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Big Telescope


I was lucky enough to get to the observatory two summers in a row for teacher workshops. On the second of these, I got my hands on a "real" telescope. No, not a research instrument. I was honored to collect photons with my own eyes through the 36-inch, by far the largest telescope I've ever used. Starting at age 12 with a 4.25-inch reflector, over the years, I worked up to a 10-inch. And I have observed objects with telescopes as large as 20 inches.

But this was a real treat!

Objects that would be faint or impossible with those smaller telescopes simply jumped out of the eyepiece! It was such a pleasure to use this telescope to see familiar objects as if for the first time. While I prefer to find objects manually, it was just plain fun to tell it what to find and watch it home in on the target -- and to see that it is smart enough to know it can't look through the mountain behind it. The fun continued well past 1 a.m., as another teacher and I kept picking off targets. Fatigue isn't a problem when you have the rare opportunity to use such a fine instrument under such perfect conditions.

I spent a fair amount of time just staring at that sky. There have been few times indeed when I have been privileged to raise my eyes to such a clear and dark sky. And despite my long experience, there were moments when the huge number of faint stars made it a little difficult to find familiar patterns.

It was hard to put the telescope to sleep and quit for the night. I almost felt sorry for astronomers working inside at a computer console who would not get the total experience of that night.