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Biography of Erika Rix
PCW Memorial Observatory
Biography of Erika Rix PCW Memorial Observatory - Administrator (admin)  

From album Astronomer's Biographies

Biography of Erika Rix
PCW Memorial Observatory

Over thirty, ahem, something years ago, I can vividly recollect my grade school teacher gathering up a large box in her arms and asking the class to follow her. We were going on an excursion and I was filled with excitement. Anything to get me out of the classroom with our little wood desks and beat up textbooks was a fine idea by my standards. I was always more of a ďhands onĒ person and thrived on adventure.

When we reached our destination, any momentary disappointment of being led into the gymnasium soon turned into a flutter of anticipation when we quietly followed her up on the stage and she then turned off all the lights after pulling the huge stage curtains shut. You could hear all my classmates inhale from surprise at the sudden darkness, myself included. It was soon followed by giggles when out of the darkness a flashlight clicked on and the only sight to be seen was my teacherís smiling face. I remember her well. She was one of my favorites, very kind, and full of wonder.

The next hour we all sat there cross legged, wide eyed in a circle around her as she explained to us about the our solar system. It seemed as if she had several floating hands rotating the model planets in midair around our sun, the flashlight. It was amazing and left a remarkable impact on me.

Later, I would lay on my back at night, calling out imaginary figures that I would create by drawing invisible lines between the stars. I only knew the big dipper, found in Ursa Major, so I had to make up the rest. I thought I knew the little dipper, but Iíve come to realize that my little dipper was actually the Seven Sisters, Pleiades (Messier 45). By my I had fun. And the best times were when my brother, mother or father would join me outside to gaze up or watch meteor showers. It was a special time looking back. Moments like that can be magical in a childís eye.

My first planetarium experience was on a Girl Scout trip to COSI in Columbus, Ohio. At 9 years old, science was already a big part of my life and this trip was like entering a magical kingdom full of exploration and discovery. Of course, maybe thatís not saying much for a little girl that could spend hours in the woods on her hands and knees watching bugs and studying little ecosystems. Never the less, the planetarium was the icing on the cake that day. I dare say it was even better than having my hair stand up on end when I put my hands on the big metal ball full that produced static electricity in another part of the building. And let me tell you, that was pretty cool.

As the years went by, I took the Milky Way for granted. I wasnít aware that there were actually places where you couldnít see the beautiful ďstar cloudĒ as long as it was a clear night. It was something to gaze at with awe and majesty. But thinking that good telescopes were only for the real scientists, doing it myself was far reached and I kept my feet firmly on the ground, or at least in our own atmosphere, as I discovered airplanes in my early 20ís.

In the early winter of 2004, my husband Paul asked me how I felt about getting a telescope. I donít recall my reaction, but it must have been one of those pick your jaw off the lap moments. I say that because just thinking of it now and how it was brought up, neither of us knowing that the other had any interest, I find my mouth slightly gapped open with wonderment. To make a long story short, he had been searching the web and found reviews on the Meade GOTO scopes.

Iíll regress for a moment. At this time we had moved in next door to my elderly grandmother to help her out a little and for company. I discovered that my assumption that everyone could see the Milky Way was so far from the truth that it was shocking to look up in our new home in town and barely see any stars. Sure we could see the brighter ones, but hardly enough to navigate the night skies with.

A GOTO scope seemed perfect. And it is indeed a great feature to have in light polluted skies. But as we werenít sure this new hobby would actually hold our interest (chuckling now at the mere thought of that silly notion), we wanted a good bang for our buck for a little starter scope. We opted for a refurbished ETX70 AT from the Meade Factory Outlet. It was so easy to set up and align, so easy to use. And it was our Christmas present to each other that year.

I had so much to learn, a whole new area to discover and explore. Looking over Paulís shoulder one day while he was at his computer, I found him on an astronomy website called Cloudy Nights Telescope Reviews ( He gave me the link to it and that was the beginning of an obsession. The only thing better than having a great hobby to take on is having a slew of people to share it with. And Cloudy Nights was packed full of people willing to share information and assist in any way they could. It was wonderful, and still is. Above all, it didnít matter if you were new to the hobby or have been in it all your life. Everyone is treated kindly and given support and encouragement.

