Astronomy BiographyVital Stats:
- Born: 1958, Milwaukee, WI, USA
- Education: BBA, Management Information Systems, University of Wisconsin-- Milwaukee
- Profession: Assembly Language Programmer and Systems Analyst, Business Owner - Retired.
- Formal Astronomy Training: None
- Currently: Observatory Director Emeritus & Webmaster, Milwaukee Astronomical Society
My Astronomy Story:
The pictures at the left and right are from the out of print book The Golden Book of Science. The picture of the big dipper spawned may nights of fruitless search for this object because I was looking for a much smaller star field. But the searches were fun and I definitely remember finding Orion during the winter months.
In the following years I actually tried to make my own telescope out of a magnifying glass and a microscope eyepiece without any real result. I received what I thought was a real telescope around 1968, but it was a draw tube design with no mount and magnified 40X. It was difficult to focus and at 40X, nearly impossible to hand hold. Because of those difficulties, I don't think I even tried using it at night. But during this time I read a very interesting book called Exploring the Planets and it had a wonderful rendering of Venus in the dusk/dawn sky, showing how bright it was. And I was lucky because at that time Venus was an evening star and there it was, just as conspicuous as promised! How could I have missed that before?
I eventually received my first genuine astronomical telescope in 1970 as a Christmas present -- an Edmund 3 inch reflector. Though this could hardly be described as a good telescope, as a beginner scope it was more than adequate but here was the great part: the information that Edmund supplied with the scope was outstanding. This was important because like many other amateurs, I had no one to help me. Everything I learned was either from a book or by experience. I cannot even begin to describe the euphoria of actually finding Saturn for the first time and I had done it all myself. In the coming months I would eventually find Jupiter and Mars.
From money earned from shoveling snow that winter, I bought a Nova Home Planetarium. Though it was fun to use, one big disappointment was that it was missing so many stars as I naturally compared it against what I could see in my suburban sky. I would add many more stars by carefully punching a very fine pin through the dome. The result was very satisfying. The unit itself came with a couple of neat accessories. First, an arrow pointer so you could literally point to the "stars" on the ceiling. Second, it came with a secondary projector with slides of various constellations that were perfectly spaced so that you could show the image of the figure right on the "sky" presumably just like a real planetarium show. Finally, there was a small 16mm slide projector and they included 2 strips, one of astronomical objects and the other a fictional account of a moon landing. What was a "real" planetarium show? All I knew of that was a small article in an encyclopedia and especially what I saw in the James Dean movie, Rebel Without A Cause.
More about planetariums in Uncle Rod's Blog: Stars On Ceiling
Two really excellent books. The Sky Observer's Guide and The Stars, a book still readily available today which greatly aides new observers how to find and identify constellations.
But though I badmouth the information that came with this scope, the guide that came with it, A Key To The Worlds Beyond, did have a sample observers notebook page. I quickly adopted its format and from then on every observation I made would be recorded.
After nearly two years and exhausting the list of possible objects, I fancied myself a pretty good observer. I then ran across a book that had reprints of old Sky &Telescope articles. The piece was "Visual Observing Programs For Amateurs" by David Rosebrugh and it was my introduction to variable stars and the AAVSO. The attraction was immediate. 1) It provided a way to do useful (scientific) observing, and 2) it looked easy! In 1973 I received introductory material from the AAVSO and with the chart of T Cephei (finder and 'B' chart) shown in the article, I went for my first variable star. After trying to find this very bright variable for many hours over several nights, I gave up. The fields I saw in the telescope simply didn't match the chart. I made a drawing of what I thought might be the field and filed it away.
Later, with my life savings of $300 dollars, I mail ordered a 10 inch (25cm) scope from Essential Optics. It was a deal that seemed too good to be true and almost was. Two years later (and a year after I thought my money was gone) the scope arrived, and it turned out to be a wonderful instrument. It seemed like this scope could find and see everything I went after, especially the faint NGC objects. Not only was this telescope relatively big, but it came with an 8X50 finder scope. The finding technique that worked for me time and again was to use the Skalnate Pleso Atlas (limiting magnitude 7.5 - the Sky Atlas 2000.0 is the modern day equivalent), which had all the NGC objects already plotted, and had a striking similarity to the view in the finder scope. Fortunately, this atlas also had variable stars plotted; that is, if their maximum brightness was at least 7.5. There one day I stumbled across the plot of T Cep, and it looked easy. And this time it was easy! I found the field without a lot of effort and made my first estimate. Remembering the drawing I had made, I looked at it and I definitely found it some 8 years previously.
This was 1979 while I was still in college. I lived in Milwaukee and at this time I became active in the Milwaukee Astronomical Society (MAS) (thanks to accessibility of a car), met Gerry Samolyk, and joined the AAVSO. The MAS has a long history with the AAVSO, and many great variable star observers worked from the MAS observatory. As a result, they had nearly the entire catalog of variable star charts, the standard charts being genuine blue prints. I made a few hundred estimates using the 12.5 inch telescopes using setting circles, but never liked that finding technique. I preferred my atlas, so I started the arduous task of making photocopies of sections of this atlas to paste onto my charts.
In 2002 I was presented with the very prestigious Leslie C. Peltier Award from the Astronomical League for my work in variable stars.