Francisco Soto Ramblings about code, life and stuff.

Dabbling into Astronomy
Sep 18, 2012

Moon and Jupiter together

Everyone needs a hobby… or 10.

I can count reading, watching movies with my wife, gaming, playing the guitar and programming as my hobbies, some I put a lot of time into (programming, reading and watching movies) and some I don’t so much, like playing the guitar and gaming.

I have peaks in these activities though, sometimes I pick up the Playstation 3 during the weekend and I don’t put the controller down for many hours, sometimes I grab my guitar and play for many hours as well but these don’t really keep me engaged that much.

I am not an accomplished musician by any means, I never took any lessons and all I know is basically off books, the internet and playing with other friends, but after I learned enough music theory to understand the fundamentals of music composition just enough to be able to pick up my guitar and be able to play my favorite songs by ear and know exactly what notes the composer was playing I stopped feeling thrilled about it.

Make no mistake though, when I finally understood what was going on I had a sudden feeling of accomplishment and understanding that I have felt just a few times in my entire life, is a feeling like I was blind before and now I can see. I like music, listening to it, playing it and I have lots to learn just to be able to consider myself a musician but I think I hit a point of diminishing returns where there is not enough puzzle to feel compelled to go on, which I think is the barrier between “amateur” and “accomplished” and way after that “professional”. I think is the learning, trying to understand, trying to solve the puzzle that kept me engaged.

I pondered at this for a while and came to the conclusion that I needed to pick up something different where I knew almost nothing about and that is interesting enough for me in order to pursue understanding again and feel thrilled and become enlightened. Enter…

Amateur Astronomy


Astronomy is an excellent candidate, I always have loved reading about it, watching the pictures that NASA publishes every day, watching movies and documentaries about it, etc., so after doing some research, reading a few blog posts and articles and checking out reviews, I decided to buy a nice beginner’s telescope. I settled on a Orion StarBlast 4.5 EQ Reflector all the reviews were good, comes fully equipped (tripod, an easy finder, a few eye pieces) and it was gentle on the wallet. I also bought a copy of NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe along with it to learn the basics of star gazing.

So far I have taken the telescope out to my rooftop a couple of nights and although said nights have been foggy and I live in the middle of the city I’ve been able to have a few nice sightings of solar system objects and have been able to learn a few basic things like polar alignment of my telescope, how eye pieces work, what the north star is and why it’s useful for navigation and how to find it in the night sky and I can even recognize a couple of constellations. There are so many things to learn and comprehend I am very excited.

A few days ago, the very early morning of September 8, 2012 an interesting sky event happened, Jupiter and the Moon where very close together in the sky, as you can see in the top picture of this blog post, that was taken with my iPhone (hence the bad quality of the digital zoom) and I went out at 2AM to watch them. A nice thing to note here is that I haven’t yet subscribed to any blog or newsletter on astronomy, nor I keep track of sky events yet, I found out about this by playing around with Stellarium, an amazing planetarium application.

I even managed to take a few pictures with the iPhone through the telescope, one of them you can see here in a small version, if you are interested you can see a few more on my Google+ profile.

What’s next

I think my next steps will be to buy another book that seems useful, an star chart which must come in handy when trying to determine what exactly is that I am looking at in the sky, so far I’ve used Star Walk on my iPhone which is very nice, but a star chart should be the way to go, at least to pick up more experience and become more knowledgeable.

And more importantly, I will join the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers club. The main reason that people drop astronomy is because they get frustrated, learning to handle a telescope is hard and trying to find something in the sky to look at is even harder and once you do you have to learn about it, talk with someone about it, get excited about it, etc., a club seems like a no brainer.

I can’t wait to go to a place where its so dark that I can actually gaze at the sky and be humbled by its magnificence.

Go up.

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