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Why Observe From Home?
Why Observe From Home?
By Joe DalSanto - 5/27/2004
Perhaps you do or perhaps you don’t observe much from home; either way a good question is, “Why observe from home?”
In a word, convenience. Life has become very busy, hectic, and stressful for most of us. Most of us don’t have a lot of free time and energy to plan and carry out extended observing trips to dark skies, much as we might like to. As a result, our observing sessions become fewer and fewer, often because we are just so busy. Weeks, even months can go by before we have the right combination of clear skies, time, energy, and lack of commitments to get out to dark skies with our scopes on a weekend night. Meanwhile, clear weeknights taunt us. We may have an hour or two but that’s just not enough when our observing site is miles away.
But what if you adjust your observing to do some from home? Maybe you can squeeze in some hour-long, weeknight sessions if it is from home. Sure, the sky is not really dark but it still beats watching TV, doesn’t it? Maybe you can’t pick out faint galaxies from home but there are a lot of other things to see. When was the last time you took some time for the solar system, double stars, or bright open clusters? These are seen remarkably well even through the significant suburban light pollution that most of us live under. Simply modifying your observing program to emphasize these brighter objects can go a long way to making observing from home very enjoyable, as our observing features in this issue demonstrate.
Besides, not having that long drive to and from the observing site sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it? And how about having the many conveniences of home right at hand? These can further add to the enjoyment of observing from home.
Now don’t misunderstand. No one is suggesting that you give up on trips to a remote, dark site. No way. There is nothing that can replace a truly dark sky for observing. But once again, consider how often you are able to get there. I’m merely suggesting that you add some home observing sessions to those wonderful field trips.
In fact, more and more observers are recognizing the advantages of observing from home. They even maximize the enjoyment of observing from home by building on the advantages. For example, since you don’t really need a huge light-bucket to see the brighter objects best seen at home, many amateurs are now buying smaller, second telescopes for home use. Being so easy to set up, small scopes can encourage you to get out on those nights when you just don’t have time to set up your big scope. These complement big scopes that work so well on the faint stuff. Or maybe you just want to try making better use of those binoculars for some observing. Yes, binoculars. There is plenty to see even with binoculars. It just takes a little initiative to draw up a short list of objects well seen in binoculars. And they are the perfect instrument for observing on those frigid winter nights when you want to step out for just a few minutes.
Others take a different approach. After (hopefully) giving some consideration to where they buy their home to limit the worst effects of light pollution, many amateurs build a home observatory. They equip it with a permanent telescope that is always ready for observing. Thus, they achieve the ultimate in convenience. Even if you don’t permanently mount an instrument, an observing shelter at home can make a significant improvement in your observing conditions and further encourage you to get out at home. My modest, four-wall, open-roof shelter provides me relief from neighbors’ lights, inquisitive stares and cold winds. I simply carry my 8” Dobsonian (two trips) or 5” Maksutov (one trip) out to this simple “observatory” and I have a fine place to observe the sky from.
So why not give home observing a chance? You’re sure to enjoy the additional time under the stars. Besides, you can share your enthusiasm for astronomy with your family and friends who will probably never come on a field trip with you. In the end, you’re sure to find that observing from home is a great way to enjoy the fun of amateur astronomy. As long as that big light-bucket doesn’t get jealous…