DSO Round Table Meetings

DSO Round Table Meetings

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    Bob Jorgenson

    First off, these meetings where we discuss specific seasonal DSO are a fabulous learning experience for me. I have learned a lot from everyone in the club, which is one of the main reasons I joined CAS. My observing skills have improved significantly from observing alongside everyone and hearing about your past experiences during these DSO meetings and out in the field.

    During last night’s Zoom meeting, a wonderful event, a few comments from the presenters made me stop and think, and perhaps this can be on a future meeting agenda.

    1. Most of you mentioned having observed the specific DSO mutitple times, with varying results based on observing conditions, telescope, eyepieces, filters, etc., which all makes sense. However, I saw you looking at what must be your observing logs. I am very curious what your logs look like, what notes you take, how detailed are your notes,  any sketches, etc.
    2. The same goes for any observing lists you make. Example – I want to verify I see this specific detail in Galaxy “X”. Do you make written notes about what your planned observations?
    3. Josh mentioned he has very strict “tolerances” that his telescope must adhere to. This was in reference to his new 12.5″ Obsession (nice by the way). I am curious to what specifically he is looking at to make sure his telescope is in optimal condition.
    4. Much discussion on dark sky conditions, which we all understand is important. I have been to a couple dark locations, but I still do not fully appreciate the difference from say BMVO to High Knob to Cherry Springs to Bob Pody’s place. How much more detail can I see from one site to another? How much fainter are the observing limits – I can look up limiting magnitudes, but I am interested in what you actually see?
    5. Many comments about going to Texas Star Party and other distance events. I am interested in these events, but I have no experience with them. I have never been to Cherry Springs, or the Cherry Springs Star Party or Black Forest Star Party. What are the logistics to plan for such an event?

    I understand a lot of this comes with years of observational experience. I am in crash course mode to catch up as fast and best as I can. Thanks

    Jan Romer

    Excellent questions! And you’ll get answers. But you’re not fast-tracking it: novice observers are meant to be like baby birds – voracious! Way back when I was the baby bird, veteran observers generously gave me the benefit of their experience and much of joy I’ve had in this hobby are because they did. Now that I’m a vetern, I find that passing passing on what I was taught re-energizes *me*!







    rob from altair

    Hi Bob – thanks for initiating this conversation – I’m sure there will be lots of input.
    First and foremost, we are thrilled that you joined our club for the observing experiences and having observed with you a number of times I really appreciate your enthusiasm for observing, so you obviously fit right in with CAS.

    I’ll give a short response and let others respond as well.

    #1:  I used to take written notes but found them hard to organize and refer back to.  I finally committed a few years ago to working from Sky Safari and recording my observations there.  There are other tools as well, a lot of members use Sky Tools (PC driven).

    #2:  If there is a particular object you’ve read about or heard about at one of the meetings, then you should make some note of it so you dont forget to check it out.  It helps also to know the optimum time of year to view it, and then the optimum time of the night to view it, especially if you’re going after some faint detail of the object.  Both Sky Safari and Sky Tools will let you sort your observing lists by many different factors: Rise/set times, transit times, etc…

    #3 – for Josh

    #4 and #5 combined:  Some of the other members can give you more specific information regarding places like Texas and NM, but in general the darker the skies the more detail you will see, and it will be significant!   Observing from BMV is darker and better than DS1;  DS Edge is darker and better than BMV; High Knob is better than DS Edge,  Cherry Springs is probably slightly darker than High Knob but I’ll let Josh respond to that.  And then you get to Spruce Knob,  WV, darker than CSSP, and Texas and NM darker than Spruce Knob.  So at each progression you will see more detail in the objects you view.  And it opens up some real thrilling experiences:  You can view some brighter objects like the Ring or Dumbell, but see them like you’ve never seen them before.  The Whirlpool blows the mind under truly dark skies.   And, you will be able to push the limits of your scope to pull in the faintest galaxies or other objects that you can’t see at home.    Think of it as viewing from local spots is like having cataracts, and viewing from darker spots is like having had cataract surgery.

