2016 Winter/Cold Clothing Guide

I have had a couple of requests to share my winter clothing guide so I thought I would update what I am doing. First, let me state that several outdoor retailers have great guides for how to dress for being out in the cold weather of winter. REI has a good guide to how to layer clothing at this LINK.  Sierra Trading Posts offers a guide also at their LINK. Sierra Trading Post has a guide for How To Dress For Winter at this LINK. The USAP has a PDF guide to dressing for cold weather at this LINK.  There are others, but I'll leave that up to you to use Google to find them on your own.

For me, when cold weather comes, and the nights clear and I can get out to observe, getting dressed and having the right clothing is essential for having a successful night. Nothing will kill an observing session in the winter on a fantastic night then if you get cold.  So the objective of this post is to share what I do to keep warm and I hope then, it helps you to know what to do to stay warm on those cold winter nights.

The first layer I put on is a Merino Wool base layer that I get from a company called Minus33.  I purchase and wear the Expedition bottoms and top for a base layer made from Merino Wool. This wool is not itchy and does an outstanding job of whisking moisture away from my body.  These base layers are not cheap, they run about $100 each but for me, are well worth it. Besides astronomy, I also use them when I snow shoe.

From here I'll start with my feet and work my way up.  On my feet I first put on a base layer of either silk or wool sockings. Over that I put on a Expedition Level Merino Wool winter sock from Minus33.  You can see those socks here. 

I find that the combination of a silk or base layer sock, and a high quality, thick Merino Wool socks keeps my feet dry and warm.  THAT is essential for me to stay dry and warm and in the field.  Over this I wear an excellent snow and waterproof boot. Again, the boot I wear in the field for astronomy is the one I use to snowshoe.  I own an older pair of Sorel boots, but based on a lot of reviews I have read online about their current boots and the fact that they do not last that well so I have opted for a Keen boot from REI.  My boots are insulated down to -50 degress F and fit just fine (they were initially needing to be broken in but I did buy a shoe size one higher than I usually do, I usually get a 12 so I got a 13 and with my wool socks these fit perfectly).  Here are the Keen Boots I own. They are the Keen Neve Winter boot and they are great for keeping my feet dry and warm, be that snowshoeing or in astronomy.  

These are on closeout with a cost around $130.00 and these other Keen boots are in the same price way, the Keen Summit Winter Boot. 

The key to your boot is that it must have sufficient insulation to keep your feet warm, adequate space for your foot with wool socks on and comfortable enough to wear for the evening. They also must be waterproof and for me, stay laced during the night. 

Next we'll move to my legs.  Over my Merino Wool base layer form Minus33, I wear a fleece pair of pants and then it depends on what I am going to wear.  I have a pair of fleece pants from REI and another from Cabelas that I can wear. Over that, if it is really cold I usually wear a nice pair of heavy fleece sweat pants. Next, I have a pair of snow pants, actually two pairs that are extremely warm. They are from Columbia and I have worn them in the field and they work well.  I also have a a couple of pair of hunting bibs. I am no longer a hunter, but hunters who do duck hunting in a blind, or stand hunting in a tree, know what to wear to keep warm. You may not like the camo look, yet if you can get pass the camo look, that line of clothing will keep you warm, very warm. 

So you can wear like I do sometimes, wool socks, wool socks, fleece pants, fleece or wool pants or sweats then snow pants, or you can wear the base socks, wool socks, snow/winter boots, base layer on the legs, fleece pants. sweats then fleece or flannel or wool pants or sweats, wear the upper body items that I'll go through and then bibs as you can see here from Cabelas. 

The bibs are waterproof, insulated and it is important if you use bibs, to have the kind that unbutton on the side of the leg and then unzip up the side of the legs to allow you easy access in and out. I also recommend buttons on the bottom of the legs where your feet come out so they are enclosed.  A zipper for relieving is critical also and good clips that connect the suspenders.  I wear my bibs about 90% of the time I observe, except in summer unless I am up in the mountains. I do often have them with me in late spring and summer in  case they are needed.  I love my hunting bibs and they are warm, VERY warm.  

