Amateur Astronomy

Please visit my Amateur Astronomy website.

Amateur astronomy is one of those hobbies in which I participated avidly for the four years in the U.S. Air Force and for a couple years after separating. During that time I observed as often as time and atmospheric conditions permitted. While at Robins AFB, in Warner Robins, Georgia, I belonged to the Macon Amateur Astronomy club and spent quite a few Friday evenings operating the museum's/club's 8", 10" and 14" Celestron telescopes both for private observation and for assisting the public after the planetarium show. The club took a couple trips to the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta and got to look through their 32" reflector, which at the time (circa 1980) was the largest reflecting telescope in the southeast.  Today, of course, private 30" Dobsonians are as affordable as motorcycles. A picture of me and my 8" Newtonian reflector is given below. I ended up selling it after getting married to help pay the mortgage (sold all the R/C stuff, too). Only naked-eye (no longer anywhere near my former 20/15 vision) and my trusty binoculars remain for observing over the past 20 years. Recently, have I begun reacquiring some of my "toys" from yesteryear. I have not purchased another telescope yet, but the good thing is that now the state of the art is orders of magnitude better than where I left off.

Comet Holmes

Comet Holmes from Mt. Airy, NC, November 6, 2007, 11:00 est

This photo was made with my Canon S1 2S Power Shot, mounted on a tripod. 15-second exposure. 11/6/2007, 11:00 pm est. Through my 8x45 binoculars, comet Holmes appears as a very prominent smudge. It is easily seen with the naked eye as what looks like an extra star in Perseus.

December 23, 2007  full moon - Mars conjunction, photo by Kirt BlattenbergerThis photo of the full moon - Mars conjunction (≈3/8°), taken December 23, 2007, captures the northernmost (highest in the sky) full moon of the year. Earth will pass between Mars and the sun tomorrow. Mars will not come this close to Earth again until the year 2010.

Largest Full Moon of 2010 - RF CafeHere is a photo of the largest full moon of 2010. It was taken from the back yard of my pervious house in Erie, PA. I was pretty much buried in trees there.

RF Cafe: Mount Palomar Mirror Blank - Corning Pyrex - Saturday Evening Post May 29 1948Mount Palomar Telescope Pyrex Mirror Blank by Corning, in the May 29, 1948, edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

"Like buried treasures, the outposts of the universe have beckoned to the adventurous from immemorial times." - George Ellery Hale

Kirt Blattenberger with my 8" Newtonian reflectorHere I am (Kirt Blattenberger, webmaster) with my 8" Newtonian reflector, circa 1982. It was purchased used from an astronomy shop in Baltimore, MD. After struggling with dragging out the tripod and doing polar alignments night after night, I finally got smart and built this concrete block pier and ran 120 VAC to it for the clock drive. The pier cap I custom cast out of concrete to mate the equatorial mount to the blocks. Observation nights were greatly increased in number after doing so. The finder is a piggybacked 2" Tasco refractor. I made a remote focusing mount for the eyepiece using a servo from one of my other hobbies - model airplanes and rockets. Soon, I will scan and post some of the photos I took with it using my Minolta SLR. There were no digital cameras in those days.

Kirt Blattenberger with Celestron NexStar 8SE Telescope - Airplanes And RocketsSkip ahead nearly three decades, and here I am in my back yard in Erie, Pennsylvania, "playing" with my newly acquired (in June) Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope. City lights are fairly bright here to the east and west, but farm land is to the south and Lake Erie begins two miles to the north, so that limits the light pollution somewhat. Erie is not that large of a city, so that also helps. Still, compared to the truly dark skies in areas I have lived in Vermont and Colorado, the seeing is noticeably bad. I haven't had a chance to try any of the filters that came with the eyepiece and filter kit that came with the scope.

Jupiter, Celestron 8SE, NexImage - Airplanes and RocketsTo the left is more recent image (2/9/2012) of Jupiter. I'm getting a little better. The sky was exceptionally clear, winds nonexistent, and the nearly full moon had not risen above the eastern horizon yet. Venus, Celestron 8SE, NexImage - Airplanes and RocketsJupiter was about 15° west of due south, high in the sky. My Celestron NexImage was used with a 2x Barlow lens. The photo is a composite of about 500 short time exposure images recorded at 5 fps. This really helped avoid atmospheric scintillation. If I had done a better job on the focus, the detail might have been even better. RegiStax v2 software was used.

To the right is my first ever image of Venus.

