Too much sleep!

The weather plays a key part in visual astronomy. If the clouds roll in there's little more you can do than twiddle your thumbs. In my experience, the weather comes and goes in batches where you'll typically get a run of bad weather followed by a run of good weather.

If you do a lot of observing or imaging, this pattern isn't actually that bad because a long run of clear nights can really take it out of you. When the clouds finally do appear, although you'll probably moan about them, secretly there's something inside which is jumping for joy at the prospect of an early night at last. I'm not ashamed to say that I've had this feeling many times in the past but strangely, even though the prospect of plentiful sleep awaits, I still tend to find myself awake into the early hours, messing about with some of the photos I took during the clear spell. The immediacy of social networking and email communication reveals that I'm not the only one who goes through this either.

I guess the problem is that you get used to staying up late. The sheer mental effort of willing yourself to go outside into cold garden when the rest of the family are snugly tucked up in bed, is hard. Do this for a few clear nights in a row and your mind and body seems to force itself to readjust to the hardship. After a while you're totally used to doing it and when the reason for doing it is taken away it's hard to stop. Eventually though, you do succumb. A favourite film on the TV or a social outing re-introduces you to the lost feeling of 'normal' tiredness and you find yourself going to bed at 'normal' times.

If the bad weather rolls on, as it has done over the last few weeks, you find yourself getting used to normal living; it's quite nice to be alert during the day when you're talking to family and friends. As far as the sky goes, if the weather's bad then you can't do much about it. This is when I tend to find myself digging out old images and spending hours reprocessing them only to find out that the end result looks worse than the original process! 

It's also a time when I try and sort out your equipment issues I'd encountered when it was last clear. If I'm feeling really keen, it's also a time when I plan ahead for sessions which are yet to happen. Finally, when I've run out of all other options, I may even contemplate updating my personal website with some of the thousands of images I've taken since it was last updated. Yes, you've guessed it - if the weather's really bad for days on end I get bored!

Strangely, after a long run of cloudy skies, the odd clear night reveals that too much sleep has made me a bit soft. I find myself looking for any excuse I can not to go outside and observe such as "the Moon's up", "the stars are twinkling a lot so the seeing must be bad", "the weather forecast said there might be fog", "it's really too cold to observe tonight" and so on. If you've not been into astronomy for that long  then this is a dangerous time because it doesn't take much to tip the balance into making you give up altogether. For me, I've been observing for long enough to know that one good night under the stars is all that it takes to get that elusive excitement back that will keeps dragging me outside night after night.

It doesn't mean that I won't be tired though. After two or three clear nights in a row, expect the moans about the weather to shift to complaints about lack of sleep!

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