General advice please, thanks

Forums General Discussion General advice please, thanks

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • Author
  • #573445
    Donald Macmillan

    Hi everyone,

    I’ve just recently joined the BAA ….  Some brief personal background first, if i may …  I’m 44 years of age now, and have been very interested in Astronomy since before i was 10.  i’ve really wanted to be a member of the BAA for many years now, but have always held myself back from joining, just feeling that my level of expertise would not be sufficient to justify becoming a member of such a historical and eminent society ….  Over the years i have been a member of the SPA a couple of times, which i have valued very much although i contributed very little towards in terms of observations.  I certainly did consider renewing my SPA membership recently but have decided instead to take ‘the plunge’ and realise my dream of being a BAA member, the special introductory offer did help persuade me somewhat though, i must admit!

    Now i have joined I’d really like to get involved in a section or two perhaps, and i just hoped for some helpful advice to guide me in the right direction please.  My interests are fairly broad and general.  I know my way around the sky with the naked eye fairly well, but i am a much less experienced telescope/binocular observer.  I own a greatly underused ED80 f7.5 APO telescope, a pair of 8.5x 42 and 10x 50 binoculars, and a pair of 20x 80 binoculars also.  Over the years I have lacked confidence with my ED80, but now that I’ve joined the BAA i am very determined to build this confidence!  Given the equipment that i have stated above could anyone recommend appropriate sections please that I may consider joining, with a view to making (over time) reasonably serious observation contributions to?  I have some very limited variable star observing expeience (many years ago, naked eye observations only), and I am certainly willing and happy to challenge myself further in that direction ….  But i am very intersted to know and consider any other observing options that some of you may feel i may have with my scope and bins, and limited experience. 

    Looking forward to perhaps hearing from some of you at your convenience …..

    All the best from Stonehaven!


    Jeremy Shears

    Hello Donald,

    A very warm welcome to the BAA! I am sure you will enjoy your membership experience and with the enthusiasm you clearly have, you will find all sorts of opportunities to get involved in observing. 

    It sounds like you are already well equipped with a telescope and binoculars. The BAA organises Back to Basics workshops, the next one being in North Wales, so not the most convenient location for you in Stonehaven. There are lots of observing sections where your observations would be most welcome. The first question to ask yourself is what do you enjoy observing? You mention you have done some variable star work in the past. This is clearly a field where your observations would be very valuable – and you have eminently suitable equipment to hand. One of the simplest places to start is observing binocular variables. The Variable Star Section’s web site has a page on Binocular Variables here:

    The section also publishes a booklet on binocular observing, with instructions and which contains quite a few charts. This is available from Roger Pickard, the Section Director, or the BAA Office. There is a page for “absolute beginners” here: 

    The Section also publishes an “Observing Guide to variable Stars”, available from the BAA Office.

    The VSS also has mentors who are happy to help people starting out: 

    Binoculars and small telescopes are also ideal for observing the brighter comets (drawings and magnitude estimates are always appreciated by the Comet Section) and deep sky objects (again send sketches and descriptions to the Deep Sky Section).

    Living in Scotland (if I have the correct Stonehaven) means you are well placed to observe the aurora and noctilucent clouds – the season for the latter is upon us now. 

    These are only a few ideas and I am sure others can provide info about further sections. And do contact the section directors. They’d be delighted to advise and to receive your observations. Whatever you do – keep asking! The BAA is here to help you further your interest in astronomy.

    Go well!


    Andy Wilson

    Hi Donald,

    May I also welcome you to the BAA. I became seriously interested in astronomy at around the same time as you, just over 30 years ago when I was 11. Jeremy has given you some excellent advice which I completely agree with. I find being involved with observing sections to be the most rewarding part of my BAA membership. You certainly don’t need to be an expert and there are plenty of people in the sections willing to offer help and advice.

    As a variable star observer myself I concur with Jeremy that your equipment is ideally suited to making variable star observations. Although much useful work is done with CCDs and DSLRs, variable star observations made by eye are still of immense importance and value. Indeed the Variable Star Section has more active visual observers than CCD/DSLR observers.

    Using binoculars or a small telescope to observe variable stars is a great way to use and improve your knowledge of the sky. I have a few variables that I follow with binoculars when I don’t have the time to do imaging or just want a relaxing observing session looking at the stars.

    I’m sure any other section would welcome you too. The Comet and Deep Sky Section spring to mind with your equipment.

