A brief history of Brian Rachford's amateur astronomy

I think I got my first telescope, a 60mm refractor from Sears, in around 1980 when I was 10. I mostly used it to look at the Moon and planets. I also observed a lot with my Grandpa's 7x35 binoculars. I grew up in a small town (population 400) in Iowa, and had pretty dark skies even from my yard, let alone going out to my grandparents farm. Eventually, my family bought me a pair of Bushnell 7x50 binoculars, which I still use.

Sometime in the mid-80s I bought a better 60mm refractor, made by Bushnell. Still not great, but working at f/11.7, a lens doesn't have to be. I believe I bought this from American Science & Surplus back when it was "Jerryco". I think it cost around $70, and came with two crappy eyepieces. However, I still had the eyepieces from the Sears refractor, which amazingly were better! I used this scope to eventually find all the Messier objects, with the help of an Orion Kellner eyepiece that I eventually bought.

In 1987 I went off to college, but I did quite a bit of observing with that 60mm refractor and binoculars. At the same time my parents made the short move to Ottumwa (population 25000), but we were on the very north side of town so the skies were still pretty dark, and that's where I found most of the faint Messiers. I also had opportunities to use the rooftop telescopes on Van Allen Hall at the University of Iowa while I was there. And, with my first 35mm camera, I did some wide-field astrophotography with camera lenses and a barndoor mount.

By the time I finished college and headed off to grad school in Laramie, Wyoming, I had pretty much quit amateur astronomy. I shot a lunar eclipse in 1992 or 1993 but that was about it. That all changed in a big way with comet Hyakutake in March 1996. I suddenly realized just how dark the skies are in the middle of nowhere at 7200ft above sea level! That got me back into astrophotography. Then, of course, Hale-Bopp showed up and that kept me busy from late 1996 through April 1997. I did a lot of astrophotography during that period and even dragged out my 60mm refractor to finish the my last 6 Messiers. The dark skies allowed me to do some pretty cool naked-eye astronomy, such as frequently see the Gegenschein, M33, and even a +7.1 magnitude star!

Alas, in late 1997 and early 1998 I was writing my doctoral dissertation, then during the 1998-1999 school year I was teaching full-time and only had time for the occasional astrophotography session or aurora-watching. In May 1999 I moved to Boulder, Colorado for a post-doc position. Great for my career, but living in downtown Boulder on the edge of the sprawling Denver metropolitan area once again killed off my amateur astronomy activities, except for a few aurora-watching session from a foothill on the edge of town.

But...right before I left Laramie, I bought a 6" Criterion Dynascope from a fellow grad student for $50. While it took me 3.5 years to do anything about it, finally in October 2002 I put the telescope together and started observing with it. I found a reasonably dark spot about a 25 minute drive from my apartment, supplimented with a few very dark mountain sites for full-night expeditions. I did a lot of observing in late 2002 and the first half of 2003, and then cut back to more occasional observing.

Unfortunately, I was forced to leave Boulder in 2004 due to job circumstances beyond my control and I am currently living in Minnesota. I have taken my 6" scope out a few times, but don't really have a good place to observe. I have played amateur astronomy with the 16" refractor in our campus observatory and the skies are fairly decent for being in a town.

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File last modified: 17 December 2004

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