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Observing in the 60's and 70's

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#1 Daniel Mounsey

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 01:01 PM

Since this was before my era, could anyone who was observing during the 60's and or 70's please elaborate on what observing was like in those days? Did you find yourself fussing with your telescope mechanics or did you find yourself paying more attention to what you were observing in the night sky?

#2 terraclarke

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 01:25 PM

In the 1960s everything was analog and we appreciated what we had, so we learned the night sky, learned to find what we wanted to see by star-hopping and using binoculars and star charts, and sometimes using setting circles. If the scope was driven, it was typically only in R.A. We looked in awe at the astronomical object we saw rather than critiquing the view with regard to chromatic aberration, pinpoint star patterns across the field, etc. And I should add that in my opinion anyway, the skies were much better then, fewer contrails, and less light pollution. It seemed to me then that is was much more about the sky and much less about the equipment- or perhaps that was just the exuberance of youth and living in the "space age."

#3 Brian Risley

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 01:26 PM

Daniel, starting in 77/78, I was at the tail end of this time frame. I would say that I paid more attention to what I was observing to start with, but equipment did come into play more and more over time. I did not use electronic scopes until the past few years. Star hopping, cards, atlases and some setting circle work was how I found things.
(This was how I did the complete Messier Marathon in 1987(C-8) with Norman McLeod(12" f4 GEM Newt), although several close attempts did have us tuned up for it.)
I first started with a friends 60mm, but jumped in with both feet with a C-8 when I graduated 8th grade.
Living under 6.5+ skies and later going out to 7.0-7.5 skies did make the observing more pleasant and easier without much concern about trying to tweak everything.
I learned a lot about not using equipment as Norman was and is involved with the American Meteor Society and we spent many a night out with just our eyes and binoculars.
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#4 droid

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 01:30 PM

Oh I dont know, in some ways we had it worse then, what books there were, usually called galaxys nebula, no internet, so no access 24 and 7 to astronomy. :roflmao:

On the other hand light pollution was minor so skys were , or seems to me, darker.
Only 8 channels on tv, so often nothing I wanted to watch on tv so I spent a lot more time outside.
Only owned binos until the early 1970s when I was gifted a 4.5 reflector.
I think the only " better " thing about then , for me, was the skys were really dark.
I went back to the ole homestead a year or so ago, there are now light domes in all directions, sad.

#5 CharlieB

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 01:40 PM

In the late 50's & early 60's, my grandparents had a farm in rural Michigan. The skies were dark enough for the Milky Way to cast faint shadows. You didn't need a scope to see some brighter galaxies and nebulae. Constellations were more difficult to distinguish because of all the background stars. A pair of 50mm binoculars gave views that would knock your socks off these days. Of course, my eyes were somewhat better back then.

#6 Joe Cepleur

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 02:26 PM

We looked in awe at the astronomical object we saw rather than critiquing the view with regard to chromatic aberration, pinpoint star patterns across the field... much more about the sky and much less about the equipment


:bow: :bow: :bow:

How do we teach this to the new generation of astronomers? Simple optics are entirely adequate, but culture is hard to steer.

#7 rmollise

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 03:14 PM

Since this was before my era, could anyone who was observing during the 60's and or 70's please elaborate on what observing was like in those days? Did you find yourself fussing with your telescope mechanics or did you find yourself paying more attention to what you were observing in the night sky?


The basics, worrying about gear, figuring out what to look at, weren't much different, but things were different both in how you observed, and what you observed. Oh, and you can bet your patootie we were as gear crazy then as now. All those giant Caves, almost affordable Edmunds and Criterions, and those luscious and utterly unaffordable Unitrons. I wore out more than one drool-soaked astro-catalog. :roflmao:

No go-to, of course, and many of us didn't even have a clock drive. Astronomy equipment was far more expensive than it is now. That was why many of us homebrewed our scopes and mounts. I for one SURE wouldn't want to go back to my 6-inch Newtonians on pipe mounts. :lol:

But, anyhow, except for the fact that there were no Dobsonians, you got to your targets like star hoppers still do. But even then, things were not as good as now. No Telrads, most finders around 30mm, the TOP OF THE LINE atlas for most of us was the Skalnate Pleso, the predecessor of Sky Atlas 2000--but it was a while before I was able to save up for a copy. I got by with the completely inadequate (for use at the telescope) Norton's for what seemed like a VERY long time.

