Isothermal clothing for winter observing

Running usually, at night time on a cliff near my home has put me into consideration regarding clothing for night observations in winter time. Temperature drops each day so we have to take some precautions. Well ,while you run you’re pretty warm already, so cold is not a serious problem but sweat can be a bugger. To solve this, most runners use isothermal light clothing. Weights little and  passes sweat in the outer layer so that skin remains dry and warm.

So what can we do if we stand still in the night on a hill/mountain at winter time with -3 or so celcius ? Most books suggest dressing like a bear or taking a portable alogon/gas heater and a portable electrical generator with you or even use chemicals on your skin to stay warm.. My opinion is that its highly impractical and a complete energy waster. This is why past generations have devastated nature..

When Im off to star watching for a whole night I usually dress lightly and with some tea in a thermos, I manage to stay warm and not end up with pneumonia in the morning. Lets imagine that human body is a 4 part machine. Feet, lower body part, upper body part and head. All must be protected from cold with feet being the most durable and head the most vunerable.

Feet: Mountain climber’s socks or even better hunter’s socks. Hunters socks are the best way protecting your feet from cold weather. The cost is ridiculous (about 3-10 Euros from Praktiker) and keeps the feet warm even in extreme weather. Remember that these socks are designed to keep warm (usually stationary) hunters. As for shoes climbing boots are light and sturdy but I find stability oriented athletic shoes more practical when there’s no snow.

Lower part: Jeans with lots of pockets, or woolen trousers and isothermal underwear are just fine. Isothermal underwear may cause itching but its natural i guess, except only if you’re allergic..a great percentage of its material is sheep wool.

Upper part: Isothermal light sweater and isothermal woolen gloves (or find a cheap pair and cut the finger covers to be able to hold your eyepieces/focuser), woolen sweater (sheep wool is the best – a constant reminder…), and a runner’s wind stopper jacket with inner woolen layer will do.

Head: Wool cap and scarf or buff in balaclava setup will do. Both in extreme conditions. Covering your mouth must be one of your first priorities since cold air will harm your lungs.

So the magic words are layers and wool. Most shepherds (at least in my country live on mountains) could bare cold because every piece of cloth on them was made from their primary resource, sheep wool.

The most technical in the above list is the thermal underwear, which can be found in various prices and qualities in extreme sports stores. Mine are able to withhold body heat at -9 Celcius tops and cost around 40 euros each (sweater and pants). There are others that are designed for -20 and -30 Celcius but are a bit expensive, starting at 70 euros each.

The whole idea is to be as light as possible or even better wear as less as possible, but manage to keep your body temperature stable. I believe that being lightweight, fit as possible and keep breathing from the nose, will help overcome sleep, cold and fatigue.

You might also consider doing some workout while you’re standing. Keeping the blood in constant flow will keep you warm enough. Walking around, a bit of stretching, moving arms in circular movements or even better some simple tai chi forms will help.

Also a Hobo stove is a very nice (ecological and fire safe) option if there’s not a house to stay. You can make one using an old small metal barrel or buy a commercial which might be more portable. Also the usage of the hobo stove does not greatly affect your night vision.
If you feel weird at any time or for whatever reason, stop. Killing oneself or losing your health is an unnecessary extremity for a hobby. If you want extremities start smashing light bulbs with police cars in view ;p


How to easily dark adapt your Laptop Screen and your Flashlights

When im not lightly geared for an astronomy session, i consider my laptop to be an invaluable tool for observations, plus i find it extremely difficult to locate abell planetaries without it. But even if its a portable encyclopedia, i find it very disturbing when i have forgot to dark adapt the screen and have to waste an extra 20 minutes to achieve night vision. Usually I use a combination of low brightness / black-red desktop theme, which is a very nice way to have your eyes protected from light, but needs preparation from home in order to gain some time for your eyes. Some years ago a friend from Special Forces had told me of a simple way to dark adapt a flash light by using red plastic transparent sheets for presents or candies so why not use it for a laptop screen? Even with a default white colored theme and brightness at 100% it didnt broke my night vision and at the same time i was able to find everything in my programs without blinking. I use a 14″ laptop so I used a A4 transparent (try to get a clear one) envelope for papers and notes which i usually bring with me, with some blue tack.


