The Rule of Ones

October 19, 2013
C102 2013-10-18

Tonight: one scope, one target. Here’s the scope.

I have several distinct modes as a stargazer. Sometimes I’m in exploration mode and I want to see and log new objects. Sometimes I’m in gear mode and I want to see how a given piece of equipment performs. Sometimes I’m in aesthetic mode and I just want to look at beautiful things. Sometimes I do all three in one night, or even looking at one object.

The last post, about current and future observing projects, was written in exploration mode. “Exploration” might seem like an odd word to apply to the activity of tracking down lists of things compiled by other observers. But if I haven’t seen them myself, then there is still the thrill of the hunt and the rush of discovery. And looking at all of these things is how I personally transmute caelum incognitum into known space. That’s exploration in my book.

Saturday night at the Salton Sea, I was in a blend of aesthetic mode and gear mode, because my ongoing thought process was basically, “Oh, hey, that beautiful thing is up now. I wonder how it looks through these scopes?” I think the only new thing I logged was 8 Lacertae, and if I hadn’t been so close to fiinishing the Double Star program, I wouldn’t have logged any new objects at all, despite staying up almost all night.

I do like observing lists. Some people dismiss them as stamp collecting or say that they make a fun pursuit into work. Well, different strokes, I guess. For me, observing lists come with the implicit subtitle, “Hey, here are the next n-hundred things that are really out there to be seen, any of which might knock your socks off.” Every observing program I have completed has introduced me to new favorite objects, which I periodically revisit, and has broadened my knowledge and experience of the cosmos.

But with all of that said, I don’t do enough casual stargazing, with no plan or agenda. That’s all I used to do, in my first few months as an amateur astronomer, and it almost killed me. Observing programs gave me a way to simultaneously learn the sky and educate myself about what’s up there. But the pendulum may have swung too far now; I hardly ever haul out a scope just to take a quick peek at the moon or Saturn.

All of this is on my mind because of a thread on CN called “When astronomy becomes a chore….” Here’s are some excerpts that have been much on my mind:

RussL: If I feel lazy I can get by with just the 120ST and my trusty TV Widefield 32mm. That way I don’t even have to feel obligated to see each object at every power I can. Easy.

Me: Peace through deliberately limited options–I love it! You have inspired me, sir.

RussL: Well, thanks. I’m glad to know my laziness has helped someone. But, it’s true that sometimes we need to relax more. It’s kinda like when I was a kid with next to nothing to view with, but happy as a clam with whatever I had. I have much more now, although not all that much. I guess part of the difference nowadays is that I have so much more knowledge and feel like I need to use it more. But there’s also a lot to be said for just having a good time without feeling like I must do everything possible.

karstenkoch: I’ve been mentally kicking around an idea for awhile that is still taking shape in my head. For lack of anything better to call it, I’ll call it the “Rule of Ones”. I’ve seen some comments above like it, so I thought I would mention it. There’s really nothing to it other than in order to keep things simple, easy, pure, and enjoyable do or choose only one of everything. Take one scope outside. Take only one eyepiece too. Pick one target to observe. You can imagine all of the other variables involved … choose or do only only one of each. Then, with no more decisions to make, just have a rest under the stars and enjoy your time observing and reflecting.

I like that. One scope, one eyepiece, just go. That sorta dovetails with another idea that has been growing in my mind–more on that in the next post.

Full moon - Oct 18 2013

And here’s the target.



  1. […] time for stargazing. « Observing tip: make a comparison chart for your eyepieces The Rule of Ones […]

  2. Very nice little essay, Matt. Calls to mind Thoreau’s oft-quoted advice for living more contentedly: “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.” Also, Aristotle’s advice of Moderation in all things, Excess in none.

    There is a lot of bottom-line wisdom here.

    I have found myself falling into the trap of If It’s Clear Out Tonight, Then I Have To Set Up and Observe. Even when sometimes I’m tired, or sometimes in my narrow viewing window there’s not much up there for me too look at, or sometimes our usually mediocre skies are more vapor-filled or otherwise washed-out than usual.

    But living in a locale that has the second-highest annual number of cloudy days (and nights) at 222 a year, I still tend to go out even on those nights when my enthusiasm is luke warm because you never know when the next Once Clear Night in a Month string begins. Like last June. And September wasn’t so hot, either.

    Then, like most of us, owning too many ‘scopes and too many eyepieces, there is those decisions to make, and all too often to second guess. Rare is the observing night when I don’t end up thinking ‘Should have brought out X scope instead’, and spending more time fretting about what EPs to use than actually using them, or at least winnowing down the menu to maybe 3 and ignoring the rest.

    I really homed in our your Three Observer Modes intro. Succinct and SO spot-on. Along with instrument and EP internal debates, there is this one, perhaps the most elemental questions of all: WHY and I going out tonight and WHAT do I want to do/accomplish with my time out there?

    I see myself most often in the Aesthetics camp. I mainly want to find and focus on objects that elicit a soft, involuntary Ooooooooo. So I find myself going back to familiar objects just to see how they look with a given scope on a given night as I do trying to hunt down new targets.

    While I see value in lists as this gently coerces you into ever new experiences, I have so far resisted the impulse, Sometimes, I think, to the detriment of becoming a better observer. But, in my skies and with my gear, I am most attracted to open clusters, and have found and enjoyed and sketched many of these. Almost to the exclusion of other DSOs. And when I do decide to run down non-OC Messiers, as I did last night with M15, it nearly always turns into yet another ho-hum gray smudge. For me, it is too often a case of the reward being the finding, and not the observing.

    But, as portability is paramount for me, I never see myself having anything larger than my current 6″ Orion StarBlast 6, hence lists have limited appeal for me. At this point. Which could change.

    In the interim, the Rule of Ones is an appealing approach. One scope, one EP (even if it maybe an 8 x 24 zoom which honors the letter of the premise, if not the spirit).

    As for binocular observing (like you I have both 10 x 50s and 15 x 70s), I find this the most pleasant and serene under the stars time. So easy to just do a slow celestial walkabout, stopping wherever and whenever you come across something beautiful or interesting in some geometric way, then moving on.

    Still, too much of this does lead to complacency and eventual staleness, an easy trap to fall into as binoc stargazing is so addictive.

    So maybe I do need to embark on a List Quest of some kind. It sure seems to work for you and Terry (not sure what David does) as you both have seen a lot more than I have over the past 18 months, which is my total time at this. Obviously, there is no Right Way to approach stargazing, but it seems sensible that for all of us there is, or perhaps should be, a sweet spot between disciplined, goal-oriented observing and semi-aimless scanning just for the ease and joy of it. Too much of the former can lead to Joy Becoming Job burnout, too much of the latter to no growth as an observer.
    So back to Aristotle: Moderation in All Things.

    Your Rule of Ones has given me a lot to think about, a lot to re-examine.



  3. […] October 18, 2013 […]

  4. […] October 8, 2013 […]

  5. […] night I was definitely in aesthetic observing mode. I spent a little over two and a half hours at the eyepiece, entirely on four objects – the […]

  6. […] To give a more aesthetically pleasing image when the seeing is bad. Opinions differ on this point. Some folks prefer to look through a larger aperture despite the increased susceptibility to bad seeing, on the grounds that in the moments when the atmosphere does settle down a bit, you’ll see more detail. I suppose it depends on whether one is in exploration mode or aesthetic observation mode. […]

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