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Any Other Astronomers Here?

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It is easy to "like" astronomy. But that is not the same thing as being active in it. Astronomy is one of the few hobbies in which amateurs and professionals collaborate. A continuing thread in the history of astronomy is that it was generally a private pursuit, privately funded either personally or through non-governmental organizations. In the 20th century that began to change. But amateurs developed radio astronomy as a spin-off of ham radio; and they quickly jumped in on photography and eventually spectroscopy. 

Most amateurs are backyard observers. Some do have distant, remote-controlled instruments in dark sky areas. However, most might travel an hour's drive or so to meet up with others away from the city. Even so, you can see a lot from the city, and more from the suburbs. 

In 2014, my wife and daughter bought me a 130-mm (5-inch) Newtonian reflector. Last October I bought myself a 102-mm (4-inch) refractor. I chose that because I can lift it with one arm and carry it out of my office, down a hall, through the kitchen, out the back door, and into the backyard without hitting anything. I recently posted to discussion forums my views, drawings, and measurements of some binary stars. Although I live in a city of 1.8 million and I am a mile from a major shopping center, I can show you the Andromeda Galaxy as a naked-eye object. You just need to know where to look and to understand what you are looking at.

For myself, that is a large part of my engagement. I am a member of the American Astronomical Society and in that I am a member of the Historical Astronomy Division because I relate to the development of theory, how we came to believe what we think that we know now. I also like learning about the people who made those discoveries. I also just earned a certificate in astrophysics from the Ecole Polytechnique Federal Lausanne through edX. For myself, no matter what kind of telescope you have, the stars are pretty at any magnification; if you do not understand what you are looking at, then you are a slack-jawed simian gaping up at an incomprehensible universe. 

And there is an aesthetics to this. Many are the nights when I just lean back in the lawn chair and look up. 

 

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I selected a Bushnell 18-1561 as a gift option for 10 years of service. Shortly after receiving it, Jupiter and Saturn were available for viewing prior to midnight's. After considerable effort, the telescope was aligned to take in my first personal sight of 4 of the moons of Jupiter. My disappointment came shortly thereafter with the need to re-align the instrument every 2 minutes to maintain an active view.

Not long thereafter, Saturn was available for viewing. The "smudge" I was rewarded with came with the realization that to pursue the activity in any meaningful way would require a better telescope equipped with tracking capacity.

I tried sighting the recent comet NEOWISE by heading a bit north to a darkened vantage point. I had not brought the telescope, being informed that I would be able to see it by the unaided eye. Alas, it was not to be for me.

I treasure having seen the moons of Jupiter. After reading of Galileo's memoirs of the same, it gave his report substantially more body, having shared the experience.

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2 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

I tried sighting the recent comet NEOWISE by heading a bit north to a darkened vantage point. I had not brought the telescope, being informed that I would be able to see it by the unaided eye. Alas, it was not to be for me.

I took my girlfriend to the mountains to see Neowise. We saw it with the naked eye and through binoculars. She even got a decent photo of it with her phone's camera. Sometimes I watch Bob the Science Guy on YouTube. He does amateur astronomy and posted an educational video on Neowise.

He even mentions the sort of professional-amateur collaboration that was done with data from the NEOWISE space telescope to find new objects and create maps. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 1/30/2021 at 10:07 AM, dream_weaver said:

[1] I selected a Bushnell 18-1561 as a gift option for 10 years of service. ...

[2] After considerable effort, the telescope was aligned to take in my first personal sight of 4 of the moons of Jupiter.

[3] My disappointment came shortly thereafter with the need to re-align the instrument every 2 minutes to maintain an active view.

[4] Not long thereafter, Saturn was available for viewing. The "smudge" I was rewarded with ...  

[5] ... I had not brought the telescope, being informed that I would be able to see it by the unaided eye. Alas, it was not to be for me.

[6] I treasure having seen the moons of Jupiter.

[7] After reading of Galileo's memoirs of the same, it gave his report substantially more body, having shared the experience.

