My Early Days in Amateur Astronomy

Kirt with 8" Newtonian in Holly Hill Harbor back yard, circa 1982 - Airplanes and Rockets

Waaaaay back in the early 1980s whilst in the U.S. Air Force, I became interested in amateur astronomy. It was part of what I call my enlightenment period, when I realized that studying mathematics, science, and literature was a worth endeavor for something other than passing a class in school. The astronomy club in Macon, Georgia, welcomed me into their fold, and I received the benefit of their knowledge and their telescope collection. After a few months I was manning the 8", 10", and 11" Celestrons in their observatory during public viewing nights. We made a couple club field trips, with one being to the Fernbank Science Center, where we got to peer through the 36" Cassegrain telescope - what a treat that was!

When I got out of the USAF in 1982, one of the first things I did was purchase the 8" Newtonian telescope shown to the right. I came from a telescope shop in Baltimore for $600, about 30 miles from my parent's house in Mayo, Maryland. The motor drive was missing at the time, but about a month later, the shopkeeper called to say he had located it, so for a mere $200, I had a setup capable of taking astrophotos. According to the inflation calculator on the U.S. Bureau of Labor website, that $800 in 1982 is equivalent to about $1,880 in 2011. We've come a long way in value since then.

Melanie and I got married in 1983, had our son in 1985, a daughter in 1986. By then I rarely had a chance to observe, and we needed money more than a telescope, so it, along with most of my model airplane equipment, was sold - in 1985 now that I think about it. Life went on. I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1989, worked massive overtime for electronics companies, started a business of my own, put the kids through college, and finally settled here in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 2008. Finally, after 26 years of only being able to read of others' exploits in Sky & Telescope, I finally broke down and bought a telescope (June 2011) - a Celestron NexStar 8SE. The compactness of the Schmitt-Cassegrain is a great convenience.

I also bought the eyepiece and filter kit from Celestron, along with a 9x60mm finder scope from Orion, and a couple other minor accessories. Eventually I plan to get a DSLR camera, but for now I'm using the Celestron NexImage camera. At a mere 640x480 pixels, it ain't great but better than nothing. I'll post some pictures as soon as the sky clears well enough to get some. We've been overcast every night for a month now, except for the couple clear nights when the winds were too high to get stable images.

Jupiter, Celestron 8SE, NexImage - Airplanes and RocketsVenus, Celestron 8SE, NexImage - Airplanes and RocketsTo the left is more recent image (2/9/2012) of Jupiter. I'm getting a little better. The sky was exceptionally clear, winds nonexistent, and the nearly full moon had not risen above the eastern horizon yet. Jupiter was about 15° west of due south, high in the sky. My Celestron NexImage was used with a 2x Barlow lens. The photo is a composite of about 500 short time exposure images recorded at 5 fps. This really helped avoid atmospheric scintillation. RegiStax v2 software was used.

To the right is my first ever image of Venus on the same evening. Venus was about 45° west of due south, closer to the horizon, but still high enough to avoid a lot of the denser part of the atmosphere. It is a composite of about 200 frames.

Here is a page I posted on my RF Cafe website with a few astrophotos taken using a Canon S1 2S Power Shot, mounted on a tripod. That type of camera cannot be used with a standard telescope adapter because the lens is not removable.

A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets - Airplanes and RocketsSide-by-side comparisons of my photos to those in A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Donald H. Menzel, published by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston, copyright 1964. My photos were taken with a Minolta XG-1 SLR mounted on top the 8" Newtonian telescope show above. This wide of a field of view cannot be obtained through the telescope eyepiece. The scope was located on a pier with an equatorial mount in my parent's back yard in Holly Hill Harbor, Mayo, Maryland, sometime around 1982 or 1983, shortly after I got out of the USAF. Click on images for larger versions.

Big Dipper astrophoto, by Kirt Blattenberger - Airplanes and RocketsBig Dipper astrophoto, by Menzel - Airplanes and Rockets

Kirt Blattenberger photo                      Menzel photo
Big Dipper Asterism in the Constellation of Ursa Major

 - Airplanes and RocketsCassiopeia (Menzel) - Airplanes and Rockets

Kirt Blattenberger photo                      Menzel photo
Cassiopeia Constellation

Orion (Blattenberger) - Airplanes and RocketsOrion (Menzel) - Airplanes and Rockets

Kirt Blattenberger photo                      Menzel photo
Orion Constellation

Pleiades (Blattenberger) - Airplanes and RocketsPleiades (Menzel) - Airplanes and Rockets

Kirt Blattenberger photo                      Menzel photo
Pleiades Asterism in the Constellation of Taurus



Posted September 24, 2011