ACA Beginners Page

The Beginners Page by Vickie Wing, October 1999
Discussion 13 Techniques: Observing Logs

"Anyone who observes the sky should keep a logbook," is the emphatic opinion of David Levy (1989). "If the hours we spend under the stars are precious, an observing log helps us remember them." Relying on memory alone just isn't good enough; as years pass, details fade away until events might as well not have happened....So many people have told me that they would like to start an observing log but haven't gotten around to it. Yet it's easy and fun to do, and our observations will mean so much more when they're recorded accurately.

The format of your log is not as important; the content is. So any system that works is fine. Some observers prefer to draw in their logs, while others would rather compute. Some keep a diary. And some prefer the discipline of forms. Although forms make sure that you remember what to put down, I find them confusing. Blank paper lets you record the unexpected....The free form approach leaves unlimited room for the variable star estimates, planetary drawing, times for photographic exposures and notes from other observers.

If you observe certain types of objects systematically, you might consider keeping separate observing logs...Why not take rough notes in the field and then transfer the data to files on your home computer? Levy points out that even the most casual celestial sight-seeing becomes more meaningful is a few notes jotted down in a permanent record. Levy laments the fact that he did not always keep good notes; reading through his recollections; "Back then I also made many drawings a half inch to two inches wide, but rarely included field stars. Thus there is no way to tell the scale of the drawing or the size of what was seen. Is that fuzzy patch the full extent of a galaxy including the spiral arms, or only the bright central region?"

Keeping a notebook makes a more satisfied observer. It will remind you of all the things you've seen, the way you felt while observing, the frustrations, and the successes you've had with the hobby. And, most importantly, it will prompt you to observe more carefully and to see more when you observe.

A notebook is your private record of the universe. Although at first you have to adjust to updating it, the notebook will eventually contain unique records of your journey through the universe. It would be a shame if all those wonderful memories of your involvement with astronomy simply faded away with time. I too, have neglected to record my observations even as far back as when I first started in astronomy at 12 years of age. Those times I can never recover.

From my own past experiences of laziness; to go out for a "quick run" and not take the time to record what I've seen, then I wasted my observing time. Don't let yourself get into that mode.

There are numerous ways to keep your logbook, from simple notebook paper in a three-ring binder to preprinted logs from the AL. I use a surveyors cross-section book; it's just big enough for a 4 inch diameter drawing with background stars and other pertinent information recorded either to the side or on the back sheet. You can also check the AL web site for formal forms, if you wish to go that route. After all the trials and errors, the trick is to find what works best for you.

Clear Skies!