All in the Details or Pay the Price to See More . . .

     Yep, sorry, been away as I was gone for over a week in October. I spent a couple days observing and then spent a week up in Oregon and Washington with my wife and sweetheart visiting sites along the Lewis and Clark trail, and visiting the beach and ocean, one of our favorite things to do.  Then I have been busy at work and some personal items at night.  So I haven't posted my sketches or my observing sessions from October. I'll be doing that this weekend as I get ready for observing next week, I hope.

     Here in northern Utah, the weather has changed. We have moved from highs in the upper sixties to the upper forties and next week to the low forties with lows in the twenties.  That means cold weather observing and I am ready with my winter clothing and items charged and ready to go.  Now if the dirt roads out to my favorite observing sites can stay dry after our first snow next week.  Just ready to get out and observe again. My one dilemma, do I take the 14 inch or the 17.5 out?

     One item that has come up that I am very passionate about is the question of whether increasing aperture of a telescope, or improving the quality of the eyepieces one uses improves what one sees, or what really goes to improving the view.  I have been an active observer for a long time and I have well over 5000 objects in my observing logs, and I have sketched many of those objects.  Here is what I have found improves one as an observing. The huge secrets, the key to improving oneself as an observer are these two items.

     First, the main action that any of us do to improve what we see at the eyepiece is this, observe. Yep, nothing great here it is simply to observe and observe on a regular basis.  I observe typically seven to twelve times a month, sometimes more. This includes three to four deep sky observing trips, three to four lunar sessions, a couple to four sessions of double stars and open clusters.  The only way to get better at observing, the only way to see more is to pay the price and observe.  That is what it takes and to be honest, there are not a lot of people willing to pay that price to improve the details of what they observe at the eyepiece.

     There are some who think if they simply buy a premium mirror, a premium structure and premium eyepieces that that act, the purchase of premium items will improve what they see. Yes, to a point a premium setup can improve what you observe but only if you are observing. One session of deep sky observing from a backyard in a light polluted backyard and then two to four outreach events in a light polluted site are not going to make one a premium observer.  Like with anything in life, if you want to be a top notch, quality observer then you have to pay a price.  There is no other way.  I know from experience, that someone observing with say an Orion XX12i or XX12g with a decent mirror, but observing five to ten times a month, is, over time (say 3 to 5 years) is going to train their eye to see more than say someone with a Zambuto 18 inch mirror in a Teeter Teleescope who observes once a month if they are lucky and perhaps uses it at a star party for outreach twice a month.

     Yes, the 18" Zambuto and the Teeter structure are premium and yes, they will show more but to really take advantage of that, you have to learn how to observe with them and more importantly, you have to learn how to observe in order to maximize what those premium optics and structure have to offer. To do that takes using them and using them on a regular and consistent basis.

     The next thing that truly improves one's ability to observe and to see more is to leave the light polluted backyard and travel to a dark site; I mean a REAL dark site.  The first time you go you'll probably find it hard to observe because of the sheer volume of stars you see.  However, a dark site, free of light pollution and scatter, allows a high quality mirror and structure to perform at their maximum based on the sky conditions of that night.  If you don't believe me, view the Messier objects that are observable from your backyard, then take your  telescope and eyepieces and get thee to a dark site.  Then look at the same Messier objects. There is a significant difference.  Now take your time to observe the differences and if you do this over time, you'll discern that the detail level from a dark site is significantly more than from a light polluted zone.

     So do premium optics, structures and eyepieces matter? Sure they do IF you are in the process of becoming a premium observer.  IF you pay the price to view these items, observing them and comparing them, you will begin to discern the differences in the details.  Then move on to NGC items that are not so bright and large and you will learn to discern, to glean out the details on these objects, knowing which has details to offer you and which do not. You'll find eventually, you don't need to buy a book with someone else's observations, you'll be making your own.  If you own some of these fine books, you'll use them only to compare your own observations.  Again, if you don't have a premium optic or structure, that is fine. You can still learn to be a premium observer IF you pay the price and observe on a regular basis. If you can get to a dark site, that is an added plus.  The key though is to observe and if that means your backyard, that is better than not observing.

    So, to review, in my personal opinion, premium equipment and optics enhance what one sees, but the key to observing and really seeing more, is to use what you have. Use it often, use it to see a variety of objects and you'll find, over time, that you really improve as an observer.  You won't need to speak to what you see to others, because you'll KNOW what your capable of.  If you choose to upgrade to a larger aperture, you'll find that yes, aperture does increase what you see, but in truth, your eye will be trained to really show what that new scope is capable of. There is no quick fix to seeing more. If you want to see more in amateur visual astronomy, you have to pay the price of time and effort to observe on a consistent and regular basis.  Isn't it funny. This is a truth that is eternal because no matter what one does with one's life, one has to be willing to pay the price to really be good at what one is doing.  Keep looking up and enjoying the wonders of the night sky!


  1. I totally agree with all of this. I would be interested to know your thoughts on GoTo scopes and how they can enhance or hinder visual observers. I recently traded in my 8" dob for a 6" GoTo Cassegrain and I find that the ease of transport has allowed me to go out viewing on more sporadic basis when the weather turns out to be good.

  2. Kenneth,

    I think you raise two points. First is the GoTo vs manual scopes. GoTo I believe has its place as I know I am looking to add it to my dobs in the form of Sky Commander. I love hunting and enjoy that aspect of observing as it is a thrill everytime I find the object I am hunting for, especially the faint ones. However, when time is of the essence, sometimes it is just nice to use a GoTo method and get to the object to observe it. Again though, if you use GoTo I advise to take time to really observe the object and not just blow through it.

    Your second point goes to aperture. The most important scope for anyone is the one that they will transport and use the most. That increases observing and you'll see more in the long run the more you observe. Aperture adds to that, but the more one observes the better one is. In my own observing career I have found that looking for very faint objects at a dark sky location has aided me in searching for objects in the backyard with my 4" refractor. Again, there are compromises for every decision we make in this hobby as in life, and knowing what compromises are right for you and what aren't is the key I believe.