PopMech: How to Become a Backyard Astronomer

By Phil Plait | September 16, 2011 12:00 pm

The magazine Popular Mechanics has a pretty good article up about how to get started in backyard astronomy. I know it’s good, because they interviewed me for it! Actually, it does have some solid advice, like starting off with binoculars, and joining an astronomy club before buying a telescope.

I get a ton of email asking me for advice on telescope buying, so I’ll have to add this article to the list in my FAQ!


Comments (44)

  1. Fritriac

    Meh. Advices are ok so far, but: That page sucks like a black holes gravity field … 50% ads. o_O

  2. QuietDesperation


    Save your pennies and go straight to what I have my eye on: http://www.celestron.com/c3/product.php?CatID=93&ProdID=576

    Buy ALL the scopes!

  3. Chief

    Nice to know I’m one of the ton. Sent a email to Phil this morning on advice on a scope.

    Just bought a mount (Skywatcher HEQ5) and will continue to shop around for a OTA. Thinking of the Celestron C8-5 tube.

    So after 28 years, I’m returning to using a scope and looking forward to it. Let’s hope the sky stays clear.

    And yes, there are a lot of ads, you have to wonder why you have to pay for the mag with so much advertising bucks being given to them.

  4. hearshot

    For binoculars for astronomy, how much difference do the magnification and lens size make? That article recommends the Nikon Action 7×35 binoculars, but Amazon has the Nikon Action 8×40 for only a couple bucks more. Would it be worth it to move up a step (would that even be considered “moving up a step?”) for <$10?

  5. Mejilan

    @#3: And I came dangerously close to derailing an earlier posting’s comments section by making mention of my growing fancy to enter backyard astronomy circles! How timely… Thanks Phil!

  6. Allardster

    Some advice in this article is great (moon observing for example), some is a bit off. I would not recommend 7x35mm binocular for example. A 7x – 9x 50mm would give more aperture (larger, more light gathering optics) and therefore more interesting views.

    The go to telescopes are great for some but for many the $ spent on the computerization is better spent on aperture. Best bang for buck are still the 6″ and 8″ dobsonian telescopes. They save you learning the computer and instead teach more about the sky. The article it suggests you need a 15 grand, 25″ telescope to see the Sombrero galaxy. I can imagine the views would knock anyone of their feet but the views are actually pretty pleasing through a 6″ or 8″ scope. Some tips for beginners:

    – APOD.nasa.gov, astronomy picture of the day: learn something about space every day
    – ASOD.info: astronomy sketch of the day: what the sky really looks like through a telescope
    – Forums: Cloudynights.com, Astronomyforum.net

    – Stellarium: free planetarium software to learn what is where!

    – Night Watch (introductory with enough background and observing tips to last for a while)
    – The Backyard Astronomer (great when buying telescopes or other gear)

    The night sky is pretty awesome these weeks. Moon is out a lot, Jupiter (easy to find, brightest star in the sky, rises in the east mid evening now) reveals a couple of it’s moons in binoculars and colored bands in any telescope and a super nova is visible in smaller telescopes as well. There is a comet, Garradd. At the end of October there is a meteor storm pre-dawn of 10/21 and 10/22.

    Clear skies all!

  7. Chris

    Is Discover OK with you endorsing another magazine?

  8. Robin Byron

    Started with a Meade 6″ f8 w/ motor driven equatorial mount, then a Coulter 13.1″ f4.5 Dobsonian. Had them for years and I, family and friends loved them both. Now considering moving back to (big) binoculars.

  9. Chief

    Here’s a link to a new planetarium that reopened in Moscow. Nice to see saturn so updated.


  10. teknowaffle

    Sorry if my comments were doubled, I am posting from outside of the us for the first time and using a different server setting.

  11. Nice article.

    I’ve actually prepared one somehow similar for the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast (to be published on Oct. 21st)

    Clear skies.

