The passion that some of us have for astronomy can become far too expensive if we allow it to be. On the other hand, if we don't succumb to the temptations or obsessions that we are sometimes capable of, amateur astronomy can be rewarding enough on a fairly simple budget. Passion on a budget?
Of course the need or desire for basic accessories like eyepieces, although they are certainly necessary accouterments, can cloud our vision somewhat and make us crazy at times. After all, who can resist the sexy allure of a fine and hefty ocular. The world may not be the same without a Panoptic or an Ethos in our collection. There's something about a World Class eyepiece that makes us feel good, even if our telescope is middle-class.
On a budget, some folks will shell-out a few hundred on a scope, and then go over the top on accessories. It must be normal to do that, because we see it so often. Advertising works. A good photo of a great product will get us every time. First we want it. Then we need it. Then we have to have it. And suddenly we can't do without it. A friend was heard to say once, "If all the accessories that we really COULD live without were dumped into the sea, Manhattan and Brooklyn would be under thirty feet of water."
So what is the cost of astronomy? For a poor kid in the Bronx, it may be the price of a subscription to Sky & Telescope magazine, which might take months to save up for. Or perhaps just the subway fare and the price of admission to a planetarium. Passion knows no minimum, and the money we spend on it is purely what we find 'comfortable'. Those who find comfort in the simple basics are the truly devoted; the spiritual essence; the purists; and the determined. The 'Ones', without whom we might find a vacuum in the 'somewhere' of the fun we seek.
Each time we see a new face with an inexpensive telescope, and that 'look' of eagerness that shouts for the sun to set, we simply have to go up to them and offer a smile and encouragement. It doesn't take a genius (or even very long) to figure out that they might have saved for years to get the equipment they brought along. But you can tell right away by the care they take of it, that they appreciate it all the more. And even if there's not much knowledge, there's a certain identifiable sparkle. A passion.
The cost of amateur astronomy is universal. There is a price of admission we all pay just to step up to our own eyepieces. Whoever you are, your heart and soul is the fare for liberating your mind. We know of no amateur astronomers – either rich or poor – who's hearts don't beat as loudly at the eyepiece. Or at a planetarium. Or even when all we have are the pages of an open wrinkled magazine.
the Belmont Society, 01-14-04