Introducing Myself - How Astronomy became a Life Long Passion

More than half a century ago, my Dad took me to visit with an astronomer friend of his. He led us into his back yard and proudly displayed his masterpiece, a beautifully machined eight inch Newtonian telescope. As the last light faded in the West, the first astronomer I ever met said "Ah, there's Saturn!" A moment later I was looking at a yellowish globe with clearly defined rings. To either side of the planet were tiny glittering specks which he said were moons of Saturn. I was literally entranced. Much later that night, a very sleepy boy was sure that he would be an astronomer.

Poor Dad scarcely realized what a monster he had created. For the next year and a half, at every chance real and imagined I asked if we could have a telescope. There was no money for such a frivolity in a family with four siblings, but finally my father said that if I could earn the money that he would let me buy a telescope. I began to save whatever change I could earn. Even as a nine year old, I realized that at the rate I was saving, that I'd be a teenager before I could buy so much as a pair of binoculars. Then I came across a copy of a brochure from a war surplus store. While it didn't have telescopes, it did have lenses. My small amount of savings bought a half dozen lenses.

Over the next couple of weeks, mailing tubes became the barrel of my telescope. Several small cans that fitted in each other became my focuser. Dad helped me build a tripod from some scrap lumber. Finally, we cemented several small lenses inside a bored out wooden collar - I had my eyepiece. I was ready!

Dad and I transported my creation to a neighbor's pasture. Up in the East over our house shown Jupiter. I sighted along the barrel of the scope until we were lined up. I slid the eyepiece up and down inside my tin can focuser until - wonder of wonders - out popped Jupiter and the four famous moons Galileo had discovered centuries before.

Since then I have owned other instruments far superior in all respects save two. That rickety telescope I made at nine years old was the only telescope I ever put together with my own hands. It started me on a life long hobby.

Today I'm one of the regulars at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charleston Rhode Island. I love to talk to visitors on clear Friday nights shortly after dark. Showing children the stars and planets often remind me of a backyard astronomer's kindness to a small boy on a warm Summer's evening when Saturn was high in the South so long ago. Today its is my turn to gently encourage young viewers in the hopes that a half century hence that some young person will pass the favor on to yet another generation.

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jan 1, 1998
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Columns
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