I have been interested in astronomy since I was a child. I spent late nights sitting up with my Dad, watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and we attended star parties and meetings of our local Amateur Astronomy Association together. Most of all, I’ve read nonfiction and scifi books that have encouraged my love of astronomy.
But the years went on, and as I grew I became distracted by my myriad other interests. Dance, music, photography, writing, and so many other wonders in this world have all held my interest, and I struggle to focus on just one topic. How can one lifetime be enough given everything this universe has to offer?
A few years ago, while sitting in a dark parking lot, I gazed up into the night sky and was drawn in, once more, by the infinite span of possibilities above me. After so many years, I was bitten by the stargazing bug again.
At first I was content to gaze with the naked eye, re-acquainting myself with the constellations with the help of the skymap app on my phone. Then I remembered that I owned a pair of cheap binoculars, which I used to take a shaky, blurry look at the moon and planets. Then I decided enough was enough, and gave into the temptation to buy a telescope.
In Part I of Adventures in Amateur Astronomy, I introduced several reasons why I should not get a telescope. I have no safe place where I can reliably stargaze, and I have no place to store my telescope when it isn’t in use. Still, I decided to get my telescope anyway, and after the initial ordeal of getting it set up, I was ready to go. So- given the limitations I’ve already named, how is my stargazing going?
My stargazing is going brilliantly, even though I’m struggling with even more limitations than those I’ve listed.
First of all, I still don’t have a place to store my telescope. It’s in the dining area of my house right now, next to the dining room table that was cleared out to use for eating and displaying my tea set. The table has been taken over again by a lot of *stuff,* including all of the eyepieces I’ve acquired for my telescope. My telescope, however, takes precedence over the dining room, especially since my spouse and I very rarely eat there, anyway.
Secondly, I still don’t have a safe place I can use for viewing. I live in a townhouse, where there is no backyard- just a garage that leads directly into the alley. There is a small front yard, but it’s on a busy street across from a well-lit shopping center. I have a good view of the sky from the alley, however, so most often I set up my scope across the alley on a patch of pavement protected by a transformer. I keep watch for cars and trucks that sometimes travel through the alley at night, and I wear a red light-up armband for safety. I also have to remain very still and quiet so I don’t activate my next door neighbor’s bright security lights.
I must admit that I tend to get a little nervous standing by myself in a dark alley. I’m not afraid of human attackers so much as nameless horrors that lurk in the night. I have, on occasion, gone inside because of this.
The first object I viewed with my telescope was Saturn, and I was blown away by how sharp the rings looked. I had to collimate the telescope because of some smearing in the image, but the process wasn’t as painful as I’d anticipated. The only problem I’ve had was with the finder scope, which I hate. It is a laser finder that is still not fully aligned despite a long effort. To make things worse, there is a small reflection in it which can trick me unless I’m very careful.
I wish I could show you what I see when I gaze through my telescope. I have an old CCD camera, but not one I can get set up at this time, so this is the best I can do.
I took this photo by carefully holding up my phone to the eyepiece. For contrast, here is a picture taken with the same phone of the same moon without the use of my telescope.
And here’s the best image I have been able to take with a proper camera sans telescope. This was taken of Fthe umbral emergence during the 2015 lunar eclipse.
Keep in mind that the first image is just a poor replication of what I actually saw. The cell phone camera flattens everything out. The contrast is very poor, and you can’t see the shadows and the overall shape that pops out at you when you look directly through the eyepiece.
Still, these images should illustrate how my prospects have expanded. I can go outside on any clear night, now, and see the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus, the Galilean satellites, globular clusters, nebulae, double stars, and galaxies. The universe is mine to explore more deeply than I have in years.
My telescope has been worth all of the trouble and more.