Archive for February 24th, 2010

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Lunchtime musings

February 24, 2010

In my first six months with my scope I spent most of my time observing the same double handful of objects. I realized that I was stuck in a rut, so one night I took Turn Left at Orion and a red flashlight out with my scope. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. I decided to start with something I’d never seen before, but which was supposed to be easy–M41 in Canis Major. It was easy–and beautiful! I saw that M46 and M47 were a short distance away, so I tracked them down. And so it went, from one target to the next. I was too excited to linger on any one object. After a couple of hours I’d seen about two dozen DSOs that I’d never seen before. My final targets were M81 and M82. It was the first time I’d ever seen two galaxies in the same field, and it stopped me in my tracks.

In the two years since that night, I’ve been back to all of those objects and many more besides. Almost every time, I notice something that I haven’t seen before. The more times I observe, the more I learn to see, the more I realize how worthwhile it is to linger on each object for a few minutes and give myself a chance to tease out its details.

The objects that I found that night have become like friends. When I am in their neighborhood, I stop by to see what new impressions I will have. And then I go on to meet their neighbors down the street, and the folks on the next block over. Every observing run is an opportunity to improve my skills, to deepen my knowledge of the sky, to explore and to discover.

What kind of relationship do you have with the objects that you observe? Can you remember what they look like when you’re apart? Are they unique individuals or just a long line of warm bodies? Can you point out where they live? Could you get there with a map?

If someone abandoned you for a couple of hours in an empty field on a clear dark night with only binoculars or a spyglass, would that be too much time or too little?