That little ETX had me fascinated with the night skies, particularly the Moon. My first view through it was Saturn, though. And anyone that can remember their first view of Saturn will most certainly remember being awestruck with the realization that they are indeedÖI mean INDEEDÖviewing the ringed planet with their own eyes and not a photograph. Wow.

I tried my hand at astrophotography, as another hobby of mine is photography. It didnít take long for me to become so frustrated with the little adaptors that I fell back on yet another old hobby of mine to incorporate with astronomy, sketching. I had never sketched in the dark with a little flashlight before. And most certainly, Iíve never tried it looking through a little eyepiece in the late winter with temperatures down to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. But it was right. It felt good. It was peaceful. And it added much more to my astronomy journal than my words alone. But what I found above all is that with each session, I was learning to see more detail. Of course this could have been done without the sketching, but it makes sense that when you sketch, you are in essence searching for the tiniest details to make a rendering true to your view.

Skipping forward, without realizing it, I was soon becoming familiar enough with our equipment (our arsenal of gear and scopes has somehow multiplied and youíd think there was a whole family of astronomers living at our house instead of my husband and myselfÖI would say itís shameful, but I certainly wonít hesitate to have a unique purpose for ever scope and piece of equipment we have) and observing to find myself helping other observers. How did THAT happen? I still consider myself a baby in this hobby, but I have found specific areas of interest. And much to my delight, itís expanding. My husband branched off to astrophotography and Iím a visual person with charcoal in my hand and a sketchpad on my knee.

I love all areas of the night skies. There is a thrill for the hunt of faint fuzzies as I push and nudge my12Ē truss Dobsonian silently around with my face pressed against the side of it looking through my Telrad. The Moon is so tranquil that I immediately get lost as I soar along her terrain. Planets are so fun to view, trying to tease out as much detail as you can before it changes so much that you donít recognise the area you were just observing. But what really gets me revved up is the Sun.

I remember Paul and I discussing getting a little white light filter solar filter, which blocks out 99.99 percent of the solar light allowing you to see features in the Photosphere. The cost of the glass filter wasnít much really but still, I scrunched up my nose and wondered if it was really worth spending the money on a filter to view only one object with it. I hadnít heard of Baader film or the likes at that time.

Next a friend let me borrow his PST (Personal Solar Telescope) for a book project I was working on. That was a whole new ballgame and different features could be seen than what I could view with my white light filter. It was fascinating! It didnít take long for me to dive in and try to study what all of it meant. Paul, bless his heart, bought me my very own PST for my birthday that year and about seven months later, I upgraded to an internally double stacked Maxscope 60mm hydrogen alpha scope that another good friend sold to me. Actually he sold it to me months after he had loaned it to me. I fell in love with this scope and I believe he knew it. Of course, maybe he just wanted to upgrade himself so he needed to sell the Maxscope (which is the reasoning he gave me for this opportunity to purchase it). Maybe itís a bit of both. Iíve named the scope after him for remembrance of his generosity, as well as the truss dob was named after the friend that I purchased it from.

I believe itís fair for me to say that I would be lost without either filter system as they allow me to view two completely different layers, so to speak, of the sun. I now also have Baader film that was given to me by an astronomy friend that I met up with a star party, and a Thousand Oaks white light filter that came with the Meade LX200 Classic that we bought off of yet another astronomy member of Cloudy Nights.

If anyone has never viewed the Sun and wonder what the attraction is, well in one word, itís dynamic. Iím not using that word lightly. It is DYNAMIC! At its core, nuclear reactions are taking place constantly. Think of atomic bombs. Now imagine continual atomic explosions, atoms being broken down by colliding into each other and then separating the electrons and protons, one negatively charged, the other with a positive charge. Hydrogen is being converted into helium by nuclear fusion. Energy is being produced as a result and the Sun shines!

