A Year of Observing

“You’re writing a blog about a spreadsheet???” My wife has just discovered that not only have I adopted the habit over the last couple of years of sitting in the garden on clear dark nights and then making notes about it, but I’ve then been putting it into a spreadsheet and getting statistics about it. And now I’m sharing it in public. She’s giggling at me with what I hope is affection…

Last year I bought a 14 inch dob and after a few months enjoying the views and wandering through the skies I decided I wanted to be a bit more rigorous and start planning my sessions, so I started making notes on my phone of what I wanted to look at after reading observing reports on the web. I quickly moved onto recording the success or otherwise of these observations on a black notepad on my phone (to minimise disruption to my dark adjustment, although to be honest, in Bortle 5 skies it doesn’t make a huge difference), and it was a short step from there to Excel. I just spotted I’ve been doing this for around a year so I thought I’d share it, partly out of curiosity to see how it compares with others experiences…

Stating the obvious: we get quite a lot of cloud.

If it’s clear, I’m not doing family stuff and work’s not in the way then I’ll go out and observe. Altogether I’ve recorded 26 sessions. I’m pretty sure there have been more than that- if I’m observing in company I’m much less diligent about recording it. I also sometimes have quick sessions with my 8 inch for half an hour and I’m a bit rubbish about recording those too. So: 26 is roughly the number of ‘proper’ sessions where I’ve sat outside with a target list and written it down. From this I reckon twice a month is a good working average for how often I can do a ‘good’ session.

Objects:

No of Objects 149
Messiers 65
No of Observations 280

If I was a bit disappointed to realise how infrequent observing sessions are, I was quite surprised by how many objects I’ve managed to record during that period- including quite a good chunk of the Messier catalogue. I suspect I’ve managed to get through most of the easier ones. From my location, although my southern horizon goes down to a few degrees in places, I’m looking directly over rooftops and at the dome of light pollution of Burton on Trent and often the orange haze makes finding reference stars to hop from very difficult, so I’ll probably need to make more effort to get to dark sites to grow this list a bit.

Favourites

I wasn’t surprised to find that there are some objects I come back to again and again, but I was quite surprised to find the Leo triplet at the top of the list, although on 3 of those occasions I couldn’t find NGC3628. M13 is less of a surprise, I never get tired of looking at it and trying to resolve as far as possible into the core. I notice that over time I’ve been less inclined towards the higher magnifications. The Double Double is a favourite first port of call, both because it tells me how good the seeing is, and also whether my mirror has cooled. Plus, I love the idea of it as a vast interstellar executive toy- with six components that we can’t see. I’m sure M42 would have overtaken all of these if it were visible for more of the year and not so subject to winter weather.

Failure…

Something I’ve not done much of is logging how often I can’t find or see things. The Horsehead is conspicuous by its absence (I picked up an H-Beta filter in March, but just missed out on the HH) and I really want to see Stephan’s Quintet visually- this will need darker skies! I suspect that if I was logging more diligently the times I’ve failed to find either of those targets they’d be quite high up on the list and I’m going to start doing that. I’m also going to record a bit more about where I observe (usually my back garden) and what equipment used.

I’ve attached the spreadsheet I’ve used in case anyone wants to re-use the format- it’s pretty basic and has just sort of grown organically as I’ve added bits and pieces to it. It’s a bit of effort to keep it up to date, but I’m glad I did it as it’s been interesting to look back over it and remind myself of what I’ve seen- It’s also a reminder of how great visual astronomy can be when you’re suffering the frustration of several weeks of cloud cover.

I’m going to brush over the slightly worrying and repeated experience, of reading about targets, thinking they sound great, then finding I’ve already seen them…

Log 18-19

 

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