Sunday, January 1, 2012

Winter Observing

This time of year is winter for us in the northern hemisphere. It's one of my favorite times for observing. Both with telescopes and with my eyes or binoculars. Even if it's nothing more than lingering in the driveway to enjoy the sky for a few minutes after a drive home, the clarity of the sky makes the stars stand out with the best contrast of any time of the year.

Winter brings cold, but on clear nights that cold makes the sky especially clear. The upper level cold freezes out moisture in the air. It's a perfect time of year for looking at faint fuzzies. If you have a smaller instrument, this is a great time to see things that are fainter than you can normally expect to find when the humidity is higher.

I have started many of my personal observing programs during this time of year, including seeing how many galaxies I could see with 7x35 binoculars, learning my way around the deep sky north of 70 degrees with a 75mm reflector, and seeing how close of doubles I could pick out by eye. The sharp appearance of the sky makes winter the perfect time to start new observing objectives.

With larger instruments, this is still a good time to view objects that are challenging, or to see more detail in familiar objects, like picking out more detail in galaxies.

Whether you're using your eyes or a light bucket, now is the perfect time to get out and enjoy sharp, high contrast skies. While the clouds are away, let the cold air freeze out the atmospheric humidity so that you can get the best views.

Stay warm with layered clothing, good socks, and good gloves.

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