SUNY Ulster Night Observations
Night telescope observations may be scheduled as an extra-credit component of some classes here at SUNY Ulster County Community College. All of my night observations are also open to the general public (even if theyíre not all advertised). Here are ten general guidelines Iíd like to share regarding these night observations.
  1. I will schedule night observations for my convenience and for the purposes of the class Iím teaching (i.e. what's actually visible that night). I will take student preferences into account but realize that in a class of 20-30 people you will never reach an agreement on the best night to hold an observation. I will however, schedule observations with enough lead time such that you can make arrangements to attend.

  2. Night observations are extra credit. This means you are not entitled to the points or to a make-up session. They are also contingent upon the weather. I may schedule a night observation, cancel it due to poor weather, and not not be able to schedule another such that no one earns extra credit for an observation that semester. Do not rely on extra credit points from a night observation for your course grade!

  3. Night observations will be postponed or cancelled if itís too cloudy to see most of the sky. Generally, I will not hold a night observation if more than a third of the sky is overcast. There are two reasons for this Ė first, telescopes canít see through clouds and second, clouds move. It takes time to set up the telescope on an astronomical object and for everyone to take a turn looking through the telescope. With a lot of clouds moving across the sky, this becomes nothing but an exercise in frustration.

  4. The weather in the Hudson Valley is unpredictable. I typically schedule night observations weeks in advance and have no idea what the weather will be like on the night of the observation. In the late afternoon, Iíll check out several sources for weather information and then make my decision as to whether or not weíll hold the observation. It very often happens that the weather is marginal on the observation day and I have to make a judgment call. I have cancelled an observation and it later clears up. I have also held an observation and it has clouded over. Thereís nothing I can do about that other than to say Iíll try to make the best call at the time with whatever information is available to me.

  5. My go/no go decision about a scheduled night observation will be posted on your course web page by 6:00 pm at the latest (possibly earlier). You are responsible for checking this web page before coming out to an observation Ė if youíre on Campus at the time, there are computers in the library and Hasbrouck computer lab. If the weather is marginal, I may post that you can come at your own risk which means youíll get extra credit points if we actually have an observation but not if itís too cloudy (the extra credit is for the astronomical observation, not for the act of driving your car to Campus).

  6. I can not be responsible for missed wages and the general inconvenience of coming out to a night observation that doesnít happen because the weather doesnít cooperate. As stressed above, I have no control over the weather and itís also your decision as to whether or not youíd like to try for some extra credit by attending an optional observation.

  7. Donít bring a flashlight to a night observation. Thereís plenty of ambient light on Campus (itís called light pollution by astronomers) and all a flashlight will do is ruin your night vision for about 20 minutes. Astronomers typically use very small flashlights with red filters for referring to books or star charts while outside since the red light will not dilate your pupils and preserves your night vision. I will have such a flashlight if you need to refer to something.

  8. Dress warmly for the observation. Even if itís warm during the day, it will be significantly cooler at night. Youíll also be standing around a lot and that makes you colder. Donít bother complaining to me that youíre cold, I have no sympathy for people who come unprepared after being warned to dress warmly!

  9. Feel free to bring a fellow student or non-student guest to the observation. Children are also welcome with the caveat that they must be under your control at all times. Donít let your children run around the telescopes, play with the equipment, or shine flashlights in peopleís eyes (all of which have happened). Iíd be happy to yell at your kids if you wish to ignore your parental responsibilities!

  10. Finally, if you miss a class night observation at SUNY Ulster, or like them so much that you would like to attend another one, the SUNY New Paltz Observatory, Vassar College Observatory, and Mid-Hudson Astronomy Association all hold public night observations. Talk to me before you go for the possibility of getting extra credit for attending one of their observations.

Last updated on: Steven H. Schimmrich