Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Sketching or electronic imaging?
Often in astronomy the question of visual astronomy (Mark One Eyeball) vs electronic imaging (CCDs) crops up. Being very firmly in the first camp I get a tad annoyed when people assume that imaging is the only way to go about getting lasting souvenirs of a nights observing. All too often I encounter beginners who are itching to go straight past visual observing and dive right into imaging and, often, they know nothing about the sky and how to find their way around it. They don't want to know about the joy that is visual deep sky or planetary observing! They're missing the best bits!
I guess that most of the reason for this is because astrophotos are eye-catching and pretty and imagers garner a lot of praise - and rightfully so because imaging is not easy - for their work in getting the pictures. It's also been mentioned elsewhere that imagers are quicker and more keen to blow their own trumpets than visual observers and I believe there's a lot of truth in this. I love a good astrophoto as much as the next person, indeed I have astrophotos on my walls at home, but while I am grateful for the dedicated souls practicising this art I would like to discredit the notion there seems to be that it is the only way to practise amateur astronomy.
While the magazines are full of ads for wonderful electronic gizmoes and feature lovely photos of colourful swirling nebulae and mysterious galaxies and legions of 'how to' articles on imaging, there isn't a huge amount aimed at the purely visual observer, bar the usual "Such and such is in the sky and you can see it with the unaided eye/binoculars/scope". The UK's Astronomy Now and BBC Sky At Night magazines now feature regular sketching articles by Jeremy Perez and Carol Lakomiak - and this is excellent to inspire others to take up astronomical sketching, although AN is better in this regard because Jeremy gets a couple of pages while Carol, in S@N, gets a mere half page although this is better than nothing as S@N resisted featuring sketching for a long while (I wrote to the editor a few years ago about featuring sketches and got a dismissive reply, I stopped buying the magazine for a long while because of this).People tend to think of astronomy as an expensive hobby but it isn't and, once you have a scope, you need nothing else except pencil and paper. Give visual observing and sketching a go, it is not hard and a lot easier - and more fun - that you think. Don't let the imagers have all the fun and grab all the plaudits!