A little background on starting an astronomy & astrophotography blog

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Just so to be cheesy, I’m leaving up the original picture that Google thought was a good idea to accompany a brand new blog post.

But really, I thought I’d use this opportunity to at least put my first thoughts about this blog down. I want to use it as a place to keep all of my ideas and experiences in one place to access easily. I want to put tips and best practices together so they’re easily accessible. I want to have telescope basics, equations, and observing session checklists in one spot to be able to reference easily, and I hope that it greatly improves the speed at which I and others can learn and improve our skills!

So I’ve been interested in astronomy for a few years now. My dad and brother got big into observing a few years ago when my dad bought a 10″ Dobsonian reflector telescope. The “Light Bucket” as he affectionately calls it. My parents live a little less than 5 miles away from the center of town and a few miles away from the edge of the heavy light pollution making it a relatively dark place, and therefore good for observing on most nights (as long as the moon is not ruining things). We also all live in central Wyoming, so we’re at high elevation, it’s dry, no smog, and 220 days of sunshine per year which translates to pretty clear night skies most of the time. It’s quite windy however, which significantly cuts down on the number of nights I can get steady pics without streaking stars.

Anyway I was quick to join in and started searching for a way to get a telescope. My in laws said they had a telescope that they’d bought at a garage sale many years before. They gave it to me and I immediately tried to mess with it. Unfortunately for the life of me I could not figure out how to get the silly thing to work! It was so frustrating. I finally found out that it was missing a few relatively important pieces, such as the actual eyepiece element! I decided that instead of buying a new eyepiece to mess with this old refractor (definitely not super high quality, like one you’d get as a Christmas gift from Walmart), I’d go ahead and buy a new scope.

Now I was very wary of spending money on this hobby, and still am as you’ll see in this blog, because I’ve been warned about it and read it a thousand times (not to mention all the times I’ve already been tempted). So I waited for months doing research and looking at prices. Finally, I read that the Celestron Astromaster 130EQ was the 2013 (i think?) telescope of the year and was on sale for 60% off right after Christmas. I knew enough about focal length, aperture, eyepieces, all kinds of things by that point that I was comfortable with what a scope like this would do and it was priced at $200 ish at the time, so it seemed like a pretty safe way to get into the hobby. Having the wonderful wife that I do, I got a late Christmas and early birthday present.

I enjoyed using the Astromaster for 2 1/2 years before I tried to take pictures through it. I love pictures and their ability to get so much more color out of the heavens than our poor little rods and cones can ever hope to gather. I got some funny but somewhat exciting pictures of the Andromeda Galaxy and Dumbbell Nebula through that little telescope. I have so far exclusively used my iPhone for astrophotography with the Night Cap Pro app. The results from using this amazing little app are phenomenal.

Well suffice it to say those pictures got me hooked and wanting more as is always the case in astrophotography. We go into it knowing that there is nothing we can do to get pictures even close to what you can find online and in magazines, but then once you start you just know you can do better. I’ve heard it said, from my dad, that the best advice for anyone who enjoys observing and who is thinking about getting into astrophotography is…just don’t. It’s a quick way to go broke and ruin your hobby!

Well I didn’t heed that warning very well, so, again, I started doing research and getting into the details and best practices of astrophotography. I decided the cheapest way for me to start was to stick with my iPhone but upgrade the telescope to one with a much larger aperture to gather more light and uses a mount that will auto track the objects to be photographed. The most popular and reappearing result was the Celestron Nexstar 8SE. It has been around a long time, is very well tested, and has tons of information on it and how to use it in both in forums and books. So again I started watching prices for a few months. We came upon Black Friday and by this time my wife was aware that I was probably going to buy this scope at some point, so she decided to see if we could get it as a Christmas present and have some family pitch in etc. Her parents decided to pitch in for the majority of the cost, again for a Christmas present and early birthday present, if we could get a good deal. So Black Friday came and went and Cyber Monday arrived. I found the 8SE on sale for $890.00 and ordered it. Of course it arrived and I had to wait weeks to even open it….just sitting there in the house teasing me.

Finally the time had come for me to use this fantastic telescope and really see what it could do. Of course the ol’ curse of the new telescope was sure to plague me and it did. The plage didn’t last as long for me as it seems to for others because I live in such a dry climate. The clouds cleared in a few days and I was out to use my scope for the first time. The moon was full of course, so I had low expectations. I was, however, blown away! I Could see all kinds of fantastic detail in things I didn’t even think you were supposed to be able to see with a full moon trying to rain on your parade.

Well from there I’ve embarked on an adventure full of learning, discovering, getting frustrated, and having a total blast! I decided to start this blog to keep track of what I’ve learned and pass on little tips I pick up here and there for anyone interested. I’ve had a hard time finding sites with all the information I’m looking for so I’m going to try and parse through the information I’ve found and put the basics in one place. I’m not going to have a bunch of background information or explain the tips/practices in detail, and I’m not going to over explain or over engineer anything. I want to keep things simple and easy to read (unlike this first post…sorry). I hope that it will enhance my pace of learning, help quickly improve my skill in observing and photographing celestial objects, and of course I hope it helps a lot of other people that are interested in this little hobby as well!

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