This summer was fantastic - warm and clear many cloudless nights, we spend it in Berlin and rural Russia, a month in each place. I got my first telescope with a shaky alt/az mount and exploited every possibility to use it. Vixen SkyScope 80S - we had so much fun!
Upon return to Oslo, Norway, I continued to read CN, study Astro history, look for bargains and buying a few more scopes, eyepieces, books and charts. But I rarely looked up...
Either it was clouded, raining, too cold or some other excuse. Jupiter was never the same as it was in the backcountry in Russia, even in Berlin it looked great.
So I spend the nights with preparations and experiments for a DIY 85mm f/12 refractor. Luckily, I have a great workshop and studio. (The missing piece is a lathe, preferably for metal, but that is a huge investment in money and time.)
Every step of researching, studying, making and finally understanding and mastering a specific task or concept in astronomy is fulfilling in a very deep sense. The feeling of something magic and meaningful happening - when a double star resolves, or some object coming in focus in your handmade eyepiece prototype - is the feeling of wonder, awe, and joy, that we, hopefully, experienced daily during childhood, and astronomy is one of those things that gives me this feeling.
I want to understand and be able to visualize the direction in which we fly through the universe, I want to be able to pinpoint my position in our galaxy, I want to learn to navigate with the help of stars. I want to challenge myself with logical, mathematical, abstract and construction tasks to keep the brain sharp, I want to make things with my hands, as I do in my profession as a visual artist, and amazingly – astronomy covers all those wants.
Now, two months have gone by, since we returned from our trips. And I never looked up...
My studio and workshop are where I spend most of my time. There is a balcony here as well, but also many very very bright outdoor lamps that do not have an on/off switch. So I wait for the observing weekend trip with the local astronomy club by the end of the month. I wait for the trip to my friend's cabin, I wait till next summer when we go back to the small village in Russia. Aah! That is when I am going to enjoy clear dark skies, and see all the galaxies, nebulas, clusters and double stars that I want! But right now, I mean, the lamps, the pollution - why bother? Then, the cheap 70/900 Skywatcher refractor, made in China? No, I will wait till I have finished my 85mm refractor, the lenses are bought from IR Poyser, great quality.
Yesterday I bought a Unitron 60/900 - a beautiful sleek design, 800 NOK, without a tripod. Yesterday I realized - I can't wait for it.
A few days before this, I watched informative and funny ( in a weird kind of way=) videos by David Fuller, "Eyes on the Sky", on how to align and operate an equatorial mount. What a revelation! The EQ1, that followed the Skywatcher refractor, is a shaky piece of metal, but still, it works, and it made so much sense! Now, I am one step closer to understanding my position and movement in the Solar system. Yesterday, I set up the tripod, covered some of the lamps with red transparent foil and black plastic bags on others and started the alignment process. While covering the lamps with the foil, the perfectionist in me wanted to rush to the workshop and produce wooden frame lamp covers, that could be easily taken on and off. A re-attachable panel to shield light from the neighboring building. No, wait, if I used two ladders, I could get to the flat part of the roof, and set up a rig there! Hm, that requires two ladders, a sort of elevator for the equipment, permission from the landlord to use the roof, and on and on... Optics should rather be tested before use, I need to read up on filters and order some reducing LP, and wait for them to arrive. Then there is the trees, a mountain and tall residential buildings that block my view – only about 20 by 20 degrees (if that is a correct way to describe this) straight up to the zenith is visible. Why bother?
The perfectionist ends up building and launching a Hubble telescope, but in his/her head only.
So, with the dimmed lights and newly acquired knowledge about eq mounts, I could barely glimpse the Polar star above the roof edge, which was enough to align the scope, I sat down on the little tripod chair and looked through the 25 mm eyepiece. I knew that the Swan is flying along the Milky Way, and remember that there are many interesting marks on the chart of this area, but I had no charts with me. I got swept away by what I saw. With the unaided eye, the Swan was there, but not much else. But through the telescope – endless stars!! I just cruised along, while getting used to movements of the eq, and that feeling I mentioned earlier, arose. I could see!
The thought hit me: it is wrong to say that light pollution, equipment of lesser quality and other demoralizing aspects of night sky observation are limitations. The small cone of open sky that I have access to on my balcony is actually endless and limitless in the only direction that matters – up! It could take years, decades, maybe lifetimes of observing, sketching, imaging, tracking, improving, learning, making and getting hit by wonder, just by looking at that small part of the sky, before it depleted its exploration potential, if ever.
Just how ignorant and self-important I have been, to think that I "need" a bigger sky, that I "need" better equipment, that I "must have" city-wide black-out, just so I could feed the perfectionist in me. Perfectionism is endless, it can never be satisfied. But the only thing that is completely perfect and endless is the Universe itself.
The gift I was given that evening at the human end of the telescope was a double star. Do not know which one, but hopefully, with these thoughts in mind, we will meet again.