I have always had an interest in science and astronomy. When I was very young we lived in Hawaii. I remember my Dad taking us to a “mountain,” might have been a hill, to look at the stars. I remember he had a large refractor on an GEM mount. It was big, and looked expensive and important. I recall trying to look through the eyepiece. With the little knowledge I have now, I understand with his eyeglasses, he had eyepieces with long eye relief and my pressing my eye to the lense was preventing me from seeing anything. But all the pretty stars I could see with my own eyes are still with me.
Through my life I always liked science, I always thought space, and astronomy was cool. The pictures from the Hubble scope have always been backgrounds on my computers and phones. I always felt in awe of the beauty.
The last couple of years, I have thought a lot about buying a telescope. For me, even a couple of hundred dollars is a lot and takes a lot of effort to put aside. To that end, I never went out and got a telescope. Also, unless you are lucky, there are very few stores you can go buy a decent telescope at, and even if you are able to find a decent one at say a Best Buy or the like, the staff probably know next to nothing about them. I had done a fair amount of research and I was fairly sure I wanted a reflector. The most aperture for the least amount of money.
Cut to early April of this year. I stopped by my parents house to celebrate my 31st, and my brothers 29th birthdays. My Dad came down the hallway carrying a fairly large box wrapped in wrapping paper. I opened the box and it said Orion. My jaw began to drop. I knew I just been gifted a telescope, I didn’t know what kind, but my research was enough that I knew Orion was a major telescope manufacture. Then my Dad came walking from the hallway with a MUCH larger box.
I felt a moment of fear thinking, how big is this thing, and will I ever even be able to use such a monster. After the wrapping paper settled I discovered I was the proud new owner of an Orion XT8 dobsonian telescope. I was thrilled. My Dad and I began setting it up and I looked on with great disappointment as the forecast on my weather app showed rain and clouds for the next week! I still couldn’t wait to use it, so we took it out front and I pointed it at the chimney of the house at the end of the street. I could clearly see the grill on the top of the chimney. Wow… pretty cool. In my research I knew I wanted to dabble in astrophotography, I, at the time, didn’t know that AP was practically impossible with this. I took my iPhone 5 and put it up to the eyepiece and snapped a shot of the chimney. It worked! This might not be so impossible after all!
I loaded my new toy in to my car and headed home with my wife and an anticipation difficult to describe. A few nights later, an unexpected break in the weather allowed me to set up my new telescope. At first I went on the front porch. The moon was out before the sun was down, and I pointed the giant cannon to the moon and looked through the eyepiece. WOW! Look at all the craters! It was like a practical joke. Like someone had taken NASA photos and glued them to my eyepiece. I think I might have had a toy telescope like that as a kid actually. I stared at the moon for a few moments looking in awe and realizing how I now had access to the universe in a way I never had before. Now, could I capture it? SUCCESS! I snapped a way a few pictures, I even shot a video clip for stacking later.
I spent a while on the moon and as the sun went down I aimed for Jupiter. “I was fairly sure that bring thing over there is Jupiter!” I thought to myself. I pointed my red dot finder, lined it up and looked through the eyepiece. It was kind of round and blobby. I turned the focus knob all the way and it just got bigger, it looked like I was just looking at the primary mirror. What the hell?! What is wrong with this thing?! I focused it the other way, all the way. Same thing. At best I got a little dot, at worst I got what looked like was a view of the primary mirror. My heart broke. I guess this is as good as it gets. If I want a huge planet in my eyepiece I need a bigger scope. I thought “How damn big does this thing need to be for me to see anything?!” “This can’t be right, I must be doing something wrong.” I called my Dad, who clearly knew more than I did about this. I told him my dilemma and he talked me through some things, but I was still having a hard time getting anything but the moon to come into focus. Finally, after pointing around at other bright points in the sky and looking at the moon again I returned to see Jupiter. “Hey! I think I see something. Oh man, that’s Jupiter! There are the moons! I FOUND IT!” It was only a 20mm eyepiece but I could clearly see two or three thick cloud bands and 4 clear as day moons. I stood up and thought about the implications for a moment, I had just had photons that came from Jupiter, through the atmosphere and were snatched by my telescope, and bounced in to my eyes. I giggled to myself and sighed in relief. The scope worked, I figured it out and I saw my favorite planet. Yeah, Saturn is cool with it’s rings, but this thing is BIG and bad, and it grabs a lot of the would be Earth killer rocks and how cool is that GIANT storm?! The more I learn about Saturn the more I like it, but at the time, Jupiter was far and away the favorite. Could I? Could it be possible? Is it even feasible, to capture these photons with my phone? To have a picture of Jupiter of my very own to show my friends? Turns out, yeah! A BRIGHT globe and 4 dots! Hey man! That’s Jupiter. How about that? It was no Hubble image, but not bad for the first night with this beast.
Cut to the next night my Dad came over to show me a few things. We looked at the moon, Jupiter and he showed me M42. The Orion nebula. He didn’t just point the scope to it. He taught me how to find it. Wow… I could actually make out some color on it! It was so pretty. I learned a hard lesson about deep space objects. More magnification isn’t always better. This is of course true of planets as well, but especially true of deep space objects. We looked for a few other objects, but with a bright moon and a red zone light pollution backyard, it was too hard to find the needed stars to hop to the objects desired. I was content. I couldn’t stop looking at Jupiter. I had read before that you could capture video of these planets, and then stack the images. So I began attempting to hold my camera phone very still and capturing video to stack later.
In just a couple of nights I went from a 30 something with an interest in astronomy, to an amerature astronomer, and very amerature astrophotographer. I went from admiring the great astrophotographers from sources like the Hubble Space Telescope to looking at these very objects I have admired with my own eyes and attempting to take my very own images. They of course were not, and are not even close to the aforementioned images, but I was having fun, and my friends on facebook were excited and intrigued.