Star hopping

From Scope F70076

A few words about star hopping, as much as I can tell from my little experience so far. Star hopping is hopping from a star which is a part of a bigger pattern such as a constellation or some smaller pattern, or from some distinguishable pattern of stars, to another such star or pattern, until reaching the object searched for. Star hopping is not so simple as it may seem, finding a new object may take quite a lot of time.

Always start moving from a visible star, never from some points between some stars or such, because you cannot point the telescope quite precisely in between some stars, even if you see these stars in the finder scope. From that visible star move to the star which is closest to your object, with the finder scope. Always verify that the star from which you would move further, really is the right star, then you will be certain where you are, and you will remove by that so many uncertainties. For that you should look at the patterns which must be around that star -- there may be a double star near that star, or whatever combination of stars of equal brightness. You should verify that such patterns really are at the right distance and to the right direction from the star which you see, sometimes even a single star in the right location near the star which you observe can be enough to identify that star.

When the finder scope cannot show any more stars closer to your object, then you should move forward with the eyepiece. You should find some distinguished patterns of stars and remember their location, to be able to go forward towards your object. This may take quite a lot of time, as you should learn the area. All these patterns or combinations of them should be such that there is no other similar pattern nearby -- for example the constellations are good examples of such patterns, they are in a way carefully thought through to be unique and distinguishable. Try to find patterns of stars that show you the direction to the area where you want to move, as when you search a lot, you may easily lose orientation. Finally you should find some pattern around or near your object, so that you can verify that you indeed reached the location where your object should be, and when your object is not visible, you can establish that too beyond doubt.

Moving to some new object may sometimes take hours. Such search certainly cannot be done with a scope without a mount, and the mount should also be sturdy enough so that the image stands still, only then you can really properly observe what you see. You can occasionally find objects even with a scope without a mount, but you cannot properly search for objects, and especially this is not a solution for beginners who at first have no idea where the objects supposed to be.

But in spite that all this may sound complicated, and one may think that using an equatorial mount and setting circles would make finding objects much easier, it is not necessarily so. Such way you would be too dependent on all the additional equipment, and setting up the equatorial mount would take quite a lot of time every time you observe. But when you use star hopping, you would be ready to go every time when you would happen to be under a clear night sky with your telescope. And also, setting circles with a cheap equatorial mount would not provide you much precision. Consider the great precision which you have when you use star hopping -- every star which you can identify would provide you an almost precise location in the sky, and by finding out near what stars is the object which you see, it would be possible to determine the location of that object very exactly.

Most importantly, what one always should remember, is that you cannot spot the objects just by chance. The mistake which many beginners do is that they try to avoid all the complicated star hopping in a hope that they would see the object when they would just randomly move around in an approximately right place. The result would usually be just a frustration because of useless efforts, and one would feel to be even more lost in the unknown area of the sky, when everything and so seems to be much too unknown. The sky is too large and the field of view is too small, so that the probability of finding something such way is almost close to zero. More than that, one cannot observe properly when randomly moving around too much, and thus most likely one would not notice some faint objects. Therefore always find objects by star hopping, think through what you are doing, and always be certain that you really see the stars which you think you should see, and move ahead only when you know for sure where you are. That way there would be no doubt that you would find whatever you search for, and this is always the fastest way of finding the objects.

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