Observation Planning and Process Bill Kocken MAS Observing SIG Coordinator 1/8/2009
What to Observe? A/L Lists • 32 Different Lists – Easy to Hard – Naked eye/binocular/CCD • One list at a time • Multiple lists simultaneously. Here’s a cool tool for the truly motivated. What’s up doc Other lists • 110 Best of RASC, 111 Best of SAC, 110 Sci.Astro.Amateur • 3 different lists of ~110 items. Same general idea as Messier, although generally more difficult • Kemple and Sanner 400. From the Night Sky Observer’s Guide. A variety of the Best of. The book also includes finder charts, sketches and descriptions of thousands of deep sky objects. K&S • Magazine articles • Find an observing article in S&T and Astronomy and follow it • Pick a constellation • Try to observe as many objects from your star chart as possible
Planning Your Night Make a list of what you plan to see that night • On paper • Keep it simple – Why? • Difficult to handle multiple papers and charts at night • Need to deal with darkness, dew and wind • Draft up Log sheets • Helpful Hints • Note where to find the object on the chart, page/area • Sequence by Right Ascension or Constellation • Avoids time wasting, inefficient jumping around between charts and moving the scope around • Know what to expect • Type of object, magnitude , size, orientation, shape • Example NGC281 • Should you have a photo with you ahead of time? • Use software at the site • SkyTools, although setup ahead of time is helpful • Other logging/planning software
Observing Session • Advance Prep is all good, but this is where it all happens, so here are some of my hints Like showing up for a football game • Get there early, if at all possible • Set up, get your s**t together, collimate (it’s easier before dark) • Make sure you’ve got everything you need • Arriving late may disturb others, (sometimes unavoidable) • Time to visit other observers • Warm up • Look at a couple of planets or old favorites • Don’t “waste” too much time at this • Kickoff time – generally Astro twilight, where you start to hit your stride • Select an object. • Is it visible? or maybe behind a cloud, or too low to the horizon • Below 30 degrees altitude means your looking through twice as much air as if you were looking overhead
Finding objects • Finding objects - the biggest challenge, of course • What am I looking for? Type/size/magnitude • I recommend giving a try to starhop to it by drilling down. Good Charts are a MUST HAVE • Starhopping required for the AL Messier and Caldwell Lists, and maybe others • Start with Naked eye guide stars • Telrad • Finder scope • Eyepiece • Starhopping is a skill learned through practice. The mix of the 4 above components will vary depending on you, your equipment, the skies and the object you’re seeking. • Use a computer aid or GoTo • Allowed for most A/L lists • Reasons (excuses?) for using computer • You tried and failed at starhopping • You’re tired or cold • You’re very experienced and the thrill of the hunt is gone for you (really?) • The object is very faint • Object is low to the horizon or there aren’t any guide stars available • You have a very long focal length. The 30” Obsession at LLCC has a focal length is 3400 mm, lowest power is about 130 and largest field of view is about .6 degrees, and the OTA is 11 feet long, and you’ll get tired of going up and down the ladder. • HOWEVER, Dave Tosteson, one our master observers, uses a 32” dob without even use of setting circles!
Found it ! Now that you’ve found an object • Confirm that you have it. • Check your star chart • Check that the object looks somewhat like you expected. • Easy to get confused by poor star clusters or tightly spaced galaxies • Ask an observing buddy to confirm, if necessary • LOOK AT IT! I’m guilty of being so excited about finding something that I sometimes forget to actually look at it. • Try different magnifications • Try different filters for nebulae: UHC / OIII • Log it Which one was it now?
Log It What to log • Minimum : • Date/time • Location • Instrument and EP or magnification • Sky conditions: transparency and seeing • Describe what you saw • Many A/L lists have their own additional requirements • Open Cluster you must sketch some objects and classify it • Planetary Nebula – you must observe with and without filters and look for central star • Globular – you must attempt classification
Log It • Paper • Templates available. Here’s an example • Use computer program • Program with built in logging • Spreadsheet / Database • Voice recorder • The easiest option to describe stuff as you actually look at it • Digital recorders automatically do a date/time stamp • Better models allow you to transfer the logs to your computer • Makes you a total geek when people hear you talking to yourself • Worst part is transcribing it later on • Sketching • Required for some of the A/L lists ( Open cluster ) • Will force you to really examine the object
Most Importantly – Get out there and enjoy your time under Stars MAS Star parties almost every weekend from Feb through December, except near full moon. SPECIAL EVENTS Onan Public Nights generally twice a month. Messier Marathon at Cherry Grove - March 27 International Year of Astronomy 100 hours of Astronomy – April 3 Astronomy Day at Onan – May 1&2 Virgo Venture at CG and LLCC –May 22 Camping under the Stars at Onan – July 24 LLCC Summer Star Party – August 21&22 (tentative) Fall Mini Messier Marathon at CG and LLCC –Sept. 18
