When I first started the DaltonSkyGazer blog, one of the features I envisioned, was having an area of the blog dedicated to featuring people from within the astronomy community. The same individuals who contribute to educating others, whether it be through public outreach programs, blogs, or from within the online astronomy forums and communities. There are many people who are passionate about astronomy and contribute much of their time to educating others within the astronomy community. The hard work and dedication of these individuals gives amateur astronomers a solid resource from which to learn the skills needed to operate telescopes and imaging gear, along with the fundamentals required to learning the night sky. Periodically, I will feature such a person here at the DaltonSkyGazer blog.
My first featured guest runs an online blog and podcast dedicated to educating amateur astronomers under the ghost name ”TelescopeMan“. I first met Joe Lalumia online as a member of the Astronomy Forums, a very large and sociable online International astronomy forum, dedicated to educating others within the astronomy community. Joe is now a moderator at the forum and spends much of his time answering many astronomy related questions at the forums. Like many members of the forum, Joe is very passionate about astronomy and education, and always willing to help someone out, a very active voice on the forum.
I had the great opportunity to video conference with Joe a few times discussing astro stuff and much more, I immediately felt like I was talking with a friend I had known my whole life. Joe has a certain passion and modesty about him when he speaks, and a great gift for capturing ones attention. I interviewed Joe to learn a bit about his interest in astronomy and of his devotion to educating others through public outreach programs.
I very much enjoyed this interview and appreciate Joe’s time. I highly recommend to all within the community to take the time and listen to or watch a few of Joe’s TelescopeMan Podcasts. I hope you enjoy the interview! Feel free to post some comments and questions.
What are your interests in astronomy and what lit the fires to spark this interest?
I got my first telescope back in 1958. A Sears Roebuck 60mm refractor with optics made in Japan. It came in a very nice velvet lined wooden box. The scope was around the house under my bed until I discovered girls, it eventually disappeared and I regret that to this day. I am a strickly a visual observer but dabble in astrophotography once in a great while. My passion is public outreach, bringing the night sky to the general public.
In what ways are you involved with astronomy now, clubs, outreach programs, websites?
I am retired now and spend my time doing public observing and serving in various positions with my Astronomy club, The Texas Astronomical Society where I now serve as President of the Society.
Our Astronomy club members contributed over 8000 man-hours to public observing last year. I try to attend as many events as possible, and also hold a monthly star party here in the Rockwall, Texas , and a beginners astronomy class. Additionally, we try to have two Astronomy Days each year at one of the planetariums here in the Dallas area.
Our Astronomy club has many members that participate in the running and organization of the Texas Star Party. Probably the two most notable are David Moody and John Wagoner. This past Texas Star Party we had probably 30 or so members attending. It’s always a great event even if the skies are cloudy as there is a lot of socializing going on between the participants.
If you ever get a chance to go to this star party do not hesitate. You can make a lot of new friends at this event who return year after year; some for a lifetime like John Wagoner.
Recently, I have created several web sites under the “ghost writer” TelescopeMan, who does audio and video podcasts. I took my home office and converted it into a podcast studio. One of our kind club members gave me three domain names to use for the “TelescopeMan” podcasts. My goal is to break the 100 podcasts barrier by the end of the year. I have been fortunate to have 365 Days of Astronomy pick up my podcasts and rebroadcast them on a regular basis. I am a little up in age and wanted something I could do in my house during retirement to keep me busy.
Can you tell us a bit more about TelescopeMan ?
Well as I said above, I wanted something I could do from the house that would be a type of public outreach. However there is also a family reason. My wife of 40 years has the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. I know as this progresses I will need to be home 100% of the time. This was also in the back of my mind when I started up “TelescopeMan”. It would give me a way to stay in touch with the Astronomy hobby right from my office at home.
Life before retirement?
I must have been CRAZY to get into the restaurant “Bidnus” as we say in Texas. I spent about 30 years traveling the USA and much of Europe and the South Pacific for McLane Company, and McLane International, a major product supplier to retail food stores and fast food restaurants. In the mid 1990s I lived in Poland and traveled around Europe selling all manor of food and beverage products for the Company.
We also assisted in the construction of a large food and beverage distribution center in Krasnodar, Russia. The Company had distribution centers in England, Spain, Portugal, and Poland. Later I switched to our South Pacific Division where my territory included Tonga, Guam, Saipan, Samoa, and American Samoa. So I have traveled to almost all the countries in Western, and Central Europe from England to Russia; and also most of the South Pacific including New Zealand while on my way to Tonga.
