I was eleven years old, some winter evening in 1988, when I took my father's 20x50 binoculars and figured I'd check out the night sky. There was this little group of stars that had caught my attention and I spent quite some time looking at it. Then there was this majestic grouping of stars in the shape of a -zandloper- and a tiny nebulous patch in the middle there. Soon after I got some books and learned I had been viewing what's called The Pleiades and the constellation of Orion. Just as quick as I had fallen in love with the night sky, I learned more about the weather and how it ruined a lot of potential observing nights, but there were books, luckily, to feed my curiosity. About a year later my mother said I could have a telescope. I was thrilled. We went to some camera store which had some cheap 2.4" refractor on display and she bought it. I also started reading magazines like Ciel et Espace, Astronomy and Sky and Telescope. A whole new world opened up to me also, seeing the images sent back by the Viking landers on Mars, radar images of the surface of Venus and the Voyager missions. The little refractor allowed me to get nice steady views. I spent countless nights looking at the Moon, observing and plotting down the positions of Jupiter's Moons, and finding deepsky objects. There was also a period in which I spent a lot of time plotting down the changes in sunspots from day to day. I also still used my binoculars but one day they broke and while I missed the comfort of viewing with both eyes, I started daydreaming of another telescope. Naturally I wanted the biggest I could get. After two years of observing with the little refractor that dream came true and after working hard during summer vacation I bought a Meade 8" F4 Schmidt-Newton fork-mounted telescope.
Now that was a difference! At first I looked at the Moon and planets also but the after my next summer jobs I bought some decent eyepieces, a Meade 6.7mm 84° UWA and a Vixen 17mm 65° LVW. These truly transformed the telescope. I got more and more into deepsky observing and marveled ever more at eye-candy like the Orion Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy, yet I also liked finding little smudgy galaxies in the Virgo and Coma Berenices galaxy clusters. I made a few sketches in that time and eventually I preferred visiting some of the brighter objects over and over again to eek out more detail than finding another yet featureless smudge at the edge of my instrument's abilities. On a few ocassions I used an film SLR camera to capture the Moon and startrails but as much as I liked taking pictures, astrophotography to me, was just trying to make another picture of an object shot thousands of times before by amateurs with better equipment doing a much better job at it. I didn't have the budget to buy a tracking mount, one of the earlier astronomy dedicated ccd cameras, let alone lots of film to experiment with the SLR.
Orion Nebula sketch
In 1997 Mars Pathfinder landed on the surface of Mars. Alas, when I left home a year later with my teenage sweetheart, I also left the pretty decent dark environment I had enjoyed for observing and combined with real life and having a full-time job I only rarely observed the Moon and planets. In the year 2000 I met a woman who had been on vacation to Crete, Greece in the past and I was eager to go to explore the unpolluted nightsky over there. Our first child was born in 2002 and finally in 2003 we decided to visit Crete together. Because I was looking forward to observing there as much as I could, I bought a Meade ETX-105; a little Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope to take with us. Unsurprisingly I was thrilled by the skies over there. Seeing the Flame Nebula in Orion was very easy as the transparency was through the roof. I also enjoyed the exceptionally sharp views the telescope gave. The telescope came with a full set of Meade Super Plossl eyepieces so I was able to experiment with lots of different magnifications. Now and then I would also take some pictures with some of the earlier real good compact digital cameras. I had an adapter for the telescope but I was never really happy with the results, certainly nothing worth sharing to any public. I eventually sold the little scope as it got almost no use back in the city. I did still have the 8-incher as I could not bring myself to sell that one.
In the very beginning of 2004 I impatiently awaited the landing of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers; the MER mission. Not long after I began playing around with the raw images provided by Nasa/JPL. I joined the unmannedspaceflight.com forum the year after and that's when the true fun began. Inspired and motivated by others downloading and discussing the data, I began to assemble some of the panoramic image-sets sent back by the rovers.