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In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Sun Dec 15, 2019 6:55 pm
by mikemarotta
We call them “hobby killers.” The facts are that (1) for a child interested in science, any telescope is better than no telescope and (2) not every family can afford a $1500 dobsonian for a child who might soon find more reward and success in music, drama, sports, or computers and (3) to be useful telescope cannot be bigger than the kid. The real “hobby killer” is a lack of social support and that applies to anyone new to the hobby, adults as well as children.

First, it is important to separate instruments from toys. Undoubtedly, a toy telescope with a plastic lens will do little to stimulate an interest in astronomy. With that out of the way, I will advocate for the $129 3-inch refractor as an ideal entry-level instrument. It will serve a child until she is old enough to spend her own $700 to $1500 on her next telescope, whether or not she eventually majors in astronomy or any science at all. For an adult with a middle class career or without over-arching family obligations, that first telescope will be in the mid-range or above.

Hobbies are expensive. So are children. Here in Austin, Texas, the median wage for an automotive mechanic is $40,635 per year (Glassdoor) up to $25.02 per hour (Indeed). A carpenter makes between $19.26 and $19.96 per hour (Indeed). The US Census Bureau sets median household income (1.5 wage earners) at $61,937. The Social Security Administration says $50,000 average personal income nationwide – tech billionaires added into auto mechanics and divided by 100 million. So, who can afford what is pretty much a matter of economic circumstance.
Last night, I used a National Geographic 70 mm refractor to identify the Andromeda Galaxy after viewing the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades. I live in the city of Austin, a mile from a major shopping center.
My first telescope was a Tasco 30 mm (1 ½ inch) bird-watcher. I got it for Christmas shortly after I turned nine. I might have viewed the Moon a couple of times. I might have tried it on Venus. Mostly, I used it to look across the backyards to see if my friends were out playing. The next summer, out in the backyard, one of our neighbors, a young doctor, pointed to a bright star. “I think that’s a planet,” he said. At his suggestion, I got the telescope. He lined it up and declared, “Saturn.” He turned it over to me and with a little adjustment, there it was: Saturn.

The story behind the National G refractor is that neighbor kids got it as Christmas present from an uncle. By July when I bought it, the kids had wrecked it. The oculars were gone as were the cellphone adapter, the altitude adjustment knob, and the center tray. The dew shield was jammed on backwards. Sadly, their father earned a BS degree and worked in a highly technical field. He never went out with them. I know that because the finder scope is a “red dot” LED and the little plastic insulator tab was still between the battery and the contact. It was not the telescope that killed the hobby for the kids: for them, astronomy was stillborn for the lack of adult supervision. It might be nice if parents had the same passion for astronomy that makes them ruin little league sports by arguing with the field judge and taking a swing at the coach.

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Sun Dec 15, 2019 7:24 pm
by yobbo89
Dam, mechanics are overpaid and the carpenters are under, when I work out with a little conversion, here in aus most of the trades are at a similar rate, there are other things to get the year income up such as overtime hours which are 1.5x and double pay rate and on-site allowances, and sub contractor work ectt.. The pay rate for certain jobs is ridiculous aswell,there are jobs that just pay as much or more as a skilled trades man that just involve using myob and doing pay slips and jobs just holding a stop and slow down sign at night.i guess it all has to do with who you work for and scarcity of job roles, economy, it's a very harsh world, alot of us work as hard as the 6 digit Incomers do and get next to nothing for the input.. tertiary roles aren't for everyone but I wish the government would atleast give the tier 2 a fair try in the money world instead of robbing the average 😂, I think I'll quit my job and become a stop sign holder so I can buy a bigger telescope hahah

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Sun Dec 15, 2019 8:12 pm
by Star Dad
I had a TASCO 60mm refractor as a kid. (still have it and it works- back when they were made of metal and glass). I agree with parental involvement. I looked at the moon. Mars was a total bust. Did not where else to look - I got no books or references. I did try to see the neighbors daughter through her window, but alas, she always had her shades pulled down. :bandit: But I loved space and the Apollo program. So I kept at it and here I am today with (to me at least) a sweet set up. I'm teaching kids all the time on how to use a telescope and advising parents on junk not to buy. Parents - whether they believe it or not - are very influential with their kids. :smile:

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 1:07 am
by mikemarotta
I packed my 130 EQ back into the box and put it in the garage. The little National G 70 mm refractor has been my only telescope for over a year. I just made a project out of it, determined to see what it can do. I have the standard Celestron lens and filter kit and that helps a lot.

