A Patience Game   1 comment

New amateur astronomers are often tripped up by their own expectations of what they will see through the eyepiece of a telescope. In stating this I’m surely not saying anything the majority of us don’t already know. Anyone who has had the experience of helping a newcomer has seen the consequences of unrealistic expectations. The disappointment can be as difficult to overcome as the expectations are easy to create. Telescope equipment advertising, observing guides, and magazines all persist on relying heavily on Hubble Telescope style images, and these images have come to dominate public perceptions of the Universe studied by astronomers. It’s only natural for the uninitiated, knowing no better, to expect something of the same sort through a backyard telescope. When the telescope fails to deliver, and all of them will fall short of Hubble, disappointment is equally natural.

The truth of the matter is that to human eyes, even aided by a good telescope, the Universe is a subtle place, and it takes time to fully understand and appreciate the beauty of that subtlety. You need to forget the colorful images while at the eyepiece. Then you need to spend time getting past first impressions. Going from one object to another in short order will give the impression that the Universe is a dull place, filled with things that look like wisps of smoke and puffs of dust. Those first glances can be misleading. Don’t trust them! Slow down. Figure on spending more time observing an object than it took to find it. A lot more, if a computer is finding things for you. Look at it straight on, then use averted vision, that trick that has you look slightly to one side. Did that dusty streak suddenly get longer? Or wider? Does the surface of the globular cluster seem to sparkle faintly when you don’t stare straight at it? Didn’t see anything like that? Try again. Try again on another night. Take notes or make sketches to remind yourself of what you saw before. This all takes practice, so the more often you are at the eyepiece and the longer you spend on an object, the better.

It also takes patience. Persisting in the face of initial disappointment takes patience, as does climbing the learning curve you face as a beginning astronomer. It takes loads of patience to sit there and wait for a calm moment that reveals details on Mars, or in a crater on the Moon. Even more to realized there’s truth to descriptions of stars in open clusters being arranged in strings or chains. And it takes patience to let time be your teacher. This will all take time.

But then, isn’t that always the case for a thing worth doing?

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Posted June 15, 2012 by underdesertstars in Amateur Astronomy

One response to “A Patience Game

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  1. Very nicely put, Tom!

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