Amateur Astronomy Resources

Amateur Astronomy Mfgs & Services

Greenbelt, MD Specializes in archiving and distributing collections of data that have been published by professional astronomers. Most of these data sets are in the form of computer-readable tables of numbers, rather than images. Amateur astronomers can find these data collections useful in looking up the properties and locations of celestial objects. This can help amateurs plan for observing sessions, and help them to better understand what they've observed.

Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
New York, NY Provides lectures, classes and observing sessions to better enjoy astronomy, whether intellectually, aesthetically, or both.

Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton
Princeton, NJ Promotes astronomy-related activities for members and non-members, novice to expert. A wide spectrum of astronomy interests are explored at the AAAP through regular meetings, workshops, use of the two club observatories, public outreach and regional star parties.

Amateur Astronomers' Inc (AAI)
908-276-2730 / Cranford, NJ Club info & links.

Amateur Astronomer's Notebook
Joint effort by two amateur astronomers, Joe Roberts and Peter Chapin, includes information on a variety of topics that may be of interest to both casual star watchers as well as experienced amateurs.

Amateur Astronomical Observatories
Large list of links to observatories & observatory vendors.

Amateur Astronomy Observers Log
This site lets amateur astronomers share their observations with each other.

Amateur Astronomy & Space Website
UK Amateur astronomer's website.

Amateur CCD Astronomy
This webpage is devoted to showing examples of astrophotography that this author, an amateur astrophotographer, has taken with the CCD - Richard Jacobs, M.D.

The American Association of Amateur Astronomers
Dallas, TX Bringing Amateur Astronomy to the World.

Ames Area Amateur Astronomers
Ames, IA Club information & links.

Astronomes Amateurs du Luxembourg
Luxembourg Club information & links.

Astronomy Boy
New Hampshire Resources & tutorials for amateur astronomers.

Astronomy Software
Links to planetarium and sky simulation software.

The Astronomy Store
859-225-7986 / Lexington, KY Astronomy books, telescopes, space toys, calendars, posters, prints, etc.

Backyard Astronomy for Amateur Astronomers
The Netherlands Introduction to astronomy.

Cedar Amateur Astronomers, Inc
Cedar Rapids, IA Promotes the study and interest in astronomical topics within the membership and among the public via dissemination of knowledge and ideas through lectures, meetings, presentations, displays, discussions, and outdoor activities, are a member society of the Astronomical League & operates Palisades-Dows Observatory in cooperation with the Linn County Conservation Department.

Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club
Charlotte, NC Club news & astronomy information.

Cloudy Nights Telescope Reviews
Our goal at Cloudy Nights is to assist amateur astronomers in better understanding the equipment that goes with the hobby. We strive to accomplish this goal in three ways: by providing a forum for reviews of telescopes and accessories, by providing a forum for commentary articles on the many facets of the hobby that touch equipment, by encouraging and sponsoring events and contests to get kids and beginners interested in the hobby.

Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers
Philadelphia, PA Club info & links.

Edward R. Zane Planetarium
Greensboro, NC 87-seat hall in Natural Science Center of Greensboro.

Estimating Limiting Magnitude
An easy method of determining how clear your sky is  by Veikko Makela.

Hamilton Amateur Astronomers
Canada A group of individuals dedicated to the enjoyment and advancement of astronomy.

Ford Amateur Astronomy Club
Dearborn, MI Club info & links.

FotoSearch Astronomy Image Library
Waukesha, WI A massive collection of astronomy images from, galaxies to planets to NASA images and much more. View world-class photography and art free of charge. It is the digital, online equivalent of a massive image library. Browsing through the library is free, and there are no access charges, registration requirements, or usage limits.

Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association
616-897-7065 / Lowell, MI Participates in public education activities, comet watches, meteor observing, as well as opening the observatory to the public two nights per month. Besides the public education programs, members involve themselves in many other pursuits from observing programs to astrophotography and CCD imaging.

The Isle of Man Astronomical Society
Isle of Man Promotes amateur astronomy.
Kennedy Space Center Amateur Astronomers
Florida Dedicated to the Understanding and Knowledge of the Heavens God Made for Us to Observe.

Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society
610-797-3476 / Allentown PA The LVAAS is a public-oriented nonprofit educational organization dedicated to serving the interests of the community in astronomy and related fields. For both professionals and amateurs alike, LVAAS has much to offer through our many programs and observing facilities.

Messier Objects
Images from the Digitized Sky Survey as posted on by Richard Bright.