  12. Digital Atheist

    Eh, I’ll still take my Celestron 114mm. Bought it years ago and haven’t had the chance to use it for a while, but I do not regret the purchase then, now, or in the future. In one night I had a chance to get a better view of Mercury, Venus, Luna, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus (Neptune was a no-go, even though it was visible that night. Cost me $400 and some change, but it was one of the best purchases I ever made on a whim. Heh.. even though for the most part it has only ever been used for looking at planets. I love looking at anything space related, but with my ‘scopeI i can literally stare at the planets all night. I’d rather look at them than other things in the heavens… how stupid am I?

  13. Kendall

    While it is good to start small until you know what you want, the advice to stick with binoculars for a year or two is unrealistic. Most beginners will get bored and never experience the wow of seeing more than a slight fuzz for a full year or two. How about a few months?
    Also, the step of buying a go-to scope is good for some people, but a painful, and unnecessary, expense for those of us who like to learn by figuring out. If you’re the kind of person who wants instant gratification, you might want to consider a go-to scope. If you like to learn things, like how to navigate the sky, you can skip to a telescope with twice as much aperture for the same price.
    And what about recommending Dobsonians for simplicity and lower cost? They are as easy to operate as the Edmund Astroscan and the views will keep a newbie infinitely more interested.
    First get hooked, then get serious. But don’t take 2 years to do it and pay $1,000 before you get something useful.

  14. Roger

    Nice article. I actually found a very nice star chart with Messier (Tidy Upper) objects on observe.phy.sfasu.edu
    I use it exclusively because I am a “noc” user.

  15. CB

    @ hearshot

    I agree with Alladstar that a 50mm is a lot better than 35mm. That’s twice the light gathering power! You can of course go bigger but then the binos start to get unwieldy and may need a tripod, when part of the appeal is that they’re so mobile. I don’t think the magnification makes that much difference.

    @ Kendall:

    Sure you’ll get bored with binoculars if that’s all you look through, but not necessarily if that’s all you own. If you go to astronomy club star parties or other gatherings where there are telescopes available, you can have a ton of fun looking through them without shelling out for one of your own. That’s what I did for quite a few years until finally last year I bought a disused C11 from a friend who had already upgraded to a 20″ Dob. I enjoy having my own scope, but that 20″ is still the star of the star party and I’d still have fun even if I left my C11 at home.

    I agree that skipping the go-to and learning yourself is a good idea, but that’s best done by learning from people who already know what they’re doing. Like at star parties. Where there will be telescopes to look through. So when you finally buy your own scope, you’ll know how to use it on day 1. :)

    @ Digital Atheist:

    Nothing stupid about looking at planets. They’re awesome! And you don’t need a ton of aperture to really enjoy them. Rock on with your planetary self, I say.

  16. Digital Atheist


    My Celestron came with a couple of different eyepieces, a Barlow lens, and a couple of color filters which makes things fun. No matter if I’m using the 12mm, the 25mm, or some combination of color/Barlow/eyepiece, I can get some pretty views of my favorite viewing objects: Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Heck, I even own a couple pairs of binoculars and a night vision scope that can make things a lot of fun. I love all areas of astronomy, but make me have to choose between the neighborhood and all the other stuff out there, I’ll stick with my neighbors. 😀 Besides, just watching Jupiter and the Gallilean moons makes me have even more respct for their champion. 😀

  17. John Sandlin

    My first thought is that the numbers are slightly out of order.

    My advice for number one is to find an Astronomy Club in your area and visit with them. They’ll often allow folks that aren’t members to tag along to some of the less private events (the group I’m with does active out-reach: SALSA-ASTRO). There you can find some of the better places to observe from, and maybe get to have some hands on (eye’s on, really) experience with various bits of kit.

    If you do find you enjoy hanging out with those folks and spending time looking up with them, you probably should then join the club. If you don’t like the club, check if others exist in your area.

    Second, invest those big bucks in a great astronomy chart / planetarium software package like Stellarium (it’s free, actually). It works very well and is a fun way to explore while the sky is bright or is cloudy (or even both).

