A New Beginning in Observing

Upon receiving my telescope in 2009, I decided to start keeping a list of astronomical observations. From that, LateNightAstronomy was born. Through this website, I have listed over 125 objects (including the Earth) on pages such as “What I’ve Viewed” and “Nightly News”. While, I will be continuing to list objects and nightly events in this format, I am now beginning to take hand written official observational logs to catalog objects for certification through the Astronomical League.

The First Three Logbooks

To begin the process, I decided to focus on three observing programs the Astronomical League has to offer:

“Messier Observing Program”
This is a wonderful starting point for documenting some of the most impressive 110 objects of the deep sky. I suspect it will take me two to three years to view all of the objects given limitations of seeing from my house and the slow shift of the stars throughout the year.

“Lunar Observing Program”
For nights when the Moon will be blocking out my Messier observing, I’ve decided to start charting the lunar surface. The 100 objects listed in this program are great for people new to astronomy and can be completed with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. I hope to have this program completed within three to four months.

“Comet Observing Program”
With Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson currently in the night sky, I thought it might be a good idea to start an official logbook for comets. Documenting 12 comets for this program will take quite a while, and I expect it to be completed in 4 to 5 years.

“The Logbooks”
To assist me in my official observations, I came across a wonderful logbook created by Matt Wedel over at 10minuteastronomy. I took his design concept for the Messier book and formatted my own books for the lunar and comet observing programs using resources provided by the Astronomical League. After a quick run to Staples, I had some premium printed, coil bound and plastic covered logbooks to begin my journey into the Astronomical Leagues Observing Program.

Some Lunar Views and Spotting Saturn’s Cassini Divide

I love setting up a telescope with the Sun setting and the sky slowly transitioning from day to night. There is something exciting about planning what will be viewed and the anticipation of what is to come.

The night started out with some brief views of the crescent Moon. This is my favorite time to view the lunar surface. The shadows that are cast from the mountains and craters display incredible depth and make the Moon almost appear 3d though the eyepiece. Sadly, anything over half full and its surface becomes boringly flat, turning the Moon into a nuisance that does nothing more than spoil the view of deep sky objects with its light pollution.

Continuing into the evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Saturn was visible in the early nighttime sky. Easily, a favorite of mine and Lauren’s, its rings are now tilted to a point that will offer incredible views of the planet for years to come. Pushing the telescope up to 200 times magnification revealed the beautiful angle of its rings as well as the cassini divide that splits the rings themselves.

Holding up my iPhone to the eyepiece, I was able to take some pretty good video of the planet. The cassini divide is too thin to view in the video, but you can easily make out the divide between the rings and planet disc itself.

Starlog: May 25th & 26th, 2012

Abby’s Night Out

Showing and explaining to others the objects that can be viewed through a telescope is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an amateur astronomers. This is especially true when it involves introducing the world of astronomy to kids. This past summer, my 9 year old sister Abby was out with me observing some sights one evening. Before we finished up the night, I let her take control of the scope and she moved it around, finding some interesting targets along the way, all by herself.

Abby took command of the 40 lb dobsonian telescope like a seasoned pro. After going over some basic instructions, she began to move the scope around, hunting down some pretty impressive targets.  Using a low powered eyepiece, Abby started off with three bright stars. Following this, she gave several attempts before successfully viewing an airplane as it zipped through the finder scope’s field of view. The main events of the night, however, were the Moon and Saturn both of which were partially obstructed by trees and not easy to spot. To her delight, Abby was able to make out the rings of Saturn as well as a few of it’s Moons.

Astronomy can be a wonderful way to introduce children and adults alike to the fascinating aspects of science. Abby’s night out with the telescope helped to make the universe in which we live a little more real and exciting for her. I encourage all amateur astronomers to reach out to others and relinquish the reign of control over your telescope to observers of all ages. They may surprise you and themselves as to what they can find with the nudge of a scope and the will to explore.