Winter Gear for Astronomical Observing

Lots and nothing going on in my life tonight. I had planned to observe tonight, but conditions outside are only okay and the moon comes up here around 12:30a.m. to 12:40a.m. AND I have a funeral to attend. No one in my immediate family, an uncle passed away yesterday. The funeral is Saturday so that means a 3 hour drive and the funeral. Good news is I just may get to use the Obsession this weekend and pick it up. I'm bringing it home (as of today) for the month of October . . . unless I decide to leave it and go and spend 2 weeks down at the cabin to get away from everything. I'll also take the 14 in case my brother-in-law doesn't bring the 20" as the skies by where I am going are nice and dark so I am going to take advantage of it. Perhaps use the hobby to get some people's minds off of other things.

As I have posted, fall is here in Utah, and as of next week, the Indian Summer we have enjoyed will be going away. Daytime temperatures will be dropping and night time temps will drop even more. So in lieu of observing I thought I would offer up what I wear during the fall and winter for my observing sessions. There is nothing fancy here, and nothing really expensive. I will point out that the base is what I wear, even in the summer months, and I'll point that out in a minute. One thing I ask, please forgive the bed if you are a organize clean freak. I only make the bed on the weekends as I am flying out the door at 6:30 to 6:45a.m. to get my son to high school and me to work.

So where does it begin? Not with a picture of me in my underwear! But underwear is the first order of business and I wear boxer briefs with a non-cotton tee-shirt. The tee-shirt is made of a fiber that absorbs sweat. I need to buy a couple of briefs like that as well. Anyway, after the underwear I put on a polypropylene undershirt and leg long drawers (see the pictures after this paragraph). I purchased these ones from Cabelo's during the summer for $25.00 to $45.00 on closeout. Buying off season is a wonderful time to find deals on this type of clothing.

These are the briefs/pants This is the undershirt

Here you can see the underwear/pants that are still in the bag.

At this point I move to my feet. Keeping my feet warm is critical to a good cold session. The first item I put on is a pair of polypropylene inner layer socks. These socks are critical as they absorb the sweat from the feet while still allowing the feet to breathe. It's why I put that layer next to my body when first dressing. After the polypropylene inner socks, I put on a nice pair of warm wool socks. The polypropylene socks stops the itching from the wool (for me at least) and then keeps the warmth of my feet in my feet. Doing this I have never gotten cold in my feet, and one's feet is second only to the head for heat loss. Also, I tuck in my underwear pants into my wools socks to keep the heat in. You can see the set up in this photo:

Now I go to layer my legs. When I layer I wear clothes that are loose and I wear several thin layers as you'll see here. I find I begin next with a pair of warm pajama bottoms. They are baggy, loose and comfortable. It is here that I also begin my upper layer as I put on a large tee shirt (the one pictured is short sleeve, I have long sleeve ones I use in the winter), and tuck it into the pajama pants here. Keeping that extra long tee shirt allows the other layers to stay tucked in. If that tee shirt comes out, I usually have to stop my observing, and redo my layers so the cold doesn't get in. So the tee shirt is a very important component.

Next comes a regular pair of sweat pants that go over the pajama bottoms quite easily. If you look you'll see I am laying down the layers as I would put them on. If it is REALLY cold I put on another pair of sweatpants here.

As you can tell, fashion is not what this is about. Frankly, I don't care what someone thinks of me when I am wearing my gear. Again, I have never been cold but I have watched enough observing friends get cold by not being prepared. The last item I wear are not jeans. I wear nylon pants that fit over my other clothing quite comfortably. The nylon in my opinion is better than cotton jeans because it further traps the heat in while cotton allows the heat to be breathed out into the surrounding environment. I will also state that I also have a snow suit that I use for snow shoeing and if it is really cold, I will wear that over. It has a nylon like outer service as well (similar to nylon) that is water resistant and seals on the wrist and ankles.

Now on the top, after the tee shirt I wear a long underwear long sleeve shirt which goes over the tee shirt. Nice and baggy also, it provides a good layer of warmth as well.

