The first of our Guest Blog posts, this entry is a special post by amateur astronomer Constantin Sprianu of Romania. He is a 38-year-old automotive engineer working in an engineering center,and is the father of three boys – one 8-year-old and 5-year-old twins. Besides astronomy, he is also interested in aviation and composite materials. He was a part of the workshop to coordinate ground-based support for Juno from amateurs, which at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, France. Many amateur astronomers and observers attended to prepare for a campaign of ground-based global observations in support of NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter.
I was always fascinated by the night sky with the Milky Way and the thousands of stars, especially when I was visiting my grandparents in a mountain village in a time when light pollution was a thing nobody have ever heard of. I kept wondering what could be seen on those distant worlds and what it would be like to go there and see it up close.
Things remained at this stage until I was in my early thirties when I received a pair of binoculars to be used for plane spotting. Very soon after receiving it, I started to use them at night and I quickly came to the conclusion I need a telescope. I’ve bought a 5-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain and after arriving at a Celestron C8 quickly afterwards, it was clear my main interest will be planetary observation.
Because I wanted to share with the others what I was seeing at the eyepiece and after I saw a camera can show a lot more than the eye can see, I started doing planetary imaging. At first it was challenging because the learning curve was a very steep one, but with practice I managed to produce better and better images.
In 2012 I came to the conclusion I needed a bigger telescope specialized for planetary imaging and after counting my options, I decided I would build my own. I’ve decided on a 245mm f/20classical Cassegrain which I designed with CAD and FEA software (I’m an engineer by day) and which saw the first light in autumn 2013. I am still using it today.
After processing space probe data being frustrated by the countless weeks of clouds, I became interested in opto-mechanical engineering and space optics because I had to read the white papers of the instruments on those space probes to be able to properly use the raw images. I soon incorporated what I’ve learned in the telescope projects I’m working on and which I hope I will be able to make one day.
I was very happy in 2015 after I was able to track a few times the dark spot on Saturn’s polar region despite the very low altitude of the planet on the sky (I’m living at 45°N) which made imaging quite a challenge. It was especially rewarding comparing the Cassini probe image of the dark spot taken from a few millions km with the one taken from my garden from 1,5 billion km away. The same year I received the national planetary astrophotography award at the astrophotography contest organized by the Romanian Astronomical Society.
The Juno workshop held in Nice this month was quite an experience for me because I got to meet in person some of the people I was in contact to, and also to meet the professionals and see their perspective of Jupiter observations. I already knew the amateur images were used in scientific planetary research but I was still surprised of the importance the scientists gave to these images and especially by the fact they are using software developed and used by the amateurs. It was also an occasion to exchange on techniques used for imaging and see what the future will bring on the hardware side (telescopes, cameras etc.).
Even though the planets will be low on my sky in the coming years, I will continue imaging because nothing beats the satisfaction you have after making a good image despite the conditions and see with your own eyes (read camera and telescope) what others are observing. I think we are living in great times with new and better cameras and telescopes arriving every year, which help pushing the boundary of amateur planetary observations even further. Two years ago imaging spots on Uranus and especially Neptune was something some dreamed of but now is common practice because the advances in camera technology. The amateurs will contribute more and more to the scientific research and even be on the leading edge of planetary observing (see for example the Jupiter impacts observed by the amateurs in the last few years). I am very happy to be a part of this.