    Then binoculars, and my recommendation leans toward the 50mm objective size. 7×35’s are nice, but 7x50s are great and will also do well for day time use. I have 10 x 60s and love them (they need some work since they’ve been knocked around badly) but for a beginning instrument, 7x50s are better. Again, visit with people who have them and borrow some time with them before shelling out your hard earned bucks.

    From there you can progress through the rest of the article.


  18. John Sandlin

    CB @ 15 – Exactly.

    While astronomy can be done solo, and I have many times gone out star gazing on my lonesome, it’s more rewarding to do it with friends, and even more rewarding still if those friends are avid amateurs too.

    My current setup is a smallish (by current standards) Dobsonian, a 70mm refractor (also on the small side) on a GEM with a clock-drive, and two sets of binoculars (7x35s and the 10x60s). None of the above are Go-To (or even computerized). But even with those limited pieces of hardware I’ve had the opportunity to look up through a .8 meter telescope, several very nice big and rock steady go-to systems, even giant binoculars (25x 100mm) because I hang out with folks with that kind of equipment.

    Oh, and I know about several really nice dark sky sites because of the club. Observing from within a city is a challenge.


  19. Douglas Watts

    Light pollution makes it impossible to see a star fainter than Vega or Altair in a suburban or urban area. Let’s at least be honest, Phil. This PM column reeks of deliberately fake ‘feel-goodness.’ Be honest with people. It’s better than the opposite.

  20. VinceRN

    Probably the most important thing to do is join your local astronomy club. They are everywhere, and there are always tons of people willing to help new people get into the hobby. Going to their star parties will give you a chance to look through different scopes and get an idea of what it takes to use them. Some clubs even have telescopes you can borrow.

    A decent pair of binoculars is a great way to get started without spending too much money. Definitely go for a larger aperture if you can, 50mm sees a lot more than 35mm. I still like to go out with binoculars when time is short.

    Also, I think many people make the mistake of concentrating on power, and makers feed into this by claiming ridiculous things like 600x power. What matters is aperture, the more light coming in the better. Many of the amazing pictures of deep sky stuff you see here and elsewhere are done at fairly low magnification. Planets, or smaller details on the moon you use higher magnification. I know I mostly use between about 32x and 166x my scopes.

    What else? When it’s time to buy, get a scope that isn’t a lot of work to set up, that way you’ll use it more. Also, consider the ergonomics of it – I bought an 8″ Newtonian on an equatorial mount, it’s a great scope, but I find myself getting into some odd positions to look through the eye piece sometimes. For that reason, and for it’s bulk, I don’t get that scope out very often.

    Oh, and get a Telrad, one of they least expensive and most useful pieces of astro equipment you’ll ever find. Hopefully it’s OK to mention those by name…

  21. Joseph G

    Awesome!!! I was actualy contemplating asking Phil for about how to get started with amateur astronomy, as an astronoob, but I figured he’d be too busy with actual science and stuff to bother him. Nice to know I’m not the only one who’s thought about asking for advice. I have to admit feeling a little silly spending so much time on an astronomy blog while not having really ever done any astronomming.
    Thanks, Phil! Seriously, this feels like an early Chrismachanukwanza present 😀

  22. Joseph G

    I do have a question, though. I understand that it’s not a good idea to go spending a bunch of money if you don’t have much experience in a given field…But (of course there’s a but)…
    If you don’t have binocs, is it really so bad to go get a 300 dollar reflector? I’m not sure I want to spend $100 or so on binoculars that I could be putting into a telescope… Telescopes dot com even has some reflectors with equatorial mounts and motor drive from about 200 bucks! And go-to scopes starting around $260. I know those are the bargain-bin ones, but then where I live it’s overcast half the time, so even if I were experienced I probably wouldn’t want to go too pricey.
    I used to have a 3.5 inch refractor and a basic tripod, so I’m not totally starting from scratch, either. It was a drug-store piece of crap with plastic lenses, but it was enough to learn about stuff like cool-down and chromatic aberration (spectacular, with that scope).