Over this I put on a wool sweater that is large and loose. When I am wearing this sweater, you know it is cold out . I have another one I wear to work because it is so warm.

Over all of this I put on a extremely large (2 sizes to big for me) hooded sweatshirt. I find I can put the hood on when I need to and then a hat (see below) if I need additional warmth.

Last I put on this parka which is large if I am not layered. It is long, down to my mid thigh and the sleeves go to the middle of my hands. It seals up so air cannot escape and has a lined hood if needed. It is rated down to - 40 degrees below zero. I find with my parka on I simply don't get cold. Note on the color. The color gets dirty but it was available at the end of the season two years ago for 50% off (because of the color) and being cheap, but wanting a great coat, I snatched it up. Another thing is it has a pocket over my left breast/heart which zips so an eyepiece can fit there, and the pockets on the side are HUGE! A TV Pan 35 can fit in them. In addition I have two more pockets on the front that are similar. Enough storage if needed to store the two eyepieces I am using the most, and a couple of other things if needed. All the pockets zip shut.

Now, to the two important layers that you need to cover. Your head and your feet. Here are my winter/snow boats that I use to observe. For observing you can get the military's version called Mickey Mouse Boots. They are warm down to -20 degrees F. This link will let you see some of them. Snow mobile boots will also work good. Some like Baffin boots because of their warmth and water resistant. Below are my boots, that are 10 years old, still going strong. They are lined and are good to about -20 degrees below zero (I've had them down to -15 degrees with no problem). I was thinking of replacing them and then thought why? They work and work great! The key is to tie them tight and so no air gets in or out. Looks like I need to clean them up a bit!

Next comes the headgear. I have a variety that I have picked up. Some I hate, some I love. I'll go through them here.

My first head gear are just binnies. One is hand made from a good friend. The other is not. I have a sentimental value to the hand made one, because it comes from that dear friend. In reality, it is horrible in the field. It is better than nothing, but I don't wear it often. The blue one I love. It is warm, stays on my head, fits well and if needed will cover my ears. It is the one I most often put on in a session if the weather is in the 40 degree range to begin the session.

The next set are two a full face ski mask and a balaclava. The full face ski mask (the blue one) worked, but I found it to be tight, itchy and it just didn't fit right. It has been sent to be a mask for Halloween or if for someone reason, I cannot find on of my other options. The balaclava (the black one) is by far, my first choice. This one is fleece, and works extremely well for me. It keeps my face warm, and I can cover everything but my eyes with it, or expose my eyes and nose, or go so far as to expose my eyes, nose and mouth. If I want, I can remove to the neck level as a warmer if I choose. Often I put it on before the binnie I wear so I my face gets cold later, I can take the binnie off and just pull up the balaclava.

Just the balaclava. Keeping your head cold is the key to staying warm, so don't skip on this step.

My last option is a balaclava with a longer neck extension. Here are the two that I have. The black one is nice, made of fleece and keeps one warm. My problem is my head is I have a large neck and it always seem to me that I am being strangled in it. This is one my son uses though for observing with me in the winter. It fits him perfectly.

My favorite though is the camouflage one. I find that hunters gear work wonderfully for observing because both activities can be very limited in the amount of heat they create. In other words, both can be sitting for a long time. As a result, the gear they make for hunting works wonderful for cold weather observing. My camouflage one fits perfectly, keeps my ears, nose, and neck toasty and I love using it. It is the only thing on a REALLY cold night that I will opt not to put the balaclava on for.

Last are my hands. I have several gloves that I use and one set of mittens that I did not take an image of. The mittens are gray and are the very first item I put on when I think the temperature is dropping. I am able to use my hands with them and fingers normally. If I get colder than that then the gloves or the second wool mittens come out. One thing you will see here are that in all of these cases the fingers are allowed to be exposed on the end.

These mittens are made of wool, and the ends are cut off so my fingers can stick out. I can wear these with my gray gloves and have a fully functioning set of fingers. However, when it gets really cold, then the cold will come through the fabric and the hands and fingers get cold. Nothing worse than a very cold set of fingers and hands.

