Nov 7, 2010

Observing Plans and Techniques

Before You Start
Having a plan or an idea as to what you wish to observe can save you a lot of time fiddling around in the dark. By looking at a star chart or computer software one can devise one’s own observing program for an evening’s viewing. Alternatively, there are a number of books available that contain suggested sky tours and interesting observing programs.
Having such a plan can save you a lot of time on the night. It can be very frustrating, having
set up for a night’s viewing, to have spent half an hour deciding what to look at, only to look up and see the clouds roll in!

As an astronomer you are probably very meteorologically aware. After looking at the weather forecast on the television or the Internet, check any satellite footage. This is invaluable for us astronomers and is an area where the Internet can be extremely useful. There are several sites that give regularly updated satellite images, examples of which include for Europe and Africa or for US images. Try out the ‘Pan and Zoom’ feature! Particularly useful are the infrared images, as they can be seen at night.

If your telescope is stored in a garage, then setting it up before you go inside after arriving home from work is a great way of maximizing observation time. Your telescope is already cooling down to ambient temperatures while you are greeting the family or loved ones after a hard day’s work. This is a particularly useful timesaver for cooling the optics of a large SCT, which can take up to two hours.
What about storing the telescope outside? By this we don’t for a minute mean that you should leave your pride and joy nicely set up in the middle of the garden in all kinds of weather and, indeed where someone might be tempted to relieve you of it in your absence. No. By storing outside we only
mean to store it outside the house or your apartment, preferably in a secure shed or garage. As these are not, usually, heated, storing your telescope thus will dramatically reduce the amount of time you will spend waiting for the optics to cool down to ambient temperatures outdoors.

An observatory is the ultimate in time saving. That small dome or, indeed, roll-off roof shed at the bottom of the garden is a fantastic place to retreat to after a hard day’s work. Open the roof, flick the switches, and off you go! With this setup, you have very little waiting time for your telescope’s optics
to cool. If the clouds roll in and rain threatens, you just close the roof. You can even treat yourself to a ‘quick astro-fix’ if there is a brief gap in the clouds after dinner. Of course, building and maintaining the ‘obsy,’ as it is affectionately known, is another matter and will require a little DIY skill, unless you have a large cash reserve. However, there are less expensive alternatives, especially for those of us whose gardens are little bigger than a postage stamp!

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