Buying Winter Clothing in July?

This post is for two people, but I hope others can benefit from it as well.  This weekend has been an interesting one.  For the last month I have felt my low back doing something it hasn't done for some time, go out. I have a bad L5/S1 disc and yes, when it goes, it really hurts. Well, this last Wednesday a simple thing like adjusting a mattress from making the bed was the final straw, and I felt it go.  This was not a good thing as I had a commitment to a family to do an outreach on Thursday, and to do the outreach at the Herriman library for Friday. My son helped me and it was wonderful to spend an evening showing the sky with him to members of our community.  Sunday I was down all day and today, we got our new flooring in the kitchen and dinning room and tomorrow we get our new carpet upstairs.  So the house is a mess, most everything upstairs is in our garage or downstairs and the rest of the week will be spent putting the house back together upstairs (the downstairs has new carpet and flooring).  

So, that isn't what this entry is about. Tonight I went with my wife to Highland and on the way home, I had looked over the Cabella's website and I stopped to try to take advantage of their cold weather gear closeouts from the last year or earlier this year. Why would I want to do this and why go to a hunter/outdoor rec store? Well, first, I LOVE the winter sky. In my opinion there are wonders and objects in the winter sky that far surpass (or at least equal) any of the similar objects from the summer sky.  Also, those cold fall and spring nights mean warm clothing usually if your going to observe. As my winter outfit finally wore out after 8 years of use on a regular basis (there is more cold weather in Utah than warm weather because we have the four seasons).  So I watch Cabella's in the spring and summer to time my purchases.  This time, I didn't want to have to wear as many layers in the field so I looked close for good winter field clothing to wear, and I scored!  

I'll have to include the images from Cabela's since trying to take a picture of these items is difficult right now. The first item I purchased was a wonderful new winter parka that is insulated and water proof.  It is the Cabela's Guidewear X300 Insulated Parka.  Here is an image, the one I got is in Green and Black: 

This image shows the color of the one I purchased. 

The parka is discontinued now, though I think you'll see something like it down the road.  Mine was in the clearance area, so no returns to me, but I checked it out throughly as did the worker there and nothing was wrong or missing. Most likely this was a return.  It fit very loosely and has enough pockets on it to hold 4 eyepieces, and anything else you'd want. Oh, cost is what I hear. Well, it wasn't cheap at $140.00 but the regular price was $289.00.  You can read the reviews on the various types of X300's here and see that people have had the coat out in -20 degree F weather and they remain snug and as a bug in it.  

The next item goes with this parka and it is Cabela's Guidewear Core Tex Bibs for $119.00.  Here is an image: 

The bibs are black like these, and are nice and warm, I actually got quite warm in the store just trying them on.  They would allow me to wear a pair of jeans (not the best for cold weather) but in reality they will allow me to wear my cold weather/winter thermals, a pair of wool pants and if needed another lay on top though I don't think I'll need that under these.  I'll wear my same winter/cold weather thermal top, a tee shirt to absorb any sweat followed by a fleece shirt and then a wool sweater and a that should work with the parka.  Here's a link to their information. 

Now, I found one last item that I just couldn't pass up, and it was another pair of bibs, camo bibs.  Why did I get them, because I got them for half off the sales price which was $104.00 and so these only cost $62.00. Here they are, Cabela's Fleece Dry Plus Insulated Bibs.  These fit better than the ones up above and probably are the ones I'll wear in the field more. The are loose for a big guy like me, warm, I started to swear with this one in the store, and comfortable. I had shorts, my shirt and I still had room for layers while the movement was fluid.  Yes, I can see me in the West Desert in the winter observing with these on. 

I'll wear my new green and black parka with them, and though I won't be styling, I promise that with the parka and wearing one of the two bibs I'll be very warm.  

Now, you may or may not find these at your local Cabella's and the clearance cost can vary.  You'll have to go look for yourself. I set myself up for cold weather observing now for the next 5 years, perhaps longer.  So though the heat of summer may bearing down on you, as you drink your favorite cold beverage, you need to start thinking about what to wear coming winter as you explore Orion, Canis Major, Eridanus (galaxies, some of the most beautiful are there) Auriga (some fine nebula there) Gemni (a SN remnant) Lepus, Taurus, Monoceros and many other wonderful objects and challenges.  For the cost of a very good to premium eyepiece tonight, I am set for winter observing.  The question is are you and if not, why not start planning for it and checking out some closeouts to save some money on good cold weather gear? More of cold weather observing in an upcoming post.  


