University Lowbrow Astronomers

First Scope... Long Wait... First Light.

by Mike Kurylo
Printed in Reflections: May, 2006.

It is sometimes a daunting challenge having a large dob. You spend the time painstakingly looking for a specific object when someone invariably asks “can I see?” Under normal circumstances I would use my tried and true delaying tactics, but when it’s your 6-year old son who knows most of your traits, you have no choice but to relinquish the controls to the next generation observer. The problem is typical for most of us without tracking, your finely searched object has left the eyepiece by the time you come down off the ladder and escort the young one up to the top hoping they can reach the faint photon extractor. John Causland has no idea how I jealous I am!

The nearly perfect solution and excuse to execute it came upon me this past February. It was a Meade 60AZ-T refractor as a birthday gift for my son. Is it a great telescope? Hardly, but for a young explorer wanting to spend time with dad it was a decent starting spot without spending a small fortune. Had I spent more I would have started looking for a convenient “second” scope to carry around with more bells and whistles and called it mine. But I’ll get to that later.

As usual with a child opening a gift there is the initial excitement. Then it was tempered by the fact that it was still daylight. Luckily I had thought ahead far enough to purchase a scope that could be used for spotting, a definite plus for kids wanting to explore the great outdoors. We had fun observing bird nests and wildlife but my little astronomer was keen on seeing Saturn and the “the other galaxies.” His biggest issue would be learning to have some patience waiting for clear, dark skies. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

It’s tough being six. Just when you see the clouds starting to break mom informs him it’s time for bed, and that was in February. This time change in the spring has to be eating him up, and I feel his pain. It took a while, but a weekend finally rolled around with clear skies and voila! It was like magic for him. Since I am a beginner astronomer I now have incentive to learn more, and quickly. It’s amazing how fast the young ones can start rattling off questions. But we survived by pulling out a sky atlas and took a quick tour of the cosmic neighborhood.

I wanted to keep it simple so that he could repeat the viewing session on his own. Except that we ended up going down “equipment road.” After experiencing views of the moon, M31, M42, M45 and the like, he was getting frustrated that everything was “leaving.” After a quick explanation of celestial movement and tracking he had decided that he needs a better scope. Bigger and with that tracking thing! Best of all he was willing to save up his allowance to do so and would then bequeath his current scope to his younger brother. Kind of brings a tear to your eye doesn’t it? An added bonus is that I can guide him in his purchase of my second, excuse me, his second scope. He already plans on charging me pay per view.


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