My interest in space began on February 20, 1962 when I saw John Glenn's Mercury mission on TV as a first grader. At the age of 14, I focused in on astronomy (pun intended), and I have grown in many ways: simply looking up at the sky, reading books, talking to like-minded hobbyists, fulfilling my undergraduate science requirement with astronomy courses, joining an astronomy club, and observing and photographing with telescopic aid. As I approach retirement (recess?), I continue to explore new ways to engage in astronomy.
The most important tool that I use for observation is my very own eyes. I have learned much by simply looking up at the sky day or night, making many observations, and making mental notes of my observations. In addition to the constellations and meteor showers, one can begin to discern hourly, daily, monthly, seasonal, and annual patterns with fairly casual observation. More careful visual observations reveal much about the way the planets move, and there is enough visual information available to demonstrate that the Earth orbits the Sun, and not the other way around.
A telescope is the second most important tool for observation. My first telescope was a table top 15x to 60x spotting scope that I purchased on a layaway plan at Kmart when I was 14. I almost lost my mind when I saw Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons for the first time, and I was hooked for life! This telescope was in use until I left home for Marine Corps boot camp in 1974. Upon my return, I discovered the objective lens was missing, so I was without a telescope for a few years. I bought a 60mm f/13 Jason on an alt/az mount that I used from about 1976 until 2012, and I still own it. In addition to bright objects like the major planets and the moon, which never failed to wow my guests, I was able to see the Orion Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy. I was unimpressed the views of the dimmer objects through this meager telescope, and I never did see any of the other deep space objects. Most prized among my present telescopes is a TeleVue NP101is (101mm, f/5.4) on a Losmandy German equatorial mount. Looking into the future, I am pretty sure that I will need at least one more telescope, which will likely be a Meade 12" LX200. This telescope is too heavy for the GM-8 mount, so I'll need a Losmandy Titan or G-11 to go with that. Maybe someday I'll be one of those guys who owns ten (or more?) telescopes...that the wife knows about.
Visual observation is by far the most rewarding use of a telescope for me. A fellow Howard Astronomical League (HAL) club member, Bob Prokop, is the most capable and avid visual astronomer that I know, and he inspires me to learn more. I do not know anyone who can sit down at a telescope and locate more planets, asteroids, red dwarfs, and deep sky objects over the course of an evening without a star chart, any time of the year. While striving to become a practiced visual observer, I am also exploring astrophotography. The wide array of technical challenges that must be overcome to capture a respectable image draws me to this endeavor, and I have much to learn.
As "recess" approaches, getting children interested in astronomy calls me increasingly more loudly. I do not know how this calling will ultimately express itself, but presently I support every HAL public outreach event that I can. I have a few ideas about where the future might take me, but as I have just begun to dream in this direction there is no telling what I might do next!