Sorry for the image quality but i hope that point taken.


In case the red plastic sheet is not an option (or you want to use both options) you may try some linux/windows based themes that can be found in some sites.

My suggestions

Gnome/XFCE : ClearLooks Black – Red

KDE: Red Kaffiend and Universe Crimson with some adjustments

Well i basically use dwm and stumpwm so my themes are custom in level of status bar/modeline.

Finally for Micro$oft Window$ users its not hard to create one of your own. Just set everything to black and fonts to red.

Also i’ve read somewhere that starry night software has such features that apply to global desktop colors.  Kstars or Xephem and Stellarium have something similar that applies only to the program frame.

In the same way you can upgrade and use an old flashlight. Why spend 25 dollars for a special uber featurefull astronomical flashlight just to look cool (come on admit it..) when you can make one by yourself?! Keep the 25 bucks and gather up for more eyepieces! To make a red flashlight use some of the red plastic sheet to the flashlight to cover up the bulb/led and tie it with some rope as shown below. If the white color glare is too much, just put some extra sheets and tie them up.

Another option is to paint your flashlight bulb, red, with nail polish paint, or get a red bulb/led to replace your white one. If you try the nail polish option keep in mind that it might need several paint layers (5 or 6)  to get it to be as red as it needs.


Simple DIY planisphere

One of the most useful amateur astronomer’s tools, is the planisphere. In addition with star maps of objects that you might be interested in, you are able to identify a large part of the night sky. There are many ready made printable planispheres and star charts to get and print. The most known and used is in National Research Counsil of Canada, and one custom made by Toshimi Taki that can be found here. Another one that can be used to know how planispheres might be constructed can be found here. Another interesting way to view a planisphere customized for your country is via GoogleEarth.

So why should you make one by yourself and even sweat about it? Well the magic word (at least for me) is customization. Being able to make custom planispheres or star charts may help you easily focus in the subject you study/observe, change the colors to optimize visibility, change lines,borders or even constellation art. Another reason is the self confidence  you might feel, when you construct something that everybody has convinced you, you must BUY to be able to use. The custom planisphere that can be found in the Downloads page is an example. Its still an early version but i ll modify it as best i can. Its written in pp3 (a software that is used to create custom charts) and after a small comparison with a commercial (at least schematically) seems to be working (have to exhaustingly test that one). It lacks labels, days, months and divergence but they will be added in time. In the files section you can find the tex code that is provided by the pp3 script, which is also included.

Now to construct one. The guidelines of Mr. Toshimi Taki are simply brilliant but instead of wood i’d use plastic flexible sheets like the commercial ones. I want it to be waterproof and flexible without the danger of carelessly tearing it apart. Also i want it to be ultra portable. That means that i want to be able to roll it in a cylinder, put it in my pocket/camelback/backpack and be able to use it wherever i am, even in my running sessions. To be able to print it on a plastic sheet i would possibly go to a print shop and choose everything, from material to thickness but i guess its more practical and cheaper to use plastic sheets in your inkjet or laser printer. If you have the printer, the cost of plastic sheets in Amazon is 3.99 USD or you can visit you local bookstore. That way you can have many charts and planispheres or even a clone of the relatively expensive Uranometria with only four dollars.

I ll also try to upload some custom star charts. More updates to come…

Be right back!

Been away away for a while but im working on some new astronomy and linux tweaks and completing the travel dob guide.  Im considering adding a new subject category about running with tips and tricks for powering up(ie breathing). As always comments always help adding correct and objective info. Also i ll change the layout and might add some features for easy calculations.

Imagine running 5k uphill with a camelback including pocket binoculars and a star chart. Groovy huh?! 😉