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10/21/2013

Observing is the word but too many don't do that . . . observe.

As an amateur astronomer, and as one having a degree in English from college, I am fascinated with the word observe.  In the hobby there is certainly a lot of math that can be done to determine the quality of optics, how well the structure of a scope works or the magnification given in a certain scope when a certain eyepiece is used.  However, as much as these and many other concepts are important, in the end, the hobby comes down to what you observe in the eyepiece.  It is observing, that determines the full enjoyment in the hobby. Dictionary.com defines observe in this sense as "to watch, view, or note for a scientific, official, or other special purpose."  Observe also means to "scrutinize what is before you carefully. Infer is the conclusion you draw from what you have observed."  Here in lies one of the major problems in the hobby I see.  It is that too few amateurs learn to observe, and even fewer then do the research needed to infer from their observation what it is they are seeing.

For example. NGC 2392 or what is also known as the Eskimo Nebula or the Eskimo Planetary Nebula in Gemni is a well known object to most amateurs.  I have observed it many times, have sketched it several times and have enjoyed the view from various magnifications.  I had one of my best views of it back in February 2013 which I captured in a color sketch.  It stood out along with the filaments at a good size magnification. I sketch because I find it slows me down in my observing so I can scrutinize what I am seeing and to train my eye how to see very specific and fine details that most causal observers miss. In scrutinizing my sketches and review my recorded observations I have found I even have more room to grow as a sketcher (I have always had plenty of room) to capture more of what I am seeing.

My observation last February (2013) led me to follow this object and in July of 2013, Chandra announced that the increased levels of X-Rays near the core of the white dwarf, indicates that there is a binary companion located next to the white dwarf. Hubble and Chandra found this as a study was looking at NGC 2392 (Eskimo), IC 418 and NGC 6826 to identify why the X-Ray levels are what they are in each of these PN.  At this link you can read: "This composite image of NGC 2392 contains X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple showing the location of million-degree gas near the center of the planetary nebula. Data from the Hubble Space Telescope show — colored red, green, and blue — the intricate pattern of the outer layers of the star that have been ejected. The comet-shaped filaments form when the faster wind and radiation from the central star interact with cooler shells of dust and gas that were already ejected by the star.

The observations of NGC 2392 were part of a study of three planetary nebulas with hot gas in their center. The Chandra data show that NGC 2392 has unusually high levels of X-ray emission compared to the other two. This leads researchers to deduce that there is an unseen companion to the hot central star in NGC 2392. The interaction between a pair of binary stars could explain the elevated X-ray emission found there." You can read the study at this link

Now I hear the uproar by many, I don't care about a companion (you should, it could mean a Type I SN one of these days) I just want to observe it and move on. Why go back? Why? To see if you can see the filaments talked about which result from a faster wind and radiation from the white dwarf interacts with the cooler shells of just and gas that were already ejected and sent out by the star? Can you imagine a companion star near the white dwarf perhaps shedding mass onto it or their orbits so close that at some point the Chandrasaakar limit is passed and a Type 1a SN occurs?  See the observation, the sketch led me to investigate or scrutinize what my mind is seeing and the result is that I really did learn a whole lot more from this observation then I ever imagine.

So no matter the scope or the size of the scope, learn to observe, to train the eye, to scrutinize what you are viewing until you see more detail, maximizing your view and more importantly, training the eye to see.  I am 48 and my eyes are still relatively good, actually, I'll brag, I think and know they are better than most.  Why? Because I train my eye and maximize what I observe.  I infer often that I want to learn about what I am seeing and I take the time then to investigate and learn.  That is what I love about this hobby.  I can always continue to learn and link, even on objects I may think as not being worthy of my time. Often I am amazed at the detail and amazed at what I learn about those objects.  Your journey is not my journey, and you may not like learning about the objects like I do.  No problem. However, I do challenge you to observe, take your time on objects, see what you can see and then see if you can see more. Be careful of invented imagination. It does pop up so have some good friends to observe with and some others online to give you a reality check.  Check your observations. It is okay to make a mistake if you learn from it.  I once drew M51 with arms in the wrong direction.  I was too excited to sketch it that I failed to note what directions I was doing.  I think I even added an arm as I was learning. No biggie as I did learn from that.  I learned to verify what I see and sketch, to mark directions.  Anyway, that is my rant for now.  Friday should be a great observing night and I am heading out.  I can't wait to load up the new Outback with my gear (it fits, I've tried it) and head out to the Desert for an evening of observing.  Hope your skies are clear and mild the next couple of weekends as we move into new moon.