Today marks the end of the International Year of Astronomy a ‘global effort initiated to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day – and night-time sky’. It is coincidental that I purchased my first telescope at celestron.com on December 27th, 2008 without knowing anything about the IYA project or the 400 year anniversary of Galileo’s discovery. Looking back at that time compared to now, I feel I was naive, ignorant and lost in regard to my place in the Universe and while I am still naive, ignorant and lost in the face of the Universe I am light years away from where I was then.
At this time last year I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first telescope. I didn’t know anything. I had never seen the craters of the moon up close, was never amazed by the rings of Saturn, and had never gazed upon Orion’s nebula. I knew what tracking was, but I didn’t understand how it worked, the concept of polar alignment was completely foreign and I thought GOTO would do exactly that all the time with no effort. I had never owned a DSLR camera and did not know what an auto-guider was. I knew I could hook up my telescope and camera to my computer but I didn’t know why I would want to. At that time I could only identify one or two constellations and that’s about it. Until July 6th, 2009 I had never even thought about meteor observing and I didn’t even understand the difference between meteors and meteorites. Sometimes people ask me why I got into astronomy. There are a lot of reasons, but the catalyst for buying my first telescope and wanting to start astrophotography was an emoticon in the sky created by Jupiter, Venus and the crescent moon — a sad face on December 1st, 2008.
I remember setting up the telescope in the solarium and gazing out the window at Orion’s nebula for the first time. I was totally amazed by the way it looked and so proud of myself that I had located it manually with no tracking or GOTO navigation. I started taking pictures about a month later and things got a lot more complicated, difficult and rewarding. When you are visually observing and not photographing you really can’t see very much when it comes to deep space objects like galaxies and faint nebula. The human eye can only process light for a millisecond while the camera gathers light for minutes or hours. As a result you can see a lot more stuff in an astrophoto than you can in the eye piece of a telescope. I was so excited by the first pictures of galaxies I was able to take. To image light millions of years old from objects that are light years wide and millions of light years away is simply mind blowing.
By March I had the rest of my year planned out. I was going to build an observatory and focus the rest of the years efforts on imaging galaxies and nebula. That was the plan until July when I accidentally took a picture of a bolide meteor while imaging the Andromeda Galaxy. That meteor changed a lot for me and set me on a new course. Instead of looking up at the sky for enormous objects light years away I was going to start looking down for tiny little objects 50 miles from my house. I spent the rest of the year tracking the meteor and searching for its remains. I really felt that the Universe was telling me to look for these meteorites for a reason and I thought that reason was to find some space rocks. At the end of the year looking back and having found no meteorites I am still very happy I had the experience. I have learned and grown in ways I would have never expected and I have a new respect for the Universe and my place in it. Who would have thought a sad face in the sky would have brought so much happiness and a year of astronomy like this.