I participate in a number of astronomy fora online, and most of the time, I’m relatively comfortable deferring to people with more expertise than I when someone asks an astronomy question. I have expertise in goto scopes, but on other scopes, I tend to let others respond. Once in awhile, I’ll engage on issues where someone is going too far in my view in their passion for one type of scope over another, often talking smack about other scopes in ways that are not helpful to newbies, or recommending options that are just ludicrous.
Some specific bugaboos that I have are:
- People who want to recommend a specific type of eyepiece over another, when most eyepiece use depends heavily on the user…I love long eye relief and wide field of view, Jacob hates it; he prefers small plossls. At star parties, some people’s eyes work well with my one eyepiece that is big and wide, but sometimes people can’t see ANYTHING in it, and I switch to a smaller plossl, and BAM! they see everything. It’s just about their eyes…there are some 3500 different eyepieces on the market, and while not all of them are the same for quality, there are LOTS of variables for what makes a good eyepiece for YOU;
- People who recommend binoculars without any extra consideration for the person’s vision, age, firmness, etc. I have binos, I like having them as an option, but they are a terrible option if they were my only tool, and I would have quit astronomy if I had started with those. They have their use, they have their downsides.
- People who want to tell people you can’t do photography without spending $2K on various rigs or you can’t buy entry-level scopes, total waste of money.
There are others, but you get the idea. My frequent reaction is to pompous asses telling newbies who asked for help that there is only ONE way forward. Today was one of those days. A person had asked a question on one of the astronomy buy / sell fora in Canada, with a limited budget. The advice she got was generally terrible, but in the forum’s defense, it is more for people actually buying and selling, not discussion. Anyway, I saw her post, I saw what she was looking for, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll help”.
So I posted to her with a bit more “scope” (pun intended) for her question, helped her frame her interests a bit more, gave her a good overview of some options, and told her to DM me if she wanted to, happy to help. Which she did, and so I did what I said. I helped her work through some options. She was pretty far advanced already, I mostly just filled in pieces around her knowledge so she knew her tradeoffs, and what she was looking at with a limited budget. She had two good options, and so we went through all the pros and cons of each, but honestly, she could do either. Mostly what I did was give her peace of mind that she wasn’t crazy and that there wasn’t some magic difference between the two that would make her mind up for her. There isn’t, not really. I spent some time in messenger with her today going over things, sporadically throughout the day, and she’s generally comfortable now with her choices. We’ve expanded her list from 2 scopes to a ranked list of 5 possibilities, and she understands the differences between them are likely to come down to budget, availability and/or personal preference. She’ll use the list to help her decide, and she actually feels like she knows what she’s doing now and isn’t stressed anymore. She has a path and the confidence to walk towards the (astral) light.
I’m happy to help, it’s part of being in the community of amateur astronomers. We help people climb the learning mountain that goes with early entry. She was stressed because it’s a big gift for her husband, she has a limited budget, and this is a significant purchase. Ultimately? I just helped her talk it through. Not telling her what to buy, but helping her decide what she wants to get. In the end, she’s likely to go for a bigger (and more expensive) scope than she started with, and I feel a little guilty about that, even though it is a SIGNIFICANT step up for a bit more money. But I’ve assured her that the original two are just fine, if the budget doesn’t allow that, and that the other one is just a big bigger for more light capturing ability.
Eventually, I want all this “info” to be in an astronomy guide that someone can read and go, “ah-hah, I get it!”. And then they don’t need to talk it through with me. But she needed SOMEONE to walk through it with her, as it’s a gift, and in a COVID world, she can’t just pop over to the local astronomy group and figure it out with them. There are books and websites out there and I’ve almost never found one that explains it the way *I* would recommend. Everyone’s mileage varies though and today I think I was helpful.
Today I choose to help someone figure out how to get started in astronomy and figure out what they “need” vs. what someone else might tell them to get. Or even what I myself have chosen in the past.
What choices are you making?