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Astronomy Hacks
By Robert Bruce Thompson, Barbara Fritchman Thompson
June 2005
More Info

How do these hacks stand up? Comment on a hack from the book by choosing the associated "Discuss" link below. You can also view the code from any of the hacks by clicking on the "Listing" or "Code" links. A number of hacks have been selected to be featured online in their entirety; you may view those hacks by clicking on the hack titles that are linked.

Jump to: Getting Started  | Observing Hacks  | Scope Hacks  | Accessory Hacks

Getting Started

HACK
#1

Don't Give Up
It's harder than it looks, but doable.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#2

Join an Astronomy Club
Meet others who share your interests, learn a few things from them, and maybe even play with their toys.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#3

Safety First
Take precautions to keep small problems small.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#4

Stay Warm
Hypothermia kills, and frostbite isn't much fun either. Learn how to protect your vital organs and keep all your extremities attached.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#5

Don't Violate Observing Site Etiquette
Rules exist for good reasons. Keep these simple ones in mind when you are observing, and you won't incur the wrath of your fellow participants.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#6

Be Prepared
Carry what you need so you're ready to observe at any time.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#7

Measure Your Entrance Pupil Size
Use an Allen wrench to match your instruments to your eyeball.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#8

Choose the Best Binocular
See more with both eyes.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#9

Choose the Best General-Purpose Telescope
Understand the advantages and disadvantages of popular scope types.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#10

Equip Yourself for Urban Observing
Choose the perfect grab-'n-go scope for observing at a moment's notice.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Observing Hacks

HACK
#11

See in the Dark
Have you ever wondered why all cats are gray in the dark?
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#12

Protect Your Night Vision from Local Lights
Stay dark adapted and keep stray light from the eyepiece (and keep your ears warm).
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#13

Describe the Brightness of an Object
When speaking of brightness, magnitude and surface brightness are two terms you'll hear a lot. Understand what these terms mean and how they relate to one another.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#14

Identify Stars by Name
Learn common star names and how they're pronounced so the other kids won't laugh at you.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#15

Identify Stars by Catalog Designations
Learn about the stellar catalogs used by amateur astronomers.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#16

Know Your Constellations
Although stars are important, constellations place those stars in context: constellations are the things you can find in the sky most quickly. And once you've found the constellation that's your point of reference, you can go on to find what you're really looking for.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#17

Understand Celestial Coordinate Systems
Orient yourself to the night sky.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#18

Print Custom Charts
Make the most of your observing time by taking along the charts you need.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#19

Keep Your Charts at the Eyepiece
Refrigerator magnets aren't just for refrigerators any more.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#20

Locate Objects Geometrically
You can find things quickly by reckoning from the easy-to-find objects, imagining some lines between them, and going in for the kill with a bulls-eye finder.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#21

Learn to Star Hop
When a Telrad is not enough, find and focus on patterns, and then hop pattern by pattern to the target.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#22

Learn to See DSOs
Seeing a black cat in a coal bin at midnight is easier than seeing some of these dim objects.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#23

Observe Shallow-Space Objects
Things that go zip, zoom, phizz, DOH-DEE-DOH, and BOOM in the night.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#24

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast, You've Got to Make the Evening Last
Take a second look and some notes. But above all, take your time. Attention to detail can be learned, and here's where you'll learn it.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#25

Learn Urban Observing Skills
Observe the universe from your own backyard.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#26

Sweep Constellations
Stay focused on one or two constellations and bag everything they have to offer while you're in there.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#27

Maintain an Observing Notebook
Keep your log sheets, custom charts, object lists, and other reference material organized for easy access.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#28

Develop an Organized Logging System
Apply accounting techniques to keep track of your observations. Record it once, and you can use it forever.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#29

Plan and Prepare for a Messier Marathon
Locate, observe, and log all 110 Messier Objects in one night.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#30

Run a Messier Marathon
Look over Robert's shoulder as he tries to log all 110 Messier Objects in one night.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#31

