Over the past 4-6 months, my passion and enthusiasm for astronomy and astrophotography has been on a definite decline. I found myself hoping it would be cloudy when I stepped outside. I found excuse after excuse not to setup my gear. I found myself being pickier and pickier with the conditions and wouldn’t bother to image Jupiter unless the seeing was well above average (which this year, has been very rare indeed).
What is seeing? Seeing refers to the level of turbulence in the atmosphere, caused by local conditions and high altitude winds (called the jetstream). If the seeing is very good, the image is very steady and sharp. If the seeing is bad, the image is a wobbly mess of jello with no sharp features and makes it impossible to get a good, sharp image.
I found I wasn’t reading many threads on IceInSpace or other astronomy forums. I’d also been lifting my level of interest and enjoyment in my other hobbies, including Karate and World War 2 history, and astronomy had certainly been taking a back seat.
I was conscious of what was happening but what I could I do about it? I just wasn’t getting the enjoyment from astronomy that I had in the past.
I knew that the weather had played a major factor in my declining interest. This year has been a shocker, weather wise. Very unstable weather, and when it was clear, terrible seeing. So my main interest in high-resolution planetary imaging just wasn’t possible – well, it was when it was clear, but the continuing bad seeing and continuing mediocre results drove me further away from what had been my absolute passion for the past 4 years.
I knew that it would probably take just one brilliant night of seeing to spark my interest again but it never came.
I believe that changing jobs this year was also a factor. At my previous job I was driving to work, and was listening to astronomy-related podcasts every day in the car. I was learning heaps and was absolutely loving it. Early this year I moved to a job in the city, so no more driving. I’m on the train every day now, and found that I couldn’t concentrate on the podcasts because I was on the laptop at the same time. So I stopped listening to astronomy podcasts and started watching more DVD’s (about World War II).
I concluded to myself that it was quite normal to have these feelings. I’m sure it happens to everyone in every hobby – to have the natural ebb and flow of peaking and declining interest. After all, it had been 4 years of single minded focus and passion for all things astronomy – I felt it was quite natural to start feeling like it was time for a break.
So what now? Has it turned around? Have I got the passion back? Have I rekindled the enthusiasm for astronomy?
Not completely, but it’s getting there.
The lead-up to IISAC2008 helped. I had to stay focused on the organisation of the event. IISAC2008 itself helped! 3 days of hanging out with a bunch of enthusiastic astronomers rubs off! It would have helped even more so if we had clear skies. And as predicted, getting a few nice images definitely helps – my recent Orion M42 image, the Horsehead and Flame image, and the Images in the Twilight series has helped with my motivation to get out there and do some more astrophotography.
In the last few months, Jupiter had gone past opposition and was no longer in a position where I could image it. Saturn was too close to the Sun, Venus was behind trees in the West and I wasn’t enthusiastic enough to try for Neptune or Uranus. But now Saturn is appearing in the morning skies again before dawn.
I have fond memories of early morning imaging, when conditions can be quite stable and trying to get that first great image of that object for the year. Yesterday morning, I got up early to image Saturn for the first time in close to a year. It was my first attempt at planetary imaging for literally months, so I eased back into it by reducing the focal length and not pushing the magnification. Conditions weren’t great, but for a dim target only 22deg above the horizon, it was ok. It was nice to be out amongst it again and hopefully my motivation and enthusaism will continue to grow.
I have decided though, that the passion is probably unlikely to reach the same levels as it had in the past. I feel that I need to strike the right balance now. Balancing my love of astronomy with spending time with my lovely wife Kate and my beautiful kids, balancing the astronomy hobby with my other hobbies which I still have a growing interest in (I’m entering my first Karate tournament this weekend!).
The good news is that I’m still here and astronomy is still going to play a part of my life. A friend at work recently asked, “What are your goals in astronomy? What do you want to achieve?”. It really got me thinking. I have achieved a lot already in my short time in this hobby. So what are my goals? What are my plans?
That’s something I now need to figure out.