Campbell's Hydrogen Star

Well, I came across another object that I put on the list for August to observe.  I got it from the Deep Sky Forum and the link for that is down below.  Be careful.  If you like faint fuzzies for large scopes or challenges for intermediate scopes you may get hooked on that forum!  Dark Sky Apparel brings you that site and I honestly do encourage you to check it out.  You may not be able to tell from all my posts, but planetary nebula are by far, my favorite objects to observe.  I've said it before, and I'll probably say that again.  Galaxies are also wonderful, but for me, a planetary nebula reminds me that the fate of our own solar system is finite, there will be an end.  There are all kinds of reasons why I find that both intriguing and interesting but I won't touch on that here.

Anyway, Campbell's Hydrogen Star is a Planetary Nebula in the constellation of Cygnus.  Yet it is a different planetary nebula.  It doesn't respond to the OIII filter but responds best to the Hydrogen Beta Filter (another use besides the Horsehead Nebula for one of these filters (see my post of David Knisely's HB Filter list i.e. the objects listed here that he has come up with):

2. NGC 1499 (CALIFORNIA NEBULA, naked eye and RFT)
3. M43 (part of the Great Orion Nebula)
4. IC 5146 (COCOON NEBULA in Cygnus)
5. M20 (TRIFID NEBULA, main section)
6. NGC 2327 (diffuse nebula in Monoceros)
7. IC 405 (the FLAMING STAR NEBULA in Auriga)
8. IC 417 (diffuse Nebula in Auriga)
9. IC 1283 (diffuse Nebula in Sagittarius)
10. IC 1318 GAMMA CYGNI NEBULA (diffuse nebula in Cygnus)
11. IC 2177: (Diffuse Nebula, Monoceros)
12. IC 5076 (diffuse nebula, Cygnus)
13. PK64+5.1 "CAMPBELL'S HYDROGEN STAR" Cygnus (PNG 64.7+5.0)
14. Sh2-157a (small round nebula inside larger Sh2-157, Cassiopeia)
15. Sh2-235 (diffuse nebula in Auriga).
16. Sh2-276 "BARNARD'S LOOP" (diffuse nebula in Orion, naked eye)
17. IC 2162 (diffuse nebula in northern Orion)
18 Sh2-254 (diffuse nebula in northern Orion near IC 2162)
19. Sh2-256-7 (diffuse nebula in northern Orion near IC 2162)
20. vdB93 (Gum-1) (diffuse nebula in Monoceros near IC 2177)
21. Lambda Orionis nebular complex (very large, naked-eye)

Please note that IC 5146 is the Cocoon Nebula also in Cygnus and it does make a difference in viewing that faint target.  Another target in Cygnus that is perhaps well known but often overlooked is Campbell's Hydrogen Star.  Located not far from Alberio this is a planetary nebula with some weird spectrograph and emission lines coming out of it.  In truth it is a Wolf Rayet Star that is a carbon star that is very hot and its outer layer is just been thrown off.  Herschel never saw this objects so its not in his catalog, nor is it included in the NGC catalog by Dryer.  It took American astronomer William Campbell to find it in 1899 using the Lick telescope and to determine that it is an actual planetary nebula, though it is small in size.  From Night Sky Info comes this comment: 5" across, an 8-inch reflector at 200x reveals just a small, 9th-magnitude grayish disk. Larger telescopes equipped with an OIII filter will also show the nebula's 11.3-magnitude central star."  Here is a link to their finderchart.

Coming from the Deep Sky Browsing Forum is  this comment and here is the link to it (warning, if you want faint fuzzies for larger scopes this site can be addictive as some of the best visual observers in the world are on this list and actively posting):

The halo itself can be seen with telescopes from the 12”-14” range. Under good to very good seeing the halo could be resolved as a very small ring with better defined and brighter SE and NW ring parts. Hß filters help to resolve the halo from bright and disturbing CS (10,3mag). UHC and [OIII] doesn’t help.
Also very interesting and exciting is the color of the PN. It is one of the few Deep-Sky-Objects from what we can observe visually its red characteristic. Most people with mid range telescopes reported a red or orange CS. But the color itself is formed from the halo. My own experience with 27” showed a white CS and a red to orange halo/ring. There are other reports and observations which confirm this.

