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Boy Scout Astronomy Merit BadgeI've always had a fascination with the sky, dating back to my childhood. In stereotypical fashion, I could lie on my back for hours, watching the clouds form and march past in formation. I remember getting a "pocket" spyglass-style telescope for Christmas one year, and quickly realized that it wasn't much more than half a binocular as far as star-gazing went. Better than nothing, but not much better. It was great for playing pretend-pirates, though.

I was lucky enough to be able to teach astronomy during my years as a physics teacher at Burlington MA high school, where I had access to to a Questar telescope. That showed me how much better than the pocket spyglass some telescopes could be. But through the years, astronomy was the "someday" interest that wasn't allowed to become a hobby for fear of the expense or the time.

Then one year, after we had begun raising a family, Lynn took matters into her own hands. While the girls were growing up, we created the tradition of a "family" Christmas present - something for the entire family to enjoy. One year it was a 4-person bobsled (we still have it), another year it was an elaborate Monopoly game. Lynn chose to be the obtainer of the family present one year, and she bought an L.L. Bean-branded Celestron F80 EQ WA telescope. It was an instant hit with everyone. It's a great starter telescope, with a wide light-gathering aperture and a spotting scope for aiming. It was a perfect star-gazing telescope - easy to set up and use, but powerful enough to satisfy the star-gazer's desire.

Not long afterward I obtained some "accessories" for the Celestron - a T-Ring adapter and a focus tube so I could attach my Pentax SpotMatic II SLR camera to the telescope. A whole new branch of astronomy opened up for me - astral photography. I could take astral photographs when the conditions cooperated (the telescope has no sidereal motor so I couldn't track objects as they moved through the night sky) and came up with some pretty interesting shots. I could also use the telescope as a 1200 mm "telephoto" lens for some great long-distance photography. Here are the results of my first test with the rig.

A few years ago a colleague at work offered me a challenge; if I could find and resolve the rings of Saturn with his Meade ETX90 (non-computer-controlled) telescope, I could have it. He had bought this scope a while ago, and could never get it to work for him, so he bought a newer GPS and computer-controlled telescope (enter the date and time, pick what you want to look at from a list on the screen, and the telescope finds and resolves what you've chosen automatically) to replace it. He truly believed that the ETX90 was defective. It wasn't. It took me about 5 minutes to set it up and find and resolve Saturn. So now I have two telescopes, both of which accept the T-ring and focus tube for the old Pentax SpotMatic II film-based SLR *and* my newer Canon Digital Rebel digital SLR camera, so now telescope outings are lots of fun - one scope for astral photography and one scope for star-gazing!

Here are some of my better astral photographs, some singles, some collections, some taken with one or the other of the telescopes, some taken with regular telephoto lenses:




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