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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Keeping an Observing Log

Sky and Telescope magazine writer, Bob King, recently posted a great article on the Sky and Telescope website entitled "Pleasures of Keeping an Astro Journal". I could relate my experiences with keeping an Astro journal myself in so many ways with his article. I started keeping an observing log back when I was in my early teens at the same time I purchased my Astroscan 4.25" telescope from Edmund Scientific. The company had a special "bundle" deal with the telescope that included an observer's notebook.

Jupiter Observation from 1991.
Jupiter Observation from 1991.

After reading Mr. King's article, I pulled out the old orange, three-ring binder I that I now store all of my observing session entries I logged back in those days. The earliest entry was in July 1981, with the last one being logged in November 1992. As I flipped through the pages, it was interesting to see how my observing skills and recordings improved over the years. Around 1985, I ran out of Edmund's observing notebook blank pages. therefore, I created my own with a typewriter and a pencil compass. I included an example of my own observation form in this post with an entry of a Jupiter observation I made back in 1991.

There were times that I used a simple number two pencil as well as color pencils for sketches, but for most of the observing sessions, I stuck to a pencil. For example, there was a week back in April 1982, my Insight Observatory Associate, Muir Evenden, and I were on spring vacation from high school. The nights that week were so exceptionally clear, we set up my Astroscan 4.25" telescope in my front yard just about every night that week. We used a star atlas called "Seasonal Star Charts" I purchased from Orion Telescopes and Binoculars. Muir and I found at least 15 new deep-sky objects that week that we have never seen before. We sketched those objects with a simple pencil and made drawings of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn one evening that week using color pencils.

Jupiter and Mars as observed through Astroscan 4.25" telescope 04/19/1982
Jupiter and Mars as observed through
Astroscan 4.25" telescope 04/19/1982

I highly recommend keeping an observer's notebook. Not is it only fun, you can detect detail in astronomical objects that cannot be detected with conventional imaging equipment. To quote Mr. King in his article, "There are many reasons to keep a journal. It's a low-pressure, low-tech creative outlet. Over the years, it's fun to look back at your Astro-adventures to relive a moment. Writing and sketching prepare the mind and eye to see better and more deeply the next time we step up to the telescope."
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Monday, February 16, 2015

A Pilgrim's Progress

On Saturday, February 7, 2015, a talk was given to the public at the Cotuit Library in Cotuit, Massachusetts.  Fellow Insight Observatory staff member, Harry Hammond and I gave a presentation entitled A "Pilgrims Progress" of amateur astronomy.  The event covered adventures that spanned over a 35 year period, as experienced by a couple of friends, showing their progress and pitfalls along their journey. The program was well-received by local residents of the town on an afternoon that was anticipating more snowfall in the Greater New England Area.

A "Pilgrims Progress" Talk Given at the Cotuit Library
A "Pilgrims Progress" Talk Given at the Cotuit Library.

Harry and I started the presentation with stories of how we both independently became interested in astronomy. From those stories, the talk evolved into sharing our passions, such as mine for visual observing and Harry's for astrophotography. We both shared a few anecdotes of our individual experiences in amateur astronomy as well as our experiences together. A few examples are being Charter members of the Cape Cod Astronomical Society back in 1985 to collaborating together on the Sacred Heart School's Observatory project via Insight Observatory in the summer of 2014.

As Harry covered his experiences with astrophotography, he explained the basics of how back in the day, simple exposures of the night sky could capture brilliant colors from deep-sky objects such as diffused nebula. Harry also touched on such methods of the (now antiquated) technique of "hyper-sensitizing" print or slide film to the new conventional methods for astrophotography utilizing digital and CCD cameras.

M20 - Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius  Imaged by Harry Hammond.
M20 - Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius
Imaged by Harry Hammond.

I concentrated mostly on sharing my visual observing techniques with the telescopes I owned and used over the past three decades. The highlight of the talk for me was telling the story of the "Personal High" of my experiences with amateur astronomy. The experience occurred on the morning of February 11, 1989, around 1:00 am when I independently discovered extragalactic supernova 1989B in the galaxy designated M66 in the constellation, Leo.

The purpose of the talk was to share, introduce and hopefully inspire some of the attendees to the fun and rewards that can come from such an exciting hobby.
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