On my upper body or torso I wear the merino wool base layer from Minus33.  I then have short sleeve shirt I wear over that, then a long sleeve fleece shirt. Over that goes a Merino Wool sweater like this one from Cableas, and then a fleece zip up jacket like above from either Columbia or NorthFace: 

Or if that sweater is unavailable I wear this Peregrine Merino Thick Wool Sweater from Sierra Trading Post LINK. I like this sweater as I will wear it around the house and for casual dress, and when I observe.

Over all of that upper body now goes either my hunting parka from Cabelas, or my X300 Guidewear Parka which is designed for Ice Fishing or fishing in winter.  Here are those images.  

The Hunting Parka above is insulated, VERY warm and has plenty of pockets for eyepieces and other equipment that you can store in all those pockets.  It is rough and I have had mine for 3 years now and no wear or tear is evident. It takes remotes sites here in Utah extremely well. 

Above you can see in them middle my Cabela's X300 Guidewear (my is discontinued).  It is 100% waterproof, insulated and thus VERY warm; has four pockets behind those two upper zippers, two large pockets on the bottom, and two side zipper pockets.  The neck is fleece to provide comfort there. Again, if dressed correctly, this is VERY warm.  Either option, the Hunting Parka above with about the same number of pockets and probably just a tad more insulation or the X300 ensures that I am warm no matter what I am doing in the winter. The hunting parka I usually use observing, and the X300 is usually my snowshoeing parka though I do have another parka I can use for that also. 

On my head I always have a nice cap on my head (though it is false you lose most of your heat from your head, it is about 20% of your body heat).  I keep that cap on while I am setting up, and then put on my merino wool baklava from Minus33 which you can see here. 

This baklava will pull down under the chin, pull up over the mouth, or just allowing the eyes to see out.  Over this I put a hat back on that is wool and sometimes I pull the hood of the parka up and over if I want to use it to shield my eyes, though at a dark site, that usually isn't needed. 

The last item of clothing needed are gloves.  I actually have like 4 different pair of gloves. I have a pair that are warm, but allow a great sense of use.  You can see those gloves here. 

After these, I move to using merino wool glove liners that keep my fingers and hands warm. 

These are from Merino 33 again, and they do keep my hand warm, especially if I have to remove my gloves to sketch.  

I also have a pair of heavy duty gloves that I wear with the wool liners when I snowshoe. They are warm, the warmest gloves I have but they are also bulky.  However as one of my observing nights got down to around -5 degrees F, these gloves made a HUGE difference in keeping me warm to observe. 

So there you go. That is basically what I wear. In the summer I wear my base layers, and usually two layers on my legs and a couple of layers on my torso and a good winter coat as even in the summer, nights in the West Desert of Utah can get in the upper 30's F and in the mountains of Utah, easily in the 20's F.  So yeah, keeping warm is important, even more important now that I am in my 50's and having lost 85lbs so far ensures that I am colder than I was when I had more insulation.  So figure out what works for you, and yes, in my case I spent money to stay warm and for me, that is money well spent. How much you spend, what you buy, how you stay warm, that is up to you to figure out. Good luck and keep looking at the wonders of our night sky! 


A Night Observing Planetary Nebula January 2nd, 2016

Well January 2nd, 2016 came and though a very cold night, it was a night that provided me the opportunity to use my 24" scope and compare it with my 17.5" dob.  The 24" usually sits in an observatory at our cabin that was built to house it because I am not up to transporting the 24" on my own.  However, I did bring the 24" down in a trailer to the house to do some adjustments over winter break.  I made those adjustments and loaded it and the 17.5 up and when the night was clear, cold but the forecast was for outstanding transparency I loaded up and headed out.

Luckily the roads were not too bad. Weight and being frozen helped me to get to one of my favorite spots. There was some mud and I had to clear out some of the snow on the ground to set up, but that took only about twenty extra minutes.  Set up went good and I had both scopes cooling by 4:00pm.  I ate my soup and got my observing clothes on, and then sat back and enjoyed the winter scene and wilderness around me.

As night came on, the coyotes came out and for around 15 minutes the 3 packs shared yipes, barks and calling to each other.  That is one thing about nature, even in the depth of winter you realize there is life all around you. Earlier, I had seen a very large raptor flying around nearby and it dove to capture something. It was a rabbit and it took to a nearby Juniper where, with binoculars, I could see that it was a bald eagle and it was having dinner at the rabbits expense.

