My background in astronomy
I’ve been a casual stargazer since I was 9 years old (almost 40 years ago!) when I got my hands on my grandfather’s binoculars. They were in rough shape, and I remember taking the eyepieces out, and the objectives, and making a crude refracting telescope out of a roll of thick paper. It didn’t work very well. My parents saw the interest and bought me a copy of The Field Guide to the Stars and Planets (still have it, 35 years later) which I studied for some time without really understanding it, or going out to actually look up at the stars.
When I was 12 years old, after begging for months, I received a Tasco 60 mm department store refracting telescope for Christmas. This was back in 1971. The scope was white, balanced on a six-inch-high table-top tripod, and had a zoom eyepiece that gave magnification up to 60X, if I remember correctly. The picture at left is close, but not exact. Man, I loved that scope, despite it’s flimsy mount. I used it for years. Forget the mount. I would take it out in the back yard and lie down on the snow and balance it on the snowbank in front of me. With that small scope I got my first great views of the moon, Saturn and its rings (yes, really), and the moons of Jupiter, and even tracked an asteroid that was working its way through Leo over course of a few weeks sometime in the mid 1970s. I thought of buying a new scope, but never did.
In 1976, after doing a little research, and realizing that I had less than $150 to spend, I decided to buy a pair of binoculars instead. A pair of Bushnell 10 x 50s. I’ve used them for casual stargazing since then. Sometime in 1989 I bought a new telescope, another department store Tasco, this time a 104 mm reflector on an equatorial mount. Same problem with the mount. It was junk. So were the eyepieces. Scope never performed well. The brightness of images was pretty poor. So I sold it in a garage sale and reverted to my binoculars after about a year. I recently augmented the 10 x 50s with a pair of 7 x 50 Bushnell Legacy binoculars, a camera tripod, and a tripod adapter for the 7X50s. Good investments. I now own approximately $250 of astronomical hardware! That doesn’t include the 60 mm Tasco Christmas present or the 104 mm Tasco reflecting telescope experiment, neither of which I still own.
Anyway, my interest in astronomy tends to follow the seasons. With temperatures that drop down to minus 40 degrees Celsius (and Fahrenheit) in the winter, it’s difficult to get out for more than a few minutes. Most of my stargazing is done in the summer. Just lazy nights in the back yard, or on holiday, sweeping the sky without real rhyme or reason. Oh, I’ll visit my favourite objects… Orion’s Belt, M31, the Beehive Cluster, the Pleiades, and others, but nothing too serious. Like I say, I’m a casual stargazer.
This winter it seems to have been colder than usual, a fact made worse by my seeming desire to actually go out and observe. In order to take advantage of my unseasonal interest in astronomy, I thought an indoor astronomy project was in order. Build a telescope!