The journey from an interest to amateur astronomer

I think a lot of kids have a natural interest in astronomy.  We look out and see the moon and in school told all about the planets.  One of my joys is being in a position where I can ignite the passion in kids – their first look through a proper telescope and seeing something new and wonderful.

When I was a kid, I remember having an inexpensive small refractor (the kind you buy at department stores) and looking at the moon from my driveway in “upstate” New York.  But I didn’t know much else to do with it, nor where to find things.  I don’t remember what happened to that telescope, but sure it got packed away in a closet somewhere.

I have always been bitten by the science bug, and astronomy always fascinated me.  And at some point my brother bought a little ETX-90EC computerized telescope.  I borrowed it from him.  It’s a nice little scope even if Meade did a particularly poor job on the motorized base.  But once the Mak showed me excellent detail in Saturn and Jupiter, I witnessed the color contrast of Albireo, and finally capturing a faint glimpse of the ring nebula I was hooked and ready for a larger aperture telescope

I moved up to a 10″ dobsonian to see even fainter deep sky objects.  I spent about 2 years visually observing with this scope and learning the night sky. The dob is an impressive looking telescope and considering its pricetag, very affordable.  But using this scope you need to hunt out objects and appreciate the fuzzy smudge gleamed through averted vision.  But when you see it and start to pay attention to that spot, making out detail becomes awe-inspiring, especially when you think of the scale you are seeing.

In order to move up a telescope capable of astrophotography, it requires more than the dobsonian optics.  And when I wanted to do spectroscopy, you have to collect images somehow.  The backfocus on a dob can be corrected to allow photography, but the telescope doesn’t track the night sky making exposures of even several second useless.  Some newer versions are motorized, but I do not know how well they work.  So I upgraded to a C8 and a CG5-GT mount.  Getting into astrophotography is a considerable leap when it comes to the difficulty of observing.  Not only is it more equipment – it’s heavier / less portable, requires more wires, and everything has to be calibrated and such just right.  But the go-to ability is really awesome, especially after gaining an appreciation for how hard things are to find!

I only spent one year with my C8/CG5.  A C11 offer came across I couldn’t resist, especially as I wanted to get into higher resolution spectroscopy.  Higher resolution means you need larger scope to collect more light.  The larger scope I had to upgrade the mount because the CG5 couldn’t hold the weight.  So, I not work with a C11/CGEM combination.  And for good measure, I piggybacked an ST-80 on the back as a really nice autoguider.

We’ll see where this goes next!