    Regarding star parties – they all list the specific regulations and requirements, most of them have similar requirements but some will differ.   For example, at cssp you have to be highly aware of your arrival and departure as there is no leaving the park after 11pm I believe.   We can discuss this as another meeting topic perhaps.

    One last comment:  Not every observing session has to be planned with lists of targets, etc… If you haven’t planned anything in particular to observe there’s nothing wrong with winging it and just enjoying the “usual suspects”.  Better to be out than not be out.  Plus, when you are out with others, you’ll discover objects that others are viewing that you might not be familiar with and thus you end up having some new experiences without having planned to

    Others will chime in with more details but I hope this is helpful.



    Okay Bob
    1. Yep, I take detailed notes, even more than ever with doing the video series of Galaxy Log.

    2. Yep, I do have a plan of some objects I might use for the videos. I use both Uranometria and Wikisky.org combo to give me some possible interesting candidates to view.

    3. Equipment is very important. Quality optics can really make a difference. Also to make sure the telescope is properly collimated. Eyepieces can vary, and I do like eyepieces with good eye-relief. Me personally feel that the Tele Vue Delos and Pentax XW’s are top of the eyepiece list.

    4. Darker sites make a HUGE difference. The human eye loves contrast. So using optimal exit pupil (per object varies), and having a darker background sky is what will be best…contrast….contrast…contrast. Galaxies by far will benefit the most.

    5. Star parties at very dark locations that are dedicated for observers like us are wonderful. Very cool to mingle with real observers, who are willing to share views.


    Bob, remember Shawn’s Chesapeake Star Party in October 2018 and the view through my 18″ f/4 of The Blue Snowball (NGC 7662) at 1137x that had you exclaiming that you never saw such detail at such high power? The sky that night was 6.38 NELM. That’s a good benchmark for what dark skies and good seeing can do. BMVO is typically +/- 6.0 with varying seeing/transparency conditions.

    Like Carl Zambuto says, “After aperture, there is only contrast.” And as Karl stated above, “…having a darker background sky is what will be best…contrast….contrast…contrast.”


    Hey Bob,

    I love your post. It strikes right at the heart of who Chesmont is. We are first and foremost an observing club. Your enthusiasm for observing is what allows you to be a perfect fit with us. This club has helped shape me into the observer that I am today, and has offered me many opportunities to have a great time enjoying the lifestyle of an amateur astronomer. Here in Chesmont we call it a lifestyle, not a hobby, because honestly, for most of us, that’s what it is. As I address your specific questions I’m sure you’ll begin to see what I mean by that.

    1. Logging

    Over the years I have approached logging from multiple stand points.
    I have made up my own observing sheets where I would write down each object and some information about it and I would record every object I observed. I found this to take a lot of “observing time” away from me each night, so then I started using a digital voice recorder to record my observing sessions, and then I would transfer them to paper at a later date. This worked well, but eventually what wound up happening was a backlog of observing sessions on the recorder that I hadn’t transferred to paper. So then I started using Skytools III observing software in the field and printing out the report when I got home. Unfortunately, as is the case quite often, my computer crashed and I had not backed up the information properly so I lost the digital aspect of my logs. Then I tried Skysafari but did not like that software as much as Skytools III. So then I went back to hand writing my logs, writing down every object I observed. After a while I began to wonder why I was putting so much effort into writing down all the information on some random 16.8 magnitude galaxy that was just a small round fuzzball in the eyepiece.  Right around the time when I was questioning the virtues of writing down or digitally logging every single object I observed, I found out about Steve Gotleib’s observation of the entire NGC catalog. This inspired me to try to observe all of the deep sky objects in the Uranometria Vol 1 (Northern Sky) catalog. Taking on the challenge of  observing the entire Uranometria 1 catalog will be a life long, time consuming endeavor. Therefore I wanted an observing / logging strategy that matched the challenge. So instead of my focus being on logging in detail every single object I observe, it has shifted to noting what objects in Uranometria I have observed. The other aspect that had to go was the digital logs. Let’s face it, there’s not much software around today and in use that was around 20 years ago, but there are books that are thousands of years old. If I’m looking at spending the next 20 years or more on an observing project it is going to be done on a format that I know will last…paper.

