It took a long time for me to get around to buying a telescope. Mainly because I am an incurable procrastinator, and just a bit miserly, so it took quite a while to quieten that old lady voice in my head telling me to save the money for a rainy day/something sensible/an impressively extensive booze cabinet (don’t ask, just a hankering I’ve always had.) But, on the dawn of my 26th birthday, I decided that my quarter life crisis was going to take the form of a tube with a bunch of mirrors in it. Racy, I know. While my friends are all getting engaged, having kids and settling into their dream jobs, I’ve burrowed further into the solitary, nocturnal world of astronomy. I think we all know who’s winning at life. (Hint; not the girl who just spent half a month’s wages on a tube with mirrors in it.)
But, as usual, I have digressed. I went online and fervently researched my options. What could I see with different types of scope? What mount should I get? Should I get a Dobsonian, a Newtonian, a reflector, a refractor or catadioptric? All this was starting to sound a bit like a list of horrendous medical conditions, and every site I turned to offered totally opposing viewpoints and opinions. I was, and I only use this word for occasions when it is truly valid, befuddled. So I decided to make the treacherous journey to Sittingbourne (I’m from a little Kent village, it felt treacherous, alright!?) to speak to someone face to face in a telescope shop. I knew what I wanted. or rather, I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want one of these new fangled fancy-pants GoTo telescopes, I was committed to learning the sky by rote, and dazzling everyone with my ability to point to a star and say, “oh yes, that’s Vega, a main sequence star in the constellation Lyra with an apparent magnitude of +0.026, approximately 25 light years from the Sun.” As you can tell, I am well fun at parties. I had decided after research, that I would be well off with a Dobsonian refractor. I had my budget. I was prepared, but even so, I was nervous. Even armed with my notebook, full of notes and scribbles, I was anxious, concerned that I would have an experience not dissimilar to those I frequently have in car garages, whereby, because I appear a bit dopey, people think I don’t know what I am talking or can get me to part with more money than strictly needed (good luck with that one, as I said before; miserly.) However, I was truly pleasantly surprised. I visited F1 telescopes, and was helped to my decision by the man in the shop, who was extremely patient, putting up with all my questions and general thoughts (I tend to do a lot of my thinking out loud, I call it quirky, others call it annoying.) After a good hour spent musing over the benefits and possibilities, I came away with a Celestron, Astro-Fi 130mm Computerised Newtonian Reflector. Given that that is not the snappiest of names, I renamed her Herschel. Just to recap, I went in knowing for certain that I didn’t want a GoTo computerised telescope. That I wanted a refractor. I guess that sticking to my guns should not be high up on my C.V. But how pleased I am to have been challenged on preconceived ideas. As was quite rightly pointed out to me, a GoTo mount is invaluable (and now, after only a few weeks, I think I would rather lose an arm than forfeit Herschel’s GoTo capability) because it means that if you have a short window of viewing opportunity, you don’t have to spend an age faffing about trying to pinpoint a celestial body, your ever-so-clever telescope does it for you.
As soon as I got her home, I slotted the parts together and aligned the sniper scope on top (not really called a sniper scope, but it for all the world feels like that’s what you’re using when that little red dot appears. I have never felt more badass in my life as when I’m peering down my red dot sight.) I made a fundamental mistake, however. I set her up in my bedroom. No sleep was had that night. None at all. Lots of quiet swearing, but no sleep. The swearing was because, of course, I couldn’t align my scope and then astronomise (made that one up) through my window. And also because, when I used the motor controls to move my telescope, I got too close to the body and it bloody marked me in the side of the head. So, in a last ditch attempt to see something, anything, I manually focussed in on what I knew to be Saturn. And let me tell you, that fleeting, shaky glimpse of the ringed planet was a sight I will never forget. I was absolutely in awe, and all the frustrations of set up and misalignment and battered skulls melted away in that instant. I feel like the whole gambit of astronomy emotions were sampled on that night. And let me tell you, I couldn’t wait for the next one.