I’ve always loved the sky. My parents got my sister and I a 114mm Celestron NexStar GoTo scope in high school, and I’ll never forget how excited we were to finally get it all aligned and maybe, if we managed it in a reasonable amount of time, slewed to one of the clusters or planets that was up for the night. Usually we were happy just to get the alignment stars located. We got up early in the morning to watch the Leonid meteor shower in 2001 for a middle school extra credit project and were rewarded with the absolute best meteor shower I’ve seen to date, with the possible exception of the Perseid shower I saw with my husband in Lassen Volcanic National Park in 2016.
I had all the glow in the dark stars and planets I stuck on the ceiling, and planned on going to college for aerospace engineering. I ended up getting a degree in computer science instead, but my love of space stayed dormant until my husband suggested I get a telescope on the way home from a trip we took to Yellowstone (always a great night sky in a national park). We started off with a 6″ Orion GEM reflector we found on Craigslist, but that didn’t last long until we started upgrading to bigger scopes, and therefore bigger mounts, and so on… At each step my husband was hugely encouraging and pushing me to look towards the next step (and sourcing me some amazingly cool equipment). Astrophotography is a big enough money/time pit, and there’s no way I would be able to do any of this without his support and vision.
Eventually I looked into seeing what I could do with my scope that would be useful scientifically. There were a couple decent “pretty pictures” that came out of it in the first couple years, but it seemed like I was always trying to get some piece or another to work properly, and when they did, the weather would be bad. Southern California is fantastic in about every aspect except observing conditions near the coast. :/ I joined Slooh.com for a bit and participated in the NEO group to image and measure asteroids using Astrometrica. I learned a lot from the group (thanks to Don Cranford and Tony Evans for getting me up and running) – one of the most important things being how to check that your measurements are good and why that matters. Mentors make all the difference in not having to reinvent the wheel.
After getting my first photometric filter, an Astrodon V 1.25″, I started contributing to the AAVSO with help from Tim Crawford, who I spoke with through the AAVSO’s mentoring program. I worked on a couple asteroid and variable star light curves before a huge stretch of overcast nights and life got in the way for a long hiatus.
We moved all our equipment to Benson, AZ in October 2016 to Dean Salmon’s remote observatory site (http://remoteobservatories.com/). This has been the most exciting part of my amateur astronomy “career” so far. Finally a real building where I can hang my sign. I considered putting one of the scopes at a local observatory club site, but having darker skies plus on-site support has made a huge difference in remote imaging even being possible. It was hard enough to keep everything working when running it off our back patio, let alone hours away.
I’m in the process of getting an observatory code from the Minor Planet Center, and coming up with ideas for a research project for observing variable stars. In the meantime, I’m working on light curves for asteroids with established periods, so I can confirm my data pipelines and process are all good. One scope does the science, one scope does the “pretty pictures.” The astroimaging scope will take extra long exposures of targets for two reasons: 1) to pull out the minor details that don’t usually get seen, and 2) there’s no way I’ll have enough time to process a bunch of astrophotographs and all the science data.
In a perfect world, I’d get an advanced degree in physics/astronomy, but I wonder if that would just leave me wishing for where I am now: a ton of telescope time, a good day job, and not having to write grants to get any of it. I can’t wait to see what I can learn next.