Archive for the ‘The importance of documenting your observations’ category

The Importance of Documenting Your Observations

February 5, 2016

My lifelong notes, sketches, and other documentation as an amateur astronomer.  The following photo represents 25 years (I do have lots more, but not shown) of more than 5,000 hours of observing, documenting, sketching, filing and other.  


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, with the majority of objects being double stars.  It also contained a good variety or number of galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, and even included several prominent red stars.  This would be my first list of objects to observe.  I began making some simple notes of the objects I was observing.  However, my notes were very poor, mentioning only the object and what it was.  I had to start somewhere, and this is how most 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” told me the same thing.  He made me feel better, saying that he too, in his early days listed only the objects identification, being the M-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, as 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 if at all possible.    

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 had the opportunity to finally meet astronomy writer, author, lecturer and double star expert, James Mullaney. He looked at my notes and sketches, with special emphasis on the double stars. He encouraged me to continue with my observational work, and documentation. So I give much credit for my humble accomplishments to amateur astronomy 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 “FDSO’s”, and submitted a report each month for our 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. 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. 

Roger Ivester

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 five or more years, my favorite is 5 x 8 blank notecards with a 3.5-inch circle drawn on the right side.  

For the Observer’s Challenge, the colors are inverted using a computer.  The seven sketches below are a good representation of my current system of drawing. 

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

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