Posts Tagged ‘star-hopping’

I’m starting a new  a “Star Hopper”  education program for anyone who wants to learn about telescopes and how to find their way around the night sky with or without a computer. It will be run out of “Driftway Observatory”  – my backyard in Westport, MA, so obviously you need to be in driving distance and participation on any given night will be limited.  The way this works is invitations are sent out to the email list of participants on the morning of a night when the forecast is favorable.  Participants can then respond and space is reserved on a first come, first served basis.

You can use your own telescope, or use one of the telescopes here.

I see this also as an excellent parent/child shared learning opportunity, however, each child must be accompanied by an adult – one child/one adult, two children/two adults.

Other requirements for participants are:

1. That you purchase a copy of the excellent guidebook,  “Turn Left at Orion, ” which we will use for every observing session.

2. That before you attend any night observing session you complete a day-time workshop on telescope use in general, but particularly on the new line-up of telescopes at Driftway Observatory. 

3. That you have – or purchase – a pair of handheld binoculars suitable for exploring the night sky. 

The learning goals of this program are simple:

1. Learn your way around the night sky using the unaided eye and binoculars. (My “Prime Time” web site will be a major resource for this.)

2. Learn your way around the universe by finding examples of the major classes of astronomical objects (double stars, open clusters, globular clusters, nebulae, galaxies, etc.) with one of the telescopes at Driftway, or your own telescope if you have one and wish to use it instead. 

3.  Apply the classic advice of Sherlock Holmes – learn to “observe,” not simply to “see.”

My role will be to suggest appropriate targets (from “Turn Left at Orion”), have telescopes and large binoculars available for you to use, and coach you in their use.  Your role will be to read about your targets and how to find them before coming out to observe. You will find yourself involved in setting up instruments, using them, and putting them away when done. Most importantly, though, you will find objects on your own with some direction from me.

I hope you will find this approach very satisfying, but I’m not sure this style of learning is appropriate for everyone. You’ll have to decide if this is what and how you want to learn. If this interests you, please respond by sending me  email ASAP and ask to be added to the Star Hoppers list. If you know someone else who might be interested, please have him/her contact me.

I will schedule appropriate times for one or more persons to come here to learn about the telescopes in daylight. We will be using the three most popular types of astronomical telescopes – all relatively inexpensive models, by the way: A 12-inch Dobsonian (simple manual control), a 4-inch refractor on an Equatorial mount (mostly manual), and a 6-inch computerized, “go-to” catadioptric.   If you master those, I’ll be happy to show you how to do astronomical video as well.

You can find a copy of “Turn Left at Orion” at a local bookstore – Barnes and Noble has had it in stock – or at an online store, such as Amazon.com.  One caution. There are still several editions of this book available.  If you have an older one, that’s fine, otherwise get the most recent one (fourth edition 2011), and I suggest the spiral bound one because it folds flat and is easier to use in the field. Here’s the complete title of the book and a link to Amazon.

Turn Left at Orion: Hundreds of Night Sky Objects to See in a Home Telescope – and How to Find Them [Spiral-Bound]

Guy Consolmagno (Author), Dan M. Davis (Author)


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I understand why some folks would think I was  Luddite and in fact a couple referred to me that way in a recent forum on the club’s web site, so I answered there and then realised my answer pretty well spelled out my current thinking on the observing, so I’m including the major part of it here.

See, I would take issue with your term “Luddite” – I know you’re kidding, but other people may think it applies and it doesn’t. “Luddite” implies a person who is opposed to new technology in general and since I sit here surrounded by it in the form of four computers in this room alone and since I still build and maintain several web sites, I don’t see myself quite as a Luddite and most people seem to feel I’m just the opposite – much too ready to embrace new technology.

Let me say once again – because this has to be amply clear – I’m not trying to convert you or anyone else to my way of enjoying astronomy. If you’re happy with what you’re doing, bless you. Enjoy! I’m just trying to explain why I do what I do – which includes offering assistance to folks who come to me and want to learn the night sky. But that’s their decision, not my preaching. And if someone comes to me and asks about what kind of new scope to buy, I will encourage them to stay away from cheap “go to” outfits – as I suspect you would. But if they have the money, I certainly would encourage them to look seriously at something like your LX90. I owned and enjoyed one for several years and think that’s a fine choice for some people – not so fine for others. Just depends.

