This is a blog describing the path from a total novice to someone who contributes to amateur astronomy here in the UK. It is by its very nature presumptuous in that I am that total novice now and there is certainly no certainty that I will be able to become what I would like to be in this field. This might be due to any number of technical, financial, motivational or even family constraints, but I intend to document each step and progression in order that others can follow, learn and hopefully take encouragement from, or commiserate in the drawn out crash and burn.
My beginnings come from an attempt to understand the workings of camera photography in general, with the family purchase of a Pentax K-500 DSLR. This was bought for fashion photography by my wife, but seeing as this is not my area of expertise I rather optimistically decided to try and photograph the sky. After much fumbling about the internet (and not having found this forum either), I have ended up with a Celestron AstroMaster 130 EQ with a little RA motor, purchased from a little shop in Colchester for £150.
The scope is easy to put together, and for my novice eyes looks the business. The controls of the EQ mount had me totally perplexed, but for the first couple of nights I didn't care as I simply moved the scope about manually, not attaching the motor, nor even bothering with the fine adjustment dials, just man handling the whole scope. My amazement at seeing Jupiter and its moons after 20 frustrating minutes of even trying to find it was comical. The spotting finder thing on this scope is rubbish by the way.
In order to try and understand things better, I enrolled on the free MIT Optics course : http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mechanical-engineering/2-71-optics-spring-2009/ and printed out the course notes and watched the videos on the train on the way to work. This is brilliant, if a little over the top for doing astronomy. Going through the derivation of Maxwell's wave equations from first principles is quite something for the unprepared.
I have also joined the North Essex Astronomical Society. This has turned out to be a great decision and something I think is essential for anyone new to this activity as you can get so much out of it. The society has access to an observatory which is in a darkish sky area with a C11 in the dome and lots of other scopes/mounts/eye pieces and stuff. The main benefit is the people who have been very friendly and helpful and being shown globular clusters, double stars and galaxies by people who know what they are doing has been hugely beneficial and fun. I have taken my AstroMaster there and tried out the eyepieces to give me a sense of benefit they can bring and what I would like for myself.
This is a quick summary of where I am currently and as I take on different aspects of this vast hobby, I will write about them.