March 25, 2017

Astronomy on the Go

A lucky shot from Seville, Spain…

(Photo by author)

Do you always remember to look at the sky, wherever you are? Sometimes, an astronomical event comes to us, but often, we have to instead go to it. Total solar eclipses or witnessing the northern lights from the high arctic comes to mind.

It’s easy to keep up astronomy as a daily pursuit when it’s the primary goal of an expedition… but what do you when it isn’t?

We’re currently on an extended sabbatical in Spain. We like to pack light, and we’re only traveling with three bags. We parked our telescopes in the storage unit back in Florida, and we’re only carrying our DSLR with one combination zoom lens and our trusty 15x 45 image stabilized binoculars. Our one extravagance was the purchase of a small collapsible travel camera tripod.

I never regret packing light, especially once I have to start carrying gear from point to point. It also amuses me how far in time and space a good observing site seems to recede, especially during the winter, or a stay in a built up urban area. Perhaps you’re in a hotel room on the 13th floor; open sky is still several air locks and an elevator trip away… and even then, you’re stuck standing in a floodlight filled parking lot.

Of course, even surreptitious travel has its perks even when it comes to astronomy. Get out there far enough, and you just might find yourself as a singular witness to an unforgettable event, like next week’s occultation of Venus. Hey, the world keeps turning 24-7, and there’s astronomy in the skies beyond just the United States and Europe, right?

We watch for events wherever we can, and we’re always on the lookout for what might be just down the road. We managed to visit the two LIGO facilities and the stately Yerkes observatory in Wisconsin this way. Plus, searching out a local astronomy club and star party can give that eye piece ‘fix’ that you crave dearly.

What would I like to add to my gear? A small refractor or a Questar reflector would make a great carry-on travel scope… I’d also like to carry a pocket green laser pointer, though I know I’d most likely part ways with it the first time though TSA security… an upgrade of lenses and camera also seems like a never ending quest.

Clouded out? Staying connected with the astronomical community online is also a good resource. I’d dropped keeping an astronomical journal some years ago; this days, social media and mainly Twitter has become my ‘journal,’ as I micro-blog what we’re doing, and what’s coming to a (hopefully) dark sky near you. My goal and fondest hope is that I’m helping to get ‘eyeballs on objects,’ and connecting with astronomers worldwide.

And hey, travel has helped us check off some pretty big ticket astro-events, including the northern lights, an annular eclipse way back when in 1994, and the Leonid meteors from the desserts of Kuwait back in 1998.

Astronomy is where you find it, and the next skywatching adventure might be just down the road.

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