I got into the hobby in 1964 before I turned fifteen. These are my recollections and experiences. Skies were much darker. Science was encouraged and highly respected, after all it had helped to WWII with radar and the atom bomb, we were living in the “Atomic Age” and the “Space Race” was on. Still, girls and women had a battle to be taken seriously in science, in science classes in school and college, and in science hobbies, (especially physical sciences); engineering even more so.
As for observing, back then we learned the basic elements of ‘celestial navigation’ and how to use setting circles. We even used special slide rules and Julian day calendars to determine siderial time, and also how to determine it directly from right ascension with setting circles. We used paper atlases (Norton’s) and planospheres and made our own red flashlights. Binoculars were an essential tool as well. We learned and knew the sky (The Stars, by Rey, the Golden Sky Observer’s Handbook, and Menzel’s Peterson Guide), and how to star hop to our target. There was a certain pride in finding things. I don’t remember ‘Messier marathons’ but we loved being able to find whatever Messier objects that were visible on a given night. NGC objects were serious business! We all loved to observe satellites as well. I wasn’t in a Moonwatch program and never observed one in action but I knew of them. Still, when one was going over it was published in the newspaper and everyone would go out and see it. Telstar was even the name of a popular song on the radio. Another cool thing was watching the eerie noctulescent clouds that would form after twilight after a missle launch at Vandenburg AFB. And of course, we were living on the brink, it was in the back of everyone’s mind. And the air-raid drills and Conalrad buzz on the radio and TV kept people on edge. Surrounded by three AFBs, a fighter base, a stragigic bomber base, and an air-refuling and tactical air command base, we knew if anything happened we would be incinerated immediately.
For ‘imaging’ back then, ‘real’ astrophotography (that’s what it was called) was all black and white, with film and printed on paper. It was cool, (sometimes literally, required long exposure and hand guiding, and was only for the dedicated, super-serious amateur for the most part and required a darkroom. The rest of us dabbled with afocal (through the eyepiece) photography of bright objects like the moon, and making static star trails with a camera aimed at the sky and the shutter left open. Our pictures were developed at the drugstore with explicit and copious instructions to not discard them because it all looked black! Tri-X rocked! And pictures, even those by serious amateurs, were not as good as eyepiece views; they were grainy, bloated, and blurry- but they were still loaded with ju-ju magic- Wow! We could actually take a picture of this! Loved George Keene’s Stargazing with Telescope and Camera back then- it was an inspiration.
Clubs were big, common, much younger, much more male, and everyone read and discussed Sky and Telescope. It was THE astronomy magazine and the main source of current info. It was generally included in your club membership and was at a far higher, more technical level than today, more like a scientific journal. It was also all black and white except for the color border around the black and white photo on the cover. I miss the old magazine’s format deeply. Also Scientific American was a ‘required subscription’ for the scientifically minded back then. I miss it too! No where near the same! No amateur Scientist or Mathematical Games sections and dumbed down color articles now, Lastly Popular Science and Edmund Catalogs were important reading materials.
WWII wasn’t that long ago and most all the adult amateurs in our had been in the war or worked in the war effort through some technical capacity. There was lots of WWII surplus material available that could be adopted for use in amateur astronomy. All the boys and men seemed adept in anything mechanical or electrical and there were workshops or workbenches in most every garage. It was not hard to find some generous person to help me with a project. So lots of amateurs made or adapted their own equipment. ATM was big, you saw lots of it at star parties and club meetings. (Thompson’s book was on the home bookshelf and Ingall’s three volume set was in the school library.) Most folks had one or two telescopes, occassionally three; more than that was rare. There were no SCTs but there was this rare and wonderful little gem that occassionally showed up, it was the Questar. Talk about rare. My observing friend’s grandfather had one. Short refractors were all achromats, were refered to as richest field telescopes, and were almost always homemade or adapted from some WWII optic. Otherwise refractors were loooong! No apos, no dobs. Most everything was on a German equatorial mount. Most long refractors were Japanese imports, and most reflectors were either ATM or made by an American manufacturer. A really big telescope was a 4” refractor or a 10” Newt. And names commonly encountered were Edmund, Jaegers, Unitron, Sears, Mayflower, Cave and Criterion. Eyepieces were simple in design. They were generally 1.25” or 0.965” and if you were rich, you had an ‘ortho’ or two. A large eyepiece collecrion was half-dozen to a dozen. The only BIG eyepieces were WWII Erfles, usually necked down to 1.25” with a custom (homemade) lathe-turned aluminum or brass adapter. Finally, people were helpful and there was friendly rivalry but not snobbery.
All in all, it was a wonderful time. To me that’s Astronomy!
Edited by terraclarke, 21 October 2018 - 11:42 AM.