About Me: Astronomical Interests

Telescopes

I've been interested in amateur observing for over 15 years now. My first scope, which I still own, was a 4.25" Edmund Astroscan. I got it as a Christmas present in 1985, while I was still in high school, and just in time for viewing Halley's Comet.

Since then, I have acquired a few other scopes. A few years after I got the Astroscan, I got a 10" f/4.5 Coulter Dobsonian reflector. This scope served me well for many years. Recently, I replaced the 10" telescope with a homebuilt 12.5" f/5 truss-tube Dobsonian , which I purchased from an amateur telescope maker via Astromart. More recently, I have also gotten a 100mm (4") short tube (f/6) refractor, which is broadly similar to the old Astroscan but of generally higher quality. This short tube refractor has pretty much replaced the Astroscan as my wide-field or "quick look" scope, but I intend to keep the Astroscan for a while. It's a good scope for younger children or very inexperienced folks to observe with.

While the 10" Coulter was my main scope, I hacked at it intermittently over a few years (new mirror cells for primary and secondary, a better focuser, and rebalancing), and finally got around to giving it a name. After talking occasionally -- though usually affectionately -- of loading that big ugly red thing in the car, I decided the Coulter 10" was BURT (Big Ugly Red Thing). Naturally, my other scope, the Astroscan, had to be called ERNI (Edmund's Rich-Field Newtonian Instrument). I also have something that could be called BIGBIRD (Big Binocular Refracting Device, i.e., 10x70 binoculars).

BURT and ERNI together at the third Nebraska Star Party (August, 1996).

I am still trying to figure out a name for the new 12.5". I have considered ELMO (since it could be considered an Extremely Lightweight Moveable Observatory), but I never much cared for the "live" Elmo.

Observing Interests

For most of the time I had BURT, I lived close to dark skies, and so I regularly took BURT out for deep-sky observing. My observing ranged from casual skimming of the bright Messier objects to some fairly gonzo challenge observing (for example, trying to find as many of those blasted "Challenge Objects" in the RASC Observer's Handbook as possible, "minimum suggested aperture" notwithstanding).

I now find that I'd really much rather stay close to home most of the time, rather than spend 2 hours traveling for (what may end up being) only an hour or two of good observing. Because of this, I'm spending more time looking at objects that don't require pristine skies. Deep sky is still a major interest of mine, but I've found it good to branch out some more.

I have recently gotten interested in variable star observing, and contribute observations for the AAVSO. Variable stars, particularly the "catastrophic" variables like SS Cygni, can be a lot of fun to follow. Also, since variables are stars, an observer can take advantage of high power to darken the sky background and thus see much fainter stars. A 12.5" scope at medium-to-high power can show 15th magnitude stars quite plainly, even from a moderately light-polluted site. This is a lot of stars, variable or otherwise. In fact, plenty of variables visible in such a scope are ones most folks (outside the AAVSO, at least) wouldn't expect to encounter outside of an article in a research journal.

When I'm not digging 15th magnitude dwarf novae out of the sky, I'm often putting the Astroscan or the short refractor on brighter Miras or semi-regular variables. For every telescope type, there's a bunch of variables you can observe with it.

I also spend quite a bit of time looking at things made of stars, for much the same reason -- open and globular clusters, and multiple stars; I've also spent a lot more time lately looking at planets.

Of course, a 12.5" under pristine skies is a joy on just about anything ... :-)

Non-Observing

Over the last couple of years, I have become interested in many areas of astronomy other than observing. Some areas of special interest:


  • History of astronomy (you can often find me buried in Burnham's just reading the descriptions of things for hours)

  • Stellar cartography

  • Nearby and Sunlike stars

  • Stars that tell us interesting things about our universe -- how old it is, how large it is, what it's made out of, and so on.

  • Computer graphics and rendering of astronomical scenes, both artistic and technically oriented

Traveling

I haven't done much astronomy-specific traveling, except to star parties, but a few years ago I went to see one of the greatest sky shows ever. In November, 1994, I visited southern Peru to see a total eclipse of the sun.

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