Observing lists: friend or foe? (part 2)

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, April 9, 2007

Last week, I shared some reasons why amateur astronomers create observing lists before heading out to observe. I also gave some tips for those of you who want to prepare such lists. Here are a few more.

Keep a list of challenge objects on hand in case the sky proves to be better than you expected in terms of transparency (darkness) or seeing (steadiness). You don't want to miss such an opportunity.

Although it may seem fruitful to concentrate on a small area of sky for one night (I often target objects in a single constellation), clouds may force you to observe elsewhere. Bring lists for alternative spots.

Use the Astronomical League (AL) as a resource. Not only has the AL created many great lists, it offers certificates to members who complete them. Members include amateurs who belong to an AL-certified astronomy club; you can also join the AL as an at-large member, if there's no club in your area.

Keep a log of some sort. This can be as simple as notes penciled onto the pages of a star atlas or as complicated as detailed, word-processed entries accompanied by sketches. I keep a computer file of observations, but I sketch only on occasion.

Regarding this last point, observer Steve Coe of Phoenix used his list in an innovative way a few years ago. He re-read all of his observations, made a list of those that intrigued him, and re-observed those objects to see if he could still detect features he had written about. It was a fun project - revisiting old friends, as he puts it - that he'd recommend to anyone.

In the end, whether you keep a log, and whether you prepare an observing list in advance, is not as important as just getting out under the stars and observing. Lots of great objects lie within your reach no matter how you approach the sky.

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