  23. John Sandlin

    Joseph @ 22, you will want to have some hands on before you decide that that particular 200 dollar scope will work for you. Check also telescope.com for a comparison. I really like the Orion line.

    But our earlier advice of seeing these first before plunking down any cash stands. Some of the less expensive scopes have horrible tripods that will not satisfy you regardless how little you spent.

    I know this from experience.


  24. shunt1

    I still have my original Celestron C8 (orange tube) with it’s foot locker that I obtained in 1972. This will always be my “treasure” even if I have purchased several others over the years.

    For spectroscopy, my 10″ F/4 is the perfect “light bucket” and does it’s job very well. However, for general viewing of small objects, there is still nothing better then an 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

    Very large astronomy quality binoculars are fantastic for large and extended objects, but can be rather heavy.

    Home astronomy will cover things that have very small angles (like a planet) and sometimes large angles (meteor showers) and everything between. That is why I have obtained many cameras and telescopes that are optimal for a specific subject of interest.

    I have been accumulating these telescopes for over 40 years now. While living in Minnesota, where it is rather rare to have a clear sky, even a radio telescope has been an educational experience. There is something wonderful about having the ability to count every single meteor that passes over your home.

    But most of all, IT MUST BE FUN!

    I remember spending an evening with Clyde Tombaugh back in Las Cruces and explaining to him why I wanted a telescope that could study Cepheid variables. Why, since we know exactly how they work?

    Because Clyde, I want to do my own research and compare my results with the professionals. Besides, if nobody else is studying those stars, how would the professionals know if something ever changed?

  25. shunt1

    For people who are first starting, I would recommend something very different.

    Purchase a SLR digital camera with lenses that can be changed. Start with a very wide angle zoom lens (20mm to 50mm) and learn how to take time exposures.

    Some of the most interesting things that I have obtained in the last few years were done with a SLR digital camera. Learn how to take 30 second exposures once a minute and create a video. When a good comet comes along, this is perhaps the best tool that you could use, because of it’s large angular size.

    Besides, with a quality SLR digital camera, you can always take pictures of the wife and kids and justify the expense.

  26. shunt1

    I have one question for you, but it is rather important. Why do you want a telescope? With today’s websites, no hobby telescope could provide a better image than what you could see online.

    If you are like me, then there is something very special about seeing it for yourself. How many people have looked at the Orion nebula through their own telescope and realized that it is actually green, instead of those red colors that you see on the websites? Both images are correct, but learning why is half the fun.

    Would you like to do original research that can be done with something as simple as a SLR camera?

    Study how to obtain a High Dynamic Range Image (HDRI) using multiple shutter speeds and take pictures of the Moon. Learn how to image both the bright and darker sides of the Moon at the same time, when both are visible each month. Learn how to scientifically calibrate the difference between the bright and darker sides of the Moon with your images.

    Simple and basic things like this can be done with a digital camera, but will provide valuable scientific data which can only be obtained from hobby astronomers.

  27. Daniel

    So lately I’ve been trying to get into some astrophotography. I’ve got a 114mm Celestron and I’ve been using my wife’s Nikkon D40X. My biggest problem is getting the focus right. It’s hard manually adjusting it and checking the LCD display to see if it’s focused. The only decent photo I’ve got so far is of the moon, and I got kinda lucky with that one. I know there is software out there for remote operation of the camera through a laptop, but I’m not sure how it works and definatly can’t afford the pricetags. Any suggestions?

  28. shunt1

    Trying to focus a camera is very difficult, because the image is too dark for the LCD display. Accept reality and learn how to deal with it.

    This is what I do:

    During the day, focus the camera on the most distant object that you can locate. I live in the city, so for this test, I drive out to the country where I can view things several miles away. Focus upon that distant object and then use some tape to lock your lens into place.

