James Paulson's roll off roof observatory at the Sunridge Observatory site, taken in the summer of 1986, housing a 10 inch f/5 Cave Astrola Newtonian reflector telescope

Friday, July 24, 2009

Passing the Hobby to Others

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how infectious this hobby can be, and how we often fail to realize how we all impact others in this hobby.

Just this evening, I received an email from a gentleman who was a childhood mentor of mine, and who came along at just the right place and time to have an impact in my passion for astrophotography. I was 14 years old at the time, and highly influential and eager to learn, and he was someone I have always looked up to for his experitise in the area. To hear from him really made my day, and likewise as he stated.

Yet if I look back at all the people I have influenced, I can see a long line as well. At age 13, when I received my first "real" telescope, I would set it up down on the road in front of my house. I grew up with a fellow by the name of Brad, and him and I would use this to look at the moon and planets. I know he got a real kick out of this and he later went on to become a chemistry professor at the local college, and also joined the club where he is still a member to this day.

And then I look at other friends, just guys I used to hang around with like Roger, Joe and Mark, a small circle of guys. All three of them would go on to join the club and become esteemed amateurs in their own right. Joe spent many years as the President of the organization and maintained an active interest in doing astronomy, and has completed the Messier catalog using nothing more than a telrad and a sky atlas. Roger worked in media and information technology and has created a huge electronic library of astronomy resources. Mark has likely read every single book on astronomy that can be purchased and is extremely knowledgeable in most anything one wants to know.

The bottom line here is that this is not about me. This is about how we affect those around us with our infectious love of this hobby, and how we, through our own enthusiasm pass this along to the next one in line. This is an interactive hobby, and a very human experience to share the wonders of space with new blood. None of us are so far up that we cannot remember the beginning, and the thrill of learning something new, no matter how small, or how trivial because we are building a foundation on which to build and grow into this hobby. We never stop growing because we began with something we knew we could never be larger than. It is my hope that we always remember that.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What Walter Saw

With the passing of Walter Cronkite on July 17,2009, part of the history of the 20th century also passes on. Walter was born in 1916. And he was one of the biggest fans of space travel in the country at a time when it was far from many people's minds. He once commented that space travel may very well be the one thing future generations would look back and remember about the history of the 20th century.

Stop and think of all that this man saw. He was born before much of the modern theory of astronomy was known. In fact our limits of knowledge did not really go beyond the milky way galaxy. There were 8 planets. The largest telescope in the world was only 100 inches in diameter. Nuclear energy existed only on paper. The first great war was over and the second had not begun. There were no satellites. The sky he saw was completely free of all light pollution. His generation could look up at the sky and see places that nobody had ever been, and only imagine that one day, perhaps, going there was possible.

Yet he saw so much. From the development of the first rockets as a front line reporter, through to the dawn of the space age, the cold war rockets, to the Sputnik's, the failures, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. He saw the headlines when Pluto was discovered, when the cosmos grew to include galaxies, onto the Voyager probes, the discovery that ringed planets abounded, and moons held secrets that few could only imagine. He was a huge fan of space and science, and his only claim was as a witness of the history before his eyes. He remained awestruck with mankinds achievements and held an optimism for our future in space.

It must have been an awesome life to live. For if we are to go this far, this fast ever again, then the world our children will see will be vastly different from the one they live on today - they simply won't be living here. Walter never believed for a second that this was not possible, nor should we.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tuning In to Tune Out

Tonite I went outside for a bit with the scope. I had taken it out and gotten it all ready for alignment and cooldown and was just sitting there watching as the first stars began to appear in a blue sky. When I was younger, this was all taken for granted, you know, the sun sets, the stars come out, bright ones first then as the sky blackens you see more and more until you reach mag 6.

But the last few times, or should I say, since I came back to the hobby, as I sit out there watching all of this happen, a lot of weird thoughts come through my mind. Thoughts like, you know, this is amazing how we can see these suns of other worlds in a complete blue sky. Those must be some huge suns. And that our day star is merely brighter than the other stars, and how its presence blots out the ability to discern the other suns. Then my mind wanders to those planetary civilizations who are part of multiple star systems, who may not have a night, and may not be able to even perceive that there is a universe out there, whose systems of time are completely different from our own. For it is the rotation of the earth that determines the sky we see, the lack of a sun in the sky that allows us to see it. Suddenly each of these pinpoints of light that are becoming visible suddenly become that much more important, and what I do on Tuesday that much less. I feel a connection with the cosmos that is not only familiar, it's literally the neighborhood, to know where to find Vega, Spica, Arcturus, etc, and to know a little about each of those places.

As the sky darkens and the telescope slews to its targets, and some special visiting points of interest are revealed I am amazed at how much is out there. I am intrigued at the thought that visually, this may be a treat, but in reality, this is some huge thing, so distant, that it's not merely a point of interest, it is something even larger than our own solar system. Lately I have taken a liking to star clusters, remnants of birth, of age, and wonders of beauty with stars of incredible anonimity. The significance of this all is very humbling. In it all, it's hard to even comprehend that I am a living part of the universe, actually comprehending it discretely and seperately.

Sights numberous, M57, M27, M5, the Lagoon, Trifid and more. The wonders of the summer milky way never cease to amaze.