And you looked through? For most of us, eyepieces were simple Kellners and Ramsdans with small apparent fields. As the 70s came in and most of us kid astronomers grew up and had some disposable income, Erfles and Orthos came to inhabit our eyepiece boxes, but, though that was better, it was a fur piece from today. :lol:

What was also different was what we looked at. For most of us it was the planets and the Moon and the Messier. The Moon and planets were a natural; with NASA moving out into the Solar System, it was an exciting time. Deep Sky? The Messier was the amateur's life list. Oh, some of us were pushing out into the NGC under the tutelage of Scotty, but I and my buddies considered things like the Veil Nebula objects for PROFESSIONAL SCOPES. :cool:

It was a simpler time, and I wouldn't go back...but oh! What fun we had! ;)

#8 rmollise

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 03:21 PM

We looked in awe at the astronomical object we saw rather than critiquing the view with regard to chromatic aberration, pinpoint star patterns across the field... much more about the sky and much less about the equipment


:bow: :bow: :bow:

How do we teach this to the new generation of astronomers? Simple optics are entirely adequate, but culture is hard to steer.


I lived through it, and I can tell you things have not changed much at all. One thing I do guard against? Putting on the DADGUM HAIR SHIRT with the novices and telling them real men do not use go-to and Ethoses. You use whatever makes you happy, keeps you in the hobby, and keeps you seeing cool stuff. And all that is far easier today. ;)

#9 rmollise

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 03:23 PM

In the late 50's & early 60's, my grandparents had a farm in rural Michigan. The skies were dark enough for the Milky Way to cast faint shadows. You didn't need a scope to see some brighter galaxies and nebulae. Constellations were more difficult to distinguish because of all the background stars. A pair of 50mm binoculars gave views that would knock your socks off these days. Of course, my eyes were somewhat better back then.


No doubt. Mine were. But I will also say that most of us did not have access to skies like that at home even in the 60s. Mine were maybe a little better than now, but not much, not much.

#10 astro140

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 03:25 PM

I think Terra nice summarized the experience of observing in the 60's. As for astrophotography, for me it was eyepiece projection into an Exacta camera with a Steinheil lens; Kodak Tri-X Pan film, develop and print the picture yourself. Still have a picture which I scanned and attached that I took when I was 17 in 1964...5 second hand-guided image! Of course I can do much better with my Takahashi and CCD today (IMHO :smirk:), but those days were great fun.
Steve
NM

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#11 Bonco

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:02 PM

Good replies especially Terra's. In the 50's and early 60's 60 mm refractors ruled. In 1960 or 61 I got my RV6 and it was the biggest scope in our Dallas Tx Club. One guy had a four inch Unitron which was way too expensive for most of us and we were in awe.
By just going a few miles out of Dalls we found really dark skies. That area now is covered with development for miles and miles. Star hopping was the norm to find Messier objects and I and others would star hop to find asteroids. Many of us developed a high degree of proficiency of finding deep sky objects from memory and knowing the constellations and star names. Big change came in the 70's with the introduction of the Celestron line of SCT's and others soon to follow. DOB's were the next major evolution and larger scopes were now the norm. While we lusted for the pricier products we or at least I were very satisfied with what we had and seldom got wrapped up on CA issues, contrast, or detailed optical discussions. However I'm sure Amateur Telescope Makers would disagree with that statement. ATM's were much more prevelent then compared to now. Also, my impression is that there we more young people such as preteen and teen observers in the days of yore compared to today. We had a very active Junior club with kids from 12 to 18 years old. I don't see that anymore but I'm sure there are some groups out there I'm not aware of. The main thing I miss is the rather convenient access to dark skies not far from home. Currently for me it's a 100 mile drive to fairly dark skies.
Bill

#12 tim53

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:28 PM

My workhorse star atlas before I bought a Skalnate was the Petersens Field Guide to the Stars and Planets by Pasakov, IIRC. I have a later edition with the printed star charts, but my favorite was the 60s version with the photographic star charts that went out to 15th magnitude (but had "Eastman Objects" that sometimes looked like stars). You needed good eyes to use those tiny charts, but I did at the time.

My workhorse scopes between 7 years and 19 years of age were my Tasco 4VTE and whatever the 60mm version of the varipower was (can't remember at the moment).

Even when I bought my first "real telescope" (OC 8" Discoverer in 1972), I still loved to star hop. I did have a clock drive though, plus driven RA pointers. I lived large like that for over 8 years, when I built my Springfield using the OC's optics.

-Tim.

#13 terraclarke

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 05:26 PM

Thanks guys :rainbow: I'm glad you liked what I wrote :)
My first star atlas if you want to call it that was a very early edition of "The Stars" by H. A. Rey- yup, the same guy that wrote the Curious George books. This was the edition that had the sky broken down in quadrants for each map and the maps were drawn for 2hr intervals for every two week period in the year. The way he drew the constellations, they were so easily recognizable in the sky. I then got my Norton's Star Atlas (1964 edition) and I transferred many of the Messier objects from the Norton's into The Stars. I practically wore those books out and still have 'em. The bindings are now held together with tape. I'm saving them for my grandson named Orion. I can't wait to teach him the same way and give him my first telescope, a 60 mm Mayflower.

