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Amateur Astronomer Bruce Berger Talks About Meteors and Telescopes (Video)

timothy posted 1 year,8 days | from the how-to-see-stars-without-getting-hit-on-the-head dept.

Space 36

Bruce Berger is an IT guy, but he's also an amateur astronomer who takes at least one aspect of astronomy more seriously than most sky-watchers. Not content with what he could buy when he first wanted a telescope of his own, Berger set out to make one -- it turned out so well, he says he'll never part with it, and he's made several others since, and taught many other people to do the same. In this pursuit, he's also been a long-time member of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston, including a stint as the group's president. (Berger's custom license plate reads "SCPMKR.") In the video below, though, I caught up with him in Maine between evenings watching this year's spectacular Perseid showers (and without any of his home-built scopes to hand), to give some insight about what would-be skywatchers should consider in looking at scopes. It's surprising just how good today's telescopes are for the money, but it's easy to be ripped off, too, or at least disappointed. (And besides avoiding department store junk, building your own is still Bruce's strongest advice.) Ed note: This Video is Part 1 of 2. Part 2 will run tomorrow.

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2013 Leonids? (2)

turkeydance (1266624) | 1 year,8 days | (#44556945)

really? already?

Re:2013 Leonids? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | 1 year,8 days | (#44556977)

I figured they meant Perseid.

Re:2013 Leonids? (2)

schneidafunk (795759) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557009)

Leonids happens in November (15th-20th to be exact).
Perseid peeked a few days ago.

Re:2013 Leonids? (1)

Roblimo (357) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557329)

Good catch. Fixed. Thank you.

Re:2013 Leonids? (1)

timothy (36799) | 1 year,7 days | (#44560843)

Brainfart; sorry. They're both such nice names!

Re:2013 Leonids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557589)

No, it "peaked" a few days ago.

Re:2013 Leonids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557669)

The peak was supposed to be last night, but I didn't get a chance to peek at them.

Re:2013 Leonids? (2)

frovingslosh (582462) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557193)

Yea, my thought exactly. Us amateurs have to wait until November for them. But I'm really not sure if they got the name wrong, or if this is just very dated and "this year's" refers to something that happened last year. Sloppy reporting either way, makes me not trust anything else that it might say.

Check out these (1)

IntentionalStance (1197099) | 1 year,8 days | (#44556959)

Re:Check out these (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557271)

I've had two telescopes, not including binoculars and cheapo dime-store stuff. My first scope was 4 1/4" f10 Newtonian. Bulky to haul out with the steel mount, but a lot of fun. I was enthusiastic enough in my teens to haul it out when there was snow on the ground. Cold Winter nights had the clearest air in Northern Virginia, even if you didn't have the spectacle of the Summer Milky Way.

When I went to school I traded it in for the compact backpack scope that Edmund was selling at the time. This baby was also Newtonian, but had a rounded body and just a little curved metal plate for a mount. I didn't miss the clock drive; but the quality of the optics was a huge step down. I ended up taking it back because of that.

I learned the hard way that short-focus optics are apparently harder to grind. In order to get the compact size with the same aperture they were using short focal length. Star discs had noticeable distortion, which bothered me.

I wonder how well these Dobsonian "light buckets" do in that regard. If you are shooting long exposures of nebulae or just taking joy at being able to see a spiral arm or two in some galaxy, it's not a problem. I think it would bother me based on past experience though.

Of course you can get the best of both worlds with the Schmidt-Cassegrain design; but they were at least 5X the cost back then. I haven't priced them in years. I lost interest in college and never got back into stargazing.

Re:Check out these (1)

Score Whore (32328) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557387)

If you were getting "discs" from stars I want that telescope. Please tell me where I can find it.

Re:Check out these (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557701)

Focusing discs. You should have a nice round disk when de-focused, and a nice sharp point with no discernable flair when focused. The cheapo scope had some distortion, mostly noticed as odd flairs when focused.

Re:Check out these (1)

mmcxii (1707574) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557287)

I hate to put it this way but most would-be astronomy buffs would be seriously turned off by a Dob. Most people expect much more out of a scope to begin with without all the pains of being a Dob owner. I say this as the proud owner of a 12 inch Meade Lightbridge.

