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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

There Is No Mastery

I always admire the amateurs that spend incredible amounts of time imaging a single planet, or can spend extensive effort studying a few variable stars, or even the comet hunters who slave night upon night scanning the sky for nebulous objects that don't belong there.

For me, I have always been a divergent amateur. I prefer to investigate all aspects of the cosmos, from planetary viewing and imaging, to deep sky hunting, lunar observation, widefield and prime focus astrophotography. The tradeoff in all of this is you may not achieve mastery.

But approaching things this way has given me so much more in the hobby. I get a chance to really become familiar with various areas of the sky. Following a comet in its path around the sky night after night introduces one to learning the constellations and stars in ways that one would normally not conduct. Traversing the planets in their retrograde motions gives one a sense of the revolution of the Earth itself in space. Chasing deep sky objects has given me a feel for seeing conditions in ways that go absolutely beyond measuring it with a number. And imaging deep sky objects has given me a feel for all that cannot be seen visually when I am scanning out there.

I think most amateurs are like me, interested in a more general perspective on the hobby in general. They are wanting to maximize the use of the scopes they have without investing a tremendous amount of money on gear designed for single purpose usage. It doesn't make them any less knowledgeable about the night sky. Many large telescopes at institutions around the world are targeting objects with instrumentation specifically to study a narrow portion of an objects existence. None of us have the financial resources to compete with that.

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