Well we’re coming up on another observing weekend. Every month when there’s little to no moon, our club ventures out to the observatory for an evening of star gazing. We have the good fortune to have a small hill in a farmer’s field to set up our scopes and gaze skyward. We have an observatory with a 30” scope that only the most experienced club members are allowed to operate.
In the spirit of ‘keeping it simple’, I usually pack my 10 x 50 Nikon binoculars, my star charts and a small duffle bag of observing necessities. I do have two telescopes, but have yet to bring them to the observatory. I don’t know why, I just really like using the binocs.
You should however, have a plan. Here’s where it gets tricky. I usually head to my computer and fire up the Stellarium software (freeware), set it for Friday night and see what’s going on that evening. I check out the constellations that are visible, look for any binocular messier objects that I haven’t seen yet and make a list of a few objects I’d like to find.
I’ll print the star chart, slide it into a protective sheet (to protect it from the dew) and put it in my binder. I also mark the maps in my Tirion Sky Atlas 2000 with some post it flags so I can find them in the dark.
Now I’m ready, I’ve got my red flashlight, spare batteries, toe warmers, hand warmers, star charts, blankets, chairs, notebook, snacks and a bunch of other little must haves for the night.
It sounds like a lot of work, but when you step out of the car and look up, the sight of the Milky Way takes your breath away and you know it’s all worth it. It’s so beautiful that it sometimes moves me to tears.
I’ll spend the evening not only looking through my binoculars, but I wander around to all the other telescopes that club members set up for the night. I’ve found that amateur astronomers love to share the view through their scopes, at least these guys do. I’ve been able to see an amazing variety of deep sky objects that way, and I thank the generosity of this great group of people.
I don’t know what I’ll be looking for this weekend, but I do know that if the skies are clear, I’ll be looking up! Stay tuned – I’ll let you know how it goes!