Of course itís not that simple, but the mere thought of it is explosive, literally. And without it, there would be no life here on earth. Did you know that the total sunlight measures the power of about 350 million million million million watts.  According to a reference book I have called The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the Sun by Kenneth R. Lang, that figure was derived by measuring the total amount of sun that warms our planet and then extrapolates back to the Sun. Mr. Lang states ďIn just one second the energy output of the Sun equals the entire energy consumption of the United States for a million years.Ē One second, he said! Mind boggling, isnít it? I love it. And I love witnessing the events that take place on the layers we can view, the photosphere, chromosphere and on up to the Corona.

One of the highlights this year has been the construction of our new observatory named after my late grandparents, Pauline and Charles Withers, or otherwise to us grandkids, Nanny and Bampy. Nanny is the one that we moved next door to so that I could help her as her companion and caregiver. Just prior to her 91st birthday, she had her first view of the Sun. Iíll never forget that day as long as I live, Iím certain of it. What a joy to share a solar view this wonderful person who has never looked through a scope before. When asked if she saw the Sun, she said no but she did see a big red-orange ball. When I told her that was the Sun, her face lit up with excitement.

Back Yard Observatories based in Lodi Ohio built the PCW Memorial Observatory. They are friends of ours, which makes it even more special. We moved back to the country and shortly after, the observatory dreams became a realization.

Another dream became a reality this year. The publication of the book I was working on, when I was loaned the first PST, hit the bookstores this early summer. This was a joint effort headed and inspired by Richard Handy, a fellow sketcher turned great friend. There were five of us in all, Rich, Jeremy Perez, Sol Robbins, David Moody and myself. I was very fortunate to have been asked to participate and itís been a great learning experience as well as a way for me to hopefully help take the first steps or brush up on their observations sketches at the eyepiece.

The book is called ďAstronomical Sketching, a Step by Step IntroductionĒ as part of the Patrick Moore series, published by Springer. I find that my technique is ever changing, just like a prominence sketch series. So slowly over a course of time that you donít realize how much itís changed until you look at the series of sketches leading up to the last one. But thatís the joy of experience and practice. The more you do it, the more refined your technique, and the better your observing skills. The book is packed with good solid information and techniques to get you headed in the right direction, eventually finding your own style and technique that is unique to you.

The key to this book, which Springer was wonderful working with us on, is that we wanted it to be a field book, loaded with step by step instructions as well as photos to correspond with each step for visual aid on how to do that step. This book can be used at the telescope so that you can work on each step as you view.

Iíve since progressed to animating my sketches, taking the record of my observation a step further. A gentleman I met at NEAF this year did my first animation for me and helped steer me in the right direction. Iíve since worked out a way to do it myself and have been having a great time exploring this area of presentation. I have to say that Iím not sure what I enjoy most. Doing my own animations or sharing the technique with others so that they can animate theirs as well. Itís so fun learning from others willing to share their techniques. But the real fulfilment is when I can share and help others through a few stages of the learning process too.

I look back over the past few years and all that Iíve learned so far. I know Iíve barely touched the surface. I also reflect on all the people this hobby has enabled me to meet, either in person or electronically, and the wonderful friendships that have developed as a result. Combine that with the root of this hobby, which for me is exploring and studying the skies and knowing that we are barely a speck in the grand scheme of things. Iím truly blessed.

First Star party Sky Tour 2005

NEAF 2007

Nanny's first view, Jan 2007

My corner of the observatory

All images copyright Erika Rix

Views: 7557

From: admin (Sun 09 Sep 2007 11:56:47 AM CDT)
What can I say Erika...
I almost gave up on this section.
Your are a blessing of the highest kind. I will always be in your debt.
You really are one of the finest amateur astronomers artist out there.
Thanks for being an administrator of this growing gallery, and friend

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John Crilly
The Urban Observatory
John Crilly The Urban Observatory - Administrator (admin)  

From album Astronomer's Biographies

My Beginnings In Astronomy

Sunday, July 29, 2007

By John Crilly

When I was five years old my Dad brought my sister and I out to the back porch one night. After a brief wait he pointed out a pinpoint of light moving across the sky. Afterwards, he explained that it was a satellite (Sputnik) and told us something of what a satellite was. He had expressed no interest in such matters before, so I presume that the local newspaper had published an article pointing out that it would be visible and describing when and where to look. As the first manmade object ever placed in orbit it was surely newsworthy.

