Planning and Logging Observing Sessions:
Back in Spring I did a lot of research on how to successfully plan and log an observing session. Until recently I would get a list of targets for the season from periodicals like the Sky at Night magazine and some books, ie 'Turn Left at Orion'. I would then use print-outs from Stellarium to plan each starhop to the target object.
While quite fun and a great way to learn the night sky this approach is quite time consuming. Mostly I would only know on the day that the nearest dark sky sight would be open, so I would end up rushing the preparation for getting out that night.
I decided to do some research to see if there was anything out there that could aid my planning. This paid off and I found Starmap HD for the ipad which is excellent field tool for the low-tech visual observer.
While quite pricey for an app, I think it was £11.99 well spent since it has made a tremendous difference to my observing experience. There are many features. Below are some of those I find most useful:
Starmap HD Key Features:
- Tonight - allows you to see which objects are visible tonight. Perfect if you've had no time to create a detailed plan for the evening. You can filter the list by observation means, time of observation and object type. You can also sort the list by best, magnitude, rise and set time.
- Find - once you have selected a target you can hit the find option and you are taken to the star map screen and provided with a real time star hop to help you locate the object.
- Optics - you can add focal length and field of view settings for your telescope, finder, eyepieces, Barlow and reducers. When in the Starmap view, this allows you to see exactly what you would view through the telescope. You can move between the eyepieces with swipe gestures; very useful for when going between the finder and your eyepiece. You can also flip the view horizontally and vertically to adjust for various image flips from your lenses and mirrors.
- Path-finder - this feature allows you to overlay on the Starmap view a star hop from a bright star to your target
- Featured - with this you can create a quick-reference list of objects; perfect for preparing and organising your targets for a night's observing.
- Logbook - here is a free-text area of the app where you can edit and save any text content as separate logs. Ideal for planning a session and logging your findings.
In addition to the above I have purchased 2 more accessories to improve my observing experience. My recent observing sessions were cut short due to one of amateur astronomers' key nemisis; dew. Dew had gotten to all the optics by about 11pm and with no way to remove this I had to pack up and go home. To overcome this I purchased some heated dew bands, powered by a leisure battery, that fit around the key optics and prevent dew from forming altogether. Means my session can go on to the early hours in the morning.
My second purchase was a Meade Ultra Wide Angle Eyepiece. The lens in this eyepiece does some clever things with the light to give the effect of being out there in space with the stars. A nice alternative to my zoom eyepiece.
I have also began to get together some kit to do some basic Astrophotography. I got a Canon 450D DSLR camera and the adapters to connect this to my telescope. You can see in the pic below. I have also linked the camera to my laptop so I can control the camera using the EOS Utility software that comes with the camera. It is worth noting that I picked up the majority of these accessories from used item websites.
I haven't yet had the chance to test this setup out in the field. However, when I do I will being trying to get some shots of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. There is an excellent tutorial by Forrest Tannaka who does something similar with a DSLR mounted on a regular alt-az camera tripod. See the link below.