Date: March 7, 2010

Title: Interview with Robert Naeye, Editor-in-Chief of Sky & Telescope


Podcaster: Slacker Astronomy

Description: Mike Simonsen from Slacker Astronomy interviews Robert Naeye, Editor-in-Chief of Sky & Telescope magazine about the future of amateur astronomy.

Bio: Slacker Astronomy is a light-hearted podcast that wanders the astronomical road-less-traveled. Visit us at

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by The Planetary Society, celebrating 30 years of inspiring the people of Earth to explore other worlds, understand our own, and seek life elsewhere. Explore with us at

Michael Koppelman: Hello again. Welcome to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Welcome to the Slacker Astronomy Podcast. Today we have an interview with Bob Naeye the editor and chief of Sky & Telescope magazine.

Our Slacker buddy Mike Simonsen interviews Bob about amateur astronomy, where it’s been, where it’s going and what he sees coming down the line. There’s more of this interview over at We pulled out the best ten minutes of about almost a 60-minute interview. We are going to be presenting this interview in full at Slacker Astronomy.

We have part one up now. Part two will be up soon for various Slacker definitions of soon. We encourage you to come check it out. I’m going to quit wasting my ten minutes here and we’re going to get right to Mike Simonsen interviewing Bob Naeye, editor and chief of Sky & Telescope magazine.

Take it away Mike!

Mike Simonsen: Well I’m here at the AAVSO headquarters with Bob Naeye the editor and chief of Sky & Telescope magazine. We’re going to talk about several things today, amateur astronomy, professional astronomy, Sky & Telescope.

We’ll talk about the past the future and maybe even some tidbits of information that no one knows about until today. Bob, what do you think are some of the most significant changes in amateur astronomy in particular in the last decade?

Bob Naeye: Okay this last decade has really been a golden age for amateur astronomy. I think first of all just the amount of different types of equipment, the quality and affordability has really just shot through the roof in the last ten years.

For example the “Go To” telescopes made by companies like Celestron, Meade and others have made it a lot easier for people to go out, take their scopes out in the field, hit a keypad and bingo they’re looking right at the target they want to look at. I think that has really helped spread amateur astronomy to a lot of people.

For example, an eye piece as we’ve seen very recently, these wide-field ultra wide-field eye pieces that it almost feels like you’re looking through like the portal of a spaceship into space. Like I almost feel like I’m in a Star Trek scene or something like that.

It kind of started off with a Televue with their Ethos series. We now have other companies like Explorer Scientific jumping in. I think in terms of just plain observing there’s been a real great profusion of really good equipment, new stuff, innovation and stuff that is actually really quite affordable.

Kind of in the solar field we have had an explosion of H-alpha and calcium scopes. I think that was led by Coronado and other companies have jumped in. It’s now made solar observing much more affordable and more people can do it.

Mike: You almost never saw those before and now at just about every star party you see solar telescopes.

Bob: Yeah and it’s great because it makes amateur astronomy like a 24-hour around the clock kind of activity. The only down side right now is the sun isn’t [laughter] cooperating. It’s kind of like “what’s wrong with the sun”?

We actually did a cover story a few months ago: “What’s Wrong with the Sun”. It was kind of funny because there is a French magazine that just one month later had almost the exact same cover and cover line translated into English something like: “the sun is misbehaving” or something like that when translated into English.

But they couldn’t have copied from us and we couldn’t have copied from them because we both had the same idea. It’s kind of too bad that we have these great solar scopes and they’re more affordable than ever and yet there’s not as much to see as there would have been at 5 or ten years ago when the sun was much more active.

I think we can right now just hope that the sun starts doing its thing in the new solar cycle. It has sort of gotten underway but it’s just very, very weak. Hopefully we’ll get that thing going soon.

Mike: Hey, can I back you up for a second? The point about Go To telescopes may be a little easier for people to get into astronomy because they can find objects easier. I remember when they first came out people objected to it saying “you’re not going to learn your way around the sky; you’re not going to learn how to star hop”.

Do you think that resistance is pretty much gone now or are there still the old-timers that insist that you must learn how to star hop? Or is it just not an issue anymore?

Bob: I guess when I talk to people it doesn’t seem like it’s that big a deal anymore. There are so many of them out there that it has just become accepted. There are a lot of friends of mine – amateurs in different states that know their way around the sky but still use “Go To” scopes. They’re on stable mounts.

They know their way around the sky, they just like the convenience. It makes it more likely that they’ll see more maybe obscure objects on a given night. I have to say I personally don’t yet use Go To scopes.

All of my scopes – I just use Telrad or Red Dot finders. I guess still in that sense I’m a bit of an old-timer. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone that uses Go To scopes. Overall I think they’ve been very good for amateur astronomy.

Mike: Yeah, I was just curious about that. I didn’t mean to interrupt your train of thought. You talked about the equipment and the eye pieces and the solar telescopes. Are there some other things that you think are significant changes in the last decade?

Bob: Yeah and this is something and I think S & T has really been on top of this is just the CCD and digital revolution in astrophotography. It has just exploded. It’s made it much easier for so many more people to do really outstanding astrophotography.

We’re really seeing that at S & T. Our imaging editor, Sean Walker, it used to be years ago you kind of had big names that were kind of dominating the field. Now it’s just like new people are constantly sending us their work. It’s really, really good work.

The fact that CCDs are much more sensitive than film and you can do the processing – stuff that you could never do in the past because you didn’t want to do the darkroom or pay for it, you can now using a variety of different software programs get really tremendous results.

What I’m amazed is as you know people out there who live in fairly light-polluted areas and are still able to get really remarkable astrophotos. I think that’s really been a great thing. With the digital you get the instant gratification. You don’t have to wait to develop the film.

For a lot of different reasons I think this has been a great boon for astrophotography and amateur astronomy. One thing to and my colleague Sean has been doing a great job with is you can take especially around this time with Mars close to opposition, take pictures of Mars at different times, different nights and you can put it together in a movie.

You get like a time-lapse movie and see Mars rotate. I’ve seen a lot of these movies that are really, really cool. I think that’s been a really, really big deal as the explosion of astrophotography.

Mike: So is that part of a trend? Basically the electrifying of astronomy – I mean everything is electronic, Go To, digital – is that part of this deal? Is that what made the explosion happen?

Bob: Yeah, definitely I think the last ten years all this stuff is available now on the internet and wireless devices like iPods, etc. It’s just been a very transformative decade in amateur astronomy.

I know later you’re going to ask me to predict for the next ten years [laughter]. It’s like I’ll venture some predictions but things are changing so fast that it’s kind of hard to really even know.

Probably the most exciting things in the future no one would predict. I think a lot of the stuff we see today no one would have predicted ten years ago.

Mike: Right, I don’t think anybody expected CCDs to be this widely available and doing this much stuff for this little amount of money in such a short time.

Bob: That’s right. It just happened so, so fast and it’s great how amateurs just jumped on the bandwagon. You think about it, amateurs now are taking better pictures of a whole variety of objects than the best professional observatories. They can see very deep objects.

Amateurs are going down to like well into the twenties magnitude-wise and catching quiper belt objects and things like that. Even like you know two decades ago with the biggest professional scopes in the world with their older photographic plates, or maybe thirty or forty years ago weren’t able to detect. Now an amateur in a light-polluted environment with a relatively small scope can see really amazing things and go really deep.

Michael: We had to end it there but like I said there’s more over at Come check it out.

Thanks for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast.

This transcript is not an exact match to the audio file. It has been edited for clarity. Transcription and editing by Cindy Leonard.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the Astrosphere New Media Association. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at Until tomorrow…goodbye.