Students are told in class that day to be at the observatory at a specific time. I like to start the process just after supper time and as soon as it gets dark. Time is of the essence! In winter we start earlier, while in spring we have to wait until 9PM or even later.
Students arrive, sign into the log book, and have a seat in the Harkness classroom. The whole building and walkways outside are in red-light mode to preserve night vision. Once we’re all ready to go, I will give instructions for the night and assist in the setup of the telescopes for the class. We have a couple of observatory proctors as well. They assist in this entire process, making sure that people sign in, use the telescopes properly and help to monitor the site as a whole.
One observing opportunity I like to do each term with the introductory students is to have them sketch the moon while using the smaller telescopes on the observing deck. They work in pairs, one holding a flashlight while the other sketches. They then swap duties, allowing the other partner the opportunity to try their hand at the subtle art of lunar sketching. Once done, the students then bring those sketches into class, and, while using an online lunar chart, attempt to match objects on the chart to those things that they have sketched. It’s a good lesson in pure observation and seeing, while also allowing the students some time to get used to the telescopes and managing magnification and the earth’s rotation. Students also get a lesson in staying warm! Many never stay that still for such a long time while out at night under the stars.