    The next evening, take an image of the Moon and see if the focus is still correct. If not, then repeat the procedure and try to figure out why something has changed. With my SLR camera lenses, even a fraction of a millimeter movement of the lens will alter the focus.

    Insure that you have locked your lens. A great procedure is to place a dot of finger nail polish on the lens right where the focus ring joins the rest of the lens. Any movement will break the polish, but the correct alignment is easy to see.

  29. Digital Atheist

    Or, a smallish scope such as a 60mm refractor, or a 114mm reflector can just give fun-believeable views of our planetary neighbors. Amateur astronomy can be fun, but so can amateur planetology. belive me, there is nothing as beautiful as watching the moons of Jupiter do their dance over several nights (and with the 114mm you can also get a nice view of Titan’s slow dance around Saturn).

    I personally think it all comes down to what your interest level has been in the past. If you are really a noob to astronomy, then yes, start out with a pair of binoculars, a good sky map, some nice books, and if possible an astronomy club. If, on the other hand, you are already deep in to space things (one of my first memories is watching the last 2 or 3 Apollo missions as a very young child while my mother was cooking in the kitchen and wandering in to watch the TV), then you may want to think about an inexpensive telescope to start with.

    The first ‘scope I bought was a 60mm refractor that gave me some good views of Luna and Mars. My next purchase was a 114mm reflector/Newtonian that is still my prize ‘scope (I gave my 60mm away not long after), a pair of 12×50 binoculars that are really great for Moon gazing, and a 1.5 power night scope that shows some faint-ish stars, but also gives really great views of some of the night life around me.

    For any newbie, I would recomend any of those veiwing devices. and yeah, I’m more of an amateur planetologist than I am an astronomer. Sue me. 😀

  30. shunt1

    With Minnesota winters getting down to -40 F, getting my telescopes to work remotely was a major priority. It was so nice to sit in my warm computer room and control my telescopes remotely and view the images as they were being obtained.

    However, unless you live in the frozen tundra and are willing to spend thousands of dollars to make that work, then I would not recommend it! First off, you will need a $2000 computer controlled mount to point a $400 telescope, not to mention the costs of the wireless internet and computers involved.

    It is not worth it!

  31. shunt1

    I am in the process of moving from Minnesota to Fort Collins Colorado. My wife was the “advance party” and we moved a large portion of our stuff into a storage shed and she is now living in a motel. Her task is to find our next home. It is funny to watch her selection process, since she takes my love of astronomy into consideration.

    She uses aerial photography of the area to insure that I have a clear view of the horizon and away from street lights in her home selection process. I never asked her to do this, but I am rather proud of having a wife like that!

    In the morning, I must once again drive the 850 miles to Colorado and tow a trailer for my second phase of the move. Personally, I was too chicken to take my telescopes on this trip, since they are so fragile. Next trip, I will probably wrap them in blankets and place then on a bed mattress for cushioning.

    Are you SURE you want to get into personal hobby astronomy?

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    How to Become a Backyard Astronomer :

    Step 1 : First get a backyard! 😉

    Preferably one that doesn’t have a big bright streetlight inconveniently placed to shine maximum light where it’s not wanted and isn’t surrounded by plenty of trees and houses blocking the horizon in all directions and smothering skyglow. :-(

    Oh well, I guess there’s still a lot you can do amateur astronomy~wise even in fairly suburban environs. Plus living here in Oz it’s not too far to go bush for some truly dark semi-desert skies. :-)

    (I’m sure many others have things far worse than I do location, light pollution & access to dark skies~wise.)

  33. Daniel

    @shunt1 – Thanks for the advice! Although maybe that’s part of my problem… I’m not actually using a lens on the camera: I have a locking ring & t-adapter to attach it to the telescope, turning it into one big lens for the camera. The focus is done through the telescope focus, no lens. Is there another way to do it?