The little refractor took some getting used to. But on January 6, 2018, I got up at 4:30 AM to view the Jupiter Mars Conjunction with it. Last night, to find M 31, I spent an hour scanning back and forth, up and down. I could see it naked eye and with binoculars, but the 70mm refractor is like looking through a soda straw. I trued up the finder scope a couple of times, finally homing in on Sirius. Then I could easily sight the Andromeda Galaxy.

Viewing the Orion Nebula was much easier. It is a big, easy target. I started with the low power, wide view 32 mm eyepiece. With a 13 mm ocular that gives 53.8x, I could home in on the Trapezium group within the nebula.

I began the night by sighting on the Pleiades. It was easy. However, the small aperture of the 3-inch objective cannot show the entire group, even at 21.8x, the lowest power from the 32 mm eye piece. But they were all there, the seven naked-eye stars and the rich field revealed by even a small telescope. The night was getting damp, so I took a look at the Moon with the 20 mm (32.5 x) “correcting” lens, and then packed up and came in.

I sympathize with Star Dad above. As a child, I had no idea how easy so many targets could have been. I eventually got a 4-inch reflector for my 13th birthday but did not do much better with it. However, I was always interested in science and space. I went to the planetarium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, ( sometimes five or six Sundays in a row. I could get there on my own, two buses across town. My mom bought me a membership. The planetarium, not the telescope, was my window to the universe.

For me, the final assessment is that the $129 3-inch refractor will show the Moon, the Galileans of Jupiter, the Rings of Saturn, and the phases of Venus. It will reveal stellar clusters and nebulae. But you have to know where to look and what you are looking at.

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 1:19 am
by Makuser
Hello Michael. Well said, and accurately stated. I started in 1964 with a 3" Tasco reflector. It was the fascination, curiosity, and the desire to learn that kept me going.

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 1:26 am
by mikemarotta
yobbo89 wrote:
Sun Dec 15, 2019 7:24 pm
Dam, mechanics are overpaid and the carpenters are under, ... alot of us work as hard as the 6 digit Incomers do and ...
I was setting up a different line of logic. My local astronomy club gives out telescopes, typically the 4-inch tabletop reflectors, but others as well. We used to give out those small refractors but stopped. When I brought the topic up at a board meeting, the response was that small telescopes are "hobby killers." Yet, at the same time, no one seemed interested in pursuing the program through the schools with the parents as the targets. Austin, Texas, is a southwestern US city with large sector of low-paid Hispanic wage-earners, often two incomes to make one. So, my viewpoint is what can a blue collar father afford for the kid who expresses an interest in astronomy.

And, consider, also, as I did that just because you give a kid a telescope does not mean that you make her into an astronomer, nor should it. As a child, I used my Tasco microscope far more often. I viewed salt, sugar, pepper, pollen, textiles, strings and threads. I stuck myself in the finger for blood. It was indoor work, easy to set up any time, day or night. Many of our neighbors were doctors. Our home was only a mile from the steel mills, but only a block from City Hospital. Interns and residents rented from us and our neighbors. When I was 13 the lab technicians went on strike and one of the doctors brought me in to cut open mice.

But, as I said above to Star Dad, I still went to the planetarium often for many years until I got married and moved away. And, then, years later, I was taking my daughter to a university planetarium. But she did not become a scientist.