    So now what I do is threefold but easily and quickly done in the field.

    A. The first part of my observing log  is recorded in a diary format. It includes the events of each observing session, what darksite I am at, the date, what scope I’m  using, who I am observing with, and the highlights of the night. I have created a custom sheet that I can print out and take with me to be filled out in the field .  This allows me to reminisce about each observing session when I read back over my logs.

    B. The second part is whenever I observe an object that is listed in the Uranometria Vol 1 (Northern catalog) I simply highlight it (shade it) with a pencil, that way I know I have observed it and therefore I don’t have to worry about observing it again.
    This makes it obvious what objects still need to be observed to complete the observing challenge.

    C. The third part of my logging involves custom sheets that I have made for each constellation in the northern hemisphere. I have two sheets for each contellaion. The first sheet is for favorite objects and is meant for show piece objects. Bright objects that show lots of detail. The second sheet is for interesting objects in each constellation, and contains objects that don’t quite fit the criteria of showpiece objects, but are ones that I would like to observe again. Both sheets are formatted the same way. They have a place where I can record the name of the object, the Uranometria chart number it is listed on, what type of object it is (Galaxy, Planetary Neb, etc), a brief description of the object and what eyepiece I feel best suits the object . This way, if I ever find myself at a really good dark site (more on that later) on a really good night, I will have a long list of objects, organized by constellation, to enjoy and to share with others. Future DSO meetings will most definitely contain objects from these lists.

    2. Lists

    As you can see from above, my logging naturally generates lists. However, as far as keeping track of specific objects that I want to observe I have also created my own custom observing lists of objects I want to observe. That list is not generated for each constellation as that would create a lot of extra paperwork. It is simply a page with a running list that contains the object catalogue number, the constellation it is it in, and the reason I am interested in observing it. That way when I’m in the field I can look over that list and easily know if the object is able to be observed at that time. I also print out our DSO Meeting lists. These are especially handy because they are specific to the upcoming season and they have the constellations noted. It is very easy to know whether you can observe off of that list based on the time of year. Again as I work a list I handle it the same way as I handle my Uranometria quest. I simply take a pencil and shade the object once it is observed.

    All of my logging paperwork and lists are hole punched and put in a three ring binder. That keeps all of that information handy and in one spot.

    3. Telescope Tolerance

    As far as the telescope tolerance is concerned, that is in reference to the scopes ability to safely travel long distances over bumpy roads, and to its ability to be precisely collimated and then hold that collimation throughout the night. Because the scope is going to travel long distances to get to the optimum dark skies (more on that later)  I want to make sure that the mirror is safe in the cell. Some of the more remote locations require travel over rough roads. I want to make sure every precaution is taken so the scope and it’s mirror arrive intact.
    Then once I arrive at a location and set the scope up I want to make sure I can precisely collimate the scope and that it will hold its collimation throughout the night. After all, I (and many of us in the club) have spent a lot of money acquiring a premium optic. There is NO point in having a really good mirror set, paired with quality eyepieces, and then have a scope that does not have the ability to get a precise collimation and hold that collimation. If you want a pristine refractor like view from a Dob you have to make sure your collimation is very accurate.