  34. John Sandlin

    Daniel @27 said on September 16th, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    So lately I’ve been trying to get into some astrophotography. I’ve got a 114mm Celestron and I’ve been using my wife’s Nikkon D40X. My biggest problem is getting the focus right. It’s hard manually adjusting it and checking the LCD display to see if it’s focused. The only decent photo I’ve got so far is of the moon, and I got kinda lucky with that one. I know there is software out there for remote operation of the camera through a laptop, but I’m not sure how it works and definatly can’t afford the pricetags. Any suggestions?


    First suggestion is to use the view finder and not the LCD for focus. The LCD is notoriously low resolution and make fine focus difficult in good circumstances. In fact, I’d turn off the LCD since it will affect your night vision. If looking through the view finder is difficult because of the angle (I don’t know what format your 114mm scope is – a Newtonian would be fairly easy for using the view finder, other styles not so much), you might consider a right angle adapter for the view finder – these aren’t usually cheap though (almost $300 for the official Nikon parts for your camera).

    Remember that the adjustment to focus is very sensitive and use the tiniest movements on the focus knob. I’d practice with it during the day on distant objects to get a feel for where the focus is when things are fairly easy to see and that’s where you start in the dark.

    Finally, I get my focus adjusted by pointing at a really bright star and getting it focused, then work my way to what I really want to photograph. Of course, planets like Jupiter or Venus are bright enough to use for that task on their own.

    I’m using a web-cam for my work and find that the little 640×480 video image on my slightly larger laptop screen is very difficult to focus with, too. The trick I use there is to adjust the image until it is very close to in focus and then adjust the focus in and out past the best image to get a feel for where it is just out of focus in each direction and then settle on a spot half way between. It isn’t perfect, but with practice you’ll get it it down.

    The joy of a digital camera is if you don’t like the results, you just delete them and no film is wasted.


  35. Richard

    Aside from reading beginner books and joining an astronomy club, I always recommend people learn the night sky before using binoculars or a telescope. I’ve received a lot of nice compliments on an article I wrote year’s ago about how to read a simple all-sky star map:


    Hope some here find it helpful as well!

  36. Joseph G

    @#24 shunt1: Wait, you’re an amateur astronomer and you were “just spending an evening” with Clyde Tombaugh? You can’t just drop that in there and not elaborate! That’s like an anecdote about fishing that starts with “So I’m out on my bass boat with Neil Armstrong, and nothing’s biting, and I realized I was using the wrong bait, so Neil told me to try the nightcrawlers, and you’ll never BELIEVE the fish I caught…”

  37. Joseph G

    @shunt1 #24: In all seriousness though, that’s what I think is so cool about astronomy. Even today, amateur astronomers still discover comets and asteroids, and even the occasional supernova. Even with incredible technology like the HST (and hopefully the JWST), there’s still a chance for citizen scientists to make contributions. You don’t see that in many other sciences – I mean, there aren’t that many home gene-sequencing kits on the market, and a tinkerer in his garage probably isn’t going to discover the Higgs boson :)

  38. Joseph G

    @23 John S: Thanks for the tip. Yeah, sounds like it may be a good plan to join an astronomy club before buying anything – maybe get some first-hand recommendations.

  39. SabiaJD

    Well if you add it to your FAQ make a note that the Meteor section has the dates of these two meteor shows wrong.

    ” Two of the biggest annual meteor showers are the Leonids, which peak around Aug. 12, and the Perseids, which peak around Nov. 17 (they’re named for the constellations in which they appear to originate). ”

    The Perseids are worth watching on August 12, while the Leonids of November 17 varies in intensity. They peak approximately every 33 years, although some years are better than others. Leonids are not as active since the 1998- 2002 years. The Orionids in October and the Geminids in December produce a better show than the Leonids do now.

  40. VinceRN:
    You need to rig up some Wilcox rings on your newt. Makes a BIG difference.
    I agree with everybody here on the steps to take:

    1. Free star charts & Stellarium software.
    2. 7 x 50 binocs. Stick to the planets & Moon if you’re in a city.
    3. Join an astronomy club & observe with their gear at their dark-sky site.
    4. Buy a 6″ (or maybe 8″) Dobsonian. Avoid goto scopes at first. Too complicated for newcomers.
    5. Take your Dob to your club’s observing session & try various eyepieces out in your scope.
    6. Above all, have fun!

