My telescope was given to me as a Christmas present by my husband. The telescope was the “treasure” of a Treasure Hunt I was sent on, picking up parts and pieces of the telescope along the way (the motor drive was found in the clothes dryer). I had never owned a telescope or even a pair of binoculars. And I wasn’t really sure which end to look through when I finally did get the thing together.
My first, last, and present telescope is an Orion 8″ Newtonian on a motor-driven equatorial mount. A modest first-time set-up of eighty pounds. I enjoy using a laser-sighting pointer instead of the finderscope, and I am very attached to a 17 mm Lanthanum Superwide eyepiece. As I am permanently embedded in educating the public, I find myself using my telescope just as much during daylight hours as nighttime, so the solar filter gets quite the workout. (I was initially hesitant about pointing a black telescope at the sun for eight hours during open-air events, but no problems have yet arisen!) For star parties and solo nighttime work, I find a polarizing filter for lunar observing and an O-III filter for planetary nebulae rounds out my equipment case nicely.
Enough about the equipment. What have I actually done with it? One of my first times out, I found a peaceful pasture with no fences (eighty pounds to heft, remember?), so I pulled over. I was going solo with no escort that night, and I courageously set to work. As I was working to align the telescope, I was so involved with my task so that I didn’t notice who had slowly crept up on me a herd of cows. Not one cow, but maybe twenty of them. Surrounding me and my telescope. (Only at the time I hadn’t yet realized they were cows and had quickly abandoned my telescope with a yell and a mad dash for the car.) Thankfully, stampeding had not crossed their minds that night.
Most of my public education adventures have been during daylight hours. What a new experience it is to see the faces of my audience! I try to schedule for days with the sun and moon high in the sky, for added interest. You would not believe how many people will insist that the moon only comes out at night; only to glance upward and resume a sheepish look and a “well, that’s what I was told” attitude. When did we stop thinking for ourselves?
My telescope is a friend, a highly polished tool for inspiring young minds. Wielding it to its utmost oooh-ahhh capability allows me to stretch the imaginations and cultivate the curiosities across generations, from grandma to preschooler.
As a rocket scientist used to blowing things up myself, it has taken a lesson or two in patience to just watch things blow up from a distance. I look forward to many more nights and days of exploration and learning, both from my audience and the telescope.