Photograph the Stars with Basic Equipment
Shoot star trail images.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#32

Discover and Name a New Planet
Do real science. Let your computer map the universe while you're asleep.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Scope Hacks

HACK
#33

Center-Spot Your Mirror
Collimate faster and more precisely.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#34

Clean Your Primary Mirror
Eliminate crud and protect against corrosion.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#35

Eliminate Astigmatism
Pinching can turn good optics bad and your pinpoint stars into fuzzy lines.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#36

Eliminate Diffraction Spikes and Increase Contrast
Build a $0 aperture mask to turn your $500 Dob into a $2,000 apo refractor.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#37

Build a Film Can Collimating Tool
Align your scope on the cheap.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#38

Tune Your Newtonian Reflector for Maximum Performance
Align your optics to provide the best possible image quality.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#39

Collimate Your Primary Mirror Quickly and Accurately
Use a Barlowed laser to show the error of the primary only, taking the secondary out of the equation.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#40

Star-Collimate Your Scope
Align your scope perfectly using the properties of light.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#41

Counterweight a Dobsonian Scope
Balance your Dob perfectly without using springs, clutches, or other kludges.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#42

Improve Dobsonian Motions with Milk Jug Washers
Eliminate the jerky azimuth motions that start to plague your scope after a while.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#43

Upgrade Your Dobsonian Bearings
Use Ebony Star and Teflon for butter-smooth motions.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Accessory Hacks

HACK
#44

Dark Adapt Your Notebook Computer
Use your notebook while observing without damaging your night vision.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#45

Dark Adapt Your Vehicle
Keep the observing site dark by making your vehicle less of a beacon.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#46

Use a Barlow
Double your eyepiece collection on the cheap.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#47

Determine Actual Barlow Magnification
Find out why 3X doesn't always mean 3X.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#48

See More of the Sky
Find your way around the sky with a low-power, wide-field "finder" eyepiece.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#49

Optimize Your Eyepiece Collection
Choose eyepieces that match your budget and observing habits.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#50

Chart Your Eyepiece Characteristics
Knowing the capabilities of your eyepieces makes it easier to choose the right one. Paste a reference chart to your scope to keep this information at your fingertips.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#51

View Dim Objects in the Same Field as a Very Bright Object
Build an occulting eyepiece.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#52

Clean Your Eyepieces and Lenses Safely
Seven steps to better images.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#53

Install a Unit-Power Finder
Find deep-sky objects quickly and easily.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#54

Upgrade Your Optical Finder
Match your optical finder to your type of telescope and your observing habits.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#55

Align Your Finder
Make sure you know where you're pointing.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#56

Determine Your Optical Finder's Field of View
For simple pointing, the field of view doesn't matter, as long as it's wide enough for you to locate the object easily. For star hopping, it's important to know the field of view of your finder with reasonable accuracy.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#57

Determine Your True Field of View
A drift test lets you figure out just how much of the sky you can keep in your sights.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#58

Enhance Lunar and Planetary Contrast and Detail
Choose a basic set of filters to improve the view.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#59

Enhance Nebular Contrast and Detail
Make the faint fuzzies a bit fainter but a lot less fuzzy.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#60

Please Be Seated
Use a good observing chair and add 2" of aperture for free.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#61

Stash Your Gear in a Photographer's Vest or Fanny Pack
You can never have too many pockets.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#62

Use a Voice Recorder for Logging
Don't write it, speak it.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#63

Build or Buy an Equatorial Platform
The Dobsonian mount was a wonderful innovation.It's simple, inexpensive, smooth, extremely stable, and intuitive to use. The only downside is that a Dob doesn't track the motion of the stars. Or at least it doesn't unless you put it on an equatorial platform.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#64

Make Your Computer Work for You
Choose the best planetarium software and start planning observing sessions.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#65

Astronomy Software in the Palm of Your Hand
Using the shareware Planetarium application for the Palm, you can keep your astronomy software right where you need it.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]


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