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#14 Masvingo

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 05:27 PM

My star atlas for my early days, mid seventies, was the photo charts in A Field Guide to the Star and Planets by Donald Menzel bought when we were on holiday in South Africa along with a small 4.5" reflector on a very basic and wobbly alt-az mount.

But even in the middle of Harare (then Salisbury), the capital city of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) the skies were reasonably dark and the temperatures mild although with sanctions equipment was pretty scarce. It's a different story now in Scotland and I still miss the Southern Cross, Omega Centauri and the Scorpion.

James

#15 terraclarke

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 05:31 PM

I had the same book as well James. Still have the very well worn copy. I loved the way it had the complete sky photographed in a long series of B&W photos. It also had a great photographic atlas of the moon (also B&W). I still love that old early sixties edition so much more than the new color one.

#16 Masvingo

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 05:45 PM

Agreed and yes, I've still got my copy as well Terra, a prized possession. I found the photo charts, with a negative next to them, very handy and I also used the charts (nomograms) provided for determining where the planets would be.

And now all this is so readily to hand from computer programs and the interweb! Sometimes I feel though, that when things are so easily available, you loose a sense of appreciation for them. But I guess also when you look back you often remember the good things more than the bad - rose tinted glasses!

#17 terraclarke

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 05:51 PM

"when you look back you often remember the good things more than the bad"- and that James is a blessing.
I remember such good times curled up pouring over those books, planning my observations.

#18 GeneT

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 06:35 PM

I began observing in 1958, in Ely Nevada. I owned a 4 inch, F10 Dynascope, with two Ramsden eyepieces. Clock drives were just coming into amateur equipment. I did not have one, but did have an equatorial mount. Photography was done afocal, primarily with black and white film. Many of us did not have the money to load up with a lot of expensive accessories. I worked all summer to raise the $79.95 for my telescope. I just went outside and viewed--in mag 6+ skies, in my back yard. :grin:

#19 gatorengineer

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 06:50 PM

Late 70's for me. Darker sky, the joy of finding stuff... A 60MM refractor, with a film camera and a bulb release.... 1980 brought me a 6"F8 Woo hoo....

Kids today arent interested in stars, unless they explode, on TV or have alien monsters. There are no big science projects, not even any meaningful little science projects. Except for things like Skycube....

#20 Cepheus Elf

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:22 PM

Back in the 70s in the UK, even a 60mm department store scope was very expensive and a 6" reflector was a dream scope for many amateur astronomers. The range of books and observing guides was very limited and basic. Newcomers to the hobby today definitely have an easier time with very good quality scopes available at relatively low cost as well as better books, software, apps etc...

Mick (observing since '74!)

#21 dickie

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:38 PM

Observed every night I could as a kid during the mid 60's with a Sears 60mm refractor,returned to astronomy after 40 year hiatus with a Megrez 110 and 12 inch dob.The most clear and distinct difference I immediately saw is the clouds passing by the moon, now have a constant brown hue to them,maybe living in New England down wind from midwest power plants has something to do with it.Light pollution from my once rural area is now off the charts too.

#22 tim53

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:43 PM

My star atlas for my early days, mid seventies, was the photo charts in A Field Guide to the Star and Planets by Donald Menzel bought when we were on holiday in South Africa along with a small 4.5" reflector on a very basic and wobbly alt-az mount.
James


That's the one! I got the author wrong in my post above. Sorry 'bout that.

-Tim.

#23 Datapanic

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:46 PM

I started in 72 or 73 on Guam with a 60mm refractor and the manual - that's all I had! My next door neighbor was also my teacher and she did a small section on Astronomy which got me started. Later, after moving back to the states, my high school had lots of books, a planetarium and an Astronomy club. That's when I go my Cave 8" Lightweight Deluxe, which I still own today. Back then, and even now, I used Atlas of the Heavens (1950 epoch) and a catalog I made from S&T's Deepsky Wonders column along with Setting Circles to find things. I've never been much of a hopper, besides, it was cool to dial stuff in and there it was in the eyepiece. I haven't changed much since then - still using scopes from the same era but do have an 80's dual axis variable frequency drive control I made for easier tracking. Atronomy-wise, I only use the computer for imaging and Cloudy Nights. Oh yeah, and to buy stuff :)

#24 tim53

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:49 PM

Before that, though, was this book, which I bought with my hard-earned allowance (I got $2, twice a month!) when I was 11:

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The ABCs of Astronomy by Roy A Gallant

I think the book cost me about 5 bucks, too, so more than a month's pay back then! :grin: It had decent star charts for binoculars, and blurbs about interesting astronomical factoids.

I still had my copy when we had a house fire in 2001, which destroyed our attic and most of the contents, including that book :( I keep looking for a replacement, because I spent many nights propped up in my bed looking out my south window with binoculars, consulting those charts.

-Tim.

#25 tim53

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:54 PM

This was a fun book, too. Bought it when I was 13 or 14.

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