Now as wonderful as this may seem, I want to point something out. The temperature at sunset, just after 5:00pm MST, was around 12 degrees F.  That meant with it being clear, it was going to get cold, REALLY cold.  I am dressed and prepared for the weather and I knew I could get out. In addition to clothing, food, hot drink and water, I had a battery jump start system for my vehicle should the battery suffer out here in the middle of nowhere. My point that I want to make is this. Do NOT head out in the boonies of wherever you live in the winter IF you do not know how to dress, have the proper clothing and have a vehicle that cannot only get you to your observing location, but can get you home at the end of the observing session from your dark site, remote observing location.  Finally, know how cold impacts your equipment because it does, regardless of what anyone may say. I don't need dew heaters for ninety percent of the year. After October 1st until June 1st I always carry my dew equipment and power source with me. Do you need to adjust your motions because the cold stiffens them? Then do that as part of a fall tune up project on your scope.  Bottom line though, do not put yourself and potentially others in a risky situation because you WANT to observe but are not prepared to observe.

My goal this night was to locate each object on my list (all planetary nebula), then to put each scope on them, observe and compare, and then sketch from the scope I felt had the best overall view for that evening. Thus as you look at my sketches, know that some will differ depending on the instrument used.

1. Abell 82 Planetary Nebula in the constellation of Cassiopeia. January 2nd, 2016, 07:05pm MST or 105 on 1/3/2016 UT; FR006 Jay's Site; Antoniadi II, clear, cold, 4 degrees F, no wind, steady skies, 6" of snow, 25 minutes to clear off the observing site.  24" & 17.5" dob, 17.5mm 5mm, 7mm, 10mm Pentax XW; 6mm, 10mm TeleVue Delos in 24" dob; Type I & II Paracorrs; DGM  NB & OIII Filters

This PN is very similar to M27 in Vulpecula. This PN lays SE to NW and has a similar football appearance but the dumbbell appearance is more prevalent overall. The northern end or north-west end is brighter and has a larger fan.  The southeast region is smaller, and has a higher surface brightness.  Nice PN to observe.

2. NGC 1535 Planetary Nebula in Eridanus, Cleopatra's Eye; January 2nd, 2016, 08:05pm MST or 205 UT on 1/3/16; FR006 Site Jay's; Antoniadi II; Clear, cold, no breeze; 17.5" and 24" dobs; 5mm, 7mm & 10mm Pentax XW's; Type II Paracorr; DGM NB & OIII filters.

Two shell planetary nebula in Eridanus, one of my favorite objects in the winter sky.  Both scopes how the central star and with the good transparency and seeing, I was able to crank magnification.  Darker bluish outer shell with the inner shell a brighter blue.  Beautiful view! When I took the photograph I modified the camera settings to capture more of the blue pastel chalk on the PN and the stars are a little blue as a result.

3. NGC 2022 Planetary Nebula in Orion; January 2nd 2016, 08:45pm MST or 245 UT on 1/3/16; FR006 Jay's Site; Antoniadi I, clear, cold, no wind or breeze, steady skies 4 degrees F; SQM 21.91; 17.5" & 24" Dob; 5mm, 7mm, 10mm Pentax XW; DGM NB & OIII Filters; Type II Paracorr; 27mm Panoptic as Finder (or 35mm Pan in 24").

Easy PN to pick up without the filters.  Small grayish egg shape PN with some hint of bluish tinge on the outer ring.  OIII is the best filter to enhance the PN.  PN is elongated SSW-NNW.  The surface brightness is both mottled and irregular on this PN.  The rim is brighter on the SE-SW sides.  NE and NW rim are dimmer. Central star is not visible.

4. NGC 2392 Planetary Nebula in Gemni, The Eskimo Nebula; January 2nd, 2016, 09:40pm MST or 0340 UT on 1/3/16; FR006 Jay's Site; Antoniadi I, clear, cold, steady skies with Sirius barely shimmering; 2 degrees F; SQM 21.91; 17.5" & 24" dob; 5mm, 7mm, 10mm Pentax XW; 27mm Panoptic & 35mm Panoptic as finders; Type II Paracorr; DGM NB & OIII filters;

Best view I have EVER had of this wonderful object.  The 24mm really shows how it can shine. The 17.5" I was very happy with, the 24mm brought just a touch more detail to this object.  Like views with both filters, no real preference, maybe a slight edge to the OIII for higher background contrast at the cost of merging the two shells. The UHC NB filter shows the two shells really well. Stuck with the UHC NB filter from DGM. Bluish in color, soft and grayish outer shell, some hint of brightening, with the inner shell brighter and has a slight separation.  Also could distinguish in the 24mm more brightening around the central star which showed itself in both scopes.

