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10/02/2012

Reflections from the Past




I started a thread over on Cloudy Nights about reflecting on when one got started in the hobby.  As I have thought about it, I thought I would reflect here on a more personal level.  My first memory of being interested in the science and hobby of astronomy is from my childhood.  My father had a Tasco Spotting Zoom scope that I have shown before on the blog.  The image of the scope is above on a camera tripod.  It does a really good job of showing the moon, Jupiter and the other viewable planets.  My father as I have mentioned, passed when I was 17, and this is one of the few things I have that connect me, my childhood to my father. It has a deep and lasting personal and emotional connection. I remember my dad taking me out and showing me the moon. From that I remember my first Astronomy Book, a book that had rockets that went to the moon, a Baum Wheel Space Station and other things. I am not sure if it was a late 1950's book or an early 1960's book.  That roused my interest in astronomy.  In the depths of my mind I also remember the Apollo launches and the moon landings.  I can remember the black and white TV that we watched them on in Portland, Oregon.  

The 1970's saw several moves, my dad being shot and then later, having a heart attack at 38 and my forage into adolescence.  I followed the development of the space station, became a Star Trek and a Star Wars geek and astronomy stilled held an interest for me.  It is the reason I took physics in high school. For that matter growing up in Livermore California, the home of the Lawrence Livermore Lab and Sandia Lab, two labs that played a major role in nuclear weapons development during the cold war.  A slight detour got me off task in my early 20's and my desire seemed to fade away. I attended college as a non-traditional student, graduating in four years and then had my business and now my education career.  It was education that brought astronomy to be a prime focus in my life.  

I attended several clinics put on for educators by Clark Planetarium about 10 years ago and in one them, I got what I considered to be my first real scope, an Orion XT8.  I was thrilled as I built the base, mounted the focuser and bought a Telrad for it.  I remember the anticipation of setting it up in the backyard for the first time, and then waiting for dusk to settle on that warm August night.  Finally, I was able to take a look at Jupiter and was blown away with the color and stripes (belts)! I remember trying to use Turn Left at Orion and to find several of the objects in there with no success. I wanted to view M81 and M82, objects at the time I had no inhibitions to view in August, but now would probably not look at in an early August night. After forty minutes of building frustration, I finally realized that I needed to turn both Turn Left at Orion and the Sky Pocket Atlas upside down to mirror what I was seeing in the eyepiece. Boy did I feel stupid but I now quickly and accurately star hopped to both galaxies and viewed them! The excitement was pure, the thrill real and more importantly, I was hooked.  If I was a Brook Trout, I would have taken the fly presented to me hook and all.  

Here is my XT8 which I no longer own.  It was a wonderful scope, one that I don't regret selling whenever I use my 14mm and 10mm Pentax XW, but I wish in a way I had held on to it.  I loved its size, its portability and its ease of use.  It was a fine first scope. I remember the thrill of saving up to buy my 21mm, 13mm Stratus eye pieces and the 5mm Hyperion. I remember my daughter giving me my 17mm Stratus as a birthday gift.  I can remember my first wide angle eyepiece, an Orion Q70 32mm 2 inches and the thrill of using it in the XT8.  I hand't heard of TeleVue, Pentax or Nikon or Brandon's but Clark Planetarium sold the Orion Products and I was happy using these eyepieces at the time.  It brought a thrill to put a new eyepiece or a new filter on a eyepiece and anticipate the views I would get. 




It was in the XT8 that late one cold February morning that I accidently stumbled upon Saturn and was blown away. It was about 1:30am or 2:00am and I ran inside, woke my wife up, who to her credit was a sport and came out a looked at.  She was impressed, but not as impressed as I was. I remember also showing my son at age 10 or 11 the great nebula in Orion or M42 and the excitement that he had.  The thrill of these days as I discovered new objects each time I observed was marvelous.  I endured learning to star hop, and yes, I mean endure. I think anyone who stays in this hobby without a computer to assist them, endures the process of learning to star hop successfully.  I have no complaints because now I can use any star atlas and star hop to any object I want to get to.  I love star hopping and for me that is part of the fun of observing an object, the trail that leads to it.  

Here is my next scope, not a major jump from the XT8 but I really have enjoyed my XT10. I still own it, still use it and for now, it is my scope of use in northern Utah.  On this scope I not only finished the Messier Catalog, I did two thirds of the Herschel 400 on it.  Again, good memories here, some frustrating ones, many learning moments but a wonderful scope overall that needed an upgrade only to its primary mirror. 





So, what is the purpose of this post? More for me to reflect on those first days of being in the hobby. The thrill of going out in the backyard, not knowing much about light pollution, sky glow or caring about the phase of the moon, but just going out to see the objects I could find on my list.  The thrill of observing in those days was perhaps naive, but nonetheless, it was fun.  In the end, I hope we all find ways to keep the fun in this hobby for ourselves be it chasing faint, faint objects, or working a list or program, or just going out and enjoying the night sky.  Most of all, I think of the people I have met and the friends I have made and I have to say, that though I consider myself  pretty seasoned observer, and my knowledge of astronomy has grown immensely, it is the friendships and the meeting of the new people in this hobby that I treasure. I have not met one person that I have not enjoyed observing with and getting to know as we observe out at our dark sites. I hope that each of us find our meaning, our joy and our pleasure in the pursuit of this hobby.  Happy fall observing!