When these don't work anymore I move to fingerless gloves, heavier to do mittens. Here I am equally torn between two sets. I have the black set, and with these the fingers can be exposed by lifting the mitten pouch back over the hand. Most have Velcro that connects the pouch to the top of the hand so it doesn't flip back and forth. If you look carefully at the thumb, on these (which were a gift from a student) the thumb is exposed. I love that feature.

This is the set that I have used for a long time. Again a pair made for bow hunting and sitting in a stand and they have been very good to me. What I don't like about this pair is the thumb is not exposed. I suppose that would be a simple fix and we'll have to see about doing that.

The last item I'll mention is Hot Hands Warmers. These are warming packs that you shake up and then put next to your body part to warm up that area. I've seen them for feet, hands, and body. I have only ever purchased the hands one. If for some reason my feet were to get cold, I would simply put a pack in my socks and warm them up. I had a friend do this who was dressed appropriately last winter season and it worked fine. I mainly use these for my hands. I usually have one in each of my mitten pouches while my hands are warming to increase their warmth. They have preserved many an observing sessions. I have also used one in my eyepiece pocket in my jacket to warm up the area so an eyepiece can become defogged from my breathing on it. That is the one down side to the head gear I mention that can cover the mouth and nose. You can breath on an eyepiece and fog it up. Just be careful and you won't if your aware of it. I get these chemical warmers from Walmart, which has the cheapest price, and I usually stock up at the beginning of the season. I usually over estimate and then have extras heading into the next year.

Other items to consider.

Vehicle or landscape as a wind screen. Often I have found it is not the actual temperature that drives me to close up shop, but the wind chill. So when picking a spot, try to pick one that is protected from the wind. If at a dark site, use your vehicle to provide a shield from the wind. Also, use the vehicle. My Pathfinder remains dark adapted, in other words I can turn off the two dome lights and it remains completely dark. So if it is windy, go into the car and use it to read charts, or to finish an observation or a sketch.

Since dehydration only makes worse the affects of hypothermia, take and drink plenty of your favorite hot drink. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can increase the effects of hypothermia while alcohol will mask hypothermia.

One item I read from a couple of sources and talked to a friend about is the use of catalytic propane heater in the range of 3000 BTU/hour. You can take it and start it, and then when cold, take a blanket, open up your coat and put the blanket around you like a tent and lean forward toward the heater. It will make you warmer from what I' ve read and been told. You can also put it in a van or a SUV if the rear seats are down, and leave a window or two slightly open. It will increase the temperature in the car so you can be quite toasting when you get cold and you avoid the buildup of the gas. Not sure on this one though as I have never tried it and wouldn't do it if I was alone. Here is one example, the Coleman BlackCat which sells for $58.00 on Amazom. Based on reviews and reading up on them, this is the one I want. The Coleman BlackCat Perfecttemp Catalytic Heater. I check the local dealers from that link and it is available for me and it is right now around $55 on Amazom . It seems like a great idea now that I have read up more on it. Love to hear if anyone else has an experience with it.

There are plenty of people with more experience and you can google and find lots of available sites. I'll list a few I have found on cold weather observing, some of their information is part of what I have shared while most of it is based on my own experience. I hope that you may enjoy the fall and winter observing seasons in as warm of conditions as you can find.

Robert and Barbara Thompson on Cold Weather Observing

12 Tips to Choosing Cold Clothes

Saguaro Astronomy Club Keeping Warm While Observing


The Night Sky Observers Guide: Some ways to use it

One of the things I think that happens in this hobby, is we get reference material, read and look things over and then forget that we have them. In this age of the internet it is so easy to do this and to avoid using the books we have purchased. Over 2 years ago I purchased the Night Sky Observers Guide, Volumes 1 & 2 (I chose at the time to put off volume 3 but am going to order it soon) from Scope City in Las Vegas when I was done there. After that trip to Vegas, I got the books home and read over them quite a bit . Then they went on the shelf where they have sat and until the fire, I noticed them, but didn't pull them out much, using the online site, The NGC/IC Project. That site is an incredible site, and I will continue to use it. However, after the recent fire, when I really had to look around my office and in about 5 minutes, decide what I was going to really miss, it hit me pretty hard that these two books were items that I would not only miss, but that I have under utilized.