    4. Dark Sites

    This I cannot stress enough…Get your scope to the darkest skies possible every chance possible. PERIOD!!  However, be fore warned that once you observe under truly dark skies, there’s a good chance you will find less interest in observing under local dark skies. I can’t speak for others, but I know for sure that has happened to me .
    This is how important I feel dark skies are… I will hop in the truck and drive 4000 miles round-trip to get to some of the darkest skies in the continental U.S. . I bought a camper and put it on a permanent site up in the mountains, just south of Sullivan County, to give me a “home” under dark skies and a jumping off point to even darker skies. I will drive 9 hours round trip for one night of observing. I have become a dark sky snob and I don’t even try to hide it. I joke with the guys that I must be annoying to observe with locally because every time I do I complain about the lack of contrast and the lack of the aesthetic beauty of a black background sky. Once you see what a large Dob can do under pristine dark skies it can be very hard to go back to more local light polluted skies. This is the analogy that I use. Let’s say you have a high-end sports car and you take it out for a drive on a bumpy dirt road. It’s going to do only slightly better than any average vehicle on that road, but when you put that car on a high-performance racetrack, now you get the full benefit of it and you can smoke the average car. It’s the same way with a large premium Dob. If you think you’ve had the most spectacular view possible of M 27 and M51 and M42 or any other deep sky object from a site like Hawkmountain…you have not. Yes, observing at these sites can be a super fun time and I do it regularly. Yes you can see the objects, but you can’t REALLY see these objects. It is fun and rewarding to observe locally. I do it and encourage other to as well, but anymore (at the risk of sounding like a dark sky snob) I don’t consider it serious observing.
    Yes, you can look up the difference darker skies give you in magnitude number, but let me give you an example. From my driveway at home under the city light dome, with my 25 inch scope, the view of M51 shows two small dim round “fuzzball’s”. Now that same object from Blue Mountain Vista shows the core of M 51 and it’s spiral arms connecting to the companion galaxy. The galaxies appear much brighter and beautiful against a blacker sky. Now observe that same object from Magdalena New Mexico, and you can actually see lace like detail with in the arms. The entire eyepiece will be filled with the galaxy’s arms. Each individual arm will become an object in and of itself to observe. You can see tendrils wrapping around other tendrils offering a depth of view that becomes almost three dimensional. And there are three galaxies, not just two. The view is so different that  objects you have observed on a regular basis locally become almost unrecognizable there is so much detail and extension to them. I remember one night in New Mexico that I dubbed “The companion night”. I looked at many objects that I am very familiar with from observing locally, but I kept getting confused because of all the background objects that I was seeing that I had never seen before. The saying with real estate is location location location, when it comes to astronomy it is LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION. You can see as much in a 12 inch scope from a site like Magdalena, New Mexico or the Texas Star Party as you will see through a 25 inch scope from Hawk Mountain.

    5. Star Parties

    It’s simple! Go! They are great learning opportunities. The more remote you go, typically the more serious the observers are. If you’re interested in a star party, see if you can find somebody that has been to it and talk to them. Each party typically has its own particular set of rules and regulations, so it would be nice to familiarize yourself with it before arriving. But generally it’s the same concept overall.

    So with all that said, if there’s anything that you are interested in in greater detail let me know. I’m more than happy to show you what I’ve done with my observing logging and observing lists, scope modifications I’ve made, give you more information on the better dark sites, and share my star party experiences. I’ve been to the Texas Star Party, Enchanted Skies Star Party in New Mexico and Cherry Springs Star Party.

    Good luck and keep looking up!

    Here’s to Clear DARK Skies!!

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    Bob Jorgenson

    Hi everyone, I greatly appreciate the responses and insight to improve my observing skills and experiences. I am eager to go to more darker sites. I want to get this Ferrari of a telescope I have out in the darkest skies.

    The best night observer I had was at DS Edge some months back. Just that little bit darker sky wax amazing. I was seeing galaxies down to 16.8 mag with some detail. I mentioned to Josh in the last CAS meeting at the preserve that I saw 18th mag. That was not correct. I was trying to confirm an 18th mag galaxy but I couldn’t. I definitely saw a very faint smudge, but I was not positive. That is a skill I can improve on.

    FYI – I am only just today seeing these responses. I saw Josh’s this morning and everyone else’s tonight. So it is out of sequence too by date. I dont know if this a website issue or mine. I even checked the “notify me of replies by email” box. That didn’t work either. Not a problem for me. I knew I would stir up a conversation.

    Thanks immensely.


    • This reply was modified 9 months, 3 weeks ago by Bob Jorgenson.
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