Re:Check out these (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44559259)

most would-be buffs are 'put off' by almost all telescopes. binoculars are better. at least at the beginning.
here's why: easy. point and shoot. then, after they get a 'taste' for it, get Bigger Binocs, tripod, all that.
but here's what worked for us:
it's looking Down into a mirror and thereby looking Up. saves neck cramps.

So... what does his license plate mean? (3, Insightful)

Ambvai (1106941) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557049)

So... what does his license plate mean? I assume it's related to being in the ATMoB since the snippet comes right after, but what's the [SCP]-Maker supposed to mean?

He makes Special Containment Procedures to Secure, Contain and Protect makers?

Re:So... what does his license plate mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557079)

I read it as SCoPe MaKer

Re: So... what does his license plate mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 days | (#44588419)

Right you are. I got this plate in '02 and enjoy the conversation with strangers about its meaning.

Bruce Berger

Re:So... what does his license plate mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557085)

SCoPe Maker

Re:So... what does his license plate mean? (1)

worf_mo (193770) | 1 year,8 days | (#44558865)


Or did I run into a whoosh?

Re:So... what does his license plate mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44559265)

How the fuck did this fucking retard get modded up?

Good on him, but I'd rather just buy one (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557165)

I think I'll just buy a Meade scope with the autostar system. Sure it's more expensive, but it's a whole lot less work for someone like me who just wants to gaze occasionally. I've got a little Bausch and Laumb SCT that I bought at a pawn shop for about $200 when I was in college. Equatorial mount but a real PAIN to align. The modern scopes with GPS and auto-alignment are a breeze.

Thank you /. (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557211)

Every so often you still post an article that makes my sojourn here worthwhile.

Re: Thank you /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#44561063)

Yet seeing the number of comments is depressing... forty comments at this time while fhe zimmerman verdict received thousands... no wonder geek articles show up less and less

Re: Thank you /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 days | (#44588459)


How to buy a telescope? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44557245)

I was really hoping he was going to talk about building your own telescope and grinding your own lens.

Re:How to buy a telescope? (1)

timothy (36799) | 1 year,7 days | (#44560575)

Other years, Berger told me, he's brought materials to camp to demo the lens grinding process, but this year brought only ready-made stuff -- only so much fits in the Prius at once ;) I hope I'll get a demo of the grinding / design process later on, though. In the meantime, there's a lot of good info at the ATMOB site linked in the summary.


Re:How to buy a telescope? (1)

umafuckit (2980809) | 1 year,7 days | (#44565799)

Some amateurs do grind their own mirrors, but lens grinding is a whole different kettle of fish. Hardly anyone does that. A little Googling will soon get you started with mirror grinding.

Telescope size (3, Informative)

wbr1 (2538558) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557439)

For those that are interested here is a little more info. As you may know, the larger the diameter of the telescope, the more light gathering power it has. Similar to a bucket catching rain, the wider the bucket the more it catches.

Refractors have two main disadvantages, one, the larger the aperture, the thicker the lens has to be as well, making the lense heavy. IIRC it also requires longer and longer tubes to focus the light.

A reflector mirror on the other hand can be much shorter for the aperture size and the mirror can be lighter than a similarly sized lens, as it only needs to be a reflective film or coating on a lighter substrate, as long as it has minimal imperfections.

Really good and large mirrors are expensive though. Here is a place that will sell you good mirrors if you want to make your own. []

Re:Telescope size (3, Interesting)

tuo42 (3004801) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557963)

Very true, but at the same time, while "size matters" is true in astronomy, I also often see amateur astronomers fall for this thing and think that they should invest in a large "first scope", often with a large aperture. Most of the times these are Newtons, sometimes if money ain't a problem even larger Schmidt-Cassegrains.

While with the SCs the problem is not that important as nearly all of them have the same aperture of f/10, with faster newtons people often are sold a large telescope because it is easier and "more impressive" to move the big iron than to instruct them that with the bigger diameter and - most of the time - faster aperture, they need expensive eyepieves. But eyepieces are irrelevant for most new-comers. They know they need them, but they care more about "that big, big tube of science" and the mount.

