Learning about Weather

How many times have you experienced a wonderful afternoon and, thinking the night would be good for observing, set up your equipment only to discover the seeing conditions were horrible? Or, having had a clear day, find clouds rolling in

c o just minutes after darkness? I have experienced this disappointment more times than I care to remember. Too often it seems to happen when I have planned a very important, once in a lifetime, observation. What can we do about this dastardly state of affairs? Sadly, often is the case we can do nothing at all. But sometimes we could have averted disappointment if we simply understood better our own weather. More specifically, I am referring to cause and effect in weather.

Now, it is not my intention to turn you into an expert weather forecaster; we'll leave that to the professional weather people to attempt. However there are some phenomena each of us can better understand and make use of.

I have already mentioned the cooling that occurs at night after a warm day. This problem is especially pronounced when the day has been cloudy, followed by a very clear night with no cloud cover. We can almost predict without fail that, for at least several hours into the night, the seeing will be horrible in spite of the perfect transparency. An opposite condition can also occur. Sometimes, after a front has moved through the area following a rainfall clearing the sky, the seeing conditions can be superb.

Many of my colleagues and I have discovered that a slight haze in the sky can actually result is very good seeing in which the planet's disk is surprisingly still, resulting in an effect opposite that of radiative cooling. Of course, some of the finer planetary detail can be obscured if the haze is too thick. Regardless, try observing under these conditions the next time you have a chance. One way to do this is to observe when there are intermittent clouds present. The planet's disk will periodically disappear into this haze, then cloud, and back into view again. You will be surprised to find that what you thought was a useless night produced some of your better observations. You can study books about weather and pay attention to how different weather conditions affect the seeing in your area. Keep a log of your local conditions and try to remember when a weather change has resulted in good observing conditions.

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