Why indead. That is a hard question to answer! As the oldest science astronomy has been pursued by many people since the dawn of man. The attraction obviously has aspects of determining just what is life and our place in the universe. What is the Universe? Big questions! Really big questions!
Carl Sagan said "astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience."
Astronomy also has an aesthetic appeal. The beauty of the night sky and objects viewed in it transcend eatherly beauty. Almost no one can look up and not be amazed, bewildered or effected in some way when presented with an amazing star filled night sky. Just try to figure out why a person viewing Saturn for the first time with there own eyes has a reaction as they do. Comments on its beauty and how amazing it is usually follow. I have had that pleasure of being the presenter many times and I always get that type of reaction. My only idea of why that may be is it's unlike anything here on Earth. That reaction goes beyond aesthetics as well. We get a deep feeling that is hard to describe. It makes us aware of how we fit into the vast Universe. We can feel very small and insignificant but at the same time very special.
Astronomy can be very inspirational as it is with me. Enjoying the gentle rain of star light brings many beneficial aspects to my life. From the simple escape from daily life it brings to the limitless amount of learning and understanding technically and philosophically on the shoulders of others before me. Appling what I observe to get the picture of the universe as a whole. Its growth, Its nature, and its future are fascinating and are a satisfying pursuit. Using my imagination and my Mind's eye and sharing with others is important to me.
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." Einstein
Children seem to naturally have that inquisiveness and imagination that many adults seem to lose as we get wrapped up in running our life. As adults it is easy to unlearn many things including our interest in learning and questioning things. Ask a room full of younger children any thought provoking question and you will get many very interesting answers. Answered using imagination. As Einstein did. Present the same questions with a group of adults and you are likely to get just the opposite. Sadly many lose the ability to use imagination and critical thinking with time. I think that we may be unteaching those abilities.
Designing, building and operation of the equipment I use to pursue the stars and beyond also add a different but equally challenging and beneficial aspect to my astronomy pursuits.
It is a rare and wondrous thing when your interest and passion leads you to a place where you find yourself driven to pursue.
My Observing Philosophy
As a dedicated amature pursuing astronomy over the years and learning mostly self tuition I have come to like and dislike certain ways of making observations and enjoying my pursuits in astronomy. Volunteering at public sidewalk events and attending large star parties contributed to my style of observing as well.
I really enjoy visual observations and appling historical, scientific info on those observations to give a context as to what I am really looking at. I enjoy using my mind's eye with my real eye's.
Live video viewing or video astronomy as it's commonly called has been an amazing addition to my technique which also allows for sharing with other people and easy documentation of the observations I make. Making live observations almost identical to visual observations more frequently without traveling outside city lights and doing so with more comfort is truly a pleasure.
I have grown to dislike complicated equipment and how it can interfere with the enjoyment of astronomy. Nevertheless, my current equipment has evolved and works exceptionally well but could be considered complex. I still aim to limit anything that comes between viewing and enjoying the sky.
Although I have chosen at this stage in my astronomy pursuits to have a home observatory with somewhat complex equipment I still feel much of that is unnecessary to pursue astronomy in general. One can explore astronomy and its many side avenues easily and without spending much money.
My Astronomy History
In 1994 the great comet crash "Shoemaker-levy 9" into Jupiter occurred spurring me to pursue a curiosity I had always with the night sky. I purchased a small telescope then and started a journey I am still enjoying today. Those days were fun but learning alone was difficult at times. I remember standing in snow over an hour looking for Saturn. I did find find Saturn that night and as with anyone who views it the first time was awestruck. I also had a feeling of accomplishment for finding it. I could just imagine what it would be like to really discover something like that for the first time. After some success albeit with some difficulties, I started looking for assistance. I found and participated in some local star parties located through Sky and Telescope magazine which helped a great deal. The internet as I remember it was just becoming useful at that time.
My next adventure in astronomy was to get a bigger telescope! Aperture fever had struck and my solution was to build my first telescope a 6" reflector built in John Dobson's design. The telescope was a success and I found building one was also enjoyable. I used the new scope a few years and learned what worked and what didn't with the telescope and my observing style.
Aperture fever struck again in 2000 and I decided to build a 12" tracking Dobsonian telescope. It could be transported to my favorite dark sky site "Kissimmee Prairie Preserve" in Florida. It was completed around 2001 and received heavy use for the following years. It was an amazingly fun telescope and was operated on a Dos system no less!
After a couple of partially successful imaging runs including an occultation of Saturn using the Alt Azm styled telescope I decided that I wanted to image and to do that i would need a Equatorial mount and system. I started putting a decent system together. Money was always an issue but I was destined to get a decent setup. I purchased a Losmandy G-11 mount, a Celestron C8" SCT optical tube and started using that at home and the preserve. As I could I added accessories and upgrades and continued to use the G-11 setup for years.
In 2009 I decided hauling gear hours away was becoming difficult and opportunities to go out to the dark sky preserve were getting slimmer as well. So I built a backyard observatory. It was an interesting design using resources I had and was mostly a success and I used it for about two seasons learning again a lot in the process of what works and what doesn't. Life got in the way of my astronomy adventure at that point. Caring for my equipment in the non climate controlled observatory was becoming difficult so I stored everything for better times. Many times I had pondered selling my equipment but never did.
So here I am today! full swing back into it. I was gifted a building and have been working on that for about a year. See my page on the new observatory design and construction. I continue to explore the sky changing targets and topics as the feeling suits me.
My family thinks I'm a trifle out-of-plumb as they look out late at night and see me fumbling around in the dark doing God-knows-what in the strange building in the backyard with an odd red glow emanating from it. A canon appearing to be aimed at the neighbors! They don't get it. You can't blame them as they aren't astronomy enthusiast. They haven't heard the call of the night.