Sunday, March 30, 2008


The Return of Amateur Astronomy

NO, not amateur astronomy; from what I can tell, that ain’t gone nowhere. From where I sit, our obsession appears healthier than ever (counted up the ads in 'Sky and Scope lately?) despite what some of Uncle Rod’s fellow curmudgeons might say down to the local club. No, I’m talking Amateur Astronomy as in Amateur Astronomy Magazine. Actually it didn’t go anywhere either. Except away from Chaos Manor South.

I go back a long way with the magazine's founder, Tom Clark, and over the years his Amateur Astronomy has been closely associated in my mind with Tom and wife Jeannie and my favorite observing venue, Chiefland Astronomy Village. Yes, Tom always sought contributions from amateurs across the country and world and solicited articles from everybody from bigdob builders to folks caught up in variable star measurement. Amateur Astronomy more than lived up to its masthead blurb: “News for, by, and about amateur astronomers around the world!” But it also always maintained a special and ineffable Chiefland flavor.

Tom kept on keeping on with AA, turning out one great issue after another after another for close to a decade-and-a-half. Sadly, though, all good things must end (that's what ever'body always says but nobody ever explains why) and Tom’s desire to actually relax (a little) during his retirement eventually led to his decision to pass AA on to other hands. I knew this was coming, and was prepared, but, still, the end of Tom Clark’s Amateur Astronomy was a downer for me. I let my subscription lapse and did not renew it after the transition.

There things remained until recently. The other day, in the course of a vain effort to impose some pre-spring-cleaning organization on Chaos Manor South’s countless stacks of amateur astronomy stuff, I ran across my stash of the complete run of AA. Couldn’t help forgetting the cleaning bidness for a bit, sitting down, and paging through ‘em. Years ago, Tom used to advertise back issues by calling them the equivalent of a foot thick reference book on amateur astronomy. Turns out that was true; maybe even truer than ol’ Tom thought at the time. Going through issue upon issue, I was blown away by density of information therein. Information still as useful as ever today. I also enjoyed seeing pictures of plenty of my amateur astronomy buddies back when we were all 30 pounds lighter and had more hair. Talk about nostalgia.

This waxing nostalgia led me to wonder what had become of that Little Old Magazine from Chiefland, Florida. Good bubba Pat Rochford had continued his subscription, and lent me a new issue so I could find out. To make a long story short, while it’s no longer from Chiefland (AA is now based in Tennessee), it’s purty much as good as ever under the steady and talented hand of new Editor, Charlie Warren. No, it’s not quite the same for me (what fondly remembered thing from the past ever is?), but it’s still jam-packed with great astro-stuff, and it’s enough like the old AA to make me happy.

If he keeps on a-going like he's a-going, I predict great things for Amateur Astronomy under Charlie’s leadership. Think I’m blowing smoke? If I were pulling your leg would I have got online and ordered up a subscription? Y’all know how cheap I am.

On "Contact" (1997) young Ellie Arroway (Foster) and dad use relfectors to skygaze.
Has anyone noted the comet which is visible at the present time? I have seen an object in the western sky on Sep 30 and overhead on Oct 1. It looks like a cottenball and is not very bright. I used a pair of binos and a small scope
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