Sunday, December 2, 2007


This blog begins a new phase in my involvement in amateur astronomy. I've had a great time so far.

I rejoined the hobby in 1993 with a 10" Coulter Dobsonian as my first telescope. I enjoyed seeing Comet Schumacher-Levy 9 break up and slam into Jupiter in July 1994 - surprising everyone with how readily the "black eyes" on the planet could be seen. They took months to dissipate! Then Comet Hyukutake put on a spectacular show, with its tenuous turquoise blue tail extending at least 60 degrees across the sky. Comet Hale-Bopp was next (here's a good report), and keep in mind, this is all within the first few years for me in the hobby. Hale-Bopp put on an amazing show - using my 10" Dob I could watch material spiraling out of the comet's nucleus, in real time. Amazing!

I also was fortunate to initiate a few things that continue, pretty much without my involvement now, to provide fun for others in the hobby. The first was The Astronomy Connection (TAC), an online community of amateur astronomers in the greater San Francisco bay area.

I also began an event initially known as the Mount Lassen Star Party, which resulted from feeling too rushed and crowded on a club trip to Yosemite. Over the years hundreds of other amateur astronomers came to Mount Lassen, generally in July and August. Some years were so popular we went both months. At that point we learned about an abandoned airport runway nearby in the community of Shingletown, and after eight years at Lassen, we moved to the airport. The event grew even larger. After five years there, a group of us decided to look for darker skies and a better site. At first we returned to Lassen, which was a "coming home" of sorts - we had an excellent time. And now, we've incorportated and will be hosting the Golden State Star Party (GSSP) near the town of Adin California - between Burney and Alturas. I'm very happy to see this continue now in its 15th year!

I also took the advice of a few friends, Jim Bartolini and Doug Hudgins, and tried taking a group to Lake San Antonio, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This turned out so well that I organized "CalStar" - which is a nickname for California Star Party. CalStar is now run by the San Jose Astronomical Association (SJAA), and is entering its 9th year in 2008. The SJAA will have more about CalStar.

I've also run several astronomy ventures, including manufacturing telescopes. But of all this, the most enjoyment I've had in all the years I've been involved, was having my daughter take an deep interest in observing. I wrote several short articles about her, and a few were published in Sky and Telescope Magazine. But the biggest thrill of all was the magazine falling in love with a photo of her, and putting it on their publication's cover in September of 2000.

I've also changed in my observing interests over the years. I find now that most of what I observe are challenge targets, and enjoy the company of some of the best observers around. But with this blog, I'll not only concentrate on my own observing, but offer a place for all levels of observers to participate. So, each month I will publish an observing list that contains targets that will appeal to all levels of deep sky observer. You can see the December 2007 list to the upper right of this blog page. Other months will appear prior to the 3rd quarter moon weekend each month. I'll post my own observing reports from my lists, you're welcome to post your's, or discuss the contents of any replies. Also, feel free to use the observing lists, publish them (just please give me credit) in club newsletters, or wherever - it all helps make astronomy available to others.

I would love to travel to several star parties in 2008. A list of potential trips is to the right on this page. I always welcome company. Perhaps we can put together some group astro-road trips - - - the more the merrier!

Let the fun begin....

Mark Wagner

1 comment:

GML said...

Nice write up Mark! I need a few more years before I have a rich history in this hobby. Thanks for all you do and what you've done so far for amature astronomy.

Greg LaFlamme