James Paulson's roll off roof observatory at the Sunridge Observatory site, taken in the summer of 1986, housing a 10 inch f/5 Cave Astrola Newtonian reflector telescope

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Developing Your Observing Skills

One of the things that all astronomers learn to develop is their ability to observe objects properly at the telescope. This takes time to develop. In the beginning, it’s a matter of knowing how to view into the eyepiece, how to properly focus an object, how to observe square on to the object, how to block external lights and maintain well adapted eyes. In time, you develop the ability to discern details in objects because the atmosphere may be slightly turbulent as well. You will learn about the importance of good eye relief as well.
If you wear glasses, leave them on if you are nearsighted. If you are farsighted, you can remove them, the key is to be able to get close enough to the eyepiece to have as full of a field of view as possible without actually banging the eyepiece.
Another developed skill is the ability to align your expectations with your instrument. I think that it pays to look through large telescopes, and a wide variety of instruments, at least in the beginning to align your expectations with your wallet. You have to balance the cost and convenience of your equipment with that you are viewing, and you will find with time that you will know exactly what to expect from whatever you have.
A familiarity with the sky is important. Feeling comfortable under the stars comes with time, and while initially you may look up and not know one star from the next, with the use of charts, planispheres, software, etc, you will begin to mentally picture the asterisms you are viewing, and begin to see exactly where you want to point your telescope to find your target. In a later article I will discuss the art of sky sweeping, and how to use it to your advantage if you are a non-GoTo user. Clear skies.

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