10 New Year’s Resolutions for Amateur Astronomers* • In the spirit of continuous improvement, and to help you get the most enjoyment out of your interest in astronomy, here are 10 astronomical new year’s resolutions for 2009. • 1. Use the tools and the sky you’ve got • Don’t wait for the perfect night, the perfect equipment, or the perfect frame of mind to go stargazing. If you do, you’ll never get outside. Use the scope and the sky you’ve got and get out at least once a week. Life is short and there’s a lot to see up there. And remember, you will get much more out of short bursts of stargazing if you… • 2. Plan your observing sessions • Many beginners take the channel-surfing approach to stargazing, hopping from object to object until they run out of ideas. This gets boring after a while. On cloudy nights, or during the day, use a star map or astro-planning software to plan out your next observing session. Make lists of things you want to see that are visible from your observing site. Then work through your list methodically. You will see more, make better use of your time, and you’ll get a sense of accomplishment. Which brings me to the next resolution… • 3. Set “astro goals”What would you like to see this year? Perhaps the elusive galaxy M74? Or the ghostly Helix Nebula? Or all the Messier objects. Whatever your goal, write it down, plan it out, and make it happen. My goal is to see all the Caldwell objects visible from my latitude… and next year, see all the Caldwells from the southern hemisphere. What’s your astronomy goal this year? • From One-Minute Astronomer, December 30, 2008
10 New Year’s Resolutions for Amateur Astronomers • 4. Take a break“Wait a second!”, you might say. “Planning? Goal setting? I thought astronomy was supposed to be fun, not work!” Yes, yes, but lugging your scope and swatting bugs in the dark gets taxing after a while. And even the most pleasurable activity gets stale if you spend too much time at it. So to help maintain your enthusiasm, take a short break from astronomy if you need to. But not for too long. Set a date when you’re going to get to it again, and if possible do yourself a favor and… • 5. Get to dark skyBecause of a busy schedule, I do 90% of my observing from light-polluted city skies. But when I manage to set up under dark sky, I am awestruck by what I can see and how achingly beautiful many deep-sky objects appear against a coal-black background. If you regularly observe under clear dark sky, you are most fortunate. But if you’re an urban observer, make an effort to escape the city and get to dark sky as often as possible. It’s the difference between listening to a Mozart symphony on an old transistor radio versus a Bang and Olufsen sound system. But dark sky or not, you can’t go wrong in astronomy if you… • 6. Share with others2009 is a special year: the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). That means there will be many opportunities and public events at which you can share your knowledge with others. Here in Canada, we have a goal to give 1 million people a “Galileo moment”: a look through a telescope for the first time. And IYA organizers all over the world will hold “100 Hours of Astronomy” from April 2-5 where astronomers will offers views of Saturn, the waxing Moon, and many other celestial wonders. Participate in IYA events if you can, and give someone a look through your telescope. It’s a thrill they will remember their entire lives.
10 New Year’s Resolutions for Amateur Astronomers • 7. Learn a constellationHere’s a good project for you this year: pick up a good guidebook like Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, and intimately learn the layout, location, history of at least one constellation. Find out as much as you can about the deep-sky objects in that constellation… all the double and variable stars, the star clusters, the nebulae, galaxies, and novae. Learn the constellation as you’ve learned the streets of your own neighborhood. You’ll amaze yourself at how much there is to see in a little patch of sky. And while you’re in the mood for learning, don’t forget to… • 8. Learn a little scienceThe basics behind the science of astronomy are not terribly difficult. And when you know a little science, your observing experience becomes far more rewarding. Spend some time, especially on cloudy nights, to learn how stars live and die, about the shapes and structure of galaxies, and how nebulae give off their eerie glow. You’ll learn some science at One-Minute Astronomer, but you’ll learn much more if you… • 9. Read a good astronomy book.There are many good astronomy books out there, and I’ve mentioned some of my favorites. But any books by Timothy Ferris, Chet Raymo, Carl Sagan, Patrick Moore, and Steven James O’Meara, and Terence Dickinson are good bets. Read on nights when it’s too cold, buggy, or cloudy for stargazing. And finally, don’t forget to… • 10. Treat yourselfIf you can, get yourself a top-notch eyepiece. Or a dew heater to help extend your observing sessions. Or a light-pollution filter, if you don’t already have one. Maybe even a small second telescope for short observing sessions. You don’t have to go crazy. But if you have the right tools, astronomy will be more fun and far more rewarding.
What’s Up Doc1? What’s up Doc2
What’s up Doc2 What’s up Doc3
What’s up Doc3 Slide 2
Kemple and Sanner 400 what to observe
Log Template Log It
Seeing and Transparency ASTRONOMICAL SEEING LEVEL 1 - Severely disturbed skies: Even low power views are uselessly shaky. Go read a good book. LEVEL 2 - Poor seeing: Low power images are pretty steady, but medium powers are not. LEVEL 3 - Good seeing: You can use about half the useful magnification of your scope. High powers produce fidgety planets. LEVEL 4 - Excellent seeing: Medium-powers are crisp and stable. High-powers are good, but a little soft. LEVEL 5 - Superb seeing: Any power eyepiece produces a good crisp image. Source:The American Association of Amateur Astronomers http://www.astromax.org/faq/aa01faq14.htm On to Transparency
Seeing and Transparency The above scale is dependent on light pollution. No matter how clear the night, I will never expect to to see M31 or M33 from my home in Coon Rapids. *Source:The American Association of Amateur Astronomers http://www.astromax.org/faq/aa01faq14.htm Back to logging
Know what to Expect NGC281 When this comes up on the Herschel400 list, what are you actually looking for? NGC281 is the PAC-MAN nebula, so you’re looking for a neb, but it also contains an Open cluster, a dark lane that looks like the Flame neb, bok globules and a double star Astronomy Picture of the Day Aug 23,2005 http://apod.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap050823.html Back to planning your night