Getting Started

I’ve always been interested in astronomy, and was convinced I’d be an astronaut when I grew up! That didn’t work out but I never stopped looking towards the sky. Unfortunately, much of the night sky was lost to me as a city dweller. Sky glow is just not that interesting.

Fast forward to about 1995 when my wife Julie introduced me to the Adirondacks. Not only the “home of the high peaks”, but what a gorgeous sky! Darkness matters in astronomy and seeing this was a reawakening. Still, it wasn’t until the new millennium  that I left suburban Boston behind forever.

Soon after, Julie and I came across an Orion 4.5″ Newtonian telescope on sale at a toy store. This was clearly not a “toy” telescope such as the junk Walmart sells. It wasn’t the Hubble Space Telescope either but we bought it for just over $100, a pretty good deal. It was cool. We pointed it at the moon and Saturn, and the whole family was hooked. This had a manually driven equatorial mount so objects could be followed by turning just one knob.

Interesting discovery though – astronomy takes a lot of patience. Skies here are dark and beautiful but the weather often refuses to cooperate. We often get weeks in a row of overcast. Or it’s cold – real cold! Or buggy – real buggy! When that perfect night comes along – guess what? We’ve had a tough day. It’s gonna take too long to setup the telescope. Something good is on TV.

Our son was amazed to look through the telescope. “C’mon dad, let’s look at the moon!”, But then there’s school the next day. It’s late. We’re all tired. It’s cold! We’ve already seen moon craters! Sometimes motivating ourselves was tough.

Fast forward again to the summer of 2015! The “boy unit” is practically grown now and more interested than ever after watching years of Star Trek. A great stretch of summer weather begged us to setup the scope! We did and were amazed all over again. Only this time we were reinvigorated by finding our first deep sky object (DSO). I’d been reading about the great Ring Nebula M57 and thought that would be worth a try! (If you’re a Star Trek fan, watch Seven-of-Nine in “Astrometrics”. The Ring Nebula is a perpetual background visual.)

Boy, finding that nebula was tough! The 4.5″ scope was barely capable of resolving the wispy clouds of gas 23 thousand light-years distant. And it wasn’t visible for longer than 30 seconds or so before drifting beyond the scopes field of view. But finding it was a turning point. I was thrilled!

I soon started lusting for a better scope and started looking for bargains. I almost bought a used Mead 8″ reflector but had doubts in my competency to judge it’s quality. So Julie said, “just buy a new one!” She’s a smart person. After a bit more research I overcame my frugal tendencies and bought the CPC-800 XLT.

What a treat! The CPC-800 sits on a heavy tripod and has computer GO-TO capability and tracks objects. Once it’s in the eyepiece, it stays there! It wasn’t long before we visited M57 again and then other DSO’s. Andromeda, Bode’s Nebula (a galaxy), the Orion Nebula! We all enjoyed getting acquainted with our new instrument reacquainted with the sky.

The planets Jupiter and Saturn beckoned to us. These objects are much more interesting than stars (with some exceptions). Unlike stars, these have structure – the ring nebula looks like a smoke ring. Andromeda looks like – a real galaxy from the movies! Seeing those ancient photons with your own eyes is indescribable. Especially Saturn – it must be seen for real. (As one young observer exclaimed to me, “It really has rings! I thought that was only in books!