Physics and Astronomy

My love of physics and more specifically, astrophysics, began when I was a youngster looking at the craters of the moon with my $40 cardboard reflector telecope. I took on three paper routes to earn the money to buy it. I was excited to be able to see the moon through that telescope, and was sure that I saw things moving on the moon's surface. I always imagined I'd see an alien ship passing by on its way to Earth or to another destination, or that the aliens would see me looking at them and come down to talk to me. I didn't know how far 386,000 miles was, or have any concept of how long it would take to get there, but I was sure it was close enough to make contact.

I watched the old space shows fropm the 1950's with Commando Cody (no, not the same name as the band) who wore a jet pack attached to his back, and was able to fly in outer space defending the Earth from evil aliens. Who wouldn't want to be able to fly around like that, be a hero, and always get the girl. After getting my first real job, a car, and a girlfriend, I left my fantasies behind to concentrate on more earthly pursuits.

On a lark, I took a class on Astronomy and was immediately hooked. I was amazed at how much had been discovered about our universe and wanted to learn as much as I could. There was an optional assignment that you could use to get an extra five points on your grade, so naturally I decided to give it a try. I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree, so I figured that a little extra effort might help me get a better grade. I wrote a small paper on cosmic expansion and began to read everything I could find covering quantum mechanics, string theory, the parallel multiverse and particle physics. I've read papers and books by Andre Linde, Leon Lederman, Neil Turok, Paul Steinhardt, Stephen Hawking, Alan Guth, Neil Degrass Tyson, Michio Kaku, Lawrence Kraus, and Brian Greene in an attempt to understand how much of the information is true and how much was perhaps concocted to help sell books.

Unlike Einstein's photoelectric effect, string theory is still based widely on conjecture and hypothesis but has been gaining support. Einstein's theories on relativity and time dilation have been proven by experiemnent, but to date no one has been able to prove that there's one single definition for everything in the universe. Evidence seems to suggest that there may be multiple definitions, and that the search for a single, unifying definition may be folly. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that we know very little about the world and universe around us. The search for a single unifying theory will likely go on for perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years.

For the present, I want to understand how Pauli figured out the reason for the AZE effect, explaining why all of those spectral lines were caused by the extra angular momentum as a result of hidden rotation, and how, at only 21 years old, he was he able to explain spin-up and spin-down? And how was he able to develop the Exclusion Principle? And how did Bohr develop his theory of the shells around the core? They were doing spectroscopy when the television wasn't even invented. These physicists were developing the basis of quantum theory before the Great Depression. Maxwell's electromagnetic wave theory was presented in 1865, the year the civil war ended! Now, 150 years later, we still have no idea what makes up over 95% of the visible universe. I have decided once againto go back to school, this time for physics.

I thought that it would like to explore some of the universe and do some amateur astrophotography, so I recently purchased a Celestron 11" HD DX telescope. I knew very little about telescopes when I started looking at them. I asked a lot of dumb questions. Fortunately, I found a local astronomy club where I got in contact with some very knowledgeable folks. I decided that the 11" Celstron was the best all around scope for me, and the one that fit my budget. The total cost for the telescope, mount, optics, software, carrying cases, and accessories was about $5000.


scope 1

Celestron Edge HD 1100 DX


Unlike my first reflector telescope with a cardboard tube and plastic eyepiece, this instrument is built well and provides some features that make viewing much more enjoyable. It is a Schmidt-Cassegrain design on an equatorial mount, a good compromise for viewing stars, planets, and deep space objects. It's a little like a jack of all trades but master of none, in that it is not the best choice for viewing any one of the particular objects but a fairly good compromise for viewing all of those types of objects. Like other similar hobbies, astronomy is one that can easily drain your bank account. There's always something more you can buy, and optics are particularily expensive.


scope 2

"Go To" CGEM Mount


The Celestron 1100 DX HD comes with a heavy duty CGEM German equatorial mount. This is a computerized mount with servo drives that allow you to track objects as they move across the sky. This allows you to take pictures or movies of objects over long periods of time while not having to keep aligning the telescope with the object. The servo motors can also drive to scope to search for an object of interest. This is sometimes referred to as a "go to" telecope, meaning that once aligned, you can enter the object you'd like to observe into the handheld terminal and the telescope will locate it for you. This makes it easier than looking up the ascention and declination on your celestial sphere and hunting the sky for an object. This also makes it easier to locate objects in a shorter time and without interference from light polution.


scope 3

Celestron Handheld Terminal


Aligning the finder scope


I had to have knee surgery so I haven't been able to get in much viewing. However, I did manage to get a few lousy shots of the moon one night. I used a very inexpensive CCD video camera and extracted some images. They are not very impressive but I don't know what I'm doing yet.