So, as they ask there, I will ask here, what did you see when you looked at it?  I'll let you know in about 2 weeks or so.  Here are my finder charts from Starry Night Pro for the object. Please remember, these are faint objects, the color is worth chasing down I believe and thus why I shared it, but this is not a Messier object.  It is a fun challenge object to go after.  The fun is in finding and in observing and seeing what details you can pull out of it as an observer.  You may have Lockwood or Zambuto or top notch optics, but the mirror is only as good as conditions and more importantly, what the observer can discern through their scope and mirror.  I guess in my evolution as an observer, I am learning that it takes an outstanding mirror, an outstanding, experience observer who can handle faint objects and see details there, with the right conditions to make for an outstanding evening.  Just my opinion and thus why I share some of the funner objects to take a peek at.  If your interested perhaps in some further reading I recommend this link which is an essay by Stephen Waldee out of the SF Bay Area on his observations of some well known and not so well known PN's.  The one for PK 64+5.1 is about half way down the page.

Here is a link to the Deep Sky Browser page for PK 64+5.1 and you can also print a finder chart from there if you want.

 Here is the view that includes Alberio, 9Cygni.

Below is the view from 9Cygni.

Last is the view as you approach Campbell's Hydrogen Star.


Observing July 17-18, 19th and 20h, 2012 Challenge Objects

Messier 45, Jupiter, Hyades, Venus in the Eastern Sky from Forest Road 006 by my friend Jorge (yes, that is the Sun starting to come up near the horizon).  

Well, I called the window this last week that the best days to observe would be from Tuesday through Thursday, and then the weekend wouldn't be so good.  I've had some email questions on how I predict the weather and it is really a variety of tools that I use. My first tool is of course, Clear Sky Clock and the one for the area I want to observe.  If the forecast there is mixed, I click on the box for example, the 16 h box for clouds and then look at the track for clouds that evening.  I then move to a Skippy Sky Astronomy where I go to the Northwest tab up in the upper left and then remembering that UTC is six hours (Daylight Saves, 7 for Standard) ahead, I adjust the windows for the times when I am observing. Here I check more than just clouds, but seeing, transparency, dew, jet stream, temperature, wind speed etc.  Finally I go to the local NWS for SLC and check the Forecast Discusion, the Local Forecast and the Activity Planner for a city near where I am observing. These are located on the left.  Finally I check the Jet Stream and I put it together.  It is important to know the impact and the weather the Jet Stream brings in each season, at least here in Utah where we do have all four seasons in the north.  The result is that for the last 2 years I have about a 90% accuracy for when to observe. It's not hard, but to maximize your time observing, you have to follow the weather.  If you have further questions, email, post a comment or post on the Utah Astronomy Forum to the right.

So last week I got out 3 times and by the weekend I was exhausted. If the weather had been good I would have gone on Saturday as well but it just did not cooperate.  I felt bad about that because there were a couple of people I would have like to have met.  Anyway, this observing was about challenges, some Herschels but not many and helping some newer guys learn the ropes and then waiting for the sky to clear again on Friday.  Overall, it was a very fun and enjoyable week.

One thing I really like about this hobby is the many varied and wonderful people I've met in it.  Each is unique and an individual and I enjoy their company and what they bring to an observing session.  Its fun to go to a dark site with others, to view the universe in such a way that you never can under light pollution and to enjoy the views together and each other's conversation.  So, if you are a friend, a fellow observing companion, or someone that has just come out, or someone I have yet to meet, thank you for your impact on my life, my observing and for our continued and on going observing time together. May we have clear skies and many sessions left!

So here we go.  I have a few more to add but life is going to get hectic here over the next week so it may be a few days before I add the other sketches.  Here are these.

1. NGC 4656 & NGC 4657, The Hockey Stick; Galaxies in Canes Venatici; June 17th, 2012; 11:09pm MDT; Antoniadi III, Clear and Mild;  FR006 Site 1, Owl Haven; XX14i and 10mm Pentax XW.

Okay, before I mention my notes, prior to this I need to remind you that at this spot in January, my friend Mat and I were observing when two owl parents were feeding their owlets in a nearby Juniper.  This evening for a good period of time at twilight, 5 owls flew over us and examined us as they chased insects and we think some bats.  It was rather cool to have them fly 2 to 3 feet over our head.

