. Keep one of each in my car. Keep one of each in my eyepiece case. And take a big honking white light that could run a show when I go into the boonies. I often don't need the big one but, when I do, I really, really do. I dropped my car fob into fairly tall grass once. It took the big gun to find it. Had I only had a red light, I'd still be out there (well, I guess the Sun did come up). 



#12 mountain monk

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 10:16 AM

Inkie,

 

The music stand is for my 2000.0 star atlas. I too observe with lots of bears and cougars around, and though music makes them aware of us, it does not frighten them, so it offers no protection.

 

Dark skies.

 

Jack


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#13 Inkie

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 02:46 PM

You got it right.

 

Although, I don't think that I've ever heard anyone ever say that they didn't need a red flashlight. 

 

I was at a club outing where someone forgot their eyepieces. Hey buddy, can you lend me a Nagler?

lol.gif   Sure,.. umm [pats hiis pockets, and looks away at his gear]..I think I have one.....someplace...

 

If that happened to me, and I felt that I could spare a nice eyepiece to help a colleague, just as he turned to leave, I'd tug on the item and say, with good eye contact, "There's a really heavy return spring on this."  A little military humour because each machine gun has a return spring to make the breach block move forward after ejecting the previous casing.


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#14 Inkie

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Posted 07 February 2024 - 02:47 PM

Inkie,

 

The music stand is for my 2000.0 star atlas. I too observe with lots of bears and cougars around, and though music makes them aware of us, it does not frighten them, so it offers no protection.

 

Dark skies.

 

Jack

Got it.  Thanks. waytogo.gif



#15 Alex Swartzinski

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Posted 11 February 2024 - 09:21 PM

Welcome back to this rabbit hole of observing!

Your list is comprehensive and I only have a couple of items to consider:

- Spare pens for documenting your observations. After observing my first object of the night, I've realized that I was missing a writing utensil more times than I care to admit.

- Extra layers. Last week I was out at a site and temps were in the mid 30 (fahrenheit) when starting the night. I only had a few layers, but I was very glad to have more than I needed when the temps quickly dropped and everything frosted over!

- Water and caffeinated drink. Staying hydrated is always a smart idea, especially on those muggy late summer nights.

- Snacks. Long nights can get exhausting and a little energy bump is great to have. If you ate dinner at 5:00pm but are active at 1:00am the following morning, your blood sugar will have dropped considerably!

I try to keep many of these items in the vehicle full time. In the cubby behind the seat, I have a spare hat/gloves, pens, a red flashlight, and I'll stuff a few extra layers back there if I'm likely to visit a dark site in the coming days. It never hurts to be prepared!

Edited by Alex Swartzinski, 11 February 2024 - 09:33 PM.

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#16 Inkie

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 03:06 AM

Thanks for the additional thoughts!  Agreed, a warm drink might go down really well at zero dark thirty. Maybe wash down a fig bar, half a PBJ....something so that when you crawl into bed in two hours your stomach isn't making a lot of noise.  And definitely have an extra vest or coat in the vehicle in case...  I may try my hand at sketching again.  It has been a while.  Need good lighting, a clip board or table, and some kind of drawing implement.


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#17 weis14

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 08:25 AM

I'll second the recommendation for snacks and a drink.  If I'm going to be out for a really late night (2-3 am), I'll bring a lunch.  Nothing keeps you in the field more reliably than a full stomach renewing your energy around midnight or so.  My goto drink is a thermos of coffee mixed with an appropriate amount of hot chocolate.  I'll also take an appropriate amount of water or gatorade.

 

Taking a "lunch break" around midnight during a long observing session can be quite the experience.  A 30 minute break lets your eyes rest, allows for some naked eye observing and, when planned correctly, can help objects move to a better observing position.  


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#18 CharLakeAstro

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 09:49 AM

My #1 observing requirement is clear skies!

 

If you'd like to add anything of your own, I would welcome the exchanges of idea.


