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Close encounter with a first telescope

Posted by Karim Nasser   10/29/2004 12:00AM

I first got involved in astronomy when I was 12 years old; my mother had bought me a telescope and camera kit. The refractor telescope was easy to build, the camera on the other hand was a major challenge. But after long hours and a lot of neck strain, it was built and worked like a charm. I actually used it for a couple of years until it found itself in the 'to be disposed with' box.

Since then, I've always been fascinated with optics, optical illusions and lenses and of course astronomy. I always thought of a telescope as a tube with carefully aligned lenses, I never thought that mirrors could have any use in a telescope.

Many years of discoveries have gone by, jaw dropping images of the Hubble Space Telescope made their way into homes and on websites. Like everyone I was very fascinated and intrigued by those images. But I always felt that I could never own a telescope that is powerful enough to display images of this beauty and clarity and detail. So I never considered buying a telescope. Images of the Crab Nebulae and the Horsehead Nebula were simply awesome.

But then a television show on a science cable channel talked about a backyard astronomer who had discovered a new planet. It was then and only then that I decided to own a telescope.

The idea of owning a telescope excited me; the possibilities seemed endless. Planets, nebulas, clusters were all within a tilt or sway of my telescope. I also felt a sense of ultimate freedom; I could gaze at the night sky endlessly, with no limits on where to go and at what speed. I could see things I hadn't seen before from my backyard without having to travel millions of miles or abide by any laws of physics. The new telescope would bring this new world to me on a silver platter at blinding speed.

After many catalogs, a good doze of reading material found on the web and taking some advice from amateur and professional astromers the Astromart forum, I decided to visit a local telescope store and checkout my options. The people were friendly and very un-salesman like, either because they knew that I was going to buy for sure, or because they are scientists and science is not for sale on a commission basis; I prefer to think of them as scientists. I brought my wife along; she had shown some interest in planets and supernovas. Of course I never mentioned to her that we probably wouldn't be seeing supernovas anytime soon; but planet? She was in for a treat.

There was a plethora of telescopes at the store. Televues, Meades, Celestrons, Konus and many others. I explained to one of the scientist salesman what I needed and how much I was willing to spend. Actually I was willing to spend a lot more than what I told him, but I felt that it was more than enough for my first telescope, plus the wife factor played a role in the decision. He directed me to the scope that fit my needs and budget. A Celestron 8" Schmidt-Cassgrain with Starbright coating, I had read some good reviews about it. The telescope was heavily used but the optics were in great shape. After showing me a few other telescopes, I decided to go with the C8. My wife agreed. After all the C8 looked big and ready to deliver some outstanding images of our solar system and deep space objects. The price was fair and after some serious negotiations, the scientist salesman included two additional 1.25" Parks eyepieces, a 2" Parks eyepiece a 2" diagonal and a declination motor drive.

After putting out the best money I had spent in years, I took the telescope home and immediately began installing it. The installation procedure was a breeze, after 10 minutes I was ready for my first target, the moon. My wife thought ‘Great! There goes the only two hours I get to spend with my husband’, so I invited her to come along on my first ‘flight’.

The moon always fascinated me, while most people perceive the moon as part of the daily sky routine or a two-dimensional object glued to a sky dome, I always looked at it and realized that it was a three-dimensional object within a three-dimensional space. When I pointed the scope using the 50mm eyepiece, it appeared even more so. The moon took on shape; I could see craters, mountains and valleys. I was simply stunned with the view I had before my eyes. And not before long, I was changing eyepieces and diagonals with one beautiful view after another. I thought to myself what a wonderful telescope this was and that I was going to keep it forever as my first astronomical tool. I had finally tasted a piece of the heavens!

Then after a while, I thought, it isn't really the telescope that is wonderful, it was the moon that was beautiful, the telescope simply gave me a better look at how beautiful it was.

It was then that I fell in love and really got involved in astronomy...