But that’s the main point. A telescope is a personal decision and should be based on your personal goals and needs. And even when our goals are identical, the decisions can be very different. I am left in awe over the enormity of the implications of what we encounter in this hobby every night. I believe from the conversations we have had, Pete is as well. But Pete and I have very different paths to dealing with that encounter. He chooses to surround himself with complexity in terms of technology – and appears very comfortable in doing so. What’s more, it makes his method of connection possible. I immersed myself in much the same way with video and with a variety of “go to” systems on various scopes that I thought made a better way for me to convey my enthusiasm about the night sky to people who visited and to get them deeply involved with these mysteries.

But it wasn’t working for me. I didn’t feel people were getting the message. I had visitors out practically every clear night and while I got the usual “oooos” and “ahhhs” from folks we all experience, I didn’t think the message was getting through. So I continued to scratch my head and wonder how in the world can I reach people better. Now many, many folks find that imaging is a great way to accomplish what I want to accomplish. Certainly astronomical imagers can become very, very involved with the objects they are imaging. But it wasn’t working for me. In fact, just the opposite was happening. For me – not necessarily for Pete, nor you, nor many, many others – the technology of our hobby was becoming a distraction. So I got rid of it. I still have my Argo-Navis system, but only because it’s part of the 15-inch and if I decide to sell that scope it will be more marketable with that system on it. But I don’t use it.

So the bottom line is, getting rid of all the complex stuff worked for me. I found myself able to enjoy the night sky much more. This applies not only to electronics, but telescopes in general. I want the simplest – and best – techology that works. I wouldn’t call the DoubleStar Mount I have from Universal Astronomics low-tech – but it’s technology appropriate to my goals of simplicity – of having the equipment become transparent – to make my route to “awe” more direct.

And most important for me, is that I am getting the most satisfaction I have gotten in years from my outreach efforts. These were becoming more and more frustrating to me because – as I said – I thought people were connecting, but only in a superficial way. I felt much more was involved when I looked at M13, than when they looked – and I didn’t know how to convey that extra sense of – well, of “awe.” Now you and the other members of this club certainly seem to get that same awe or you probably wouldn’t be doing what you do.

Unfortunately, simply ditching the complexity didn’t work on its own. Even without “go to” I found I had reached a point where I wasn’t reaching people. It relieved me not to have electronics on my scopes – but people were still just standing around at the 15-inch waiting for me to find things for them, then they would pop over to the eyepiece, take a look, and make the required sounds to indicate how impressed they were.

Didn’t satisfy me. I was just the tour leader and I was failing to get folks deeply involved. I’d prepare in advance, I’d tell them about what they were seeing, I’d encourage them to spend more time at the eyepiece, I’d ask questions . . . nothing seemed to really work the way I hoped it would work.

Then came the big break through – the aha moment – which as I look at it now is so obvious I really feel dumb relating it. :oops:

If I wanted folks to get deeply involved all I had to do was turn the scopes over to them and let them find things on their own.

And since doing that – since I switched from being a tour leader to being a coach – my enjoyment has gone up tremendously and I find the people coming to Driftway Observatory have shown a similar increase in enthusiasm and what I think I detect as a depth of awe. (Yes, my personal enjoyment is most important. I’m not a big believer in altruism. I feed on their enthusiasm. If I inspire them and they get excited by what they see, then I get excited. )

That’s why I own three nearly identical 8-inch SCTs and have them installed on simple, non “go to” mounts. With these, and similar scopes, I can set up three or four observing stations quickly and I can turn each over to a visitor and they seem to be having great fun finding and observing just a couple objects each session. (I do limit the number of visitors per session to something I can easily handle.)

This works for me. This works for them. It does not mean it will work for everyone, or it is the only “true “path, or any other such nonsense. But I don’t think it makes me a Luddite either. I’m not going around opposing other people’s approach to the hobby. I suspect people who start with me and my approach may eventually end up immersed in technology. I don’t care. What I do care is that I’m enjoying myself more – that’s of first importance to me – and I’m enjoy sharing the universe with them more. And I enjoy it most of all when I can get 10 people out in the open under gorgeous conditions and have them really get a lot out of an experience where the only technology involved is a single 80mm scope on an alt-az mount and whatever binoculars they had around the house and brought with them – as per my earlier report of observing the new moon and zodiacal light the other night.