My advice: always consult one or two respected forums as well as your local astro shop. Size definitely matters in astronomy, but it always increases the need for higher quality "boring" stuff like eyepieces, and even mounts. I have seen many shops selling optical tube assemblies (the optical part of a telescope system) with mounts that couldn't handle them and POS eyepieces. So the very first time you look through your telescope, everytime your nose touches the eyepiece, the thing starts to shiver for ten seconds, every blast of air makes it impossible to observer something.

Allthough I am not a fan of "buying twice", I would advice most people to start with a dobson. Most of the time the aperture is small enough so that they can use decent Plössl eyepieces, the "mount" is solid enough to have fun, and they have to start manually without GoTo. If the moon, some planets and some easily observable objects catch their interest, then it is time to think about going bigger, and they know what questions to ask to get a solid recommendation for the next scope.

Better than surfing the night sky without knowing where you are simply by pressing buttons, looking for those purple/red nebulars and finding out that M31 is a dissapointment you can't get enough off ;)

Re:Telescope size (2)

thegarbz (1787294) | 1 year,7 days | (#44560153)

While size matters, the way the telescope is used matters even more.

The last Astronomy party I attended featured a spectacular 28" Dobsonian scope built by a company called poetically "Size Does Matter". The Eastern Veil looked great through it. I then went back to my small 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain bolted a camera to the back, pointed it to the Eastern Veil and took a 2 hour photo that looks much better than anything I could see through the telescope 10 times the cost of mine.

My suggestion to anyone who wants to get into astronomy is forget the visual stuff, spend money on an equatorial mount a basic telescope and a decent camera and the universe will open up even more for you.

Re:Telescope size (1)

umafuckit (2980809) | 1 year,7 days | (#44563373)

Zambuto makes very expensive, high end, mirrors. Most beginners would be far better off spending $500 on a complete telescope from []

Yikes (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557485)

An IT guy? Really? This kind of site is why we have to put up with graphics/UI people.

Go to the visual atrocity that is the home page. Click on the section labeled "Library". Get a page of
2013 Jan Feb Mar ...
2012 Jan Feb Mar ...
links to .PDF documents, not the barest hint of what you'll see when you get there. TOC be damned.

Go to the "Gallery" section and see a list of links in ASCIIbetical order of useless gallery names, (ex: "Bill Toomey's images") each individual one with thumbnails in a vertical format.
"Events" top level section gets you a "No events defined" page. And so on.

All this website needs is blinking text to be GeoCities-ready.

I still miss Gleaning for ATMs (1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | 1 year,8 days | (#44557501)

Sky and Telescope needs to bring that back

Huge PV array behind him? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 days | (#44558917)

That barn in the background, is it covered with solar panels? LIke 200 of them? I'm getting ~20 panels on my house roof and it is expected to supply my annually-integrated electrical consumption!

Re:Huge PV array behind him? (1)

timothy (36799) | 1 year,7 days | (#44560539)

Yes, that's a barn covered with solar panels. I meant to count 'em, but forgot -- don't think it's quite 200, but it's a whole lot.

I talked this morning with one of the camp's owners, and he said of the installation (which has taken a few years to complete) "I wish we had a bigger roof ..." It's supplying something over half of the camp's electricity needs, but not all. There are also solar heaters for water on some of the cabins, and generally they try to be efficient generally.

Get out to some dark skies (1)

umafuckit (2980809) | 1 year,7 days | (#44563349)

I'm an amateur astronomer. If you haven't seen the night sky from a really dark location then you owe it to yourself to do so. This map of the US shows you where's dark and where's not: [] Basically, anywhere "blue" and darker will be breathtaking. You can go and just look up or bring binoculars and a simple star chart. You don't need fancy equipment to enjoy astronomy, but a dark sky is important. If you want to get into it and buy a telescope then perfectly serviceable ones are now pretty cheap. There's a great forum called, where you can ask questions and learn more. Basic rule is to buy a telescope from a dedicated astronomical telescope supplier not a department store.
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