    Hollywood spends millions of bucks simulating space in movies…
    You now have the REAL THING as your playground. You can travel at the speed of light to the far reaches of the universe and sleep in your own bed after you’re done. What’s not to love?

  41. CB

    @ Douglas Waits

    Can’t see stars dimmer than Vega or Altair in the suburbs? Sure, maybe downtown in a large city, but I live in the suburbs of a city of 1 million and I can see lots more stars than that! The biggest problem for viewing isn’t even the light of the city, it’s the street and porch lights on my own street. Yet I can still trivially see all the stars of Lyra, and have gotten some decent views of the Ring Nebula; even better views since getting a UHC filter. The Orion Nebula is quite impressive even though I can never get fully dark adapted. There’s plenty of open clusters in the vicinity of Sagittarius that look great!

    It’s certainly nothing like going to a dark sky site, but my conditions are deeply sub-optimal even given my proximity to the city and yet still a lot of fun can be had. Your post reeks of deliberately fake pessimism! 😛

    @ Richard Drumm

    Why the recommendation for a Dob? Cus they’re cheap for the aperture? Personally I think an alt-az mount that requires constant adjustment to keep objects in the field is a downer for a beginner, compared to one where you can have a tracking motor so once you find something it’ll stay for as long as you want to look. Or am I wrong in thinking the main functional difference between a Newton and a Dob is the mount?

  42. shunt1

    @36 Joseph G:

    I just returned from my trip to Colorado and read your comment today. You had me laughing so hard, that it brought tears to my eyes. Your hypothetical conversation with Neil is about how it was.

    That’s like an anecdote about fishing that starts with “So I’m out on my bass boat with Neil Armstrong, and nothing’s biting, and I realized I was using the wrong bait, so Neil told me to try the nightcrawlers, and you’ll never BELIEVE the fish I caught…”

    Clyde Tombaugh and I were both members of the local Unitarian church in Las Cruces and were simply friends. Oh, I knew exactly who he was but never held that against him. To me, he was a wonderful old man that still loved his hobby telescope that he made himself. We both grew up at the time when you had to grind your own mirrors if you wanted to build a hobby telescope, and that was his most valuable treasure.

    His wife loved her trees around the property, but they blocked the view from his telescope. So, as a devoted hobby astronomer, Clyde built a tall tower in his back yard where his telescope was mounted. That way, his wife could have her trees and Clyde could still use his telescope.

    Never, not once, did Clyde and I ever talk about advanced astronomy together. We simply enjoyed our small telescopes and never got over how beautiful viewing wonders like the stars Mizar and Alcor were.

    This is what being a hobby astronomer is all about, and Clyde never forgot his original love.

  43. shunt1

    @41 CB:

    Spectroscopy is not harmed much with city lights, especially in areas with sodium lamps, since those wavelengths can be filtered out. This is an area where hobby astronomers can contribute to science and obtain quality data.

    This subject is almost never taught and most hobby astronomers know nothing about it. That is so sad, since almost everything we know about the universe today has been learned from observing the spectrum of the stars.

    What has been so darn frustrating to me over the years, is that it is almost impossible to purchase the equipment at a reasonable price.

    I ended up building my own computer controlled milling machine and making the mounting parts myself. For a scientific quality echelle spectrograph, the optical components can be obtained for under $500. Making a solid mount for holding the optics to the telescope was the only difficult task.

    But remember, I grew up in a time when you had to grind your own telescope mirrors. If I wanted a quality astronomy instrument, then I had to make it myself.

  44. I just like the helpful info you provide for your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and test once more right here regularly. I’m relatively sure I’ll learn plenty of new stuff proper right here! Good luck for the next!


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