Back in October, I started a survey to get an idea of some aspects of amateurs in the hobby. I have had 24 responses, not a ton, wanted more but I haven't opened this up on any of the Amateur Forum Communities as I didn't think it was quite right to do so. I'll keep the survey open LINK if anyone wants to head over to SurveyMonkey and do it. I get plenty of hits a day on average to the site so please take a moment to head over and fill it out!
So what does the data so far show? You can review them anytime as I have been open at that at his LINK, but I'll share in detail here.
The responses to this question where I am trying to gauge the expertise of the respondors in the hobby is about what I expected. I thought the majority would be at the novice or beginner level and most are at the beginner level. I found it interesting that from beginner this tiered up about like I thought it would, with no one labeling themselves as an elite amateur in whatever part of the hobby they pursue.
This one did surprise until I thought through it. IF the number of people are beginners in the survey, then this survey shows that most of them, though in the hobby for a long time period, still consider themselves beginners at whatever aspect of the hobby they are pursuing. This could be due to the fact that they do not get out on a regular enough basis to observe and thus it takes more time to gain the experience of others who observe. It could mean that the learning curve say for imaging is such that it does indeed take years for someone to move off the beginner level to the average or solid level then to expert. It is interesting though that we have lots in for a long period and lots of lower expectations of self in terms of ability. I would welcome thoughts on that.
How often do we observe or engage in the hobby each month? Again here we find about half doing 4 or less times a month, and just about 42% doing it five or more times a month. I need to redirect this question because I would like to know if those observing 5 ore more times a month are doing so in their backyard, or if they are doing this at a darker site? Or is their backyard a dark site?
This does not surprise me at all. I thought that astrophotography for double stars would be low, but I was shock that less than 4 did lunar astrophotography when I see more still shots of the moon then any other object. Visual naked eye does not surprise me because I know in my own life, I often take a good twenty minutes a day looking up naked eye. It is often that which causes me to get the 10" XT 10 out or the AR102 out. I am a little surprise that outside of Astrophotography for DSO's that visual is a much more in command in terms of dominating the numbers for how many people do that aspect of the hobby. Perhaps the notion that visual observing is dying is not quite so true? Astrophotography is a deep money pit I hear and perhaps that leads more people to engage visually.
A follow up to this is to find out how people use their equipment. Do they do mainly outreach? Do you observe with friends at a dark site or alone? Lots to explore but I need more responses first.
Wow! This should not surprise me since for a long time, the backyard was my primary observing area. It still ranks up there but for me I much prefer the dark sky and find I do a lot of my observing at a dark sky site using the backyard for when I am busy with work, family and other obligations.
So lots that can be induced I guess if we want (but only 24 responses). From what I am seeing I wonder how interested people really are in premium optics over having just really solid to good optics? Why? If most observe from a backyard and I assume that is in some form of light pollution, and most are DSO hunting of some type, and most are at the beginning level though in the hobby for some time, I think the survey goes to show that perhaps, for the majority of people, they are very content for a good mass produce telescope with good optics and that delivers in the environment that they are engaged in.
Another question I think worth asking are people really into premium optics, premium telescopes, premium eyepieces and equipment or is being solid to good truly good enough? Is that why in terms of eyepieces, Explore Scientific has successfully filled a niche in the sense that their eyepieces are very good, some excellent though they may not be (and I would say are not) quite equal to the TeleVue eyepieces? If you have been around for while you know a TeleVue eyepiece is incredible. However say in the Ethos vs ES 100 degree EP's or the 30mm 82 degree ES vs the TeleVue Nagler 31mm is Explore Scientific hitting it out because they come just close enough and the price is at a point that people will spend that over paying double for the TeleVue?
The same can be said for telescopes I would assume. An Explore Scientific, a Sky-Watcher, an Orion, a Zhumall, a Celestron or Meade are they good enough being solid to good to satisfy the vast majority of people in the hobby? I mean don't take me wrong as Teeter, New Moon, StarStrucutre, Dobstuff and others keep themselves busy and seem to be very successful (getting ready to contact one of them after the holidays myself) and produce wonderful telescopes/products. I just wonder where the market moving forward. I also have to state this. I wonder (and I assume they gather market research in other ways for all are successful as I mentioned and know their customer base) why astronomy companies and maganzines don't put out a survey like I did in SurveyMonkey just to get input and feedback? I'll say with those under 40 I think it is something that more and more of the expect as part of their customer service experience and to provide input and feedback back in a secure way to the business.
So far the data also shows me that the community of 24 who have responded and I do think they are probably reflective of the people in the hobby, have been in for awhile, consider themselves still beginners with visual still slightly dominating the hobby and most content to do the hobby from the backyard. The terms Backyard Astronomer still then, I believe, carries significant weight to who is doing this hobby. It probably will cause me to begin to add back in more of my own backyard stuff and yep, my next entry once I take pictures of the sketches will be from the AR102 ES refractor in the backyard where I sketched NGC 2362, Sirius A & B (yes, I got the Pup in my backyard with a 4" refractor!) with M41 and M35 and a couple of other objects. It also contains a night out at a semi dark site I now use with the 4" refractor looking for Barnard's loop which will be a post on its own. Perhaps the greatest take away so far from my survey, is that those in the hobby have diverse interests, goals and focus for what they want to do and where they do what they do in this hobby.