NGC 4656 is a wonderful galaxy, very bright and is elongated SW to NE.  It has a bright inner core and with averted vision a stellar nucleus seems to pop out.  Seems to be merging with NGC 4657 though there is debate that NGC 4657 may just be part of NGC 4656.  Photos will show a tidal tail from NGC 4657.  Cool object and one I recommend viewing.

2. NGC 4631, The Whale,  Edge on Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venaticic; vMag. 9.1; Size: 15.5' x 2.7'; July 17th, 2012; 11:30pm MDT; FR006 Site 1; Antoniadi II-III, clear and mild; XX14i with 10mm Pentax XW;

2a NGC 4627 Galaxy in Canes Venatici with v. Mag 12.0, Size: 2.6' x 1.8'; conditions and instruments per above.

This is a very elongated galaxy with knots of brightness to each side of the core.  Mottling is highly evident in this galaxy along the axis bringing out detail on this tremendous view.  NGC 4627 is also visible and included in the sketch.  This were two Herschel 400 sketches I missed so I wanted to include them.

3. PK356-4.1 Planetary Nebula in Messier 7 in Scorpius; 7/17/2012; 10:45pm MDT; Antoniadi II, Clear, Cool;  FR006 Site 1; XX14i 20mm ES 68 degree finder, 10mm Pentax XW sketch; Ultrablock NB and OIII Filters;

This is a very dim PN, and one you will not see in light polluted skies, it needs a dark site and a filter.  In reality this is a small fuzziness that was aided by using averted vision which brought out the shape.  This object would pop, hold, fade, then pop, hold, fade.  Nice challenge for those who want it.

4. Hoffleit 2-1 or Hf 2.1 or PN G255.4-04.0, a planetary nebula in Messier 7 in Scorpius;  July 17, 2012; Antoniadi II, clear, mild; FR006 Site 1; 7mm Pentax XW with XX14i, OIII Filter.

Bright and very tiny planetary nebula in Messier 7.  Required the OIII filter, and averted vision.  Somewhat roundish in appearance.  This one is hard, very hard.

5. Minkowski 1-30 or M 1-30 or PN G255.9-04.2, planetary nebula in Messier 7 in Scorpius;  Antoniadi II, clear, mild; FR006 Site 1;  7mm Pentax XW, XX14i, OIII filter;

Very faint planetary nebula in Messier 7.  OIII helps to bring it out and averted vision, and studying the field.

6. IC 4617 Spiral Galaxy in Hercules, next to Messier 13; July 19, 2012; FR006 Site 1; Antoniadi I, clear, mild; XX14i, Pentax 7&10mm XW;  mag. 15.7 to 15.9;

My finder chart made this an easy find and I will be adding the finder charts I used to this blog in the next few days.  Anyway, the finder chart made finding the field of view easy and I used the 7mm Pentax XW i steady skies to observe this faint galaxy.  Averted vision is a must to acquire the faint and small nebulosity around a very tiny, but stellar core that was viewable at times.

7. NGC 6453 Globular Cluster in Messier 7 in Scorpius;  Antoniadi II, clear, cool; XX14i, 20mm ES 68 degree as the finder, 10mm Pentax XW for the sketch;

This is a rather small but bright globular that is a bulge and on the SW side and with a top leaning to the NE.  Some individual stars are evident at 165x.  Faint outer halo with bright diffusion next to that and a brighter core region.  Good object to hunt down and easy to find with a finder chart.  I'l post mine soon.

8. IC 1296 Spiral Galaxy in Lyra (next to the Messier 57, The Ring Nebula); 7/19/2012; Antoniadi I; FR006 Site 1; Mag. 16.9 (?) XX14i with 10mm & 7mm Pentax XW;

This is an EXTREMELY FAINT galaxy near the Ring Nebula.  You must have a good finder chart for it, but it isn't hard to located the field of view.  It will take time in a intermediate size scope to see the galaxy, at least it did for me.  This isn't one for a light polluted site and anyone claiming it in a light polluted site is crazy . . . I'm not sure on this one though two people confirmed it.  The galaxy appears to lie between two stars.  I could discern the stellar core with a hint of diffusion around it but not the bar or the arms this night  Wonderful challenge object though!