So, I thought today, I would share one or two ways that I use these books. This isn't a review, you can find that elsewhere, and I've stated clearly that for me, these are greatly valued (enough that I stuck them in the SUV after everything was loaded when we packed up for the elocution). So, that should tell you what I think of them. Perfect, no work is and I don't hold anything to that standard. Valuable, yes, and I hope I can show why.

The main way I used these two volumes is after I am done observing, and while I am processing my sketches, I take my observation form and compare the observation form and what I wrote to how the object is described in the NSOG. For example, NGC 404, also known as Mirach's Ghost, I recorded the following down as my observation:

"Mirach's Ghost or NGC 404 is a easily seen with Mirach in the FOV (field of view). It has a bright stellar core, surrounded by a brighter diffused halo. No structure is visible. Small and round. A fun object to sketch and observe "

Here is the recorded observation for 12/14" Scope at 100x (which is similar to what I used in the XX14i with a 14mm Pentax XW):

"This is a beautiful object making a fine pair with the bright star Beta Andromedae. It is fairly bright, small, round, and slightly brighter in the center. During periods of good seeing a stellar nucleus may be glimpsed."

Okay, so why do this? I've observed enough to know recognize my objects. I use a digital voice recorder and/or write them down in the field or back at home so I have a record of what has happen. I've also observed enough to know most of my recorded observations will match up with other observations. So, again why do this? Because it allows me to compare my observation with someone else's who is using similar equipment. It does validate the observation but it also allows me to connect to the other person who made that observation. I enjoy comparing my observation to another persons. Also, there are times when I miss something that someone else saw, and that allows me to mark that item for further review to see if I can capture that same detail. I also like it because in the NGC/IC Database, the scope used often is a 17 or 17.5 reflector/dob, and if I am using a 10 inch or a 14 inch that is a different view. The NGC/IC Database has smaller scopes, but not always. The NSOG usually always has an aperture near what I am using. Even when using the 20" the 16-18" reports come close.

A few other things to remind myself more than anyone else, is the wonderful Introductions in these books. The information is extremely helpful while the tables are informative. I enjoy the tables from Stellar Spectral Types to the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram to Star Cluster Trumpler Types to Planetary Nebulae Types and Galaxy Types. All I find truly helpful. I also enjoy reading on the various types of objects from globular clusters, to variable stars, to double stars to galaxies, PN's , open clusters etc.

Next, and another section that is extremely helpful is Chapter 1, Observation of Deep-Sky Objects. The subsection on Object Visibility helps us to know the difference between a photographic magnitude and a visual magnitude. I have committed to learning and using the Visual Impressions with 12/14" Scopes found in Table 1-2 while observing as well as the visual rating guide offered in there. For anyone the section on keeping records and their two page introduction to sketching is a very good starting point. Last, go to the back and take a look at the pictures of some of those observers and astrophotographers who contributed to the work. I've meant a couple and like with a fine wine, they have certainly matured well.

In concluding, you can also use this to plan an observing session since they are by constellation. Pick a constellation that offers good viewing, then go through and pick out the objects you want to observe using the NGOG as your guide. If your into astrophotography, use each volume to identify objects you may want to photograph in a specific constellation. Often there are more than one object visually or photographically that are near each other to see. So, no matter what you do, you can use these guides to plan your next session, be it visually or photographically. Then go and view and compare notes after wards. Comparing notes is something I save or days when I cannot observe due to clouds or other commitments. Thanks to Mr. Kepple and Mr. Sumner for putting together such wonderful volumes! It was good to become reaquianted with some old friends, as books often are to me. If you have other ways you use these volumes, please feel free to leave a comment on how you use them.


Milk Jug Washers for the Secondary

I have pm'd Jason Khadder over at CloudyNights to get his permission to reproduce his posts there on making the milk jug washers for your secondary hold/collimation screws/Bob's Knobs. All credit for this goes to Jason Khadder known as Jason D over at CloudyNights. This mod made using and collimating my XX14i much easier using the Bob's Dobs. So enough from me, here are the images and his thoughts. You can download the picture/image to make a pattern and cut it out.

