CCD imaging vs Visual Drawing

To: PA-editor <>
Subject: Re- CCD image vs visual drawing

In mid-2001 the BAA Jupiter section director announced priority would be given to CCD images over drawings made at the eyepiece. This was my response, published in the January 2002 issue of Popular Astronomy:

Dear Ed:

The point everyone seems to be missing in the debate on CCD vs visual recording of planetary detail, is that the BAA observing sections have a dismal record when it comes to accepting anything out of the ordinary.

I began observing Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 1966. At the time I was being trained to be a mechanical engineering draughtsman. Essential skills one had to acquire were both artistic and technical. I had to learn how to make accurate and realistic sketches of objects, and to turn ideas into lifelike drawings as well as technical drawings. I found these skills especially useful in recording what I saw at the eyepiece of my telescopes. What I did not bargain on was the universal condemnation by so called experienced BAA observers. Only TA were prepared to publish even a handful of my drawings at the time (early 1970's), conditional on an accompanying editorial calling for critical appraisal from other contributors. Not a single observer in either the Saturn, Mars or Venus sections were prepared to accept that my drawings accurately represented what I saw through my telescopes. The problem of course was that "I saw too much" (meaning I saw more than they did with larger apertures). Ironically one of the members of our local astronomical society became the TA cover editor and he regularly featured my drawings, and on some occasions alongside Piq du Midi photographs taken at the same time. On every occasion my drawings showed everything the Piq du Midi photographs recorded, and then some - all accurately rendered.

On Friday 13th. October 1973 I observed Saturn in seeing I at x400 using a 6-inch Cooke refractor. I made several colour drawings, two of which were details of the subdivisions in the rings, and radial banding in rings B2-B3 and A2. None of these were accepted, and publication was refused. Later, at an exhibition meeting in 1980, the section director urged me to resubmit my drawings for inclusion in a section memoir. When I asked why they hadn't already been included, he unapologetically retorted, in front of several colleagues, they had been destroyed because they were not believed at the time, but he'd be grateful if I could submit copies. Following the 1979 fly by mission that showed there was radial banding in Saturn's ring system, all was suddenly credible and the Saturn section were anxious to demonstrate that amateur astronomers had already recorded such features. Not all that a creditable episode in the annals of scientific discovery, and a singularly discreditable example of narrow mindedness. No retrospective compilation could possibly add credibility either.

In his 1996 book, "The Planet Mars - a history of observation and discovery" William Sheehan states, in section 15 p215 when dealing with drawings, ...'though the trained human eye was never seriously challenged by photography using silver-grain emulsions (requiring exposures of one second or more), its long reign in glimpsing fine planetary details is finally over, surpassed by the CCD."

If CCD imagery is so much better than the trained eye of a skilled draughtsman, how is it that I have yet to see any white light CCD image of Venus that records its cloud features, when I never fail to see them, even in poor seeing? How is it that I have yet to see any red light CCD image of Mars which records polar cap fissures, such as Rima Tenuis? And how is that I have yet to see an earth based image of Saturn that records the radial banding in rings A & B let alone ring C?

Not every planetary observer possesses the eye for detail or the artistic and draughting skills needed to record it in a timely manner. I however do - and I here and now lay down an open challenge. If any CCD imager reckons he or she can record more on either Mars, Venus or Saturn using his or her CCD equipment, then I invite him or her to Brayebrook Observatory where I will afford them the opportunity to connect their camera to my 10-inch f/10.6 Calver, and download their images onto my computer, and where I will produce a drawing beforehand. I reckon that my drawing will show everything that is recorded by the CCD image(s) enhanced or otherwise, accurately rendered with respect to latitude, longitude and intensity and colour. Of course I realise that even then, they may refuse to believe I was drawing what I could actually perceive. I could after all be making it all up and it could just be coincidence.

The fact is that the so-called expert observers resent anybody who claims to see more than they do, particularly using smaller apertures in similar conditions. So what is the point of considering visual observations at all? If their egos are so easily bruised, that they will go to any length to censor drawings that "show too much" they are  unlikely to publish anything out of the norm anyway.

I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said, "A reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable man expects the world to adapt itself to him, therefore only the unreasonable man brings about change," The most telling condemnation that can justly be leveled at the prejudice against planetary drawings is that the preference for CCD imagery appears so reasonable.

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