9. NGC 6027, NGC 6027A, B & D;  Seyferts Sextet;  Galaxies in Serpens;  July 18th, 2012, 2:07am. MDT;  Antoniadi II, clear, cool;  XX14i, 20mm ES 68 degrees as the finder (it worked well), 10mm & 7mm Pentax XW; FR006 Site 1;

This was for me, my favorite capture of the observing sessions.  I had to star hop two or three times to get to the field, confirm the field and really observe the field.  The 20mm Explore Scientific 68 degree eyepiece did a stellar job showing me this group, and I let out a good woop as I discovered them. Again, my finder chart from Starry Night Pro was right on the mark.   There is a background of nebulosity associated with them and at first, I immediately saw two of the six with their brightening cores, one with direct vision and one with averted.  After acquiring NGC 6027 and I believe D, I kept looking and A came in and then B as well.  My friend Alan confirmed the three and the possible fourth first, which made me look again and work the observation and sure enough, the fourth was were he said it was using the clock face.  Jorge my other friend also saw this one with his 20 year younger eyes right away and knew right where they were.  They are fainter at first then what I sketched, but they do come around with time, effort and patience.  A rather wonderful observation and experience, one I recommend.  This faint stuff is getting addictive.

10.  NGC 6818 Planetary Nebula in Sagittarius, The Little Gem Nebula;  July 18, 2012, 12:30a.m. MDT;  FR006 Site 1;  Antoniadi II-III, XX14i 10mm & 7mm Pentax XW, Ultrablock NB and OIII Filters.

My friend Alan had a hard time getting this and mainly Barnard's Galaxy down, so I used the 14 this night and showed him both objects.  I did a sketch of Barnard's that I'll post, well, I did a rough sketch and need to finish rounding my stars on that one.  I'll include it later as well.  This is a round planetary nebula with a light greenish blue or teal color to it.  Two faint stars are next to it.  Very fun planetary which reminds me I need to do a summer planetary nebula run also!! I hope August skies are better than July's were!

I observed the Swan while out and did a sketch of that, and I am going to use that sketch as a practice so I'll probably pot more than one on here of it as my nebula sketches aren't 3D enough and I need to make them more that way by using shading and other sketching techniques for that affect.  Anyway, saw lots of other stuff and I'll post that up in my next post but wanted to get the challenge objects out there.  I'm going to also I hope this week get out and practice some lunar for work on my 3D and shading techniques and to do some double star observing and sketching.  Lets hope the skies clear for that.


Wide Field of Sagittarius Milky Way

Below you will find my first wide field sketch of a summer Milky Way Constellation of Sagittarius. I accomplished this using my naked eye and my 10x50 binoculars. This was done over the course of several nights in the West Desert of Utah with a few days in between due to weather.  Comments are welcome. I will also state it was nice to just go with an chair, an easel, clipboard and the binoculars and no telescope equipment.  It reminded me of how much can truly be seen just using a simple but decent pair of 10x50 binoculars.  Oh, I also used my 7x35 binoculars also.

In this image I took it a little farther back with the camera and it provides a larger view of the sketch.

This one is zoomed in a little closer and the lighting is a little brighter on it, but it shows more of the actual sketch.  You can decide which one you like as I find both interesting for a couple of reasons.  The one above is closer probably to the actual view while the one below shows just a tad more detail I think due to the lighting. I'm not sure if the stars in M7 are visible and M22 is too large, the white/gray pastel on the brush was a little much there.  I had to redo them after an initial placement with the Lagoon and Trifed.  M22 isn't that big in either sketch and my initial placement and size and brightness was closer to what I had seen.  It's better than I thought I could do.

The picture below was taken by a friend of mine, Daniel Turner a couple of years ago not at this location, but nearby at Pit n Pole.  You can compare the sketch to the image if you wish and see where my eyes are lacking or close.


Khan Academy: Cosmology and Astronomy

Khan Academy is place that you can go to and learn about anything that a class has been prepared and approved of.  There is a course on Cosmology and Astronomy and this (as all classes) are done as movies.  You click on the one you want to learn about or the class you want to take, and the instructor teaches on that subject.  The subjects of Cosmology and Astronomy are at a basic, introductory college level but are well done.  If you want to take a look, here is the link to the Khan Academy.  They are enjoyable if you want to learn, review or expand your knowledge AND if you want to test it.  Yes, there are tests or challenges if you want to take them.  So check it out, it is a lot of fun!


