Most people think that getting into amateur astronomy and astrophotography means you’re getting into only one hobby. But if you’re aiming to be a serious observer and photographer of astronomical events, be prepared to immerse yourself in not one, but actually two hobbies.
When someone decides to become an amateur astronomer, the obvious items of interest and concern for him or her would be the necessary equipment to get started in the hobby, apart from the assumption that the person has at least the beginner’s knowledge and understanding of the activities involved in it. This means that one’s primary preoccupation would be the choosing of the right telescope and other related astronomical equipment that one would utilize to observe and record celestial bodies and astronomical phenomenon. While it’s true that one can successfully become an observer, content to view the night sky in the comfort and convenience of one’s backyard or even through a window of one’s bedroom, if one were to pursue the more serious side of astronomical observation and imaging, living in a big city with the problem of light pollution can present itself as an annoying obstacle to really get quality views and photographs. This means that, apart from having the ability to transport all your astronomy equipment, one has to have a good idea of what items to have and prepare if one was to observe from a remote location, far away from the glaring lights of urban or highly populated areas. Thus, the wilderness suddenly becomes an important aspect of the entire observation activity—one has to have a good understanding of the necessary items and equipment that one might need if one were to do astronomical observation in a remote location. In short, to become a serious amateur astronomer and/or astrophotographer, you also have to have the mindset of an outdoors or camping enthusiast.
Now indeed, if this remote location is just a few minutes away from your home, perhaps really getting into the outdoors recreation hobby could be overkill. However, chances are, if you live in a big city, the ideal location that offers you a pristine night sky could be quite a distance from your abode. Therefore, it is really necessary for you to have a basic idea of the equipment you might need if you plan to stay overnight in a remote wilderness. This assumes you’re staying overnight at the campsite, considering that your goal there is to observe the night sky and photograph celestial objects and/or other astronomical phenomenon.
Basic Physical Considerations
These include the primary items you need to have a comfortable observation experience in a remote location. Remember, the assumption is that you are in a place far away from a grocery or convenience store or even a faucet or water dispenser to drink water from. Water supply therefore is paramount, and it’s important to assess how much water should you bring, and this could depend on how many people are going with you to the observation site (i.e. is it a star party for a small or large group of people?). Let’s put the primary items on a list:
- Supply of drinking/washing water
- Food (snacks or heavy meals if you prefer)
- if you want to cook your food at the site, you might need a portable stove
- cooking also means you need to have utensils such as pots/pans etc.
- you must also be aware of the location’s rules and regulations regarding cooking and/or setting up campfires—it might be a prohibited activity
- First Aid kit for mild illness or injuries
- Toolbox (these do not only include the tools for your astronomy gear, but tools you might need to set up camp)
- Sleeping bag – even if you don’t plan to sleep during the entire course of the observation, it can act as a place to sit down and rest, or as prayer mat
- Tent or Quick-shelter – If you live in a tropical area or where Monsoon occurs, this might be a necessity, for perhaps a sudden downpour, if only to create a dry place for your equipment.
- Emergency lighting and firestarting kit.
If you take a passing glance at this list, you then realize that you are in fact enumerating all the basic equipment that a person who is in the hobby of camping outdoors also possess and/or are familiar with. Depending on the distance to your campsite, along with your budget, you may opt to add or remove items on this list, thus you need to prioritize which items for you are important or essential.
Also, for large groups, it’s advisable that you assign certain people to be in charge of specific concerns during such activities, such as a camp-master, who shall oversee the general order/cleanliness of the camp. You can also assign people to take charge of the distribution (and collection/retrieval) of items needed during the activities in your campsite. This can help reduce the chaos and waste.
Finally, in extreme scenarios, you might find yourself in a situation wherein you’d be stranded or unable leave your campsite, owing to factors such as a natural catastrophe (earthquake, storm, etc.), or some form of mechanical trouble (i.e. vehicle breakdown etc.). Thus it may also advantageous to learn even just the very basics of survival and self-reliance in a wilderness environment. But again, this is an extreme situation and it’s up to you if you want to spend effort and the expense of learning these additional skills, and invest in the equipment you might need in such a dire scenario. The best cure is still prevention of the illness. Thus, you have to prepare things well—make sure your car or SUV is in good condition to prevent vehicle breakdown (did you bring enough fuel for the trip?), check the local weather bureau for weather forecast over your campsite to prevent being there during a storm, or even check park/forest ranger bulletins and warnings to check if there are wild animals roaming on the planned campsite. Doing these little things can really spell the difference between a good trip and a potential disaster.
All this of course, is not meant to cause panic or discourage anyone to get more involved in the hobby. It is merely a friendly reminder that aims to enhance the overall experience if one wishes to pursue the hobby of astronomy and astrophotography to the next level. It is hoped that by reading and reflecting on the points mentioned, that you take on the camper mindset and have preparedness as a default state of mind, because it can help you enjoy your trip better and also aid in your astronomical observation and astrophotography sessions.
(photos taken at Jebel Fihrayn, KSA by Ivan Madriaga Herrera)