I was raised in north Alabama on the edge of a small town with a population under ten thousand. My whole county only had about twenty. My back yard was an amazing place to look at the stars. I can’t remember who gave me my first star chart but, I spent hours learning the constellations and a few stars. At around twelve years of age, I bought my first telescope with my yard mowing money. I ordered it from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog and let’s just say they make much better tools than telescopes. It was a four-inch Newtonian with a cardboard tube, plastic eyepieces and a real glass mirror. The tripod was made of aluminum “C” channels with a plastic mount. There were tick marks on the plastic which gave my fingers good traction to turn the scope. They did not measure anything of which I was ever aware. The tripod was so good, in fact, that a two by four cemented in the ground was a marked improvement.
Most people who catch the astronomy bug usually trace their affliction to their first view of Saturn in an eyepiece.
Mine was the Galilean moons. They were delivered to my young eye quite nicely with a twenty-dollar Sears and Roebuck telescope.
Jupiter’s four largest moons Io, Callisto, Europa and Ganymede happened to all be visible that night. The seed was planted. Prone to youthful delusions, I had an unescapable feeling I was the only one in the world watching the moondance around Jupiter on those nights.
A hormonal young man forgets many things and most nights I forgot to bring in the telescope. The cardboard tube soon succumbed to condensing dew. The two by four was replaced with a basketball goal but, the joy of seeing things I had captured in a telescope never left me.
A few years back, I a sort of mid-life crisis, I purchased my first real 14-inch Schmitt Cassegrain telescope. Being a newbie to the amateur astronomy hobby, I did not realize how useless even a great telescope might be in an urban setting.
I am a formerly trained civil engineer so, I am no stranger to science. I however, have no formal astrophysics training. I do suffer from the most dangerous five word question in the human language, ” how hard could it be?”
As I contemplate retirement, I have embarked on building a real observatory in a dark site in southern Colbert County, Alabama. Come along for the ride!