Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Where have all the telescopes gone?

There once was a time when young people were fascinated by science. I was one of them.

While my grades in the classes I took might not have been so outstanding, I was more interested in what was happening in the realm of science that was not taught in the classroom. It frustrated me to no end, for example, in high school that there was little or nothing taught about astronomy, especially observational astronomy.

Vinny's C8

My C8 on a recent night, ready for observing.

Even in college, when I took a class in astronomy the instructor seemed to be focused on such massively dull topics as time. Sure, there are different types of time and different types of calendars, but the course – which I took for the easy A – could have been so much more interesting.

I must add that at star parties, I have noticed the appearance of earnest students in what appear to be introductory classes in astronomy. They are told to attend the event and note what objects they have seen and through what type of telescope they viewed them, so maybe there is some hope.

Still, I have found that the desire of young people to own their own telescope and do their own observing is extinct.

For me, owning a telescope is like owning a window on the universe. I eagerly set up my telescope on those clear nights when I can do so, and since I was in elementary school I have sought challenges in the sky. From my first looks at the moon, Jupiter and Saturn to today when I gaze at galaxies, star clusters and nebulae using either my 1986 8-inch Celestron SCT or my 2013 Orion 14-inch Dobsonian, I always wanted to push the limits of my knowledge, experience and insight.

That seems to be gone today. I can recall years ago on walks through my neighborhood seeing youths and adults trying to get telescopes to “work,” and providing knowledgeable and eager assistance. People were amazed at what was possible once the telescope was pointed property at an object and they were shown how to “track” an object manually.

None of the telescopes I saw people trying to use had clock drives but were still usable at low to medium magnification with minor but regular adjustments.

Vinny's 14-inch telescope

My Orion 14-inch Dobsonioan, ready for use

I remember that on New Year’s Eve 1999 I took out my own telescope and did some observing in front of the house, then went for a walk and found some people “doing battle” with a telescope. I soon had them looking at the Great Nebula in Orion and other winter sky objects.

On another occasion, I was visiting my brother in Spring Hill and while out on a walk we found some people trying to use a telescope. I gave them some quick instruction and they soon were looking at the planet Venus and more. It always gave me great satisfaction to turn people on to astronomy and prevent a telescope from becoming another closet decoration.

Back when I was a kid there was a commercial for a home guitar course, and performer Kenny Rogers would come on and talk about how sad he was about the number of guitars that were in closets around the country because people had bought them, tried to learn to play them and given up in frustration.

The course had a very attractive title: “The quick pickin’, fun strummin’ home guitar course.” For a time, it seemed that the ad was everywhere. I wonder how many people bought the course and learned to play guitar.

I wonder if maybe there might be a market for a course in using your telescope. Maybe I should give that a try. I know that I feel sad when I think of all the telescopes gathering dust because their owners have given up on trying to use them to see anything in the night sky. There are wonders up there and it’s a shame to see a telescope go to waste.

We need a new age of wonder for young people, like the times I experienced as a teenager, when to see Saturn through a telescope was to gaze with wonder at a distant world.


April 22, 2014 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I hear what you are saying!.I have tried many years to get people interested in astronomy.Most have had a rather ho hum attitude,which I found a little unsettling.We didn’t have any form of astronomy in my school. Nor do they have any course in it now. Very sad actually!. As near as I can tell,people now days have this why bother having a scope when I can just Google it?. My family is no different!., I point out something in the sky,only to get the “Hmmm,well isn’t that something?”,and then carry on with whatever they were doing.
    Those people who DO have a form of interest,get turned off when they don’t see at the eye piece like they see on the pretty box. Turning their scopes into dust collecting conversation pieces as they feebly try to explain the workings of a telescope. Soon, a drive by reveals a telescope at the local yard sale.
    If only people would stop,and take a look at the big picture. Realize the significance of what they are seeing through the eye piece. Aside from solar system objects,the light from many many deep sky objects began their journey thousands,if not millions of years ago.
    Andrew .

    Comment by Andrew | April 23, 2014 | Reply

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