From Jason:
"As the person who came up with the idea of using 2 milk-jug washers as opposed to the more common metallic washer solution, let me explain:
1- The two washers make it easier to rotate the mirror when the set screws are slightly loosened
2- The washers hold the mirror stalk in place better when the set screws are tightened
3- The washers protect the mirror stalk from dents – just like the metallic washer
4- The most important advantage of the two washers by far is the ability to make fine adjustments by tightening one set screw without the need to loosening the other two. Because of the elasticity of the two washers, they behave like micro-springs."

Also from Jason in reply to someone not comfortable (I believe) in removing the secondary to put on the milk jug washers.

"You do not have to wait. You can add the milk-jug washer and experiment with it without the need to remove your secondary -- see attachment. Just make a radial cut and slide it in. If yyou like it, then you can add an uncut one later.
I found two milk-jug washers to work better than one. Give it a shot."

Above and below are the milk jug washers I made for my XT10. I made a more permanent set for the XX14i.


Last Observations from September 11th to 12th, 2010; NGC 2768, NGC 7331, NGC 3077, NGC 2985, NGC 3147, NGC 2742

These are the last objects from Lakeside, Utah on the night of September 11th and 12th, 2010. I may have posted one or two before and if so, I ask your forgiveness. Enjoy them and I'll try to put in the originals as well at some point this week when I have time. The information is on the bottom of the sketch but if someone wants it typed, I can copy and past it in. Thanks for taking time to look over things!


NGC 2742

NGC 2985

NGC 3147

NGC 3077

NGC 2768


September 11th and 12th 2010; NGC 3034/M82 and NGC 7331 Galaxies

A few more sketches done tonight, though I have had to clean the 1o inch mirror tonight due to the fire. Seems some soot got past the plastic shower caps I use on both ends. Time to clean that one up so I went ahead and did it using a spray bottle with the dove and distilled water, and then I rinsed it with distilled water (1 gallon). I did that 3 times and the mirror has dried without spots and I've loaded it back up. The 14 seems to be good since it was in a case. I am now storing the 10 inch in its case. The notes are under the sketch so I'll leave it at that, but I will upload the original also.

NGC 7331 Spiral Galaxy in Pegasus.

NGC 3034 or Messier 82, Starburst Galaxy in Ursa Major.

A few more sketches that I don't think I've posted. You can see on the digital version of NGC 891 I added the glow from the central part of the galaxy while the original did not have this. The original is also where I made a mistake. I tried correcting the sketch after getting home and in the process I really messed it up. It looks like nothing I had before and I'll need to re-sketch it in the field again.

The massacred original:

I think I may have posted this one but there it is, off shaped ad all. I much like the original that I am looking on my desk a lot better. This one looks like a paramecium to me. I have to figure out my scanner and that process.


More Observations from September 4th, 2010; NGC 488, NGC 520, NGC 612, NGC 250

Well, with all that has been going on, I have been processing my sketches in terms of scanning the originals. The digital versions are coming along and I find it to be relaxing when I can't sleep at night to process these. I am glad that though it is full moon this weekend, that I am off on Friday, I hope to have all of these older ones wrapped up and head south to the observatory to do some double viewing and perhaps some open clusters on the Obsession. In October I am off for 3 weeks from work and it is my month with the Obsession so I am going to use it a TON!

Object: NGC 520 Galaxy in Pisces; Date: September 4th, 2010; Time: 12:22a.m. MDT or 06:22 UT; Location: Wolf Creek Pass, Utah; Conditions: Clear, Mild (for 9879 feet); Antoniadi I; LVM 6.6 to 6.7; Mag. 11.16; Size 4.6 x 1.9''; Instrument: XX14i; Eyepiece 14mm Pentax XW;
Small galaxy, laying NW to SE, rather irregular in shape in the eyepiece. Seems to have a star imposed on the SW edge. With more observing there is a dust lane in the middle and this looks like two galaxies merging. NSOG confirms these are two irregular galaxies merging.