Summer Challenges for dob owners

As some may know, I am hopeful that this month I see the arrival of my Zambuto mirror to go into my XX14i.  So in lieu of that I thought I would push my current mirror this next weekend (I am worried about the forecast as it shows monsoonal moisture coming in mid-week here) and then compare and contrast  the performance to the Zambuto mirror the follow weekend after installing and resolving my balance issues that I anticipate I'll need to do.  I'll then post my results of these very faint objects as a comparison.  So here is my list: .  

IC 1296 in Lyra near M57 barred spiral galaxy with mag around 14.8 with low surface brightness.

IC 4617 a 15.3 or 15.5 mag galaxy with low surface brightness.

IC 1276 or Palomar 7, faint globular.  Here is a finder chart in this link.

NGC 6927 Galaxy in Delphinus mag. 14.4, very small, very faint

NGC 6960 Galaxy in Delphinus mag. very faint to faint at 13.5, near NGC 6927

IC 5146 the Cocoon Nebula in Cygnus Very Faint and difficult

NGC 6027 and its group, called Seyfert's Sextet mag. 13.9 to 16.5, six galaxies in close formation; see this link for image and information. THIS IS A CHALLENGE AND great image.

Abell 49 Planetary Nebula in Scutum mag. 16.1; See this link to a Small Wonders article has directions and findercharts near the end of the article. This link is to a sketch with a 16" F4.5 dob.

Abell 70 a Two for one list.  Abell 70 is a planetary Nebula in Aquila with a vMag of 14.5.  There is an edge on galaxy with it that is on the north side.  Here is a link to more info on this fun object.

Also if you want to hunt some doable Abell planetary nebula you can go to this link for a choice of PN or go to this link and do them by season.

Abell 74 in Vulpecca and in the Sky Atlas 2000.  Here are its notes: Abell 74: 74x/118x and O-III: A dim to faint Pn that is only seem with averted vision. First used 118x and I began to notice a very large yet weak glow. Seemed circular though could not make out entire annularity. 74x revealed object a little better but still with averted vision. Object is a large ring with only segments visible, faintly glowing above the background sky. Difficult

Then if there is time, perhaps these . . . late morning.

Deer Lick Group: NGC 7340 mag. 13.9; NGC  7337 mag. 14.6; NGC 7335 mag. 13.6; NGC 7336 mag. 14.6 and faintest of the group.

Personally I am not sure how many I am going to get as time finding might be a bear.  I do feel this is a very challenging list, one that will push the views.  The ones I do find I'll also sketch and record the observatino digitally to compare the view when I replace the stock XX14i mirror with my new Zambuto mirror.  Even for others I think this makes a good list to go after for one or two nights. So the question I have, up for a challenge to hunt these down in July or August?


Sharing the Night (or Sketching, A Waste of Time)

Okay, I admit, many of you can be relieved, I've decided to quit sketching.  NOT! You have to continue to endure them if you visit this site.   I love the aspect of sketching at the eyepiece.  I'm not a great sketcher, nor do I consider myself very good when I look at other people in the community who sketch.  My friend  and mentor, Alex from Australia who is a master sketcher using the Mellish method,  reminded me from a conversation from his wife that there really aren't that many artistic sketchers in the world and even fewer astronomical sketchers.  So, I've been mulling that over and one night recently, as I sat in a chair, sketching the constellation Sagittarius (I want to do a naked eye sketch of the constellations in both the summer and winter Milky Way) which is another entry, I began to really reflect.  I sat at one of my favorite dark sites, alone in the night, having slept there in the back of the Pathfinder until the moon set.  This night, I turned off my iPad and the music I was listening too, and focused on the night, sketching and thinking, reflecting.

I focused on my sketch and a pack of coyotes began to yipe and howl, with a few nips and barks.  Another pack answered which is on the western side of the site and it seemed as always, that the two packs were sharing the night.  Their howling was a comforting sound, but as quickly as it began, the packs faded off into the night. I realized that like the coyotes, it is in our nature to share, and in so many ways I think amateur astronomers strive to "share the night" with each other and others.   I went back to my questions:  Why do people sketch in this hobby?  Why do we post what our finished projects?  How do we grow in our abilities?  Are sketches really reflecting what we see or do our minds add details from images we've seen?  Finally, does it really matter to anyone?

As I looked for answers I would focus on them and reflect, then I would find myself focusing on the sketch and not thinking of the questions.   I turned my iPad and its external speaker back on but changed my music to match my reflective mood.  My mind now went down a variety of paths.  I discovered multiple answers, multiple lanes for my thoughts to meander down that provided a variety of conclusions.

