Brian Tung

My parents--my dad, mostly--started a love of astronomy when I was very young. I remember getting two books on astronomy when I was maybe five: a thick two-color book with descriptions of how humans would one day explore outer space, and a thinner booklet with stickers that one would paste on each page. I don't remember much from these early books, which I no longer have, sadly. I do remember from the thick book that it described two different space suits: one for use on the Moon, relatively thin for better mobility; and another for use on Jupiter (now known not to have an accessible solid surface). And from the booklet, one of the stickers showed the Sun's light as seen from Pluto. But for the most part these books are lost to the sands of time.

At Christmas one year, when I was nine or so, my parents gave me an optics set from Edmund Scientific, which included one of Sam Brown's classic books on telescope anatomy and construction. I used that set to build a number of very small telescopes, and I learned enough to design my own telescope. Since I was then around ten, I was entranced by high magnification, so I picked two relatively inexpensive lenses (totalling about $20 U.S.) that would give me the largest magnification: about 100x, if I recall correctly.

Also the objective (the larger lens) fit pretty well into a wrapping paper cardboard tube, and the eyepiece fit almost perfectly into the center hole of a Tinkertoy piece. So I had to do very little telescope assembly (definitely not my strong point). Then I tried using it, on the Moon, on the telephone poles, anything. I learned an important lesson--high magnification isn't what it's cracked up to be, especially if it's hard to point the telescope. (But I still enjoyed using it anyway.)

But I don't know if the books and the lenses led to the love of astronomy, or if I enjoyed them because I was destined to love astronomy no matter what. And it's hard for me to articulate what it is I love about it. It is, after all (as many say), just a bunch of dots. And they almost never change--at least, not as far as you can tell in most telescopes; the ones that do change are all the more notable for doing so. And they're hard to see, and it's cold, and all those things.

The best I can come up with, I suppose, is that there's a certain purity to the sky. At a certain level, it's very simple. Bright lights in a dark sky are beautiful, and serene. They all fit together in a way that is orderly without being preordained; there's a very real sense in which many computer-generated skies are "wrong." And the cold--as long as it isn't too cold--only adds to that purity, putting it all in sharp contrast: bright, dark, hot, cold, and that dark mystery and the awful and awesome sense of proportion that staring into the infinite black provides.

But there are cloudy nights, too, and there is this site. So welcome!

Copyright (c) 2009 Brian Tung