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I like to think of myself as an ordinary housewife though I have been confronted by others regarding this issue. My interest in the stars started in my teenage years but was more of a romantic fascination than serious Astronomy.
I was in my thirties, sitting outside one evening at our DIY holiday home in Betty's Bay, glowing with satisfaction at completing the eleven year house building project , when I noticed a faint fuzzy in the night sky and wondered what it could be.
My library book list which always included titles like Bricklaying is easy changed suddenly to Observing the Constellations and Observing without a Telescope.
My husband quickly caught on that something was brewing and surprised me with a 4" Tasco with impressive specs on its box. I started observing conservatively and saw amazing objects, however, when I jacked up to 300X magnification, Jupiter would turn into a saucer-like UFO. After one month I hinted that I would most probably have to upgrade to a slightly larger telescope some day.
An 8" Bushnell Dobsonian with no spectacular promises of magnification on its box accompanied my husband home from work a few weeks later. When he opened the boot to surprise me, I cried and looked over my shoulder to see whether the cops were following him because the first thought that crossed my mind was that a telescope that filled the boot must cost more than the car and that I was staring at stolen property. My shock wore off the moment the telescope saw first light. Herschel's jewel box sparkled and at that moment I fell madly in love with my telescope.
I taught myself to observe and bumped into a boffin by chance. He subtly adjusted my approach in order for me to achieve more formal results. I learnt that the international standard was North up and East to left. Drat! just as I was having so much fun.
Before an observing session I consult various star charts as having to wear reading glasses makes things more difficult at the eyepiece. I try to memorize the location of objects as much as possible beforehand. Once found, I do sketches which make more sense to me than just written descriptions. The less paraphernalia I have around me in the dark the better.
Other than my telescope (a 12" Dob has also become part of the family) my light box on a tripod which I sometimes use just as a table has become my favourite piece of observing equipment. "Glasses on ,glasses off" has become much easier without having to balance a clipboard and pencils on my knee.
Although I love to stargaze with a group of enthusiastic people, I like to observe alone. Apart from the fact that I talk aloud while I'm sketching (which sounds something like :OK one bright one in the middle two not so bright left, faint one twice the distance and.....), there is something magical about being alone under a dark sky. While everyone else is asleep, the universe belongs to me.
The length of my observing sessions vary. When I drive to dark skies, I plan for whole night observing. At home I do shorter sessions in light polluted skies to combat withdrawal symptoms.
Whenever I look through my telescope, I get so excited that sleep is the last thing on my mind and out in the veld there are usually little (sometimes big) things that go bump in the night to provide the extra adrenaline.
My advice to someone who wants to take up deep sky observing apart from the best equipment for your circumstances, is to forget what you see in books and on the internet. Get hold of a list of deep sky objects and a star chart and go on your own journey. Even the most basic equipment will provide one with a wealth of objects to explore.
Journal entries: two
Objects logged: 53
47 Tuc, Great Orion Nebula, Tarantula Nebula, Messier 41, tau Canis Major Cluster, Lacaille II.3, NGC 2808, NGC 3114, Gem Cluster, eta Carinae Nebula, Lacaille II.10, Rich Man's Jewel Box, Jewel Box, Lacaille I.4, Hamburger Galaxy, omega Centauri, Messier 12, Messier 10, Dark Doodad, Lacaille I.9, Andromeda Galaxy, Triangulum Pinwheel, Lacaille III.11, Starfish, Lacaille I.12, Lacaille I.14, Lacaille I.8, NGC 6388, NGC 6496, Blue Planetary, Spiral Planetary, Lacaille III.13, Swan Nebula, Hercules Cluster, Ring Nebula, Dumb-Bell Nebula, Silver Coin, NGC 288, Cleopatra's Eye, Eight-Burst Nebula, Ghost of Jupiter, NGC 55, NGC 300, Stargate, NGC 4361, Retina Nebula, NGC 5882, NGC 5986, Heart-Shaped Cluster, NGC 2244, Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237), Great Bird Cluster, Christmas Tree Cluster.
Objects sketched: 53
NGC 2244, NGC 2264, NGC 2301, NGC 2323, NGC 5882, Retina Nebula, NGC 4361, NGC 5986, Stargate, Coal Sack, IC 2391, IC 2581, IC 2602, NGC 55, NGC 104, NGC 224, NGC 253, NGC 288, NGC 300, NGC 598, NGC 1535, NGC 1976, NGC 2070, NGC 2287, NGC 2362, NGC 2516, NGC 2808, NGC 3114, NGC 3132, NGC 3242, NGC 3918, NGC 3293, NGC 3372, NGC 3532, NGC 3766, NGC 4755, NGC 4833, NGC 5128, NGC 5139, NGC 5189, NGC 6093, NGC 6121, NGC 6205, NGC 6388, NGC 6397, NGC 6496, NGC 6523, NGC 6618, NGC 6656, NGC 6720, NGC 6752, NGC 6809, NGC 6853.
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