So this post will attempt to organize a few of these thoughts, and I will really try not to meander too much.  I welcome comments, other opinions, other insights. These are my thoughts, and I alone am responsible for them.  So here I go.

My first question is one that I have to modify and apply to myself. I do not have enough hubris to speak for others, but I can answer that for myself.  I've reflected on my sketching, I do every time I sketch when I observe.  I really asked myself why I was sitting out in the desert, in the foothills of some beautiful mountains, sketching the night sky.  Why? Why sketch? Why not just observe? For me, it began because I wanted to see more, to make the most of what I was observing, to pull out details. At the time I was blowing through objects, easily looking at as many as I could, yet I couldn't see what others were seeing. I think I got more excitement at that period when I successful star hopped and found my object than in observing.  Sketching slowed me down and I realized slowly, over time, that observing comprised of various skills and techniques that brought out detail.  Things like averted vision, breathing and host of other techniques, some very legitimate, some debatable; see this link, The Skills of Observing  from the Renseselaer Astrophysical Society.

To perhaps share why I began to sketch two quotes (yes, I love quotes) from the previous link come to mind.  The first is from Sir William Herschel.

“You must not expect to see at sight . . . Seeing is in some respects an art which must be learned.  Many a night have I been practicing to see, and it would be strange if one did not acquire a certain dexterity by such constant practice.”

I firmly believe that observing is an art and a skill, something learned, as is sketching with much practice and constant practice. It is why I believe getting as much time at an eyepiece is so critical to becoming and being a very good visual observer. 

The next is from The Amateur Astronmer’s Handbook by James Muirden.  This quote nails why I sketch, and is far more eloquent  than anything I would write on why.

“No opportunity should be lost to train the eye to work with the telescope; to observe the same object with different powers so as to see the effect of magnification; to try to see faint stars; and to draw planetary markings. In the beginning, to be sure, this may all seem to be a wasted effort; the observing book will fill up with valueless sketches and brief notes of failure.  But this apparently empty labor is absolutely essential; for, as the weeks pass, a steady change will be taking place. Objects considered difficult or impossible to see will now be discerned at first glance, and fainter specters will have taken their place.  Indeed, these former features will not be so glaringly obvious that the observer may suppose that some radical improvement has occurred in the observing conditions.  But the credit belongs entirely to the eye . . . “

I look back at my first sketches, and I laugh at my attempt to capture what I was doing.  Stars wrong, detail wrong, notes short and lacking adjectives.  There was a lot wrong with them but there was one thing right about them. I was observing, I was looking and my eye was adapting.  In time I learned methods to reflect what I was observing and I continue to seek input, to learn and to grow.  Sketching taught me how to really observe, how to really pull out the details of the objects I was observing.

Now I confronted the next question:  Why do I post and share what I do? Why do I have this blog? Well, that was some soul searching, some deep reflecting followed this question.  I examined my motives, my thoughts, even looking inside of myself.  Why share? First, I think it is human to share.  I am a very social creature and will welcome just about anyone who may come around.  I like people, I like being engaged with people and to be honest, I enjoy people. You can ask my daughter and she'll tell you I can go out and its a 70/30 chance I will meet someone I know and have a short conversation with them. With this hobby though,  I'm learning a new skill with people, and that is to sit back and just observe them, and more importantly to really listen to them.  One learns a lot from doing that. Anyway, I share because I want others to share in my experience with me.  Its a need I have, and I call it a human need for I think most of us have it, and it is a way of creating value and social interaction.  I've seen the same thing with those that take astro-photography pictures.  There is a bond there, a willingness to share, to interact, to learn and to grow.  Again, it creates value and meaning for me, and for many I think and I don't think that is a bad thing.

Another reason is long ago I knew I sucked at sketching.  I knew with time and experience I would slowly grow and learn.  I learn by doing, I am a hands on learner and a visual learner.  My mind moves too fast at times to read instructions when I want to do something, though I love reading and slow down for that.  Observing and sketching has helped me to slow down and to really become patient (as will a classroom of students and most importantly, I have learned patience from being a father, it is my greatest legacy from my kids to me I think).  So back to why I share, yes, I think I can show improvement in my sketching and to be honest, for the most part, I think in terms of planetary nebula, galaxies and open clusters I have really come a long way.  Still got to work on my globular clusters though but practice is helping there.  So I share to show that if I can do it, man, just about anyone can and should.