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#19 TayM57

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 10:07 AM

A heated jacket and gloves powered by a portable USB battery is on the list of things to get for me.

 

A box of hand warmers and foot warmers from Costco is one I've used. it helps, but when it gets very cold, it's nice to have the jacket/gloves.

 

I also make sure to eat sugar before and during my observation session, to keep my body temperature up as much as possible.



#20 Alex65

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 10:14 AM

I like to use a rug (like a large dog rug) underneath my set up for two reasons -

 

1) it helps minimize my body heat from escaping into the cold ground due to conduction and

 

2) stops damage to any eyepieces that I may accidentally drop due to cold fingers! 


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#21 12BH7

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 10:48 AM

Inkie,

 

The music stand is for my 2000.0 star atlas. I too observe with lots of bears and cougars around, and though music makes them aware of us, it does not frighten them, so it offers no protection.

 

Dark skies.

 

Jack

Yikes, you're in grizzly territory up there.  That is one bear I am afraid of.  A 50cal would just **** it off. Around here we have black bears which are like big pets - unless you mess with them. 



#22 mountain monk

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 11:18 AM

I’ve lived with grizzlies most of my life. I’ve often published here a photo of one looking in our bedroom window. In fifty years here I’ve had many contacts with them but never a problem. I’m careful, I carry pepper spray, I’m aware of my environment, and I treat them with great respect. Extensive research has shown that pepper spray is more effective than firearms. 
 

Dark skies.

 

Jack


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#23 NWStars

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Posted 12 February 2024 - 11:35 PM

I always wear snow pants over long johns with double socks and insulated EE Bean snow boots. Rag Wool Fingerless Convertible Gloves.  Insulated long sleeve tee shirt under heavy flannel, under fleece jacket, under winter parka, add Knit hat and neck gaiter, Slip hand warmers into socks, in rear pants pocket and gloves about 11pm. I usually march around telescope and table every hour or so just to keep blood flowing in my limbs and brain.
OK, so I'm old and get cold easy.
I use a Push-to Dob with Nexus to locate Faint & Fuzzies, plus a red film covered Tablet for star pattern matching using Sky Safari. I'll bring a ANKER portable power pack with USB cables to charge NEXUS and Tablet as needed.  Pocket Sky Atlas. Multiple red flashlights, emergency white light that I never use. Snacks and water. I sketch all my observations so I have at least two mechanical pencils in reserve, one soft graphite pencil, plus Pentel eraser and stumps for those faint & fuzzies. Always have extra, blank, observing forms, hate to run out at 2 am.

 

I used all this stuff last night during a ten hour observing session on BLM land south of Lake Havasu City, Az. Needed 4 wheel drive to enter and exit. Finally a beautiful night after almost 2 months. No bears or javelinas but some coyotes and BLM campers.....


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#24 ABQJeff

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Posted 13 February 2024 - 12:04 AM

Much of what I would add has been mentioned: tarp for underneath (besides cold and wet protection, also ensures all things on Tarp get packed at end of night), carpet, food/drink, warm clothing (hats, gloves, ski pants/jacket, glove warmers, and boots), red flashlight for most purposes but a bright white one as well for “just in case”, and along those lines, as Jack states, Pepper Spray (for four or two legged threats).  Edit: and whistle and/or noise maker

 

In place of charts, notes, pens and observing plan (edit: and peaceful background sounds/music!), I use Sky Safari.  Has all the mentioned items rolled into one convenient small iPhone package (along with GPS and clock to set-up GoTo).


Edited by ABQJeff, 13 February 2024 - 12:31 AM.

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#25 Don H

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Posted 13 February 2024 - 01:38 AM

I like to use winged eyeguards on my eyepieces. Even at a dark site, the guard will block any ambient glow or light from my view, making every observation just the eyepiece image surrounded by total darkness. It is easier than flipping up a hood and does not further hinder my feeble hearing.

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