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A Tale of Two Astronomers

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A Tale of Two Astronomers

Once upon a time there lived two amateur astronomers, Alfred and Steve. Alfred and Steve both entered the astronomy hobby 1 year ago. Both purchased their first telescope from the same hobby store in their area. In fact, they purchased the same first telescope, a 90mm f/10 achromat on a sturdy EQ mount with an RA motor drive.

From here our budding astronomers diverge on separate courses through the hobby.

Alfred's Tale

Alfred grabs his observing book and owner's manual and is out observing the first night. He uses the books to teach himself the names of constellations and bright stars. The night sky transforms from a chaos of bright lights to an ordered system of constellations and asterisms. Soon he is able to navigate the skies like he navigates the streets of his town.

Alfred finds the telescope awkward to use at first. There are so many steps to remember; find object in finder, find it in the eyepiece, tighten the RA access, engage the drive and focus the eyepiece. However, as with any skill, practice makes perfect. Soon the individual steps blur into unconscious movements of his hands.

Alfred graduates to using a star atlas with an accompanying guide. He's now taken to recording his evening observations in a simple log. Double stars are a particular delight. Alfred eagerly scans each constellation on his atlas for double star listings.

Time passes and the telescope becomes like a trusted friend. Alfred knows the magnifications of his 2 eyepieces and barlow by heart. He's able to quickly find any object plotted in his Atlas as long as it's within the light grasp of his telescope. His familiarity with the telescope is now to the point where he doesn't need a light to find the RA and DEC axis locks, motor drive engagement clutch or centering the finder. The telescope has now become an extension of Alfred's desire and skill to observe.

After 1 year Alfred is convinced of two things. First, astronomy is an amazing hobby invoking feelings of awe about the universe. Second, his telescope is the best telescope in the world. Looking back on 12 months of observing with it, the telescope has never let him down.

Steve's Tale

Steve's been involved in a number of hobbies over the years. Like Alfred, he makes an impulse buy. However, unlike Alfred, Steve's smart. He knows it's important to read up on his purchase and the hobby in general. Steve logs online and finds a telescope review site and reads the two reviews on his telescope. With a sinking feeling Steve learns his scope will show secondary color, have an upper magnification ceiling of 140x and is awkward to use due to it's long focal length.

Steve spends the first month learning both the constellations and looking for the issues with his scope that the reviews informed him about. With dismay Steve views the secondary color on brighter objects. To determine the extent of the secondary color, Steve views stars of dimmer magnitudes. From this he determines where the threshold is for the secondary color. He also tests the upper magnification of the scope and finds it falls apart at around 130x!

After the first month Steve admits he was a "sucker" on his first telescope purchase. He now reads the telescope review site with a vengeance. He reads and digests review after review. Steve learns optical terms, company names and simple methods for testing the optics of a telescope.

Another month passes. Steve orders his second telescope, a 4" apochromatic refractor on an alt-az mount. Ahhh - this will be the perfect telescope.

The new Apo arrives. A proud Steve is out observing with it the first evening. He hasn't learned the constellations or bright stars yet as he was field testing the sucker telescope for his first month in the hobby. No matter, he will learn them now.

He will as soon as he completes star testing his new APO. Steve's "smart" and doesn't just drop $3000 on a new telescope without testing the optics. His first night out and Steve realizes that to star test his new APO he will needed a driven mount so he can compare the star images with those in his new star testing book.

Back online and a week of reading mount reviews. Steve learns all about drive error, PEC, dual axis drives and other telescope mount terms. An order is placed and several days later his new mount arrives. Out comes his APO for it's second night in the backyard (Steve's been busy reading mount reviews) and Steve realizes he will need quality eyepieces for the high magnifications needed for star testing.

Back online and 2 weeks of reading eyepiece reviews ......

Time passes and Steve's read reviews stating 4" of telescope aperture is too small for "serious" observing. This kicks off not only another round of reading reviews, but now he's intensely engaged in posting on the astronomy forums. Boy, he won't make the mistake of buying a telescope that's too small. Steve's smart.

Over the next year Steve buys, tests and sells an 8" sct, 10" dob, 18" dob, 12" GOTO SCT and a 6" APO. Given that the price commitment for each scope is increasing, Steve reads and researches his potential purchases with greater and greater thoroughness. Test sessions with each telescope take on the atmosphere of a tax audit. With so much money riding on each purchase, Steve must be certain the telescope is without flaws.

After 1 year, Steve is convinced of two things. First, astronomy is an expensive hobby. Second, unless you are "smart", you will be suckered into owning and using some 90mm beginner's scope.

  • Charles Laird and Spacely Sprockets like this


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