5. Abell 21 a Planetary Nebula in Gemini; January 2nd, 2016, 10:35pm MST or 435 UT on 1/3/16; FR006 Site 1; Antoniadi I; Clear, cold -2 degrees F; no wind, 6" of snow on ground minus observing area that I had cleared off; 17.5" & 24" dob; 5mm, 7mm, 10mm Pentax XW; 27mm & 35mm  Panoptic as finder eyepieces; Type II Paracorr; DGM NB & OIII filters.

This is a rather large and faint planetary nebula.  It shows itself better in the larger aperture, the 24" showed more detail than the 17.5" though the 17.5" wasn't bad.  This is not overly difficult but I feel the OIII filter is a must. Crescent shape and some hints of structure in the object at the higher magnification. The brightest part is the SE part that forms a crescent shape shell.  The interior glow near the center appears bright with the OIII filter.  Fun object to go after in the 17.5" which ended up being my favorite view. This PN is in Gemini though it is close to Canis Minor.

6. NGC 2440 Planetary Nebula in Puppis; January 2nd, 2016 11:10pm MST or 510 UT on 1/3/2016; FR006 Site Jay's; Antoniadi I, cold -4 degress F, clear, steady skies, 6 inches snow except in observing area; 17.5" & 24" dob; 5mm, 7mm, 10mm Pentax XW, 27mm & 35mm Panoptic as finder eyepieces; DGM NB & OIII filters;

This is the object where the 24" dob really showed its stuff. The details in the sketch come from the larger scope here. In the 17.5" it would be more of a rectangular shape with some details of brightness and extensions.  The PN has complex details with it, and is in truth in two halves.  One half extends upward with the western side is brighter.  The core region is much brighter than the rest of the PN and outer regions. I believe I made a cross on the top of the bottom on the core region and it should really be just on the bottom part of the sketch.  Overall, I LOVE this object with high magnification with a scope of 16" or better. 20" will bring out more detail, but both ranges are enjoyable with this object.

I didn't state this but one thing I wanted to do this night was to compare the view from my 17.5" and 24" dobs.  I did this with the PN's and I have to state and yes, there are times when the 24" really enhances the detail views of an object, say on NGC 2440.  However on other objects the increase in detail is slight, except on faint objects. One thing I notices is that if you are going to use high aperture, then you should have excellent observing skills to maximize your views.  I enjoy my 24" but I won't be taking it in the field for a long time. It was just too much scope for me. The 17.5" was easy to set up, easy to take down and worked in my opinion as well as the 24".  The 24" though probably a slightly better scope, for me, is not one I can use or want to use in the field. It is back in its observatory now, and I will have to decide if I want to keep it there for use when I am at the cabin, or if I should sell it and use that to pay for something else.  Knowing me, I'll keep it and use it when I am there.  It will give me a reason to go there more.

Overall this was a very cold night, but a great night. I never got cold, my observing clothing serves itself well and I enjoyed myself. By 11:30pm though I packed up and drove out.  I had a couple of fun times coming in and coming out, especially hauling a trailer. No problem though, just steady and good off road driving made it through.  I was glad to get home, to unload and go to bed. I was tired, as I had been very sick over Christmas and took in my rest that night with a good feeling for a good night of observing. I also knew that if I hadn't gone this night, it wasn't going to happen with the forecast and I can only hope come February, the weather has improved, the clouds are gone and the snow in the valley is melted.  Again, a great night and I also discovered that I think from now on, I will have about 12 to 15 objects selected and focus on just observing those objects, and sketching them. It made for a wonderful evening and glad I could share it with a good observing friend.  Stay warm, stay safe and keep enjoy the wonders of our winter sky!

Observing with the Explore Scientific AR102 4 inch Refractor December 18th, 2015

     The evening of December 18th, 2015 came and there were no clouds in the sky! Miracle of miracles as we are in a very wet and cold pattern with snow, snow and more snow of late. I have snow blowed more the last two weeks than I have the last two years! I hope we get a warm spell in the valleys so a lot of this can melt and dry off for new moon in January.

