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Cold Weather Observing

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Cold Weather Astronomy

(19 December 2011)

Author: ChrisT on the OAFs email list

Hi All!

I always marvel at how the mind tends to insulate one, over time, from the not so pleasant activities that surround cold weather observing. Don't get me wrong...I love cold weather observing, but I hate not quite remembering all the little sub-routines that go along with winter observing. There are the obvious ones like dressing warm, bringing along a piece of plywood to stand on (this slows down the radiant heat loss to the ground) and of course there is the box of kleenex to thwart the runaway nose drip. There is also the need, if away from home, to bring along some hot tea or coffee to help warm the core after a couple of hours of observing. Don't plan to drink too much, lest you be looking for a washroom or digging through several layers of clothing to expose the appropriate part or parts. And of course, don't forget some high energy snacks...you'd be surprised at how much fuel you burn when trying to stay warm.

The little routines that I seem to forget each year are 1) Stop breathing...frosty breath plays hell with your optics. I know...you can't stop breathing, but you can slow down your rate and ultimately stop for 10 to 15 seconds at the eyepiece. The secret here is do do things slowly so that you are not increasing your bodies needs to replenish oxygen so quickly. Being relaxed and being in a comfortable viewing position is key to low heart and breathing rates. The other bonus is, you don't overheat. Many an observing session has also been shortened by overheating. Overheating can also be brought on by over-dressing as well. Every body is different. Dressing in layers and having clothing that you can easily adjust(open up for venting) is key to a comfortable night of cold weather observing.

The second item that I need to be reminded of is to move slowly around the equipment...especially when inside the pod. There is nothing more frustrating than to have to re-align your scope because you had a collision with your equipment. Bulky winter clothes and klunky boots do not leave one with the grace and dexterity of a ballroom dancer. My reminder came early last night but thankfully, it did not require any re-alignments.

Number three...equiment is cold and wires especially, loose their flexibility so you have to handle these with care. Make sure that when the scope and mount are moving that the lines are not hung up on parts of the equipment...doing otherwise, leads to re-allignments as well.

...

Winter is a time to be observing. The nights are long, and in the past we usually got lots of crisp clear nights...ohhh, I urn for those winters of past. For those that want to try it, don't plan to have big itineraries. Plan for a few short nights with some specific targets. I would suggest that you not use your goto equipment, unless it has heaters. Don't laugh, all my mounts have self installed heaters, otherwise the marathon sessions of imaging couldn't happen.

If you have a GEM mount, use it without power and don't spend the time doing a polar alignment...that's just something else to frustrate the novice cold weather observer. Do a rough alignment so that the mount functions in RA and Dec. This means you will have to sharpen maybe, your star hopping skills. Small dobs are a perfect winter time scope and of course...don't forget your binoculars. These are the perfect equipment for hunting down many bino viewable objects in Taurus, Orion and Canis Major.

Give winter observing a try...you don't know what you are missing.

Remember, it is also much more fun when you observe with others. Start out simple, get comfortable being in the cold and stay close to home the first few nights out...and on those special occasions you will catch the sounds of a cold winters night, the snap of a tree trunk, the crunch of snow under foot, the howl of lonely wolf or the yelping of a pack of coyotes.

These are memorable things that enhance being outdoors this time of the year!!

Take the Challenge!!

Cheers, Chris

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