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A PASSION REBORN

What should have been part of my old apartment's kitchen

It was late Spring in 2002 when the astronomy bug took it's hold on me once again, but this time things would be different. I wasn't some kid with a tiny toy scope who had never heard of M13. At that time even though I understood how the planets circled the Sun, it honestly never occurred to me that at some times they would be closer, therefore larger in appearance. This time I was an adult, with more knowledge, a greater understanding of what was up there, and a much larger disposable income.

Bob, whom I have known for years (brother of Ken, whom I have known for even longer) bought himself a used Meade 4.5" Newtonian reflector on a go-to mount. After a visual inspection during the day, and a short session viewing from his front lawn, I soon found myself looking at telescopes at the now defunct Subcon Telescopes browsing. The store was pretty small, but they did have several Newtonians and Schmidt- Cassegrains in stock, as well as some accessories and many refractors. We looked around, Bob bought an eyepiece, and we left. I started reminiscing about Don and I going outside in the middle of the night studying planets and watching meteors streak across the sky. Bob's scope was giving us some nice views of the Ring Nebula and the Moon, among other things as well.

After several more viewing sessions with Bob and a few trips to the telescope store, I found myself walking into Subcon with the intent of walking out with a telescope. It was early summer, and I was a week or so away from vacation. I was becoming more familiar with telescopes by now, but buying that first one is never an easy task, unless of course you can afford more than one (which makes things much easier: more on that later). I did have an idea how much I wanted to spend, so my choices were narrowed down to several. One of them had been " marked down" $100, and was really drawing my eye. I examined it , and inquired about a broken tip on one of the wing-nuts that holds the legs on the tripod. The owner said that it was a store model, and he was willing to knock off another additional $100 due to the broken wing nut, a small dent on the tube that he actually had to point out to me before I could see it, and one other thing so minor that I can't recall what it was.

The telescope was a 4.5" reflector on an equatorial mount, with 2 eyepieces (10mm and 25mm), a 2x barlow, and a Moon filter. With the purchase of that telescope, I had bitten the carrot the astronomy bug had been dangling in front of me, and was well on my way to many late nights out observing, losing several zeros from my bank account balance, and making my living space a little more crowded.

Astronomy is now more than just a cool hobby to me. It not only helps to heal my body from the everyday toil of work and life, but probably strengthens me in other ways by how I pursue the hobby. After a day of toiling away in a factory listening to the shriek of powersaws cutting metal, the pounding of a cacophony of huge presses driving punches and blades through metal blocks, and the wailing of sirens indicating break periods starting and ending that sounds like the one you hear in the movies when the prisoners are escaping, it's nice to go outside on my apartment balcony in the evening for a bit and see what the terminator of the Moon looks like that night. Will the seeing be good enough to see Jupiter's Great Red Spot, or perhaps Cassini's division tonight?

When the evening sky is clear and I don't have to work the next day, that's when things really get serious. Carrying my 70mm F900mm refractor on an EQ2 (my new grab-and-go scope) onto the balcony in the middle of town is one thing, but going out for hours of viewing in a dark sky several hours away means it's time to bring out the heavy artillery- my William Optics FLT132 apo and EQ6 mount, and a 10" Newtonian Dobsonian reflector which can also be mounted on the EQ6. Add to that 2 cases of eyepieces, another of accessories exclusive to the Newtonian, another of accessories for the refractor, observing chair, power supply, counter weights, more accessories, observing table, and a few extras, and you're talking major assault here. When Bob joins in with his arsenal (featuring his 12.5" Newtonian "Pumpkin Cannon" on a split ring equatorial mount), we've got all the bases covered.

This is where the "strengthens me in other ways" part comes in. First of all, I live in an apartment building. That means to get to my truck, it's a walk down the hall, a trip in an elevator, another walk down a hall, and finally the walk outside to my parking spot.This is nothing when I'm only carrying my lunch for work, but think about doing it with the truckload of equipment I just listed. I must also mention that I built custom sponge fitted cases out of 1/4" plywood for both optical tubes, the EQ6 mount, and the EQ6 tripod/ observing table. This is a lot of weight, and even using a mover's cart (my back wouldn't have it any other way) it requires some effort. It helps to have an assistant, but remember that they are only good for one trip and guarding the equipment while you get the rest. After setting the equipment up and a night's worth of viewing, you must once again tear it down and get it back home safe and sound, which is a lot harder at 4:00 a.m. than it was the first time around.

Even before the real observing begins, you must exercise your co-ordination and patience when you polar align the tripod/mount and balance the optical tube. Searching for a tiny object too dim to show up in the finderscope in an area void of any guiding stars manually is the ultimate exercise in patience. The appearance of the sky also changes a lot over the course of 4 or 5 hours. When you add to that variables like light pollution, cloud patches, and the available view of the horizon, scheduling the night's observing takes some planning. Even knowing which telescope, eyepiece, and filter to use on any given object takes trial, error, and memory.

Astronomy may not be for everybody, but I find it stimulating, educational, relaxing, and rewarding. I work hard for my living, I deserve to have something for my own leisure, and I choose this. I have everything I need now for some serious observing, and some minor astrophotography as well. Despite the signifigant but one-time only expense involved (until I upgrade that is), it's nice to know that something that feels so good for once isn't bad for me. Now if only I had the money to move out into the country and buy a REAL telescope.
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