Urban Observatory external view

Urban Observatory internal view

Telescopes ready for an eveningís imaging
Click images for larger version
Credits: John Cril

I was an early reader and a frequent visitor to the local library, so I sought out more Information about such things. I found nothing factual in the books available to me, but I did find a rich trove of science fiction by Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and others and I devoured all that I could find. My Dad made sure that I saw subsequent newspaper articles regarding later Soviet and US launches so I was very aware of Telstar, Leika, Yuri Gagarin, and (at last) Alan Shepard.
I borrowed a set of binoculars from my father and set out to become a stargazer but ran into problems. There was no Internet at that time, and I never found the correct books to get me started in the right way. Apparently, kids my age were supposed to be reading about ponies and clowns rather than about science or astronomy. I spent quite a few nights looking about the sky in an undirected way but after a while I realized that all the stars looked pretty much alike. I had no idea that there were other kinds of objects available to a casual stargazer. After a time I lost interest.
Much later, as a teenager, I dug out the binoculars a few more times but was still too ignorant to discover the literature that would at that point have been available to me. I did learn to recognize the major constellations but learned nothing about the celestial wonders framed within. With no friends or family interested in astronomy I simply had no immediate information sources to take me farther and my interest lapsed again.
Then came the distractions of high school, college, marriage, parenthood, single parenthood, and work. For the next few decades I was always working at least one fulltime job and nearly always attending school at night. While in high school I became involved in amateur radio as a hobby (Extra Class license W8TD) and barely had time to pursue that so astronomy was forgotten. During this period it became obvious that I was attracted to technical topics; during the day I troubleshot complex electronics gear (power line carrier, microwave radio, VHF radio, analog and digital multiplexers, and fiber optics) and at night I fiddled with satellite communications, transmitting video signals, teletype, packet radio, and such things.
Eventually there came a time when both of my children were away at college and time became a little more available. When I finally completed graduate school I realized that nothing would ever make me take classes again. Suddenly, I had only one job to occupy my time. I considered reactivating my amateur radio gear but I had already done pretty much everything in that area that sounded interesting. I was not going to be working in a technical field any more either so I decided to simply move away from electronics and telecommunications for good. At that time it struck me that I had what seemed like all the time in the world to finally investigate the possibilities offered by amateur astronomy.
I began to accumulate and read books and magazines on the subject. The Internet was another great resource. I realized that were all kinds of objects out there to see and at which to wonder. I found an advertisement placed by a fellow in the next town, offering to sell a modest telescope at what, according to my research, was a reasonable price. I went to see it and came home a proud telescope owner. It was an 8Ē Newtonian reflector on a simple Dobsonian mount.
I had a ball with that thing! My inner-city location is quite poor as an astronomical observing location, but since I had never seen any of the objects before I felt no disappointment Ė I was stargazing. Still, it didnít take long for me to discover that as much as I enjoyed observational astronomy, what truly fascinated me was the optics and hardware and how it all worked.
My next acquisition was another Newtonian reflector Ė smaller, but equipped with a computerized, equatorial mount. This meant that it could, on its own (and after being properly aligned) slew itself to astronomical targets selected from a huge list in its memory Ė and then keep them in view as the earth rotated beneath them all by itself. What a great toy. I was hooked on technology all over again.
