ASTRONOMY: Observing the night sky better with friends

Clinton Willis/Special to the Herald-Leader
Pictured is the Great Nebula in Orion, Messier Catalog 42.
Clinton Willis/Special to the Herald-Leader Pictured is the Great Nebula in Orion, Messier Catalog 42.

Amateur astronomy is a terrific hobby! I know...I have had this hobby since I was 14 years old and I made my first telescope, a 6-inch reflector.

However, it can also be a lonely hobby. Many nights, I have studied the night sky alone, out in the dark, with only animal sounds in the night to keep me company. Perhaps a bright meteor will streak overhead, an only glittering friend from the sky.

Before moving to Siloam Springs about 30 years ago, I often did astronomy with my twin brother Mike, a fine amateur astronomer, who is just as committed to the hobby as I am. He has some wonderful, large instruments and he goes out in the night about as much as I do. Many a night together was just wonderful!

Since moving to Siloam Springs, I have searched for a friend to do this hobby with me. Several friends have moved on or moved away and I have still spent many a night with just the hobby itself.

I have known Clinton Willis for about 20 years but, over the last three years, he has become a dedicated amateur astronomer, very much wanting to get into astrophotography. We have become great friends and we often do astronomy together. He is a preacher and evangelist and just a real good guy. We often meet in my backyard or attend an astronomy club together. We do our astronomy thing as the great friends we are.

For years, Clinton has wanted to do photograph things in the night sky. With limited equipment, he has managed to take some good images. However, he has always wanted better equipment and he has made a dedicated effort to put together a really good setup that would let him get some really fine images. I have mentored him a bit and now he has a fine outfit! This has been expensive and full of good starts and sometimes expensive setbacks. But Clinton has persevered!

This month, I have included Clinton's first really good astrophoto with his new rig. It is an image of the Great Nebula in Orion, Messier Catalog 42. It is in the 'sword' of Orion, and if you look at Orion's sword with binoculars, you can see faint whisps of the nebula. It photographs very well and is easy to find. We thought it would be a good first target with Clinton's new equipment. He did a splendid job for a first try and the image speaks for itself!

I will do amateur astronomy for as long as I am able. It is wonderful though to do it with a friend! We can share our in-the-now experiences as they happen and we can look out for one another in the deep dark. Both of us are getting on in age -- especially me! It is very reassuring to have a friend with me if I trip over some great boulder in the dark. [Most of the things I trip over these days are rather small -- just lurking underfoot to get me.] He is there to ask if I am OK. If I am not, he can help me. I can help him too. Invaluable!

Get out there and look at the wonderful universe. If you can, do it with a spouse, a relative or a good friend. The experience will be at least twice as good!

Dr. David Cater is a former faculty member of JBU. Email him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.