It so happens that globally, American adults marginally out-score their peers from other nations. No one does well, but American adults who care to know do know because they pretty much grew up in a science-oriented culture. For all the "hobby killer" telescopes collecting dust, some seeds found fertile ground.

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 1:49 am
by Ylem
I started with a 3 inch cardboard newt in 1968. Come summer of 1969 I could not see the Astronauts on the Moon, but I still loved my scope :)

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 12:34 pm
by SkyHiker
I agree that crappy telescopes are not hobby killers. Even if you can only see the moon with it, it comes with various eyepieces, a Barlow, a mount with controls, which are stimulating features. If people are interested they will get the maximum out of it then ask for more or will resume later. The ones that bail out were not really interested in the first place, so no love lost. The real hobby killers are the internet (except when used for hobby), cell phones, computer games and social media.

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Sat Jan 18, 2020 6:40 am
by russmax
Hi Mike,
I also live in Austin. I have two boys who are Scouts and I’m an adult leader for younger Cub Scouts and older Boy Scouts.

A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to invest in astronomy tools and start teaching the Scouts about space and optics. My thought was that the Scouts need to be a little impressed with what they see in the eyepiece. Scouting presents many opportunities to do astronomy. Every month, we campout far from town at a state park or local lake.

So I had two requirements for my Scouting scope. Impressive views. Light enough to hike to a campsite. I ended up with a 4” short refractor on a light alt-az mount. Total wt, 14 lbs. The scouts were impressed. Several have completed Astronomy merit badges. I bring it to every campout where I expect clear skies.

I paid $260 for it. That’s more than your $100 “hobby killer”, but far less than the $700 you’ve posited a “good” scope costs.

So far, none of the Scouts have shown enough interest that I’d tell their parents they should get their own gear. But they have all enjoyed seeing planets, nebulae, and clusters. Basically, they are sponges at this age.

When they are older many may come back to it. They will at least know some major features of the night sky and will have learned the difference between a reflector and a refractor.

Hey, we both live in Austin. Maybe we’ll run into each other at some star party in the near future.

Best regards,
Russmax (Asst Scoutmaster, Troop 49)

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Sat Jan 25, 2020 3:52 pm
by mikemarotta
russmax wrote:
Sat Jan 18, 2020 6:40 am
I paid $260 for it. That’s more than your $100 “hobby killer”, but far less than the $700 you’ve posited a “good” scope costs.
The Austin Astronomical Society does a lot of outreach at schools, libraries, and state parks. The other night, we were at an elementary school science fair. Ahead of that, just for comparison, I went window shopping online for Ziljian cymbals: the "Basic 4 Gig Set" is $299. It just helps to put things in perspective.

Congratulations on your successes with the scouts. I did not last long as a Cub Scout. This is not the place for a whole other discussion on what makes good troops and packs, but the commonalities are pretty easy to identify.

Do you know about the Astronomical League? Austin Astro club members get AL membership as part of the deal. The point here is that the AL has many (at least 20, I think) certification programs for people who want to pursue structured engagements in observation and other aspects of the hobby. I think that programs like that gain and keep people interested and involved -- and keep those telescopes out of the closet.

Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Mon Jan 27, 2020 7:02 pm
by russmax
I know a little about the Austin Astronomy Club, and met several members at a couple of star parties a few years ago. I do not know about the Astronomy League. I'm not plugged in there simply because I am too busy with various roles in Scouting. I'm an Assistant Scoutmaster, Nova/Supernova (STEM) counselor and trainer, merit badge counselor, training coordinator, advancement coordinator, 1st class in 1st year coordinator. Plus being a Scout dad. And sailing. And riding my dirt bike.


Re: In Support of the "Hobby KIller" Telescope

Posted: Mon Jan 27, 2020 7:58 pm
by Bigzmey
Hamster attention span is the hobby killer, but it is easier to blame on telescopes. My only telescope when I was a kid was the 60mm refractor I made from cardboard tube, eyeglass lens and microscope EP.