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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?

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One comment

  1. Jupiter was my friend for several months. I’ve always tracked the planets, so I am attracted to viewing them when they are in view (for me, that means west of zenith). I also have my favorite constellations, and I’ve been very interested in exploring “behind” them, now that I can see more than the main stars. Orion is top on my list, so that’s where I’ve been spending my time.

    I find I like to linger on things for a while. When I do move on, I’ll often come back for another look, especially if I can’t find what I’m looking for. I know I’ll get past this at some point, but in general, I start at the same spot, and just keep adding things to the list. The starting spot just changes with the seasons. I find I’m in no hurry to go to something else once I find something interesting. I’m more apt to try another eye piece or tweak the focus, to see if there is anything more to see.

    Well, this is my telescope habits…..my binocular habits tends more to scanning around an object to see what more I can see. I’ll often only stay in one or two areas at a given time though, just as I do with my scope.



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