I began what turned out to be a very long series of equipment acquisitions and dispositions. I wanted to own one of everything, at least for a while, so I would be familiar with all the equipment in common use. I began to buy new gear as soon as it came out, test it, write a review, and resell it. This was fun and the reviews (published online by the premier amateur astronomy website) earned me some minor recognition. It was, however, expensive as each piece of equipment was purchased new and resold as used.
After a time I became sufficiently well-known as an equipment reviewer that vendors began to send me new products to review and return. This was the best of both worlds. I had the opportunity to see and use the new gear as it came out but I didnít lose any money doing it. Being familiar with such a broad range of equipment permits me to offer technical support to users of the equipment and I spend a lot of time on the astronomy websites doing just that. Itís very rewarding.
Meanwhile, I was becoming frustrated by the poor observing conditions at my home. I discovered a local astronomy club with a site slightly better than mine so I began to take portable equipment out to their site on weekends. I also discovered star parties. These are get-togethers at really dark sites where stargazers gather with their telescopes to get the terrific views that are possible from such places. My current star party telescope is yet another Newtonian reflector Ė but this one has an aperture of 20Ē. It has to be broken down for transport and reassembled at the observing site. Itís well worth it for two nights of observing but not for only one so it gets used only at weekend star parties.
The gadget-lover in me wanted to explore the possibilities of digitally imaging astronomical objects. Of course, I also wanted to experience the various astronomical imaging systems available. This was very frustrating at first because of the time and effort involved in setting up and tearing down all the equipment required. I decided to add a dormer with a roll-off roof section to my pole barn to use as an observatory. This would permit me to leave everything set up and ready to go; slide the roof open to do my observing or imaging and simply slide it shut again when finished. I hired a local carpenter and the project began. He got most of the interior work done but then had serious health problems and had to abandon the project.
While wondering what I was going to do about this half-completed project I continued my practice of changing equipment regularly, buying and selling various bits of gear. I advertised a couple of telescope eyepieces and a local fellow responded with interest. He mentioned that he had built a roll-off roof observatory shed for himself so I went on over to see his to get some ideas. He bought the eyepieces Ė and in the end he agreed to complete my observatory project for me! It turned out that he had built a few for other local folks and was considering switching to observatory construction as his primary business.
The results were wonderful. I have my dream observatory (Urban Observatory, completed in 2002 and in continuous use from that time) and he is now the leading vendor of observatories for amateur astronomers. The observatory permitted me to finally take imaging seriously and to my delight I find that despite the horrific light pollution at my location I can take images that please me greatly. I still travel to star parties when I can for the visual experience offered but when at home Iím an imager. In the observatory I have a permanently mounted equatorially aligned telescope mount on which I can place a variety of optical tubes and imaging devices. Each has its preferred use; the apparent size and apparent brightness of astronomical objects varies to an extreme degree so the equipment of choice for a given night depends on the target objects chosen. The cameras and the mount are connected to a computer in the observatory. I control that computer remotely from the one in my home office via my wireless network so that once everything is set up I can complete a series of exposures on an object, slew the telescope to the next, and begin another imaging sequence without the need to go back out.
Itís been quite a long road but Iíve derived tremendous satisfaction and enjoyment from my participation in the hobby. I can recommend it highly to anyone interested in the sciences.
Anyone wishing to learn more of amateur astronomy will quickly find a variety of internet websites loaded with useful information. I can recommend and for general interest. More information about my observatory, equipment, and images can be found at .

