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Home » Astronomy

The pleasures of Astronomy from childhood to adulthood

Submitted by on April 11, 2009 – 00:02One Comment

Amateur Astronomy is a hobby I’ve been engaged with since my early teens. I recall my first encounter with Astronomy after my father bought me a cheap rickety telescope that wobbled and never really focused on anything very well. Even through that humble instrument, I remember gazing up at the details of the lunar craters and being able to make out the blurry rings of Saturn. Back in those days, the early 1980’s, light pollution was already prevalent, although notably lower than it is today. My parents back garden was a favourite spot to set up my telescope because it looked out on to a large park and since the park had no street lights the sky above it was modestly dark. I spent many nights out in the back garden peering up in to the night sky through my telescope. In those days I would sketch pictures of various craters on the moon and keep hand written observation notes every time I made an observation through the telescope.

Soon after I had started to use a telescope, I joined an Astronomy club which back then was called the Junior Astronomical Society, which is now called the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA) and still going strong. From around the age of thirteen, I would regularly attend SPA meetings in central London (Holborn Library, to be precise) and feed my enthusiasm for all things astronomical. I recall the enjoyment of sending in my observations to the various section heads, and receiving replies (typed letters!) to my various astronomy related queries. I still have some of those old letters in my archives.

Since those early days, my interest has expanded in significant ways. I’ve upgrade from that wobbly telescope and moved on to a Meade ETX105 which is a great little portable telescope. It has a built computer and electric motors which mean I can position the telescope correctly and then instruct it to slew towards a particular object in space without having to manually move the telescope myself. The Meade ETX105 is small enough to sling in to my backpack and go places with it via public transport and on holidays abroad. I’ve also got another two telescopes which I tend to use more often these days. One of them is a 110mm refractor and the other is a 66mm refractor, both made by William Optics. I have found the 110mm telescope is a superb instrument for observing deep space objects like galaxies and nebulae. The 66mm refractor is also a great observing telescope but I mainly use it as a guiding telescope when conducting astrophotography.

A lot of my time these days is taken up with imaging objects in space, a technique known as astrophotography. My main imaging instrument is an unmodified Canon 350D (Rebel XT) which I fit to my 110mm refractor. I’ve found DSLR cameras in general take some great pictures of deep space objects and tend to be a little cheaper than dedicated astronomy CCD cameras. I have both telescopes mounted on the same mount which is a sturdy HEQ5 Pro mount. This makes the whole set up significantly heavier and so I cannot just sling it in the back pack and stride off to a dark observing site. It requires a good 15 minutes of dismantling, reassembling and a further ten minutes or so of calibration and setup before I can start observing with it. It’s a superb looking instrument and mechanically and optically excellent. This whole set up usually gets moved in to the back garden for observing, although very recently, since April 2009, I have started to take my telescope set up out of the house and join local star parties where groups of observers get together and go out for a night of observing. This can be very exciting, especially if the general public are invited as then you get a chance to explain your hobby and the science of Astronomy to the layman who are often amazed by the views they see through a telescope.

Amateur Astronomy can be looked upon as a very male dominated, private hobby enjoyed predominantly by retired men, and I guess if you go to a lot of Astronomy clubs around the UK, that’s still the impression you’re going to get. However, the more I get involved in public outreach and spreading the astronomy bug to others, the more I’m beginning to discover how a younger, new generation of amateur astronomers are already out and eager to learn more about how our universe works.

If you are a young astronomer and looking to get more information on astronomy, then you should check out the Starlight newsletter and also consider joining the Society for Popular Astronomy if you’re in the UK. They have a section called Young Stargazers that’s dedicated to 8-16 year olds.

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