The Importance of Documenting Observations For Future Reference

The following photo represents my past 25 years of observing, documenting, sketching, and articles.  My only regret?  I didn’t record my observations the previous twenty years.  


When I purchased my first serious telescope back in the mid-70’s, I also picked up a small astronomy reference book: “The Finest Deep-Sky Objects” by James Mullaney and Wallace McCall.  It was a small paperback with 31 pages, filled with an incredible amount of information, the majority being double stars.  

This book also contained a number of galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, and even included several prominent red stars.  This would be my first list of objects to observe, and document.  

This began my quest of making simple notes of all the objects I was observing.  However, my notes were pretty poor, mostly listing only the identification number and object.  However, I had to start somewhere, and this seems to be how many amateurs begin their documentation of observations….writing down nothing more than “I saw M37 and M42…etc.”

The late Tom Lorenzin, author of “1000+ The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing” shared the same.  This made me feel better, saying that he too, in his early days listed only the object identification, being the Messier number, NGC or IC.  

In the early 90’s I began using “1000+” almost exclusively, at least for the following ten or more years.  I really liked the descriptions by Lorenzin, being relatively brief, but saying so much.  He was very effective in his use of words.  

I patterned my descriptions to follow in Tom Lorenzin’s footsteps….attempting to use precision, but not being overly wordy.   

At the same time, astronomy professor, friend and mentor Tom English, encouraged me to begin writing articles for our local astronomy club newsletter.   

My writing and observation notes both improved during this period, but I needed more than just notes.  I started pencil sketching.  It’s true…”a picture is worth a thousand words.”  

It’s my opinion: visual observing is seeing the faintest of detail in each and every deep-sky object, then recording and/or sketching the object.     

I will never forget being at an astronomy conference during the early 90’s.  Tom Lorenzin was one of the speakers.  He was sharing his story of writing “1000+” and during his presentation, Tom touched on pencil sketching.  Lorenzin said:  “we have a master sketcher in the room with us….Roger Ivester.”  Wow!  I had obviously arrived, but maybe Tom was just being kind.  

The complimentary statement from Lorenzin inspired me to take my sketching to a higher level, after all, I had just been recognized by a nationally known amateur astronomer!  

During those early years, I also had the opportunity to meet astronomy writer, author, lecturer and double star expert, James Mullaney.  Jim and I became friends….a friendship that continues even to this day. 

So I give much credit for my humble accomplishments as an amateur astronomer to Tom English, James Mullaney, and again…the late Tom Lorenzin.

I continued to sketch and to-date have spent thousands of hours at the eyepiece, never wanting to be anything more than a visual backyard observer as related to amateur astronomy.    

Since the “Finest Deep-Sky Objects” book was my first list of deep-sky objects to complete, I wanted to go back during the mid-90’s and view all of the “FDSO’s” again.  

Between 1995-96, I did go back through all of the objects in that little book, and submitted a report, describing about ten or more objects each month to my local astronomy club newsletter.  

For this project, I spent over 250 hours at the telescope eyepiece, and another 50 or more hours summarizing and writing an article for the club newsletter.  It was a much bigger job than I could ever have imagined, spending almost thirty hours per month for a year to complete the project!  Ouch!  

Tom English helped me put together a book:  “The 105 (+1) Finest Deep-Sky Objects Revisited” and the (+1) was the Crab Nebula which Mullaney said should have been included in the original.  

My humble book is shown below….the one opened to show the format, and the other closed to show the cover.  The original “FDSO’s” by Mullaney and McCall is on the lower left, showing only the cover.  

I have over 400, 3 x 5 notecards with both notes and sketches of the list in the card box pictured below.  


I started observing in the mid-60’s at about 13 years of age, but it’s been only in the past 25 years that I’ve become a very serious student of amateur astronomy.  Previous to that, I would just go outside, observe a few objects, and then come back into the house.  No notes, no sketches, no nothing.  What a waste of good observing time and years!  

I just wish I had some notes from my first observations of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Ring Nebula, and many other deep-sky objects which I managed to stumble across as a 13 year old, using my brothers 60 mm refractor.  

I can close my eyes even now, and see that vacant field beside my house with the Milky Way seemingly visible from horizon to horizon.  It was a great place for a young budding amateur astronomer to begin a lifelong trek into the depths of deep-space. 

In the past I’ve made my sketches on 3 x 5 notecards, or larger scale 8.5 x 11 sketch pads.  However, for the past ten years, my favorite is 5 x 8 blank notecards with a 3.5-inch circle drawn on the right side.  It was Sue French who was using the 5 x 8 system, and gave me the idea to change. 

It’s very important to me that my sketches be as accurate as possible, as seen through the eyepiece, without any embellishment.   Roger Ivester

M13 And The Elusive Propeller

SN in M82 Revised -1

 M22 - August 2012 - Challenge

Pacman Nebula - NGC 281


Virgo Diamond - five stars

NGC 1502 & Kemble's Cascade-1

Scanned Image 120080000

Roger and Debbie Ivester


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