Source / Image credit: John Crilly

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Views: 6191

From: admin (Sun 09 Sep 2007 12:01:12 PM CDT)
John your images never fail to amaze me, ok so maybe you don't have Erika's legs (private joke)But you have got my attention with captures that makes me envious.

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Biography of Richard Harold Handy
Biography of Richard Harold Handy - Administrator (admin)  

From album Astronomer's Biographies

Biography of Richard Harold Handy

Astronomer, Artist, and co author of ďAstronomical Sketching: A Step-by-Step IntroductionĒ

"From my earliest memories, Iíve always been fascinated and inspired by the mysteries of the heavens. In the long leisurely evenings of summer, my brothers and I would lie on the hood of an old Chevy, backs resting against the cool glass of the windshield, eyes searching the tributaries of the Milky Way, telling stories about denizens of the night, most of which, though quite entertaining, were far less than truthful. Occasional shouts of awe and surprise when a ďfalling starĒ shot overhead, fingers tracing the path of a satellite, until passing into Earthís shadow, it winked out. These wonderful moments prepared me for a life long and ongoing love for amateur astronomy.
At the age of eight I read a ďGolden BookĒ publication called ďThe StarsĒ. In the first paragraph was a sentence that profoundly affected me, regardless of the fact that it was composed of just five simple words: ďThe Sun is a star.Ē Suddenly and intensely, I felt a deep understanding of my place in the cosmos, and in a physical sense, my relationship to all that exists. This seemed to come to me in a flash. Now I knew why the Milky Way looked the way it did, that the stars were separated by immense distances, yet were so numerous that they appeared as a hazy band of diffuse light. The more I learned about the nature of our connection to the universe, the more questions arose in me about how these things came to be, yet that essential moment of epiphany has stayed alive in me, because I still feel the eight year old boy in my heart, especially at the times when I am overcome by awe for what I see.
My father was a very good Landscape Painter and artist and he encouraged my early experiments in life drawing and painting. Although he wanted me to pursue a career as a technical illustrator after finishing community college, it was something I tried for a while without much enthusiasm, preferring instead a Fine Arts and Astrophysics education at the University of California Santa Cruz. Financial hardships for my family made completing my education very difficult and so I returned home to find employment in the Quality Assurance field.
In the last 8 years, Iíve become interested in merging my two greatest interests, Astronomy and Art, into a unique expression in the form of my lunar drawings. Though I strive to make them as accurate as possible, I am also quite conscious of the compositional elements, finding endless excitement in the negative and positive spaces that the lunar surface provides, especially in the zone near the terminator. All my efforts are aimed to convey that moment of recognition or observation, yet also the play of shadow and shape, of light and darkness, the eternal beauty of the lunar dialectic.
I am pleased to be a co-author, along with Erika Rix, Sol Robbins, Jeremy Perez and David Moody, of the recently published book ďAstronomical Sketching: A Step-by-Step IntroductionĒ, Springer Science and Business Media, LTD (c) 2007. This exciting new book is intended to provide amateur astronomers with a working understanding of how to render a wide diversity of celestial objects, using various techniques in a number of mediums. I am delighted to be the Webmaster for a site called "Astronomy Sketch of the Day" which focuses on daily submissions of astronomical related sketches and artwork and honored to be a Star Contributor at ďCloudy Nights Telescope ReviewsĒ where I enjoy sharing all aspects of amateur astronomy.

Image Caption 1: Copernicus
Image Caption 2: Mare Nectaris
Other Images by Richard Harold Handy

Rima and Rupes Cauchy

Seleucus Briggs Lichtenberg

Images are copyrighted by Richard Harold Handy and protected by the SFL ORG. News Network Disclaimer / Legal policy

Views: 6168

From: admin (Sun 09 Sep 2007 11:51:56 AM CDT)
Welcome Rich,
We are honored to have you with us.
We truly have now four of best amateur astronomers here. Looking forward to seeing more of your artistic work.

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2006 09 21 Solar Prom, pa 45
2006 09 21 Solar Prom, pa 45 - Erika Rix (Erix)  

From album Solar 2006

Internally DS SM60, sketch created with black Strathmore Artagain paper and white Conte' crayon and Conte' pencil. Zanesville, Ohio USA

Views: 5667

From: admin (Thu 21 Sep 2006 08:02:35 PM CDT)
Just incredible Erika,
You are a true artist.

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Animation of Lunar Eclipse 2-20-2008
Animation of Lunar Eclipse 2-20-2008 - John Crilly (jrcrilly)  

From album Lunar

Admin. Note: For some odd reason the Gif animation sometimes does not work on this image except in full image mode:

I have added a FLV version for your convenience that also has a full screen option.

Shortcut to full Gif mode:

Views: 5112

From: admin (Fri 22 Feb 2008 02:15:47 AM CST)
Thank you John...
I was hoping someone would get a capture. To Cloudy here and didn't get to see it.

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