Well the wife and I just got home from camping out for the past five nights. We had a great time and I got to do a little astronomical viewing on a couple of the nights. A friend and I spent two nights viewing with binoculars and had a blast. On these two nights, that were mostly clear with numerous and sometimes large clouds passing by, we revisited many Messier objects and brighter NGC and IC objects. I know that I found and identified 40 plus objects with my 10×50 and 9.5×63 binoculars. It is so much fun sitting back with a pair of binoculars and finding so many old friends in the sky and seeing them from a different perspective. For example M29 in Cygnus, it is hard for me to understand why Messier included it in his list of objects that were not comets when using a telescope, but with binoculars, seeing that little unresolved gray spot where M29 is supposed to be, gives me understanding. In all probability Messier’s best telescope was not as good as a modern 60mm to 75mm refractor. This view with binoculars was probably not very much different from what Charles Messier saw with his telescope. I guess my point is that you do not need to have a telescope out to enjoy astronomy. Great fun can be had with a friend and a pair of binoculars.
For a challenge object, using my S&T Pocket Sky Atlas as a guide, I even found a magnitude 8.5 open cluster, NGC 6645, with my 10×50 binoculars. It took me about ten minutes, going from star to star, to be able to say for certain that I had found this cluster. NGC 6645 is the July Observer’s Challenge object for the Las Vegas Astronomy Club. Check out the Observer’s Challenge on the Vegas Club’s web site at http://www.lvastronomy.com and join the fun. I sketched this open cluster and the August cluster, NGC 6819, using my 4″ TV102 refractor on Saturday night. Saturday was the only night that it was clear enough to warrant taking a telescope out. We spent a couple of hours looking at old friends in the sky before I started sketching. How good is it to spend an evening looking at the sky with a friend who loves looking up as much as you do.
I am finding that sketching an object every now and then has really improved my ability to see detail in the objects I am viewing. I think the discipline of looking at an object with the purpose of recording what you see improves what you are able to see. You certainly become more observant. I wish that all visual observers would try to sketch an object every now and then and see if it does not make you a better observer too.