I figure all of us got interested in astronomy the first time we saw the stars in the sky, during our young years. I am not different. Many years ago when I was eleven years old and living in a small town in the northeastern part of Mexico, my next door neighbor had a visitor from the nearest big city who happened to bring a telescope with him. That telescope was a 60mm and with an approximate focal length of 800mm, much like the ones sold in some department stores nowadays. I was invited to peek through it. My Dad literally lifted me off my bed around 1:00 am that night. But it was worth it. Even though the tripod was wobbly, we managed to see Jupiter (a blob anyway) and parts of the moon. The impression lasted me for years and probably I would have increased my interest in astronomy had it not been for more pressing priorities.
My interest remained dormant until I bumped into an Astronomy magazine in 1982. One thing led to another and I found myself attending Astrofest. I looked at those hundreds of telescopes like a kid in a toy store. I began inquiring about making telescopes, because I was sure I could build one. Nevertheless I wanted to walk before I could run; for this, I joined The Chicago Astronomical Society and then LCAS. I had to know how big was my interest in astronomy and wanted to move from armchair to actual observer. I bought a $19.00 1-inch 300mm focal length toy telescope - it even had a mini tripod and a rack-and-pinion focuser with a fixed eyepiece. I used to set it up atop my car. I aimed it at the sky and found Jupiter, but this time there were three tiny lights by the orange blob. I was so excited that I thought I had a breakthrough. I bought a 60mm after that, and then built a copyscope, and still I felt there was something missing.
I've since gotten rid of the toys and bought serious optics. Next was a 6-inch primary mirror with its matched secondary. With the advice of some club members and a lot of help from Richard Berry's book Build Your Own Telescope, I built a REAL telescope. I still had trouble getting to the objects with the 6x25 finder. Then I bought a set of charts and put myself to the task of learning the constellations and better yet, to finding the objects in the sky according to those charts. It took me several years because of my lack of time and proper sites to observe. I started going to Gran Quivira with the guys and little by little I was absorbing the knowledge of the sky. I still had trouble with that little finder. I bought a Telrad and the first time I used it, I found more than fifteen objects that night. It was finally a REAL breakthrough. I know that the best way to find objects is to "star hop", but for some reason it didn't agree with me. So I developed my own system, by drawing imaginary triangles and squares in the sky, this made it even easier. Ahah!
But then came the time to observe Coma Berenices ... then I got lost!!! I could not identify one object from the other and there are dozens in the field of the scope. Well, then I installed computerized setting circles on the 10-inch f/6 scope that I built during many Sundays while I was working two jobs. After many tries and much more frustration, I made it work. Then the deep sky was revealed to me at its greatest! Now my "interest" turned into a "passion" for this fantastic science/hobby.
Nowadays I can find up to forty different objects in one night. But this was not really my objective. My real objective was to know the sky with the realization that it will be there forever! I could never learn it in one night, not even in a year - it would probably take several lifetimes, if any.
The purpose of this article is to help newcomers to understand what it takes to practice amateur astronomy: it takes time, effort, patience, some money, and above all a willingness to try.