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Learning the Sky

Since his first sight of Saturn through a telescope, Jimmy has amassed a collection of Orion gear he and his family use for observational astronomy and astro-imaging. In fact, Jimmy's talent for photography resulted in his beautiful image of the Sun getting onto our Summer 2012 catalog cover!

Jimmy E. and his wife Laurel and son Jake
Dedicated Orion user and astro-imager Jimmy E.
with wife Laurel and son Jake
Q: How did you become interested in astronomy, and how long have you been actively observing?

A: I have had an interest in astronomy since childhood, but it wasn't until about seven years ago that I became actively involved in observing and learning the sky. A coworker had purchased a GoTo telescope and was telling me about different objects that he had been viewing. It wasn't long before I had one for myself. Once I saw Saturn for the first time, I was completely hooked.

Q: What is your favorite type of celestial object to view? (or in your case shoot)

A: When observing, I like to view deep sky objects. Sometimes I'll view with my XT12 Intelliscope dob, other times I use the ST80 for a grab n go. Both give interesting perspectives on deep sky objects. The sun has quickly become my favorite object to image. It's constantly changing and you never know what you may capture from day to day or hour to hour.

Q: Could you share one of your most interesting viewing experiences?

A: I've had many viewing experiences that have stuck with me... viewing the ISS in a telescope for the first time, Mercury transiting the sun, comets, watching a solar flare erupt, and many great nights under the stars with friends and family. I would have to say that being able to view and image the Venus transit is on the top of the list right now. Knowing that you are watching an astronomical event that won't happen again in your lifetime from your own backyard is pretty amazing.

Jimmy E. Solar Photo on Orion Catalog Cover
Full Solar Disc in H-Alpha on Orion's Catalog Cover
Q: On a given night, how do you decide what to observe?

A: When observing I usually start with the familiar objects as my eyes adjust and I become more comfortable at the telescope. Then I use my Orion star map to begin working each constellation to see what objects I can find. With deep sky photography I always try to pick an object that I will be able to put a long night into capturing, unless it's something specific that I am really wanting to get a shot of.

Q: Do you normally plan ahead or just view whatever you can find?

A: I typically don't plan ahead for observing, unless it's an event like an ISS pass. I let the trees in the yard be my guide and just concentrate on that area of the sky. Imaging is a different story. I use Starry Night before I set up my equipment to find an object that will allow me to acquire a lot of exposure time and will not be blocked by my house or trees. It also lets me know where I need to set up the equipment and what time I can start imaging. It's an invaluable tool that, in spite of all the complexities of astrophotography, allows you to stack the deck in your favor.

Q: Are there any Orion accessories or equipment you use regularly?

A: I use a lot of Orion equipment and they all get plenty of use. The Orion Atlas EQ-G gets used the most. It's used for observing, and imaging with my Orion EON 120ED refractor, Orion 127mm Maksutov Cassegrain, and Coronado PST telescopes. The EON 120ED gets a ton of use as well. It doubles as an imaging and guiding telescope for deep sky astrophotography. I use the Orion 127mm Mak Cass for capturing the sun in white light with a safe solar filter. It also doubles as my grab n go planetary telescope. My Orion ST80, which was originally purchased for a guide scope, has become one of my favorite instruments to observe with along with the Orion XT12 Intelliscope Dobsonian. Accessories that have become invaluable are my Stratus eyepieces, the Orion Starshoot Autoguider, and the EZ Finder Deluxe (I own four!!!)

The Lagoon Nebula
The Lagoon Nebula taken with an Orion EON 120ED and Orion Starshoot Autoguider
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring stargazers?

A: The one thing that helped me the most and fueled my interest in astronomy was learning the sky. While the purchase of a GoTo telescope definitely eliminates the headaches that most budding amateur astronomers go through, it wasn't until I learned the constellations that the sky really opened up for me. Try learning them slowly. Concentrate on just a few at first to the point to where you can look up and know that you are looking at Orion, Scorpius, etc. Then you can begin tying them together with other ones and filling in the small lesser known constellations. You will be surprised at how your view of the night sky changes.