Lists, lists, lists...
My observing sessions are mostly limited to weekends and vacations throughout the year. It is important that I use my time under dark skies to observe objects in the sky, not my charts. One way to do this is to have an observing list planned out ahead of time.
An observing list can be useful for any type of astronomical venture you choose, such as visual, photographic, binocular, or naked eye.
One question that most people new to this hobby ask is, what do I look at other than the Moon or planets? The Messier objects are usually the first targets. Observing the whole list of 110 objects is indeed a challenge, but the observer will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when finished. Upon completion you will also be familiar with a variety of objects along with being able to recognize constellations and many of the brighter stars.
WEB - There are many types of lists, from double stars to Barnard dark nebulae. There's even a list of asterisms. They are printed on all types of media. Type in "astronomical observing list" on an internet search engine and you will get over 2 million sites with lists.
BOOKS - There are many books that are written to serve as a guide to interesting objects. Three books that I have are, Burnham's Celestial Handbook by Robert Burnham Jr., Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders, by Robert and Barbara Thompson, and The Night Sky Observers Guide, by George Kepple and Glen Sanner.
CHARTS - Another type of list can be a star chart. You can observe every object in the chart one constellation at a time, and that's not a small project!
CLUBS - The Astronomical League has what they call "Observing Clubs" which are observing lists for the beginner to lists for the most accomplished observers. You can print the list off their web site and they also offer a handbook for sale on each of their Observing Clubs. Membership is not required. I find their handbooks very useful and informative.
Your object list should include general information such as a description of the object, Right Ascension, Declination, and Magnitude. The type of object will have more specific information such as size, separation, orientation etc. Some lists will include an atlas page number.
I work on several object lists at one time. The suitcase that contains my charts also has folders for each list. Double stars, galaxy clusters, comets, and binocular Messier objects. I also have a home made NGC list which is 10 pages laminated and numbered from 1 thru 8,600 front and back. I don't know how many NGC objects there are but my list should cover it. I cross off each NGC number as I observe them.
Some advantages that I find by using an observing list are: preparation time is almost eliminated, I don't have duplicate observations, I have the flexibility to observe different types of objects that go along with different sky conditions, darkness of site location, type of instrument, and time of year. When I observe a list of similar objects I become sort of an expert on that type of object. An example would double stars. After observing several doubles, I can estimate their separation, magnitude, position angle, and color.
Here are a couple of web sites that I find interesting,
Using a list will keep you organized and give you observing skills. Don't forget to have fun and once in a while break away from your observing list to wander about in space.
Clear Skies! John SmithPublished in the August 2008 issue of the NightTimes