Saturday, September 10, 2016

Why I don't own a telescope

half moon; taken by Benjamin Miller; source
Look ma!
Time to spread one of my heresies around.

As any warm blooded enthusiast I love hardware for its own sake and telescopes are no exception especially those that are all shiny and computerized. However I've decided not to own one. I have concluded that the cost and hassle of owning one do not match the results one obtains from it.

The realization finally came to me the day I peered into my local college's 16'' Meade Schimidt-Cassegrian to look at Jupiter. It was there all-right with some of the Jovian satellites, but it appeared so small. Maybe I had gotten my expectations unreasonably high by magazines and the like, but if such a big and expensive telescope could offer so little, what hope was there for small more affordable ones? Another notch against is that, unless one takes astrophotography as well, most of the objects up there will appear so faint as to not excite the eye cells, meaning they will be devoid of any color and appear only as  misty gossamer threads. 'Sky lint' is what some of the astronomers at the center there call them. To make things worse I live within a major urban area.

I want the colors, the details, the drama.

There's also the joy of the hunt. Amateur astronomers can make contributions to science. There are still some discoveries to be made as well; most of the top prizes have already been taken, but there are still fair probabilities for amateurs to make discoveries on their own. Ever heard of the McNeil Nebula? Jay McNeil of Kentucky discovered the nebula that now bears his name with unostentatious equipment. Am I one to discover something that one day bears my name too? Seems highly unlikely. If discoveries are made, chances favor amateurs as a group, not as individuals. McNeil himself had a couple decades of experience under his belt before making his mark.

Shoot. I'll settle with the zoo. This way I'll never find a comet or anything, but I'll get most of what I want. I'm looking into buying a book or books with better images than I'll ever experience on my own (considering Michael Benson's series). And these are cheaper too.

There's still some room for maybe a pair of binoculars. These not only are highly portable, but can cover large swaths of sky. Plus no squinting is required.