NASA's World Wind Satellite Imagery
World Wind lets you zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth. Leveraging Landsat satellite imagery and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission data, World Wind lets you experience Earth terrain in visually rich 3D, just as if you were really there. Virtually visit any place in the world. Look across the Andes, into the Grand Canyon, over the Alps, or along the African Sahara.

The Nine Planets
A Multimedia Tour of the Solar System: describes the history, mythology and current scientific knowledge of each of the planets and moons and other objects in our solar system. In addition to the usual pictures, there are also sounds, an occasional movie and many links to other net resources. The text is written for a general audience not necessarily knowledgeable in astronomy; technical terms are linked to an extensive glossary by Bill Arnett.

NGC Images Archive
From the Grove Creek Observatory.

North Shore Amateur Astronomy Club
Massachusetts Two of the principal goals of the NSAAC are to promote a wider appreciation of astronomy and to help people choose the most appropriate telescope or binocular for their interest and budget.
Various astronomy links.

Piedmont Amateur Astronomers
Statesville, NC A group of individuals who meet to share an interest in astronomy and to promote astronomy education.

Prairie Astronomy Club
Lincoln, NE Dedicated to encouraging the study of Astronomy and related subjects for the benefit of its members and the general public.

Ptolemy's Cafe
Bill Arnett's backyard observatory.

Ptolemy's Supper Club
A group of avid amateur astronomers.

Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association
Holland, MI A not-for-profit organization created for the purpose of furthering the enjoyment of amateur astronomy.

South Florida Amateur Astronomers Association
Sunrise, FL A registered non-profit educational amateur astronomy society.

Spitzer Space Telescope
818-354-4200 / Pasadena, CA
The Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly SIRTF, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility) was launched into space by a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral on 25 August 2003. Spitzer will obtain images and spectra by detecting the infrared energy, or heat, radiated by objects in space between wavelengths of 3 and 180 microns (1 micron is one-millionth of a meter). Consisting of a 0.85-meter telescope and three cryogenically-cooled science instruments, Spitzer is the largest infrared telescope ever launched into space.

Sunshine Design
Ecliptic Finder Design Plans is a design plan that shows how to build the Ecliptic Finder. This simple instrument is a variation on the sundial. AstroCalculator© is a calculator program for general time and astronomical calculations, conversions and corrections and much more. OptiCalculator© is an optics and imaging calculator. This just released tool is a full featured function set for astrophotography, whether using CCDs or Film. It also covers basic optics for telescopes and more. Featured in "Sky and Telescope" February 2005. Binocular Mount Design Plans is a design plan booklet to help you build your own for $60 to $120 instead of the purchase prices ranging from $200-$300. Easy to build and use. Fully articulated and balanced arm for all position viewing. Sundial Calculator© is based on AstroCalculator but is focused on just the sundial calculation, time and solar system calculations at a lower cost for the dialist community.

Sydney Institute for Astronomy (SIfA)
A leading centre for astrophysical research in Australia, at The University of Sydney.

Transit of Venus
A brief report on our viewing of the 2004 transit of Venus from Bill Arnett.

Tri-Valley Stargazers
Tri-Valley Stargazers (TVS) is a registered non-profit astronomy club serving the areas in and around Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, Fremont, and Tracy, California. Public outreach and astronomy education are promoted collectively by the club and individually by members who present public programs and monthly meetings. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in astronomy. Amateurs and professionals are equally welcome.

Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association
Tucson, AZ A resource for anyone interested in Astronomy. Our mission is to nurture a person's natural curiosity about the night sky. By giving people a knowledge and understanding of Astronomy, we enhance their enjoyment of the solar system  beyond. Through our public activities and school evening observing sessions, we bring Astronomy to persons of all ages. Our regular meetings and observing sessions offer members a forum to meet others with similar interests and experiences and to learn from one another.

Twin City Amateur Astronomers
309-438-2496 / Normal, IL Club info & links.

The Web Nebulae
Pictures and a bit of explanation of a couple dozen of the more spectacular nebulae in the night sky.

A full report on a trip to the 1998 solar eclipse in the Caribbean.
Westchester Amateur Astronomers
Valhalla, NY A not-for-profit organization open to people of all ages with the desire to learn more about astronomy and who share an interest in viewing the universe. We range from enthusiastic amateurs and educators to casual stargazers and families.

Wollongong Amateur Astronomy Club
Australia Club info & links.

World's Largest Optical Telescopes
Lists all the major optical observatories in the world today.