Greetings fellow space fans! My name is Jim, I live in northern California about 50 kilometers north of San Francisco, and I am completely new and unschooled in the art and science of amateur astronomy. That’s why I’m so happy to have found this wonderful website with its incredibly knowledgeable and generous members, and why I’m so excited to join in on the learning, sharing, and comradery.
I wish I could say I began my amateur astronomy days at the tender age of five, under Bortle 1 skies, and at the elbow of Clyde Tombaugh, but nope. I started late this past November, just after Thanksgiving, when I came up with the brilliant idea of getting each of my two sons a telescope for Christmas. They’re both in graduate programs studying Astro Engineering, and so I thought, What better gift to complement their interest in space than a capable telescope. I knew absolutely nothing about telescopes.
I did know that my sons were very busy and in extremely challenging academic programs, that they lived in quite tight campus housing, had no time to learn the night sky, and as far as I knew had never given a moments thought to telescopes or astronomy. I wanted them to be pleased and impressed with their telescopes, which also couldn’t take up much room, and I thought it best to keep to a reasonable budget just in case they ended up having zero interest. I had learned some time ago that what I found interesting didn’t always excite my boys in the same way. One never knows with children, and so I was taking a bit of a gamble. I did my research - reflector, refractor, Newtonian, Maksutov-Cassegrain, Schmidt-Cassegrain, altazimuth, equatorial, go-to, push-to, achromatic, apochromatic, etc., etc. - until my head was ready to go supernova, and purchased two Celestron 6SEs. Looking back, I could have done worse.
While the boys were home for their Christmas break we enjoyed the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction together, which was a very fortuitous and completely unexpected surprise, and when it came time for them to return to school I generously offered to let them store their telescopes at home with their mother and I. No dice; bye bye Celestrons!
So there we were, my wife and I, newly hooked on the wonders of the celestial universe, and without a telescope to enjoy it. Our requirements were different from our son’s. We needed something small and portable we could take to locations away from the light pollution surrounding our own suburban neighborhood. Something very small. I drive a 1991 Miata; it’s a very small car. At this time I hadn’t yet discovered Cloudynights.com, but I had stumbled onto the most wonderful of all amateur astronomy podcasts, “The Actual Astronomy Podcast”. You knew there had to be a podcast somewhere in this narrative.
I cannot overstate how helpful, and entertaining, Chris and Shane’s podcast was for me. Never dumbing things down, or overcomplicating what needn't be complicated, they guided me through telescopes, eyepieces, mounts, tripods, filters, diagonals, Barlows, and much, much more. And because of them, and because of Chris in particular, we purchased our very first telescope, the mighty, incredible, unbelievable, incomparable, Orion ST80-A. Now all we needed was a decent mount and tripod.