The Importance of Documenting Observations For Future Reference

The following photo represents my past 30 years of observing, documenting, sketching and articles.   

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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.  

My next list of objects to observe was the Messier catalog, which I’ve observed and documented multiple times, taking my time and being very patient.  

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 was fortunate to have been able to meet Tom Lorenzin, on numerous occasions, and we became friends.  

I patterned my descriptions to follow in Tom Lorenzin’s format…attempting to use precision, without being overly wordy.    

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 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.    

My only regret….I don’t have any notes or sketches from my earliest days.  Those days at thirteen years old, with my brothers, 60 mm refractor, from the weedy field beside my childhood home, in the foothills of North Carolina.  

Roger Ivester

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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

An addendum to why it’s good to document your observations: 

I wanted to share information concerning an observation I made on April 20, 1993.  It’s a testament that documenting and taking good notes is indeed a good thing!   

Forward to February 1994: 

While reviewing my logbook, I discovered that I’d not followed up on an object viewed on 20 April 1993.  The primary object was NGC 3893, an 11th magnitude galaxy in Ursa Major.  While making my sketch of this galaxy, I noticed a smaller, much fainter object, SE of NGC 3893.  

So, while browsing through my logbook, I saw my notes that said:  “follow up on this observation.”  However, it would be ten months later (February 1994) before going back and checking data.   

I checked Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, Tom Lorenzen’s 1000+, and the Tirion Sky Atlas 2000.0 only to find that none of these sources listed a companion galaxy.  I then went to the NGC-2000.0 Catalog by Roger Sinnott, and found the companion listed as NGC 3896, a very faint and small 14th magnitude galaxy.  

So, If I had not sketched NGC 3893, most likely I would have missed NGC 3896.  And, if I had not logged the companion, I probably would never have checked any reference material.  

This might be a good story in favor of being sure to document your observations.  

Roger Ivester

 

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