Record Keeping

The anuals of both amateur and professional astronomy attest to the personal and scientific value of keeping records of our nightly vigils beneath the stars. From a personal perspective, an account of what has been seen each night can have a surprising impact as we look back over the years to our first views of this or that celestial wonder, or to the time we shared a first look at the Moon or Jupiter or Saturn or other sight with loved ones, friends and even total strangers. Our eyepiece impressions recorded on paper (written and/or sketched) or perhaps audio taped can provide many hours of nostalgic pleasure in years to come.

For casual double star observers, there is a definite aesthetic value in logging the various pairs seen (especially the showpiece ones), including their colors and component configurations and degree of visibility in a given telescope at a particular magnification under various sky conditions. In more serious undertakings like micrometer measuring, actual data needs to be recorded for later analysis and submission. In either instance, the information in your logbook should include the following: the date and beginning and end times of your observations (preferably Universal Time/Date); telescope size, type and brand used; magnification(s)

employed; sky conditions (seeing and transparency on a 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 scale, along with notes on passing clouds, haze, moonlight and other sources of light pollution); and finally a description (accompanied by a sketch, if you're so inclined) of each object seen.

Two important points should be borne in mind regarding record keeping at the telescope. First, keep the amount of time you spend logging your observations to a minimum (and use a red light to preserve your dark adaptation when you do). Some observers spend far more time writing about what they see at the eyepiece than they spend actually seeing it! Secondly, even a negative observation (for example, in searching for a comet or looking for supernovae in other galaxies) can have value. Often has the call gone out to the astronomical community in the various magazines, journals and electronic media asking if anyone happened to be looking at a certain object or part of the sky on a particular date and at a particular time. (This frequently happens in attempting to determine when a nova first rose to visibility.) If you happened to be looking at the right place at the right time but noted nothing unusual in your observing log, that is still a fact of real importance to researchers.

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