[7] That's an important reward for me: revisiting the paths of the pioneers. Jupiter and Galileo are top of the list there. But very many other sites are out there if you read the histories and follow the skies. 

[1] [2] Your Bushnell 50mm x 1200 mm is a good beginner scope. It does take work getting used to them, no different than shooting a rifle or handgun, or shooting pool or bowling for that matter. Do you remember learning how to drive a car? I have a 10-inch x 2500 mm telescope in the garage on loan from my local club -- an option you might consider -- and it is going back to the equipment chair tomorrow. It weighs 65 lbs to my 68 kg and it's a bear to haul out and set up. My "everyday carry" is a 102mm (4 inch) that I can lift with one hand and carry with two. I also have a 70 mm x 700 mm National Geographic. Like your Bushnell, it is a bit smallish for some things, but it works great for most. Give your telescope some time. Use it. 

[3] That's how they work. You may find that paying about $500 to $1000 for a larger telescope with a motor drive is more to your liking. The big 10-inch above was available because the tracking computer was blown out (vintage 1995) and no one wanted to use it and I did not care because I can do my own tracking.

[4] Your telescope could have come with three lenses: 25, 10, and 6 plus a 2x Barlow. Saturn's rings should have been clearly visible in the 25. The 10 would put you right there in person. The 6 would be poor viewing for reasons of physical optics. The 25 and 2x would be a nice compromise. If you take your time with the focus you should get a sharp view, not a smudge. But it will be small, not Neil deGrasse Tyson on PBS zooming through the rings. Mars is even smaller. But - as a matter of objective epistemology - we understand our perception in the brain and the mind, not just the sensory organs. So, if you give it five minutes, you might be surprised at what you can see.

[5] I brought binoculars.

[6] See [7] above. Before i go outside, I make a plan and I often pause to give credit to the people of 1700 or 1750 who first saw this or that. Galileo also was the first to record about 30 stars in what had been the 7 stars of The Manger in Cancer. We call it The Beehive Nebula today. Your telescope will do that for you. Right now, you can check out the Orion Nebula. Galileo seems to have missed it because of the narrow view of his telescopes. If nothing else, look at the Moon. Get used to that with your array of oculars ("eyepieces").

And keep them. You can used them with your next telescope. 

Between Galileo and about 1870 or so, most of the viewing was in small telescopes within the budget of a dedicated hobbyist. In 1847 Maria Mitchell of Nantucket was awarded a gold medal by the King of Denmark for being the first person to identify with a telescope a comet that was not seen naked eye. Her scope was about the same size as yours, 3 inches for hers. 

I mean for $6,000 to $10,000 you can own an instrument that would have been beyond most universities 50 years ago and just about all of them 100 years ago. And those are very small dollars now. For about a tenth of that, like $500 to $1000 you will cross into the median range of hobby scopes. My 102mm cost under $300 and I am very happy with it.

It is a voyage of discovery. You have to leave the shoreline.

 

Edited by Hermes
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On 1/30/2021 at 12:46 PM, MisterSwig said:

[1] I took my girlfriend to the mountains to see Neowise. We saw it with the naked eye and through binoculars. She even got a decent photo of it with her phone's camera.

[2] He even mentions the sort of professional-amateur collaboration that was done with data from the NEOWISE space telescope to find new objects and create maps. 

[1] Yeah, they call it "seeing," the clarity of the atmosphere. It is more important than the nominal "power" of the instrument. The first night we went to "Moun Bonell" a bit a rise in the land in the city and we did not see it. A few days laters we went up into the hill country outside of town - still the suburbs - and I picked it out with binoculars. A woman at the same lookout off the highway said that she could see it naked eye, but I could not.

[2] AAVSO - the American Association of Variable Star Observers - is a long-standing international group with a strong history of amateur-professional collaborations. There are others. Astronomy is one of the sciences where this has long been practiced. With satellites in orbit, there is more data in warehouses than professional scientisits to process it. They turn to crowd-sourcing and will train people to do the work. 

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