It is a lot of fun to take images of the sky. Pictures that only professionals, with professional equipment, could take, are now possible for just about anyone with a telescope. People are using cell phones held up to simple mounted telescopes to image all sorts of objects. As much fun as this is, my passion goes a little deeper.
When I was about 8, I remember reading astronomy books and dreaming of owning a large telescope. The pictures in magazines beckoned me with a Siren’s call that was hard to resist.The Sears catalog would automatically open to the telescope page. Of course not having any money of my own I could only dream. Until one Christmas when I was 9 and I got a Tasco, 50mm, spotting scope. To a 9 year old it didn’t get much better than this. The passion began.
Sometime around age 13 I decided to join the American Association of Variable Star Observers and be a citizen scientist. So like Leslie Peltier, I sent off for beginner charts hoping that my parents would fork over the money to actually join later on. Every day I waited for the mailman then would rush to the mailbox to look for my charts. Two long weeks after the initial letter was sent they arrived.
Looking at the charts was puzzling. Where was the star? There was only a cross in the middle of it. Being a kid I had no clue how to interpret the field of view, much less getting the right orientation in the eyepiece. After a couple of nights I gave up. At the time I never even thought about trying to find an astronomy club.
Fast forward a few years. With a wife and 4 kids it did not look like there would ever be a time when I could buy a telescope bigger than 60mm. Enter the low cost Coulter reflectors. Even though the Coulters were pretty cheap, I still couldn’t afford it! So I called up the Coulter factory and asked if they had any “second” optics. They did! So a mirror and diagonal was obtained to build an 8″ telescope. Amply titled the Bargain Bucket, it cost 25 dollars to build over and above the 50 dollars I paid for the optics. The focuser was a .965″ from an old Sears 60mm refractor that broke. The eyepieces were from the Sears scope as well. The best view I ever had of the Orion Nebula was on a -5 degree night using a cheap, poor quality, 4mm eyepiece!
This led to a desire to actually do science, like I wanted to do when I was a kid! In Sky and Telescope was an ad for ground observers for the Hubble Space Telescope. I contacted the organizer and volunteered my scope. I even tried to get time on larger telescopes but after broken telescopes, assistant observers leaving the observatory a month before the observation, rain delays and clouds I never got any observations done. So I joined the AAVSO to try and continue doing science. This time I had no problem finding the variables! At last, citizen scientist!
It is very exciting to contribute to the knowledge base of astronomy. To realize that your work and studies will be used by amateur and professional alike to study stars is very rewarding. Technology has made the tools way more accessible and affordable. At present I have running almost every clear night an 11″, a 4″ refractor and am working on setting up an 8″ to do Spectroscopy. These telescopes use software to remotely control them from computers or even my cell phone!
Below is a Light Curve of a bright Dwarf Nova. This shows the fluctuations of light as well as a steady decline in Brightness. The last image is of the results of the worldwide effort to record this star!