I live in East Surrey near Gatwick, am a geologist by profession and have long held the ambition to take up astronomy but mainly didn’t have the time; there is much in common between the two sciences and I have always found the ‘big picture’ / dynamic stuff of most interest. Recently that’s changed and about three years ago I started to take a look at astronomy and equipment. I did a lot of reading around and attended an excellent day seminar held by the SPA, however, at the end of all this I was just confused! The problem is that to a Newbie the jargon does not help and the endless banter on equipment does not answer the essential question, what should I buy first? I realise there are many equally valid answers to this question but as a newcomer it’s difficult to know where you want to go at this stage: viewing vs imaging, planets vs DSO, eyepieces, diagonals, collimation etc etc.
A couple of years later I went to an open evening at Herstmonceaux and even had clear skies! So finally, after +60 years, I had my first ever view of Saturn through their 13” Astrograph Refractor built in 1890 – wow, I’m hooked! Unfortunately that was the easy part. Eventually, spurred on in the summer of 2013 by the prospect of more good views of my favourite planet Saturn, I just went to my local astronomy shop and ended up with a Skywatcher 150PL Newtonian Reflector and EQ3-2 mount. Despite all my previous research (I am prone to analyse such matters ad infinitum), I still didn’t really know what I wanted and whilst the shop offered lots of advice and jargon, I was none the wiser. That’s OK, by now I just wanted my view, through my telescope, of my favourite planet Saturn from my back garden, and I got it in spades over the following weeks; this is the real beauty of astronomy, subject to clear skies, just go out your back door and look at the universe!
Notwithstanding, one thing led to another! I soon realised the shortcomings of my set-up – no motor drive, limited field of view and clarity with low-end lenses, problems with stability, the need for filters and, despite my best efforts at Afocal photography, poor results; though I must say here that a long afocal exposure of the Orion Nebula proved something of a seminal moment, as the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor released colours in the nebula the eye cannot see. I then set out on the next stage of my astronomy journey to rectify these problems, with the aim of building up a reasonable but basic collection of equipment to try out techniques on a limited budget and just learn from my inevitable mistakes; everything is relative and by now I discovered that astronomy is not a cheap hobby, despite what some might say.
Nearly one year on I fitted a motor drive, bought a couple of better lenses with wider FOV and eye relief (I wear glasses), a Telrad red dot finder (apart from the motor drive probably the most useful addition – I could now find what I wanted to look at quickly!), filters – moon, light pollution and UHC, a webcam and finally a DSLR + lots and lots of bits and fittings. Despite being an experienced SLR and underwater photographer (my other hobby), astrophotography is a whole new and difficult technique; despite being technically literate, the software programmes needed seem endless and complex, to say nothing of the basic imaging problems that will doubtless take the rest of my life to conquer, if ever!
Where possible I have tried to learn, first hand, from others. I spent a day in 2013 at the excellent Norman Lockyer Observatory in East Devon attending their astro-imaging course and, courtesy of a birthday present from my children, became a member of a the Flamsteed astronomy club in London, of which I am still a member. Despite all this I have found it something of a battle, so spent a week’s holiday in the Canary Islands on an astronomy course in 2014 doing all sorts of stuff with some exceptional equipment, which was very motivating and exciting + some great images – mostly FITS format which I can’t work with yet at home & therefore am unable to post here, sorry.
More recently, having in part learnt from my mistakes, reading and the generosity of numerous persons on other online forums, I decided to splash the cash – also helped by my growing desire to pursue DSO astrophotography. I must say here that I am something of an experienced photographer (with film) and for over 25-years underwater as a scuba diver but astrophotography is, as they say, a whole new ball game. Difficult and expensive.
Notwithstanding, I now have an AZ-EQ6 mount, a William Optics GT81 APO refractor and a modded Canon 550D and unmodded 700D DSLR , together with various other pieces of equipment, and have successfully embarked on the next stage of my journey – slowly and with mixed and sometimes even good results! Astronomy and astroimaging have now become an important part of my life.
As it says at the top, this blog is a personal record of events, thoughts, success and failures related to my astronomy journey.
Watch this space!
26th January 2015