Double stars, urban observing, and where I go from here

October 17, 2013

There’s one observation from last Saturday night at the Salton Sea that I haven’t mentioned yet. At 2:25 AM, I found and split the double star 8 Lacertae, the 100th and final target on my trip through the Astronomical League’s Double Star observing program.

I don’t typically observe double stars from dark-sky sites. Or rather, I do check in on old favorites like Epsilon Lyrae, Albireo, and Beta Monocerotis for purely aesthetic reasons, but I usually try not to log double stars from dark-sky sites. I figure that double stars are about the only deep-sky objects that show up just as well in town as they do out in the boonies, so if I log double stars from dark sites, I’m not only wasting my dark-sky time, I’m also using up some of the best observing targets that I can see from my driveway. (At this point, someone out there is thinking, “Using up!? You can’t use these things up!” Au contraire–the joy of discovery upon first observing an object is an irreplaceable quality, and if I burn all of that out in the desert, what do I have left for the driveway?)

Anyway, the Double Star list is done, and I’m only one observation away from finishing the Urban Observing Club. So what’s next for me?

First, as a sort of cosmic background radiation of my observing, I will keep plugging away at the Herschel 400, sometimes from home, often from Mount Baldy and the desert. Currently I’m at 171 of 400 objects, so plenty of things left to see. I recently picked up Stephen James O’Meara’s Herschel 400 Observing Guide–stay tuned for a review at some point–and I think it will help me formulate a plan for actually finishing this before the end of time.

Second, I’m kinda hooked on double stars, and I’ve been putting off the AL Binocular Double Star Club until I finished the regular Double Star observing program. This will also give me a chance to put the Nikon Action 10x50s through their paces; for the previous binocular observing programs I used the Celestron Skymaster 15x70s and UpClose 10x50s. So that’s a new driveway observing project to occupy me for a while. (If you’re wondering what I’ll do when I’m past the two AL double star clubs, there’s always the Herschel 500 double stars, and still more beyond that.)

Third, there’s the Suburban Messier Project. I should just dig out a sketchbook and get going on that.

Fourth, and almost at the intersection of the above projects, is this. When I was in Portland last fall, I hit Powell’s Books–as all right-thinking people must–and picked up a copy of Stephen James O’Meara’s The Secret Deep. This is the fourth volume in his Deep Sky Companions series, following his Messier and Caldwell books and Hidden Treasures, which I scored in the spring of 2012. Now, I’ve been through the Messier objects many times, and I’ve seen almost all of the Caldwell objects, but Hidden Treasures and The Secret Deep contain a host of things which I have never observed. And O’Meara is one of my favorite authors when it comes to stargazing books. So I am thinking that I might make those books the centerpieces of my deep-sky observing for the next while, and try to sketch my targets and then compare my observations with O’Meara’s. There are a fair number of Herschel 400s in both books, so working through the books would also advance me a little closer to finishing that project, too.

And beyond that? Well, I have some ideas. I have Sue French’s first book, but I haven’t worked through it yet, nor have I picked up her more recent book. Steve Coe’s underappreciated Astronomical Tourist, Dave Eicher’s Deep-Sky Observing With Small Telescopes, and Phil Harrington’s Cosmic Challenge are all sitting on my bookshelf, mostly read but not “done”. And lurking beyond everything else are the Herschel 2500 and the 7000 double stars, variable stars, and deep-sky objects from Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.

So I’m not going to run out of things to point the scope at. The question, as always, is what to point the scope at next.

For a philosophical one-eighty from this post, see the next one.



  1. Steve Coe’s book is awesome – one of my absolute favorites, I’d give that a read. Also Matt, check out the blog – since you’ve been back to blogging I think it’s overdue for me to get back to doing it- just updated it today. I forgot how much fun it was!


  2. […] Stargazing for people who think they don't have time for stargazing. « Double stars, urban observing, and where I go from here […]

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