Keeping a Record The Logbook

Most of us find it relatively easy to remember the date and circumstance surrounding the individual pictures taken over the years in the family photo album. Family pictures are, well, familiar to us. We know the people in them, or we remember in great detail the family vacation they depict. Family pictures represent familiar surroundings. The collecting of scientific data, or the making of astronomical images or sketches is a totally different situation. It is not nearly so easy to remember the circumstance surrounding these; and frankly, it is not very scientific or reliable to work from memory. As emphasized previously, a drawing or image for which no basic information is recorded is practically worthless.

We should record basic information regarding date, time, instrument used, and weather conditions for each observation of course; but, it is also most beneficial to assemble this data in some logical, organized manner.

For me, one of the best ways to keep an organized record is the use of a logbook. Keeping as logbook is a natural thing to do. I have kept one since 1967. My logbook is not a fancy, leather bound book; it is a simple, spiral bound notebook. I have filled up several of these over the years, and when one is completed it is relatively easy to go buy another one and keep going.

I use my logbook for all of my observations, not just the planetary observations. And so for me, it is also a nice history of what I have been up to. When I am observing Jupiter or any planet, I start the entry for the night with very basic information. This includes the day of the week, the date in local time, and my location. Yes, I enter the local date, and I note the time zone and whether it is standard time or daylight saving time. Later, I will note the date in universal time. I use local time along with universal time because I like to look back and be reminded of the local conditions, the time of night, the conditions, and so on. I also make a general remark about the weather conditions, cold or hot, windy or still, light haze or clear, and whether our moon is bright or absent. I also record when an observation previously anticipated could not be performed because the weather deteriorated. Some of these notations are more nostalgic than scientific, but I like to record them. Truthfully, you can record anything you want to. I usually mention the names of people who may have observed with me, such as friends or family. And, I have on occasion asked distinguished friends and acquaintances to autograph my logbook on that night's pages. I also record what my intentions are for the night, for example to observe Jupiter. As you can see, my logbook is a very personal record. It is a record containing not only data that was carefully and scientifically recorded, but also one that I enjoy going back to and reading over again. There are many pleasant memories in my logbooks.

After the general comments, I record more serious information, such as the type and size of telescope to be used and camera equipment, if any. For Jupiter, before I begin a sketch or imaging run, I take the time to observe visually for several minutes. I then enter into my logbook a description of Jupiter's general appearance. At this time I may also make and record my intensity estimates of Jupiter's belts, zones, and other features. I also make note of the seeing and transparency, and the magnification and filters used for this phase of my observation. Finally, I am ready to proceed with the more demanding observations of the evening. Each type of observation, whether visual transit timings or webcam imaging, has its own set of information that needs to be recorded in a careful, systematic manner.

For visual transit timings, the very best example of data recording is the typical notebook entry made by Walter Haas. Walter Haas is the founder of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers and has been an indefatigable observer of Jupiter. I remember one apparition in which Walter recorded over 1,600 individual transit timings! My notebook entries for Jupiter are modeled after Walter Haas. First I enter information regarding the size and type of telescope used and the observing location, such as city and state, etc. Then, working from left to right, I set up the rest of my notebook page to record the following information:

1. The number of my transit timing. (I keep track of my transit timings by numbering them in order from the beginning of the apparition to the end of the apparition. I do not start the numbering over each night.)

2. A description of the feature observed in transit, in the notation previously discussed.

3. The time of the transit, to the nearest minute, in universal time.

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