So, I gradually got interested in space and then astronomy a long time ago as you do when you are a child. (Thanks Horizon, science encyclopaedia’s and NASA etc!)
But I actually started looking up at the sky in 2006 when I got my first telescope for Christmas. A quite grand Celestron Firstscope 114 on an Equatorial mount (with motor!)
So, a quick story of my first experience:
It was really exciting and daunting to set up for the first time, I honestly didn’t know what to expect to see, I rarely trust the marketing text on any box but hey, this thing is designed to look at the heavens, its pretty big and looks the part, how can you go wrong!
Like a lot of people I had only had ever really seen photos in space from The Hubble Space Telescope and other super large telescopes before looking through my own so expectations were rather high, something I know now is a complete world away from using a small scope in your back garden in a light polluted town. I have become wiser and now settle for any old blob of grey light and count that as a successful night!
Anyway, I amassed a ton of books and guides and within a few days when the sky was clear and cold so I took it out for a test run. Excitedly I forgot everything I had just read, I didn’t set up the mount, didn’t align anything and straight away aimed the telescope tube straight at the bright moon that was out that night. I whacked in a shiny new high power eyepiece and started looking into the scope. Surprisingly the first thing that hit me is how hard it is to actually find something SO big in the sky! Its a kind of detached experience at first. Quickly I realised I really should slow down and use the red dot finder on the scope first like I knew I should of and back off the magnification. I soon found the moon, and tinkered with the focus until I had a clear image. Fantastic… for about 5 minutes, then things started getting blurry.. and wet. Oh oh, condensation… DEW! That was my first night of observing over, everything was soaking wet, including me. I packed up and retreated inside to investigate what happened. It just so happens England is quite a humid place even on the clearest cold nights as I found out and dew (condensation) is your enemy.
Nowadays I let me scope settle as best as possible and keep an eye on humidity to save me wasting time setting up on a night with hopeless conditions. Schoolboy error!
I mentioned my eyepieces, I got a pretty nice set with filters with my first scope that I still use today, they feel like pretty good bits of kit and have served me well.
As the weeks went on I got more and more into it and moved on to the usual amateur sights such as planets(wow), stars and finally the galaxy andromeda. This in particular is something that is truly astounding to think about after you see it for the first time. The blob of light you see that is andromeda actually comes from outside of our galaxy… which unlike everything else you see in your telescope (that isn’t another galaxy) is actually inside our own milky way. All those lovely images you see of towering gas clouds and star systems etc on the tv are all actually pretty “local” objects even though they may be billions upon billions of miles(sagan, haha) away. This little faint blob of light that is an entirely new set of stars and objects (That we cant really see even with telescopes) and there are billions more of those way out of reach of me and my scope.. gulp. Space is big, really big.
A few months later in 2007 I bought my current scope, A “GoTo” computerised scope that has loads of bells and whistles and can automatically slew to any object in the night sky that sits in its data bank, speeding up the entire process of finding objects by process of navigation of the stars (something I now actually find fun, and realise is an important and helpful process rather than just letting the computer do it all and not learning much)
Its a slightly longer and wider tube so magnification and light gathering capability are improved and it has delivered most of my favourite views, I like taking photographs also so I started practising astrophotography (something I may write a dedicated post on later) and here are some of my photos of my favourite sights.
I can’t wait to get out again soon!