Finally, and there is more I could go on with here, I share because I want to.  Someone asked me once if I had a private agenda with what I share.  Nope.  There are better blogs, far better sketches than mine. I don't make money from my blog, I don't seek any recognition for it.  It exists more as a journal of what I do in this hobby.

Having said that, I must admit that I do have one agenda item and that is to get people to move from their backyards, or from light polluted locations to a dark site, especially around new moon and do more dark site observing.  It is why I share where I observe from, when I am observing and I welcome any who come, hoping they will decide to continue to join and come.  If not, I hope they continue to go to a dark site of their choice and observe.  A dark site, a true dark site, like what we have in Utah in so many places, need to be treasured, valued and used.  So, I sketch to show the difference between a dark site and observing at home, though I don't post what I do at home.  I made a new blog for that, called Red Rock Observing and though I haven't started to use it much, I will b starting I hope, this month in July to use it. It will be for my light pollution observing, DSO comparisons, double stars and lunar observing.  I need to change my introduction there to reflect that.

The next question was about growth and this is a tough one.  I know in terms of writing, or doing anything artistic that input and feedback is critical.  I purchased Astronomical Sketching, and read it and have used it.It helped and I read some of Jeremy Perez's Belt of Venus tutorials and applied what I learned there.  Yet I never felt I grew much as a sketcher.  I fumbled, picking up a tip here or there online.  I also felt that a lot of people post their sketches, but never share techniques or seek input.  Well, many save one that I met online, Alex Massey.  Alex accepts input, reflects on it and decides what to do with it in terms of his own sketching.  Alex as a friend and mentor has been invaluable over the last year to me as I have begun to work on the Mellish method.  His feedback to me in email exchanges is invaluable, and appreciated far more than he will ever know.

So based on that experience, I created the Astronomical Sketching Forums for people to come, share their sketches and techniques and receive feedback.  It is a place I hope where people who have questions come and ask.  It hasn't taken off, and that's fine, and it may fail, that's fine.  If it does, it will disappear but I think that would be a shame.  One of the hardest things to do in life is to seek critical input from others, and I know here in Utah, I haven't met too many people who sketch or share their sketching and their techniques.  I've met more people online than locally so I think the forum can help with growing in one's abilities.   I think it is vital that we are open to input and what others share can sometimes be discarded but often, it becomes highly valuable to use.  How else do others receive feedback for growth? I don't know and I would welcome a comment or even a guest posting on that one.

Do sketches really reflect what we see, or do they reflect a combination of what we see in the eyepiece and what we have seen on images, or is a sketch just that, a sketch?  This question could be really loaded, but I'm going to go simple here. For me, I don't question because I am not there and who am I too judge?  I enjoy the observation and the sketch and the artistic abilities that produced it.

Now to the end question for me.  Does this really matter? To be blunt again I'll just say no.  Sketching doesn't matter because my sketches are not going to make science, or be used for any scientific purpose.  The days of the astronomer who is sketching went out the door in the late 19th century when cameras began to be used to make photographic plates by which to do real science.  For that matter, I wonder if in a hundred years if anyone will sketch in this hobby?  I'm not sure but I know I won't be around to find out.  So, sketching really is a waster of time isn't it?

Having said that, sketching does matter, at least to me.  It's not a waste of time for me. It has made me into a visual observer, allowing me to learn techniques to capture far more detail than I ever did before I sketched.  It has slowed me down, teaching me patient while building some new skills I didn't know I had. Finally, it has brought enjoyment to me. I'm not sure how many people enjoy the sketches I post of my observing sessions,  but I sure enjoy drawing them.  I love the challenge of doing that in the dark, of closing my observing eye, while then letting my red light on and sketching with my other eye and flipping back and forth.  I love dusting the pastel chalk off my shirt after a sketch and often off my forearm.  More importantly, the next day, I love looking at a sketch and saying that is a fair or excellent representation of what I saw.  It's not perfect, probably never will be, but man is it fun.  Finally it matters because it kept me in the hobby as I like to have things that challenge me and that make me grow as an individual, and I can say, I don't think I'll ever "arrive" as a sketcher or as a visual observer, it isn't in my nature.  I'll always strive to learn, to grow and to improve, its in my make-up, in my soul so to speak.  So, yes, sketching may not matter to some, but it does matter to me, and no, sketching is definitively not a waste of time.