BACKYARD ASTRONOMY

 

yours truly posing with a Meade 8" SCT

A BACKGROUND

I became fascinated with astronomy since I was 5 years old, after my father took me to Jakarta Planetarium and showed me a meteorite that was displayed there. According to my parents, for a whole week after the visit  I couldn't stop wondering how was it possible for a rock to fall out of the sky. I asked everyone I met about this, but no one could answer my question.
Ever since, whenever some one asked me what I want to be when I grow up, my answer was "I want to become a professor of astronomy" I didn't know that it's called "astronomer". Inspite of that, I end up being a lawyer :-)

Years later (about 7 years ago) a friend of mine, Donald Rosenfield, told me this:
"To become an astronomer, first you get a Bachelor's degree in mathematics and then a Master's degree in mathematics. Then you get your Ph.D. in astronomy or astro-physics. Then you work in an observatory on the kinds of problems chosen by the observatory director. An alternative is to be a Professor at a university, where you teach those subjects that you can get your department chairman to agree to let you teach. As an amateur astronomer you choose what parts of astronomy that you wish to concentrate upon without somebody telling you what to do. I was lucky in that as Director of the Planetarium I got to choose my subjects there and in the classes I taught."

My favorite part of his message is "As an amateur astronomer you choose what parts of astronomy that you wish to concentrate upon without somebody telling you what to do." I love it :-)

When I was in sixth-grade I bought a pair of Zenith brand binoculars using the money I had saved. I hid the binoculars for two weeks, because I was afraid that my parents would get mad if they found out I spent my money on "things like that".
When they finally found out they didn't get mad at all, they just shook their heads :-)
So, I spent as much time as I could under the starry sky armed with those binoculars, without really knowing what I was looking at, or what I was doing.
I used to climb the kitchen roof and looked into a dark, light pollution free sky. I would wonder if there's another kid like me, up there on another planet in another star system watching the stars just like what I was doing, you know a kid's imagination.
For a long time, I just enjoyed the night sky without really knowing what I was doing.
My family wasn't rich, so after my first visit I never visited the planetarium again until years later. The planetarium was 15 km away from our house, but to get there I would have to take a bus (had no car nor a driver to drive me there) and I couldn't go there alone for my parents wouldn't allow me to.
Come to think of it, it's a kinda funny ,isn't it? I thought the planetarium was so far away. It's 15 km away, took me an hour to get there. I didn't know that the stars are farther away. I didn't know that the light from the stars and other sky objects took years, thousands of years and millions of years to get here.

Astronomy literatures were not available back then, maybe they were available in a library somewhere, but I didn't know. Even today if you go to any bookstore here and look  for astronomy books, chances are you won't find any.
Aside from the Time-Life book that my father bought, titled "The Universe," I had no other resource of knowledge for astronomy. By the way, my father is a great guy, the best  father in the world. Instead of taking us his children to a cinema or amusement park, he bought us books, which were more expensive than tickets to an amusement park. He subscribed to Time-Life book series, which was really expensive then. The subscription for the series was one fifth of his salary. I was really lucky that our library was filled with books of this kind.

As I mentioned  earlier, I did my observations without having any objective. It wasn't until 1986 when comet Halley returned, that I had my first observation with a specific goal, i.e. to see the comet.
I spent many nights patrolling the sky searching for it. I had no guidance on where to look. The only guidance I had was an article from  a local newspaper, which said (if memory serves me) to look for the comet somewhere in Centaurus.
I had no idea where the constellation is, until one night one of my neighbors came up with a planisphere (boy, was I surprised to know that there's such a thing called a "planisphere"). We searched for the comet together, using Alpha and Beta Centaurii as the reference stars. That's why I remember Centaurus. Unfortunately we couldn't find it.
It took me a few more nights before I finally saw comet Halley. When I saw it , I was somehow disappointed because it wasn't as spectacular as I had expected. It looked like a fuzzy ball, not spectacular at all, there's no tail and it wasn't even bright, but at least I saw it.

In 1992 I first heard of Amateur Astronomy and the people known as backyard astronomers.
My cousin Emiko, who lived in the US, and knew about my enthusiasm in astronomy sent me a book by Terence Dickinson, the "NightWatch". Prior to that I had always thought that astronomy was only for professionals working in observatories. I had no idea that astronomy is a hobby for some people, and that it can be enjoyed and done from your backyard.
I read the book over and over again. Using a pair of binoculars I borrowed from a friend (mine could no longer be used,) and the star map in the book, I began to  learn my way around the heavens.
The book opened my eyes and opened a window into the universe.

Nevertheless, my backyard astronomy activity  was limited to identifying constellations, watching meteor showers, and observing the sky with the binoculars.
It never crossed my mind to own a telescope.

Then one day while at a bookstore I saw a magazine named  "Astronomy Magazine". I bought it right away. It was a February 1993 issue and I bought it in December. I was amazed when I saw the telescope ads. I'd never known that a telescope can be bought by anyone. So I set a new goal, buy a telescope.
A year after that I finally bought myself a telesscope, an 8" Meade SCT..
I waited a month for the telescope. When the scope finally arrived, I had to wait for a couple more months before I could use it. The scope arrived in the middle of the rainy season.
With this scope, I observe the night sky whenever I have time. I have been able to teach myself my way around the sky, though I can not do it as often as I want to.

I used to be a proud owner of Meade 8" SCT (the picture up there), the scope had long been sold to a school, but now I'm a prouder owner of a TV 85, and three mirrors (5.6" f/4.9, 13" f/5 and unfinished 8" mirror) that I ground, polished and figured myself.
The telescopes are not finished yet, I don't know when I will finish them :-)  One thing that stopped me from finishing the telescopes is the cost of coating the mirrors. It's damn expensive. 

If you want to make your own telescope or just want to know what telescope making is, you can go directly to Telescope Making


That's a little, well actually long  story about myself :-)

WHAT THIS PAGE IS ABOUT

The purpose of this page is only to introduce amateur astronomy and amateur telescope making to anyone who happens to visit my page, and  has never heard of amateur astronomy before.
For those of you who are already amateur astronomers I hope this page can be useful for you as well.

In the following pages you can read about observing the night sky. I wrote it in accordance with my experience so it doesn't necessarily mean the best way to observe, but this is the way that works for me.
There are many other more experienced amateur astronomers out there. Go to their pages to learn more about Amateur Astronomy and buy yourself some astronomy books.

If you have any ideas, tips or comments on what I have described here or have better ways to do your observations (I'm sure you do, because there ought to be a better way to do it), please let me know.

 

How To Start

Home

Links to other sites on the Web

Astronomy Magazine
Sky & Telescope
The Astronomical League
Messier data base
Herschel 400
International Dark Sky Organization

2005 [email protected]

 

 

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