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How did we, and at what age, get into Astronomy


alan potts
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About three or four years ago, when I was 13. Didn't really pursue my interest in space until a couple of years ago though. Since then I've bought telescopes, met professional and hobby astronomers, met astronauts, and secured a physics work experience placement at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge this summer, as well as much else.

Astronomy is more than just a hobby to me - pursuing it changed my entire life. Cliche, but it's true. A lot has happened in the last two years for me, and I'm now working hard and set on a career in physics. But I still make sure to get out every now and then and have a gander with the scope, after all, that's where it all started for me (:

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I have always had an interest in space. The first film I can remember seeing at the pictures is Star Wars. I don't know if that was released in '77 or '78 in the UK but I would have been 5 or 6 anyway. Shortly after for either Christmas or Birthday I can't remember my Grandparents bought me a 60mm Prinz Astral 400 (I guess it was from Dixons). It got set up and pointed at the moon or Saturn once a year for the next 30 years but that was as deep as my practical 'astronomy' went.

Some time 2009 I took my kids to @Bristol. We went in the planetarium and they were both fascinated. All they way home to Glos. It was 'you've got a telescope Dad, show us all that stuff. We want to see the seven sisters, we want to see the ring nebula'. Well of course a 30 year old 60mm refractor on a wobbly wooden tripod isn't much good so I bought a pair of binoculars (Patrick Moore said that was how get started). It turned out that I don't get on with bins for longer than about 3 min. I come over all queezy, but not when using a telescope so I set out to see what such a thing cost and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could afford something worth having. In the course of searching I found my way to a wonderful forum full of people willing to pass on some of their vast knowledge :D

I was all set to purchase an 8" Dobsonian, when both my wife and my best friend said 'as soon as you look through it you're going to want to stick a camera on it and share it with people'. I didn't believe them, but I trusted them, and a quick phone call with Steve at FLO confirmed that an 8" Dob wasn't the right choice for me but my budget would cover a 150P on a driven EQ3-2 which would get me started at least.

'Hooked' isn't word. I would say committed, my wife would say I probably should be ;) Since getting that scope I have spent almost every spare minute either stargazing or mooching around on SGL. Both my Sons have telescopes, my two brothers in law have scopes, I have four (including the 60mm Prinz in its box in the attic), I look after two others for my astro-society, and I am a very much happier, healthier, more contented (if poorer) man than I was. Long may it continue :D

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I think I was just into long trousers, we had one of those rare Science teachers where everyone wanted to be in his class, cardboard tubes and 3" glass objectives were the order of the day, first film I can remember was something like Expedition Moon , and radio programs like Journey Into Space, It was some years before SPM made his first TV début, seen on a very small screen, and dark skies were not a problem with the odd modern gas street light :)

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I have always had an interest in "space" but never looked seriously at the stars. I guess I thought there would be nothing to see! It has only been in the last few years that I became more serious about what is up there as there have been changes for better and worse in my life down here on Earth.

My friend has similar interests and got some binoculars. I saw Jupiter and her Galilean moons and realised that there is a lot more than my eyes can see. From then I started to recognise constellations and took more notice of the phases of our moon. One borrowed telescope was soon followed by a purchase and although I am on a very steep learning curve, I enjoy the thrill of finding an object as if I am the only person in the world (and maybe the universe!) to be looking at it.

I suppose my interest may have been partly due to the Brian Cox effect as astronomy was getting more prominent in the tv scheduling and my friends started talking about the common interest we never knew we had!

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I read a few books quite keenly when I was a boy, but never took it further until a few years ago aged maybe 37 when I turned my 60mm spotting scope on the sky looking at the moon, Jupiter and Saturn. It was Saturn that got me excited, at 60x could make out the rings but not much detail, but that was enough - the sense of reaching out across that huge distance to see something so immense, so far away and yet near enough to respond to a bit of magnification. I looked at the Orion Nebula in the winter, but wanted to see more detail - I also really wanted to see Galaxies, but thought the 60mm would be too small and didn't really try. A couple of nights before my 40th birthday I showed my 5 year old son Jupiter in the Fieldscope and he was so excited, and then I got very lucky with birthday money and put it into an 8" Newtonian on an eq5 to see those galaxies! And that's been great, and my greatest pleasure is hunting for faint fuzzies. The other night I took out the 60 mm fieldscope as a grab and go and found I could see galaxies after all; not just M31, 81 & 82 which I knew about, but M65, 66, NGC3628, M84, 86, 87, 51 and NGC5195, so I was wrong about that.

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My greatest pleasure is hunting for faint fuzzies. The other night I took out the 60 mm fieldscope as a grab and go and found I could see galaxies after all; not just M31, 81 & 82 which I knew about, but M65, 66, NGC3628, M84, 86, 87, 51 and NGC5195, so I was wrong about that.

Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a galaxy come into the filed of view and knowing what you're looking at.

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