Before going out to observe you would need to know a few basic observing tips. There are a lot of things that can affect your observing session, but one of the most important ones is how well you are prepared for it. Investing time to do your homework will not hurt you, but the lack of preparation may severely hinder, or even completely ruin your session. If you plan to observe from you backyard, then no need to worry about it. You can always go inside and grab what you’ve forgotten. If you plan to observe from some place else… now that’s a different story. So lets get started.
In the following paragraphs you’ll find the necessary “to do” list, some observing tips for a basic observing session and for a basic observing session.
General observing tips – “to do” list
- Determine what is the goal of your future session. Is it just casual observation? Do you want to do some astrophotography? Do you plan to observe/capture some special and/or rare event? Whatever it is, it will determine the type of equipment and preparation you need.
- Check the weather conditions. Not just the clear sky charts and forecasts. High humidity and/or very low temperature may not kill you, but might damage your electronic devices and power supplies. If you have to use them in such conditions keep them off the ground and even wrap the in plastic bag if you can. You will be amazed how much moisture (water even!) can be condensed in just an hour or so during the “wrong” conditions!!!
- Make a list with your equipment. Yes, on paper. Yes, you really need it. Granted, if you plan to do just basic observing I doubt you’ll forget the telescope, but still… Check everything on your list. You don’t want to realize in the last second that the eyepieces are not in their box, because you cleaned them yesterday and forgot to put them back, or that you let your friend borrow your one and only T-ring.
- Bring extra batteries. You never know when your flashlight, or something else, may run out of juice.
- Make sure you have warm clothes, as well as sleeping bag (especially) if you plan to observe meteors.
- Go over the previous steps at least one more time.
Observing tips for a basic observing session
Among the observing tips you will see some “required” items that you must have in order to have a productive observing session. There are some “optional” items, too.
- A telescope or binocular. That’s always a good starting point.
- Tripod & Mount.
- Extension tubes, if such are needed by your telescope.
- Tools to assemble everything.
* If you are just observing meteors, or you are just enjoying the Aurora, a pair of eyes would suffice.
- Power supply. That’s if your mount is power driven, and you want to use that feature. This includes long enough extension cords if there is outlet near you. Proper amount of batteries if that’s what your mount requires. Also, power supplies for whatever else needs electricity.
- Star chart(s) with at least the Messier objects on it. What kind of observation are you going to do if you cannot find your targets on the sky?
- Pencils – not pens. You never know when you would run out of ink – it’s dark after all and you won’t even notice when that happens. It will also work only if it’s pointing down (unless you are an astronaut and you have one of those special pens), which might not be the case if you are lying on ground during meteor shower and trying to take some notes.
- Notebook. Or other equivalents for making notes – recorder, laptop, etc.
- Red light flashlight. You don’t want to ruin yours, or somebody else’s session by shining white light all over the place. Eyes will need to adjust with the darkness of the night anew if that happens. This should be in the “Required” section, but if you observe around full moon you might have enough light.
- Stopwatch will be needed for occultations, eclipses and other events.
- Thermos with a hot tea/coffee and sandwiches are always welcome.
- And any other observing tips you might think of. As I said, these are just the basics and you, above all, should know best what your plans are.
Observing tips for a basic astrophotography session
The same observing tips as for basic observing session (unless you will be shooting only from a tripod) plus:
- Camera – SLR, DSLR, CCD, Webcam or any combination thereof. Even point-and-shoot cameras might get the job done.
- Tripod – for the camera alone.
- T-ring(s), adapter(s) and/or extension tube(s). And all other required accessories.
- Red light Flashlight. This is very important so I’m listing it again. A beam of white light can destroy yours or someone else’s exposures.
- Accessories. Now this can be tricky. Why? Well, it includes adapters, extension tubes, filters, bulbs, caps, equipment covers, and every other piece of equipment down to the smallest bolts and screws. So it will be hard for me to say what exactly you would need. It all depends on what equipment you are planning to use.
No matter how well you are prepared, there will always be a time that you haven’t accounted for something. Thus, you’ll have to improvise. In similar situations I’ve found three items to be lifesavers – scotch/duct tape, wires/cables and a pair of pliers!!! Yes, I’m not kidding. So you might add these three in your equipment list!