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Photograph of Orion by Robert Gendler.

Well it's time I got back to my favorite topic recently — telescopes and

A few weeks ago I managed to catch a very cool documentary about
amateur astronomy called Seeing in the Dark. Similar to the discovery
of two planets recently by a pair of New Zealanders, it was a reminder
that astronomy is still very much an open field where dedicated amateurs
can make contributions. But it was also inspirational just to see humans
who are getting beyond this tiny planet and who are looking out to see
the Bigger Picture.

The documentary features a small group of very talented and devoted
amateur astronomers. Astronomer and physician Robert Gendler has
received numerous awards for his outstanding astrophotography. But I
think my favorite of the group was Minneapolis-based musician Michael
Koppelman, who has built this just dynamite little personal observatory
in his back yard (see photo below). The dome on his observatory turns
360 degrees, and a panel slides down in the dome — just like at the
big observatories. Inside is a nice 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain.

The web site for the show also includes a section called "Explore the
Sky" which contains a bunch of interesting features. One called "Your
Sky Tonight" lets you get a computer generated star-chart based upon
your location. I found it easy to use — I just typed in "Spokane" as my
location and the chart popped up with no trouble. You can also print
the chart out if you want. And there are a few more interesting features
grouped in the "Explore" section.

You can get Seeing in the Dark on DVD here, among other places.

"Actually, we humans have since learned more about ourselves by
studying the wider world — by investigating the processes that created
life and shaped its evolution — than we ever did through introspection,
and we see those processes written large in the depths of the sky."

from Seeing in the Dark.

Michael Koppelman's backyard observatory.