An astronomy journal is a great way to record your celestial observations. These records are important in noting and tracking changes in appearance, position, coordinates and behaviour of objects like stars and planets.
Your well-kept astronomical records may also be useful for confirming phenomena observed by other amateur or professional astronomers. You never know; maybe one day you’ll join the ranks of famous amateur astronomers who made big discoveries.
If that day ever comes, you’ll need records to back-up your discovery. But even if you don’t become the next Thomas Bopp (of the Comet Hale-Bopp discovery), keeping an astronomy journal will make you a better astronomer.
You go from simply looking at objects to actually studying them. So how to keep an astronomy journal?
The Best Type of Astronomy Journal
You can certainly use a digital journal or diary to record your observations, but the old school pen and paper method is best.
For one, you don’t have to worry about network connectivity, a problem when you want to take the advantage of the dark skies in remote countryside locations.
A physical astronomy log also gives you more flexibility when recording. In addition to recording text of what you see, you can also make quick sketches.
If you prefer a digital journal, look for one that can work offline and allows sketches using your finger or a stylus.
If you prefer a physical journal, look for one with hard backing, high quality paper and durable binding. Avoid journals with loose leaf binding, as it’s easy for papers to fall off and crucial records to get lost.
Also, consider portability. If you do most of your observations away from home, you’ll need a smaller journal that’s easy to travel with. You may find a pocket size journal to be the best.
Something else to consider is whether you’ll have one or multiple journals.
If you spend most of your time on the telescope observing and tracking specific objects like the moon, sun, planets or stars, you can have a single journal.
But if you explore the entire sky, consider having a different journal for each object or category. You can have one for our moon, another for planets, another for stars and another for clusters and nebula.
Finally, decide if you’d like to buy a pre-printed astronomy journal or use an ordinary journal.
The advantage of a pre-printed astronomy journal (like this one), is that they already come with labels for things like date, location, telescope settings and so on. So all you need to do is fill out the details. This can be a time saver when you are busy tracking an object.
Most pre-printed astronomy journals provide space for sketches as well as writing.
You can go with an ordinary journal, but that will involve a bit more recording work.
Some amateur astronomers keep two versions of the same journal. One is for rough notes and sketches. You use it to quickly jot down or draw what you are seeing.
Later, you transfer those records to a proper log book, adding more detail and making better sketches.
However you do it, the most important thing is to maintain a clear, detailed and regularly updated records.
What to Record in an Astronomy Journal
Regardless of what you are observing, you’ll need to always record certain details. A pre-printed astronomy journal will have the labels, so you just fill in the blank spaces.
If you are using an ordinary journal, you’ll need to write the labels yourself every time you add new observations.
Here are the essential details you should always record.
- Date, time and location. For location, be specific down to coordinates (Lat & Long).
- Telescope details. These include type and size of telescope, eyepiece focal length, magnification and filter.
- This refers to atmospheric conditions. Use the Antoniadi Scale to specify level of visibility.
- Type and name of the object you are observing.
Additional details will be specific to what you are observing. These can include location, apparent magnitude and phase.
For certain objects like planets, moons and comets, you’ll need to draw sketches of their current appearance.
Remember you can also take photos of whatever you are observing. You’ll need a camera and an adaptor to connect it to your telescope. Adding photos to your write-ups can provide additional useful information and context.