Stellarvue (SV) and Bill Clugston (BC)
SV - What are some memorable reactions you’ve gotten from your “road show” at Parkinson’s events?
The usual first reaction is "Did you really take that photograph?". The conversation continues from that first reaction to what kind of object is in that the photograph? How far away is it? How do you track the stars as they move through the night? How long does it take? Does your Parkinson's Disease limit your ability to do astrophotography?
SV - What surprises people most when you share your story?
I find most people are surprised that amateur astronomers can produce stunning astrophotos of deep sky objects. It is very likely that many of the images they see on Space.com and other sites are actually small telescope photographs. They are also surprised that the equipment cost is relatively modest (at least compared to professional astronomy standards).
What are your key messages you want people to leave with after hearing your presentations?
That no matter your disability you can continue to enjoy life. A person with a disability may need certain adaptations to continue the activity they are passionate about, but with planning and some new equipment it is possible to continue activities they enjoy.
SV - How are you able to use this hobby as a therapeutic activity?
One the best ways to improve Parkinson's symptoms is to stay active, both mentally and physically. While requiring a lot of mental skills, astrophotography is a bit light on the physical end. To round things out I use a program named "Rock Steady Boxing" to improve my balance and quickness. The program helps me stay ahead of the disease.
Another therapeutic aspect of astronomy is just getting out under a dark night sky full of stars. I think we lose a lot of our basic nature by wiping out the skies with artificial lighting.
SV - What changes have you had to make to keep yourself safe in the dark?
I've made two basic changes. Since I'm primarily an imager, I'll use more light than a strictly optical astronomer would use or even allow near them. A person with Parkinson's is very dependent on vision for balance because of reduced muscle feedback. Fortunately, as long as light is kept low at ground level and away from the telescope aperture, astro-images are generally unaffected. Sky quality and darkness is a much larger factor. Also, using a walking stick or cane in the dark is not a bad idea for increased safety.
I'll also try traveling with a fellow astrophotographer or my spouse. If that isn't an option, I carry a cell phone or satellite device (for remote areas without cell service). For a very reasonable monthly cost, a device like a Spot emergency beacon or Garmin inReach Communicator gives peace of mind when you're out alone. I also do frequent self-assessments of my disease's progress judging if I should be out at a remote site! Unfortunately, Parkinson's Disease is a progressive neurological condition -- it becomes worse with time. How rapidly the disease progresses and how severe the symptoms become are largely unpredictable. A time may come when narrow-band filter (for light pollution) imaging or remote Internet imaging at home may be a better idea for my personal safety.
SV - Have you always had an interest in astronomy?
Yes, from a very early age. My first telescope was a 4-inch reflector with a cardboard tube! I moved on to a Tasco refractor with a very wobbly alt-az mount. In high school, with money from a part-time job, I purchased a Unitron refractor, which I still own. Not great for astrophotography, but it is a classic! I was also a member of the high school astronomy club. Astronomy was on hold until several comets in the late 1990's rekindled my interest. Comet Hyakutake and then Comet Hale-Bopp encouraged me to buy binoculars and a tripod. About 2005 I moved up to a Celestron 9.25 schmidt-cassergrain telescope with built-in go-to capability. It was a good optical scope, but a devil to use for imaging!
After some Internet research it was time to buy another refractor. I found a Yahoo group for a small company in California named Stellarvue started by a guy named Vic Maris. The group was very excited about the quality of Vic's APO refractors and their short focal length with a lack of color fringing made them killer astrophotography scopes. So I purchased a new Stellarvue SV4 and you'll never pry that telescope out of my hands! It was my first true imaging scope and is still in my "fleet" today! Currently, I own 4 Stellarvue telescopes, the SV4, a SV130 EDT, a SV80, and a Blackhawk with an APO lens that Vic offered as an upgrade for a brief period.
I have three active mounts an iOptron CEM25P, a Losmandy GM8, and a Astro Physics Mach 2.
SV - What was your “ah ha” moment that triggered your passion for astronomy?
When my parents bought me that 4-inch reflector I was hooked! I already knew the names of all of the planets and many of the constellations, but seeing the Moon up close ignited a life-long passion that may have waned, but never really faded away.
SV - What are your favorite things about astronomy?
My Being out under a truly dark night sky. The talking shop with fellow astrophotographers. And finally, seeing the reaction of non-astronomers when they realize there is more to this universe than they may have considered! I think astrophotography gives people a much better feeling of the importance of this small planet orbiting a yellow/orange dwarf star in a very large universe. I feel astrophotographers need to give non-astronomers the best views we possibly can of our universe. Maybe someday all the citizens of Earth will begin to realize it's a long trip to the next habitable planet.
SV - What inspires you about astronomy?
I probably touched on that in the last question, but there's also a feeling of exploration. Our amateur instruments today can give us views professional astronomers at the turn of the last century would have killed for back then. Just like the Hubble Space telescope, we can aim our imaging gear anywhere in the sky. Image for a few hours and likely come up with at least a few small unnamed galaxies.
SV - How long have you been imaging, and do you have a photography background?
I've been imaging for almost 15 years. Yes, I do have a photography background and recently have been playing with drone photography. Before I retired, I was a computer programmer for the Environmental Protection Agency. My computer training is a big plus in my astrophotography hobby.
SV - What are your favorite things about your Stellarvue telescopes?
They are always robust (some may say heavy, but I like the feel) and well made. The optics never disappoint. Both are reasons I keep coming back to Vic's telescopes.
SV - How would you fill in the blank? I chose a Stellarvue telescope because ________.
They are quality instruments backed by a reliable company.