The Company wanted me to move to American Samoa permanently which I did not want to do. So I went crazy and opened 3 restaurants with my two younger brothers. Who knows WHY! Ha! Anyway it’s a way to make a living!
Being the gearhead that I am, can you tell us a bit about the astronomy gear you have compiled over the years?
I own an Atlas EQ-G, an Astro-Tech 6RC, and LX90 8 inch LNT, an Orion XT10i, a Stellarvue 80mm bino-ready refractor, A Bogan tripod, a Televue TelePod, and 3 pairs of binoculars a 10×50, a 15×70, and a 25×100, with a parallelogram mount for the 2 larger binoculars. Additionally, there are 3 cases of various other eyepieces, solar filters, and assorted STUFF, some of which I cannot remember why they were needed!? Or why I bought it!
Any advice for people who are first jumping into the astronomy hobby?
My advice to beginners is to go slow, join a local Astronomy club, and STEAL all the information you can from the older members of the club! As you know Jeff, I am personally a big fan of goto scopes and/or push-to Dobsonian scopes. I think these are the best thing ever to come along in the hobby for a beginner as far as equipment is concerned.
A good goto push-to scope can immediately open up the sky to anyone who is willing to learn. Heck, professional astronomers never even look through a telescope, they only want the data. Ask Michio Kaku, or Neil Tyson to point to M13 in the sky — I will make a $100 bet they cannot.
If we want to attract kids to the hobby we must give them a hand controller. They have been using one all afternoon on the X Box that mama bought them for $399. They will learn how to use the hand controller in about 5 minutes. You need to get their interest in the hobby first before they will want to learn about the night sky. It’s just OLD decrepit astronomers who disapprove of them and say things like, “you need to learn the sky first!”. This attitude sort of permeates the hobby with the old timers. Kids want instant gratification give it to them with a goto scope for goodness sake!
What are a few good beginner telescopes for someone just entering the hobby, for say a $500 budget?
An Orion XT6i, a Celestron SE4 or SE6, a regular 6 or 8 inch DOB. That price point really leaves out any hopes for astrophography as the lowest cost rig I would recommend is a CG5 or an EQ5 motor driven with a good doublet 80-100mm refractor, which you might be able to find used for $700-$800.
Right now, I would say the lowest entry point for goto— pushto is more like $600 or so by the time you buy a few accessories. However, I think the Heritage 130p and the Orion 4.5 inch Starblast would also make very nice beginner scopes, but the beginner will need to manually find those small dim objects in the sky as these scopes do not have goto or pushto. Remember, it’s still acceptable to recommend a 6 inch DOB as your first scope, as you can usually sell it later and get most of your money back when you upgrade; and the 6 inch DOB with have a LOT MORE light gathering power than the 70mm refractor that I see a lot of beginners buying.
What changes have you seen over the past few years with astronomy gear which is most beneficial to amateur astronomers?
It’s the goto scopes that are changing rapidly (getting better), especially some really neat altitude azimuth go to mounts like the iOptron Mini Tower and the more expensive T-Rex Alt-Az mount. These are very neat goto mounts for visual observing and also for using with the new video cams like the Mallincam camera hand-made in Canada; our club was given a donation that will permit us to purchase a complete Mallincam setup for public observing. This will allow us to offer wheelchair access to deep sky observing at our outreach events.
Just about everything in the hobby is 400% better than it used to be back in the 1960s and even the 1970s. I would say the equipment started really changing in the late 1980s. Since then most all of the equipment is better quality than back then, and has many more features and quality construction than back then. Think about it— you can now control your telescope with a cell phone or a laptop. Just about everything is better including eyepieces, diagonals, finderscopes, and tripods.
Could you even imagine back then that you could buy an EQ6 mount with full go to for $1300. NO WAY! I kind of snicker when we get a complaint on the astronomyforum.net that goes something like this, ” I aligned my scope on two stars, and then when I executed a go to the object, it was in the side of the eyepiece and NOT directly in the center. Should I send this back! What is wrong?”
See how spoiled we get! Can you imagine asking this question back in 1980.
This good quality holds true across all major product brands and telescope types–except for those off brand imports that we all see on craigslist.com, and on Ebay. If the beginner will just stick with a major KNOWN brand(s) with a few reviews already posted on the internet all will be good.
Remember what we always say because it is still very true, “Aperture rules all things being equal”. Until it gets TOO BIG to carry outside!
Clear skies! And remember to keep looking up to see the greatest show on Earth right over your head, every night!
Joe Lalumia aka TelescopeMan