paperwork... In astronomy and astrophotography, having a well
organized and up to date planning system can turn a unorganized
observing trip into a well-planned and enjoyable event. Being out
of sorts when you get to your observing site is an especially big
deal if you have to travel a long ways to get there. For example,
here in light cluttered San Diego County, you really only get to
dark skies if you travel 1.5 hours or more to our lovely deserts.
This being the case, good organization and planning can be the difference
between wasting a lot of petrol and time and experiencing some wonderful
sights that you knew would be there.
Organizing for the astronomical
observing trip. There are some common steps that should be taken
for astrophotography and just plain observing. The first step should
be to ask "what is up right now?" In other words, what
can I take the opportunity to see? This is very rudimentary, but
often missed by the observer (I know that I have gotten out to beautiful
dark skies when I first started and looked up just to say "now
what?"). In an effort to plan your trip there are a few tools
that are invaluable.
First, have a good celestial
chart. Having one that rotates to represent the view of the sky
is a good idea so that you can see what will really be available
for you to see at the time of night you are looking.
Second, purchase a subscription
in Astronomy or Sky and Telescope magazines (Hint: join a astronomy
club, and you can get them a lot cheaper than you otherwise would.
If you don't have a group in your area, sign on with the Astronomical
League as a Member at Large for $10
a year). These magazines always have a bulletin and fold-out in
them with not only a reasonable starchart inside (it won't be as
detailed as purchasing one from a shop) but also a calendar of astronomical
events occurring for that month. With this kind of knowledge, you're
ready to plan your trip around the biggest events, like a large
meteor shower or planet occulation by the Moon.
Third, and by no means
required for good observing, is the astronomical software package
that can display the sky at any time during the night. The good
programs allow you to print off a copy of the screen so that you
can take it with you (unless your blessed with a laptop). I cannot
speak for a lot of programs as I have really only used one of them,
but they are worth the money spent. The program that I have tested
and worked with is SkyMap by Chris Marriott. This program
is extremely comprehensive. It has a fully stocked listing of stars
which go out well beyond the magnitude limit of my little 4.5"
scope. It also has the means by which you can display the sky facing
all directions- North, South, East, West, and any time of night.
Do you want to know where the Moon will be in the sky two weeks
from now and what it's phase will be? No problem...simply press
the fast forward buttons that allow you to shoot ahead by minutes,
hours, days, or months. It also has a real time mode that will display
how the sky looks at your time (and location) and updates as the
minutes go by. I highly recommend this program. SkyMap 4.0 is due
to be released January 1998 for a price tag of around $79.99. The
version that I have tested, 3.12, ran for $49.95. The next version
is supposed to have several enhancements, including access to Hubble
photographs of deep-sky targets.
Planning for astrophotography.
The planning for shooting photography of the stars should start
with all of the above, but it can't just end there. With the added
equipment of cameras, film, etc, comes a little additional preparation.
First, do you have enough
film to photograph the targets that you want to shoot. This is very
basic, but I have run out of film shooting pictures and not had
any to take what I thought would have been some great photos. Do
you have the film for different types of exposures? For example,
will you be doing 30 minute star trails in which a high speed film
like 1000ASA would be overexposed?
Second, does my camera
take batteries, and how upset would I be if they didn't work? Bottomline,
you should always have a second set. For those of you in colder
climates, be ready for your camera to give up on you due to cold
weather, so make sure you have a spare set.
Third, you just got your
photos back from the lab, and you notice that some of them look
great, but then again, some of them don't. Then you look at your
trusty photo log in which you put all of the details of your great
pictures. You know what the exposure time was, aperture, and what
film you used, making sure that next time you go out, you've got
it made, and you get great shots from the start. "But I don't
have a photo log" you say. No problem, I've posted the one
that I use on the Internet, so take
a look and feel free to print it out.
Lastly, do you have any
special photographic needs? Will you be shooting any pictures of
objects in which filters should be used? This must be taken into
consideration when going out.
In conclusion. Proper
planning will insure that you not only get to observe what you want,
but that you get the pictures that you want as well. You'll find
this kind of preparation well worth it!