How it all started

Ein langer Weg...

„Man kann einem Menschen nichts lehren, man kann ihm nur helfen, es in sich selbst zu entdecken.“ – GALILEO GALILEI

It was 21 July 1969. I (just seven months old) was about to go to sleep when my brother sat me down in front of the television in the evening.

My mother wanted to know why he was doing this.
He said, "So he's in!". And I was there.

It was the evening of a small step for one man and yet a giant leap for mankind when a certain Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. Thank you for that, brother heart!

My interest in astronomy started back in the mid '70s at the tender age of five. My grandpa explained the signs of the zodiac to me and some of it stayed with me. Amazing to think of all the things you did NOT listen to back then, but grandpa must have had a sense that this subject was to be with me all my life. Thank you grandpa! My observatory is named after you.

Over the years, I was fascinated by series like Captain Future, "Our Cosmos" with Carl Sagan, Star Trek, Space: 1999 and the like. I remember the first shuttle launch in 1981 very clearly. At that time, the liquid tank was still bright white. The crew of STS-1 were revered by me like heroes even then, alongside Juri Gagarin, Werner von Braun, Neil Armstrong and Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Well, I preferred Bones. And lately it's Captain Christopher Pike from Star Trek "Strange New World".

But of course there was no money, so for a long time it remained a dream to reach for the stars. For the time being...

In 2009, I was at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, USA - a childhood dream came true. Experiencing space travel live, countless shivers ran down my spine when I was at the place where history was made. I was there, I was really there! You could feel the past. Successes and disasters, and even a shuttle launch in the "Launch Experience", which is hard to beat in terms of realism.

Das offizielle Video dazu gibts hier, ein Mitschnitt eines „Leidensgenossen“ hier. Es zeigt das Briefing, also den Teil bevor die Post abgeht. Und hier die Launch Sequence selber. Ein Wahnsinn!

When my daughter took a course as part of her summer holiday programme in 2010, in which a telescope was made out of a plastic tube (HT), I had no idea that through the newsletter she received, my contact with astronomy was now finally complete.

Der Kursleiter Dr. Christoph Claude lud im Oktober 2010 zu einem öffentlichen Sterngucken in der Innenstadt ein, und da wir nichts anderes zu tun hatten, fuhren wir hin. Ich sah Jupiter durch sein Dobson Teleskop mit seinen Monden Ganymed, Io, Europa und Calysto mit meinen  eigenen Augen, und es war um mich geschehen! Ich war verblüfft, wie gut und preiswert die Optiken wurden.

Just one week later, we had our first telescope. A Skywatcher Newtonian, 6″ f5. And quickly we invested heavily. But that is another story. Thank you, little darling!

First steps in the sky

Right. So the first equipment is there. We put everything together the same evening. More difficult than expected. But you can manage it. After all, we successfully looked at the moon on the first evening. But polarising, calibration, pah. Not me! And the tracking? Always turning the cranks. I got tired of that after 24 hours, so I got a Goto tracking system. Teleskop Service (Mr Murner) helped me with the conversion by phone, as unfortunately no German instructions were enclosed. Thanks again for your patience, Andreas.

Nach etwas Zeit und durch viel lesen und viele Ratschläge bekam ich die Sache in den Griff, wobei es immer noch viel zu lernen gilt! Ich entdeckte den Mond mit all seinen wundervollen Ansichten, Jupiter verabschiedete sich und Saturn trat an seine Stelle. Der Ring, die Monde… doch Galaxien? Fehlanzeige. Da wird man schon mal narrisch!

Our local interest group around Dr Christoph Claude was very helpful. He himself gave me valuable tips, and Uwe Sadlowski was and is my great mentor and advisor. Christoph gave me tips on worthwhile objects, I borrowed a breathtaking 5mm eyepiece and Uwe gave me the tip about the webcam for planetary photography and autoguiding, i.e. the automatic tracking of the telescope for long exposures. Thanks guys!

My location is anything but perfect. The proximity to the airport, a streetlight that illuminates the courtyard and not the street, and the constant passing of cars make it difficult for my daughter and me to relax and watch the sky at night.

 But at least I got to know a hedgehog, a hungry bat, all the neighbourhood cats, a villager who walks her dog at half past two without a word and without returning any greeting. Bizarre! My dear neighbours Agnes, Resi, Vroni and Matthias are also enthusiastic about the night sky. Well, Agnes pretends to be nice :). And so they have often made their beautiful dark courtyard available to me, not without taking care of the physical well-being, but that's another story *cough*.

At a joint observation evening of the Erding Sidewalk Astronomers, where about 10 telescopes were present, there was a big "aaaaah" and "ooooooh" because they all saw a galaxy called M51. I saw - nothing. Zero, nada. But at least I saw satellites rushing through the eyepiece, they did not. With the best will in the world, there was no galaxy. So in the course of time I had to learn to relax my eyes, to do a dark adaptation (getting the eyes used to darkness), not to light cigarettes with the bright lighter, to practise looking into the void (like in the morning after a night of drinking) when looking through, and then there was a dark grey nothing. So there it was, the galaxy. Well, yes. Unimpressive, almost invisible, but I knew that.

So there had to be another way to make it visible, and thanks to Uwe I had the idea of buying a digital clamp so that I could connect my digital camera to the telescope, and so the first step into astrophotography was taken. But it was only the beginning of a journey in which I once again entered the rabbit hole.

And in contrast to the already demanding optical observation, this should still prove to be easy compared to astrophotography...

Warum Astrofotografie - oder: "Jetzt spinnt er völlig"​

As already described under "First steps", I was conditionally satisfied with the purely visual results. How the heck could you visualise what others see in their large and expensive optics? After one evening/night, how could you preserve what you had experienced for later generations and subsequent species? Thanks to Uwe, I had the idea of buying a digital clamp so that I could connect my digital camera to the telescope and thus the first step into astrophotography was taken. But it was only the beginning of a journey in which I once again entered the rabbit hole.

With the most primitive means and a lot of post-processing, I arrived at my first result, the group around M81, consisting of M81 and M82. Actually, there was nothing to be seen in the picture. But in iPhoto I turned the brightness slider and suddenly both galaxies appeared! A feeling - indescribable. Pure happiness hormones! A loud scream! I had tasted blood...

Mein erstes Astrofoto 2011 – M81 und M82

That wasn't quite enough for me, so in May 2011 I finally bought a DSLR, my much-loved Canon EOS 1000. This gem was recommended to me by Dieter Rupprecht and Rainer Neubauer, two dear colleagues. And thanks to my astro friends Uwe and Frank (greetings to Oberhausen, my best!) I also made quick progress. The valuable tips I received saved me a lot of money and above all time. It turns out that when it comes to astronomy and astrophotography, there is no alternative to one thing: Experience!!

What I have noticed in the course of time is how many people are enthusiastic about looking into space. Or had already been interested in it in the past. The initial hesitation about whether to look through it. And that look in the first five seconds after they have looked through is simply fun to watch. Fascination. Not being able to believe. Enthusiasm. THAT is astronomy.

Space is and remains pure fascination. For young and old. The wonderful site of my astro friend Frank also reports on this:

Reisen im Licht der Sterne