     Anyway, December 18th had my mother turning 77 so I spent time visiting with her on the phone and talking with her. It was good to get caught up with her.  She keeps keeping her Danish traditions going and that is wonderful!  After a good talk with her, I grabbed my 10x50 Pentax binoculars and headed out to the backyard to see what the night was like. It was okay, not great, not horrible. So I decided to do something that I hadn't done for a while and that was to put my eyepiece case in the back of the Outback, put my Twilight I mount and my AR102 Explore Scientific achromatic refractor and head out to the 5 Mile Pass area and get some observing in.  I wore my snow pants from Columbia, my snow boots, of course my layers and my green Cabela Parka that is waterproof and has awesome warmth to it.

     The drive out was no biggie. I had done it a lot of times and I listened to Christmas music to put me in the mood of the Holidays.  Arriving I set up, then put on my parka and my baklava and in 10 minutes I was observing. You have to love a low mass telescope that lets you get observing with little cool down time!

    I was able to actually capture several items with the AR102 and the views in it were wonderful.  Messier 35 popped right out and putting in the HBeta filter, I was able to bring in the B33, the Horsehead.  The Flame Nebula was visible using the 9mm Explore Scientific 100 degree and the 5mm Pentax XW on these objects.

    I also was able to pull in Sirius B this night in the 4 inch! I couldn't believe it but I am sure that it was B in the Dog Star.  Alignment matches with where it should be and the key to it was letting A drift in from the east and then B would appear with it for several seconds until the glare took over. Cool! The sketches here are very rough draft, and I had a problem capturing the sketch of M42 due to lighting conditions but I am posting what I have and I have to say, I LOVE using that 4" Explore Scientific AR102 and sketching with it. It's fun to see just how far I can push that scope!

1. NGC 2362 Tau Canis Majoris Open Cluster in Canis Major.  Dec. 18th, 2015, 11:45pm MST (545UT on 12/19/15); 5 Mile Pass, Utah; AR102 Explore Scientific with 9mm ES 100 degrees, 10mm Pentax XW; Antoniadi III, slight breeze, cold, 24 degrees F.

Tau is a very bright star and lights up this Open Cluster. The OC has many stars just on the verge of popping out though my picture of my sketch is not as bright as I would want it nor does it reflect the capture of the image. I will most likely re-shot the image to re-post it here.  Other stars here pop out in the OC with averted vision and others are easily seen.  This is my favorite Open Cluster.  I really enjoyed observing this OC with my 4" refractor and it allowed me a new opportunity to view the OC and to push my observing skills.

2. Messier 42 The Orion Nebula or NGC 1962.  Great Nebula in Orion.  12/19/15, 12:35am MST or 0635 UT; 5 Mile Pass, UT; Explore Scientific AR102; 9mm Explore Scientific 100 degrees, 10mm Pentax XW; Antoniadi III, breezy and cold, 22 degrees F.

M42 really stuck out in the AR102.  It was small but bright with the wing shape easily discerned.  I could see birghter parts in the nebula as I sketches it. Trapezium showed nicely with the 4 main stars using both direct and averted vision.  M43 is also visible across from the Trapezium.

3. Sirius A & B in Canis Major; 11:00pm MST, 121/18/2015 or 0500 on 12/19/2015 UT; Explore Scientific AR102; 9mm Explore Scientific 100 degrees; 5mm Pentax XW, 7mm Pentax XW; Antoniadi III, clear, cold.

Best method for getting B which is a tad closer than I sketched, is to place Sirius A on the edge of the FOV (eastern side or right side here) and let it drift west and as A drifts into the edge of the FOV, B would appear for several seconds then the glare of A would take over and B would fade out. Averted vision also seem to help with this observation. Fun.

On this night I also observed Messier 35 and NGC 2158 which is a H400 object but did not sketch them, it was too cold and I had to get back home. I also saw the Flame Nebula and I thought I got a glimpse of B33, the Horsehead but not enough to claim it.  I need B33 to climb a little bit more before trying it again and I am sure I'll get it in the AR102.  Probably the best thing of this night was I did observe and capture parts of Barnard's Loop and faintly got parts of the Eridanus Bubble. I have started my sketch of those two objects but need one or two more sessions to finish them. That will be its own post.

So a productive, quick and fun night out! I'll be doing more of these as time and situation allows.