Backyard Astronomer

I am a Newbie 1st Class, still trying to make my way around the telescope without bumping the tripod. I’ve always been interested in astronomy. When I was in grade school I used to get a magazine called Odyssey. This was when the Space Shuttle was new and everyone used to gather around the TV to watch the launch. We had a planetarium at my local junior college (DeAnza in Cupertino, CA) which offered summer courses in astronomy. My first merit badge I ever earned was the Astronomy Merit Badge while attending Camp Hi-Sierra. At Camp Oljato (on Huntington Lake, CA), we would take a barge out to the middle of the lake at night, point out stars using a Q-Beam flashlight, and tell the mythical stories behind the constellations. That’s really as far as I ever got in the hobby.

Thirty years later, a new career in teaching elementary school allows me to spend my summer traveling and camping in our National Parks. I started buying books like Night Sky: A Field Guide to the Constellations, Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky: The Story of the Stars, Planets, and Constellations, and Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations to read with my daughters. While at Zion National Park, we attended a ranger-led evening program about the night sky. The ranger pointed out that Jupiter was right over there… and there was Mars. While at Yellowstone, I’d marvel at the Milky Way filling the sky. Rangers at Devils Tower told us of the Kiowa story about how the rising rock transported the Seven Sisters, or Pleiades, up into the night sky.

I took the plunge and bought a Celestron 8se. My first weekend in the backyard allowed me to share the Moon with my family. Lots of “ooh” and “ahs”. I figured out quickly what everyone on the Beginner Forum was talking about when they said you couldn’t rely on just using the AA batteries in the base of the telescope. Aligning the finder scope went smoothly. Using the StarAlign, I was able to try my hand at using the features offered on the hand control. I discovered the instead of tracking an object, my telescope would slew downwards… which the forum folks attributed to an inadequate power source.

The following week I got the book Left Turn at Orion. I actively started to read the forums in Cloudy Nights and the Stargazers Lounge. This weekend in the backyard, I incorporated the use of the vibration suppression pads at the end of the tripod legs and was now using a fully charged Power Tank to provide power to the mount. When I was going through the steps of StarAlign, I lined up my second star in the finder then transitioned to the eyepiece to center it. This “star” had rings….. Saturn! Another exuberant announcement to the household… come see what I found! More “ooh” and “ahs”.

The forums kept providing me with tips and suggestions. The NexStar User’s Guide arrived. I re-read the directions for my Celestron 8se. I spent more time looking at star charts and then sitting outside trying to make out the constellations. There was Cassiopeia. That must be the Summer Triangle. There was Mars and not far away was Antares. There was Polaris… not as bright as I would have guessed.

Last night I saw my first galaxy and binary star. Andromeda appeared as a faint cloud of light, bulging in the middle. The longer I stayed outside, the more my eye was able to make out. A household announcement brought out everyone but I think they were less impressed than I.

I had tried to find Albireo before, but had no luck. Then last night, there it was… yellow and blue. Beautiful. Everyone had gone to bed, so I didn’t have anyone to share it with (except the cat, who had snuck out the patio door when I had been moving equipment out earlier).

I know I need to start keeping a paper log of my activities. I know I need to start planning my evening of stargazing. I need to develop my ability to star hop and not rely on the hand controllers catalog and GoTo capabilities.

Thanks for letting me ramble – I am really enjoying the hobby.