Object: NGC 488 Galaxy in Pisces. Date: September 5th 12:20a.m. MDT or 06:20 UT; Location: Lakeside, Utah; Conditions: Clear and cool, Antoniadi II, LVM: 6.5 ; Mag. 10.3v; Size: 5.5' x 4.0'; Instrument: XX14i; Eyepiece: 14mm & 10mm Pentax XW;
Direct vision shows a very bright stellar core to this galaxy. The galaxy is very round/circular. Averted vision shows more of the size of the surrounding halo around the core. The galaxy is face on and not a lot of features. NGC 490 lies to the NE though it is not in the sketch.


Object: NGC 250 Lenticular Galaxy in Pisces; Date: September 4, 2010; Time: 01:16 a.m. MDT; 07:16 UT; Location: Wolf Creek Pass, Utah; Conditions: Clear, cool, Antoniadi I; LVM: 7.0; Mag.: 11.47; Instrument: XX14i; Eyepiece(s): 10mm & 14mm Pentax XW;
A small but brighter galaxy. It has a bright round core surrounded by a diffused halo. It almost reminds me of a planetary nebula the way it looks. It lays near the center of a right triangle.


Fire in Herriman Utah

Most people won't know this, unless you live in Utah, but yesterday at Camp Williams, the National Guard was practicing, with 30 to 50mph winds, live machine gun fire without tracers. One or more rounds set a fire and they thought they had it contained but 3 hours later, at 3:30p.m. the fire was out of control.

The smoke here was really thick and we faced the possibility of evacuation. I loaded up the SUV with our laptops, personal items and government documents and then some of my astronomy stuff that I didn't want to have to replace. We were told to have a bag with clothes, some valuables and anything else ready to go. Fortunately, the call or officer never came though we ended up being just two blocks from the evacuation zone. This morning I smell like I have sat all night at a campfire. I did go out last night from about 12:00 a.m. til 1:30a.m., watching the fire destroy some homes and burn with flames that would fan up to 30 to 50 feet in height. Ash fell at times like a soft snow so I did not stay outside too long, just out for a few minutes, talking to neighbors and then back in.

Below you can see what the fire looked like from a distance during the late afternoon on Sunday.

Here the fire is cresting the ridge (Camp Williams, the National Guard practices there).

Here is why there were so many concerns.

Here you can see the extent of the flames as the 50mph gusts from the south fuel them up to 30ft or higher. It was at this point that the city council and other political figures toured the area and it was feared there would be from 50 to 100 homes lost. Fire came within 30 feet of many homes but the firefighters were able to save these homes, a huge credit to their professionalism and dedication.

This shows what I was able to view from my home of this fire.

I will miss work today as the police told me that we should stay in place so we don't clog the two main transportation routes into and out of Herriman. It was a very reflective process and one thing I did do last night was to film all of our possessions and to put it on the portable hard drive so I can prove to insurance companies what I have.

Over 10,000 acres have burned so far. No viewing for me. I never thought I would have to live through a fire. I've lived through a 7.0 earthquake during the 1988 Loma Prieta or World Series earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. I've been through a couple of Tropical Storms when I lived in Florida and a tornado when I lived in Illinois. I never thought that fire would impact me in such a way. I truly hope that each of your skies stay and are much clearer than mine.

Here are some pictures I took near the fire site:

The hill was a golden brown before the fire.

We all thought this home would be gone but thanks to the firefighters who made a break, the fire curved around the home. The firefighters did an incredible job and the update is 3 homes lost, 1 structure lost. If you look carefully, you can see how close the fire came to this home.

Right in the middle in the back, is one of the homes that was lost. The wife/mother of the home found out in the parking lot of the local high school that is serving as the evacuation center when someone handed her a copy of today's Salt Lake Tribune and right there was a picture of her home burning. This home is the one my neighbor and I saw burning last night. The tall thing in the middle is the remains of their once beautiful chimney.

Image of the hill showing the destruction.

You can still see some hot spots, but the fire today is on the other side of the hill. Look carefully and you can see further evidence of how close this came to the homes. I'm sure some of these have smoke damage though.