But to be a true Luddite I’d have to go around blowing up places like “Wishing Star Observatory” and that’s the last thing I want to do. I love what Pete does for his own satisfaction and the way he is continually sharing it with others and he’s been dedicating himself to these outreach goals a lot longer than I have. That approach is great. Just doesn’t work for me ;-)

Well, that was half the story. As the discussion progressed with others joing in, I found myself spelling out exactly why I think star=hopping works for me.

Rotorhead wrote:. . . And I think that the nugget that is hidden in your words is that we really need to try to get our minds around what it is that we are looking at, so that it isn’t just another ‘thing’ in the eyepiece, regardless of how you found it. For many, many reasons, the low-tech ‘hunt’ is daunting or even a turn-off for a lot of folks. And, as you say, that doesn’t matter – use whatever means you need to find all these astounding objects, but slow down when you get there and try to understand what you are looking at.

You are absolutely on target with that, Bob, and if you had asked me a few years ago I would have vehemently defended my use of “go to” arguing that the hunt,a s you call it, is a total waste of time a childish game of connect the dots played on universal scale. :lol:

Now I argue just the opposite. Again, speaking purely to what works for me , I now think the hunt is critical to wrapping my mind around what I see because:

1. It’s a warm up exercise that helps you shed the other cares of the day and focus more tightly on the universe – in other words to quiet what meditators call “the monkey brain.”

2. It gives you a critical sense of context – this morning, for example, as I approached the Virgo Galaxy Cluster I couldn’t help but notice Saturn, and then Porrima – and that made me think of M53 and I took a little detour to this very distant globular and the whole effect was to increase my “depth perception” – that is, it made me very conscious that I was seeing one object a few light hours away, a second perhaps 30-40 light years away and a third – in the scope – roughly 50,000 light years away. But what I was looking for in the Virgo Cluster were objects in the order of 30-50 million light years away. So the objects provided little stepping stone’s for my mind, reinforcing the concept of the incredible depths with which we deal and reminding me that what looks flat to the eye has a third dimension that is absolutely mind-bending. I just don’t get this impact – in fact I rarely looked at the neighboring sky – when I use “go to.” Instead my focus is downward on a keypad. But that’s me. Another person’s experience may be different.

3. Serendipity – when searching for one thing, I frequently stumble across others – and when trying to remember patterns for star-hopping I again frequently see things that I would have totally ignored had I been using “go to” – including some beautiful asterisms that are rarely, if ever, noted.

4. The part I thought I would miss the most from the electronics, however, is tracking – and I’m still not positive about this in my mind. There’s a real boon to locking into something and staying on it, allowing you to more closely examine it. Maybe. I’m not sure. I have an LX10 and an LX50 now and the equatorial wedges for both and both have clock drives, so it’s easy enough to turn on tracking. But I don’t. I’m tempted sometimes – and if I were in touring mode, showing stuff to a line of visitors, it would be helpful. But with the goal of trying to get our mind around what we are seeing, there are several advantages to having things drift through the eyepiece. It keeps us alert. It gives us different perspective on an object showing it with different surroundings as it drifts from one side of the view to the other – it is a constant reminder that we are on a spaceship that is spinning at about 800 miles an hour at our latitude – and I think you could argue that motion actually increases your awareness of what you are seeing – hey, it works for hawks – and may even make it easier to see faint details, though I have no scientific evidence of this last claim.

But again, the goal is is to really wrap our mind around what we are seeing and in that respect I find the result impossible to measure and nearly impossible to express – but i know I make great strides on rare occasions, while most of the time I find this goal way out of reach. :| I focused on just a few objects when observing this morning with the SV80S Lomo. I stayed on M51 most of the time, intrigued by how much I could see, even at very low power – then gave my eyes a break and switched over to M5, which I haven’t visited in a year – and then, as dawn was rising, I made a quick check on M12 and M10 – I could just fit them both in the same fov when using the 30mm (82-degree) Clearvue, my “finder” eyepiece. ;-)

It was an interesting journey, but I’ll be damned if I could get where I wanted to go, or bring anything back from it I’m able to communicate. Maybe tonight will be different.

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