The Short Story of how I got my start in Astronomy...

My first involvement with amateur astronomy took place in the early 1970s.  I was at my uncle's house and he had a small telescope (what I believe now to be a 60mm refractor).  It was not very dark out, however my cousin aimed the scope at a bright star in the sky.  I clearly remember my first look at this star (which I believe was the star Vega in the constellation Lyra).  It was very bright and dazzling against the dark blue background sky.  We had to leave soon after so I did not get to see more that night.  However, my father bought a small telescope (a Tasco 2.4" refractor) for the family in 1973.  It was at this time that my interest in amateur astronomy really took off.  One of my most vivid memories with this scope was my first look at two bright "stars" in the southwestern sky... these turned out to be Jupiter and Venus!  I remember how very bright Venus was (along with its crescent shape) and I also remember Jupiter with its cloud bands and 4 moons in attendance.  From there I started looking at other objects and eventually located Saturn.  My first confirmed spotting of the Andromeda Galaxy came in the late summer of 1974.  Even though this is considered one of the easiest objects to locate, I was still so thrilled to have found it on my own!  We also had a nice pair of binoculars and I also used these to sweep the Milky Way.

A "Star Party" held on 3 October 1975.  That's me on the right (check out those "Brady Bunch" 70s pants)!
My first telescope is the second one in from the left.

In late 1974 my friend Pete Chapin also became interested in astronomy.  The age of the "star watch" was born... we would get together and (instead of partying or watching TV) we'd be outside with the telescope until late hours of the night.  Pete got his first telescope (a 3" Unitron) in May of 1975.   That summer we had many "dusk to dawn" star parties (basically we'd stay out all night in the backyard looking at astronomical objects).  During the summer months (when school was out) we basically observed the stars every clear night!  Even during school year I would get up at around 4:30am to go outside (in winter!) to see what new things were coming over the horizon.  It was an age of many discoveries (not to mankind but to us) and we were always very excited to be able to spot a new galaxy, a star cluster, etc.  By late 1976 we had located hundreds of objects (many of them considered very challenging for the small telescopes that we had).  I had even attempted some very basic astrophotography, however with only Polaroid cameras my capabilities were very limited (plus the film was pretty expensive for a teenager back then).  Despite this, getting my first reasonably decent (for the time) photos of constellations was a very rewarding experience.

One of my earliest astrophotos (the constellation Orion).  Crude by today's standards,
but at the time it was a great thrill to be able to photograph the stars for the first time!

It was not until the summer of 1981 that I had managed to save enough money to buy a larger telescope.  However due to production delays it did not arrive until January of 1982!  This new scope was a 6" Newtonian reflector, roughly 6 times as powerful as the small scope I had started with.  I had previous experience with this same scope (the high school had one that we borrowed periodically).  By this time I was in college and had a lot less time available to do astronomy (however I still managed to get out and observe quite often).  In 1992 I purchased an 11" telescope, one that was much more powerful and sophisticated than any I had used before.  This new scope allowed vast new opportunities for astrophotography and it was at this time that my astronomical activities moved more into photographing the night sky as compared to looking at objects in the sky.

My Celestron 11 telescope set up for lunar eclipse photography in 1996.

As a kid in the 1970s I used to get copies of Sky and Telescope magazine.  Within the pages of this magazine were advertisements for all kinds of telescopes (many of them grossly out of range of anything affordable by my family let alone me).  One of the scopes I used to drool over was a telescope called the Celestron 14.  This was a 14" diameter telescope (massive for the time) and it cost around $3750 back then (roughly the same as a new car)!  My parents said "you'll have to wait a while for that".  In 2002 I was at Connecticut Star Party and met someone who actually owned one of these scopes.  I remember saying to him "if you ever want to sell it please look me up".  Long story short, the gentlemen *did* look me up a year later and I did buy the scope from him!  It took 29 years to get the scope of my childhood dreams. 

The Celestron 14, the telescope I waited 29 years to get!

Another childhood dream of mine was to have my own backyard observatory.  I had wanted one since 1975 however it was clearly out of the picture in terms of affordability for me.  In 2002 I moved to a location that (for southern New England anyway) had reasonably dark skies and enough room for such a project.  In 2005 ground breaking for the observatory project began, and about a year later things were up and running.  Having  a backyard observatory is a tremendous luxury... the main benefit is that a sophisticated telescope is available for use with less than 5 minutes of setup time.  This translates to much more time actually using the telescope (without the observatory the setup and takedown time for a large telescope scope can be more than an hour, and this greatly reduces ambitions to get out and observe).

Inside my backyard observatory.

That's the very abbreviated story of how I became involved in astronomy and where I am today!  During my 36+ years of involvement with astronomy I've learned a tremendous amount about the field (and I have also met many very knowledgeable people who helped me along the way).  The primary goal of this web site is to assist those who are just getting into astronomy. It is hoped that you will find this site informative and useful.

Joe Roberts

"Back" links, e-mail and Copyright

Use your browser's "back" button, or use links below if you arrived here via some other path:

This page is part of the site Amateur Astronomer's Notebook.
E-mail to Joe Roberts
Images and HTML text © Copyright 2009 by Joe Roberts. Please request permission to use photos for purposes other than "personal use".