    It is worth pointing out that next Saturday, 27th June, is the Exhibition meeting in Cardiff. If you are able to attend then it is a great place to see the work of the different observing sections and discuss how best to start contributing observations. That is how I started out in variable star observing, when I attend an exhibition meeting at Cambridge back in 2001, if my memory serves..

    Best wishes,


    Stewart Moore

    Hello Donald,

    Once again, welcome to the BAA, and I hope you find your membership rewarding.  I’m not a variable star observer (although I do try and estimate the brightness of comets and the brighter supernovae).  My particular interest is deep-sky and I was Director of the Section until a couple of years ago.  Of course this is not a good time of the year to start deep-sky observing – particularly when you live as far as north as you do, but in a month or so you will have some dark sky to enjoy.  Most deep-sky observers want bigger and bigger telescopes to play with and I must admit to going partly down that route myself, but there is a lot that can be enjoyed in small telescopes or even binoculars. Some open clusters are too large to fit comfortably in a telescope view but are ideal for binoculars with their wider field.  Also some objects can be visible in binoculars but not in telescopes.  The local group spiral galaxy M33 in Triangulum is easy in 10×50 binoculars but very difficult, because of its low surface brightness, in even quite large telesccopes.

    Very few people are now doing deep sky observing in small telescopes, so you could really have something to offer (but do expect to get bitten by aperture fever at some point!).  If you live in a dark sky area most of the Messier objects should be visible in your telescope and that would make an interesting personal project. And one that I’m sure the Section would be interested in.

    If you want to start out in deep-sky observing one book I can thoroughly recommend is Deep Sky Observer’s Guide published by Philip’s. If you are buying secondhand make sure you get the revised edition published in 2013. The author is Neil Bone. Neil was the BAA Meteor Section Director and unfortunately died from cancer a few years ago.

    Most amateurs have a general interest in all aspects of astronomy but also find that there is one particular area that interests them the most.  If that turns out to be the deep sky then I hope you find it as rewarding as I have.

    Clear Skies,  Stewart

    Donald Macmillan

    Hi guys,

    Thanks so much for the warm welcome and all the advice and suggestions.  I am very naturally drawn to the variable star section so i will get involved there, and try my eye at some binocular variables.  In the meantime, while i get back into variable stars I’ll just enjoy some general observing ….  I’m interested in the comet section, and the deep sky section too now.  I will admit though, i didn’t really expect with my humble ED80 (hardly a ‘light-bucket’) to be getting much encouragement to do any deep sky observing!  But i will give it a go, try my hand at some sketching perhaps, and even some imaging with my Canon DSLR.  What about lunar observing?  Can an ED80 be much serious use in respect to our moon? 

    Looking forward to ever darkening skies! 

    Many thanks again!


    Bill Leatherbarrow

    Hi Donald,

    Welcome to the BAA from me too – it’s a great organisation and will offer you much in the way of advice and support. The key thing is to get in touch with the directors of the sections that interest you most and take a look at their websites.

    You have had some good suggestions already for the sort of observational work you can do with the equipment you have, but I note you have asked about lunar observing too. Your ED80 is an ideal telescope for finding your way around the lunar surface – indeed, it is similar in size to the first telescope used by Patrick Moore. It will show you a great deal without overwhelming you with excessive detail. Along with a good lunar map and some clear and steady skies, it will offer you many hours of exploration.

    The ED80 is a serious telescope and it will allow you, should you wish, to do some serious lunar observing. For example, you could contribute to programmes of study devoted to possible changes on the Moon or the distribution of different types of surface formation. Occultation observation is also well within the reach of your telescope. You will find further details of the Lunar Section observing programme on the website at (you can download a PDF of the programme from that page). You will also get further ideas from the monthly section circular. This is distributed by e-mail as a free PDF attachment, and I’d be glad to add you to the mailing list if you wish.

    Send me an e-mail if you would like me to do that, or if you have any further questions about lunar observation.

    Very best,



    Good morning Donald,

    Welcome to the BAA. It is a great organisation to be a member of.

    Reading your message- It looks like you are well on your way, with the equipment you own, to making serious contributions to a section of your choice.

    You have already had some good advice from the members on here.

    I think the ED 80 would be an ideal telescope to use for white light solar observing.

    I am a member of the BAA solar section, and submit my observations in white light and Ha, using my PST. 

    William has also mentioned “Luner” observation. Your telescope will be very good for this purpose. 

    There are many, many, more sections within the BAA that I could mention. But I hope I have given you some pointers.

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.