What Old Programmers Sometimes Think About

August 9, 2010

Feature

I’ve been interested in astronomy all my life. Once I might have even been considered professional. After all, I took photographic plates of interesting objects and even got paid for it. I believe that qualifies?

But I also was a pretty hip programmer, the language and style suggesting how long ago this probably was. Nevertheless, sometimes day dreams send me off in those prehistoric directions and occasionally come up with something practical. This is connection with how seldom I manage to get my telescope out and use it.

I was calculating the cost of building a permanent little dome with a small office attached. The budget was really out of my class, so I was trying to find one of those services which lets you rent time on a remote telescope that you control over the internet. Apparently this no longer exists, though it was once considered popular. I let my admittedly devious mind contemplate some ways I might raise funds for my project and yet provide a satisfying service. This was when I stumbled into my “aha” moment.

With a compete photographic atlas of the sky available to me, why not recreat the selected region for the amateur astronomer to find on his virtual, remote telescope. I mean, this would be complete with scintillating stars when the seeing was poor, blurry images when appropriate, and all properly¬† animated so that the illusion was complete–like being in your backyard with your telescope, except no freezing or sweating. Today’s computers would find this a snap. No investment in an actual telescope required. As many observers as my servers could handle. Low monthly charges, and tons of satisfied customers…except maybe for those comet hunters who couldn’t seem to find new objects to discover. Once my subscription rate reached a certain point, I might even put a up a real telescope and let people watch actual objects in the sky. Who would know the difference? I might even invent new constellations.

In case you think this is complete insanity, listen to what a visitor who was looking at Saturn through my telescope had to say.

She said, after I explained to her that “No, Saturn wasn’t a star, but was a planet in our Solar System.” ( She looked disappointed in this.) “It’s such a beautiful picture. I was wondering if you could turn up the color or¬†reduce the brightness a bit. I hate to tell you this,” she continued, “but I get reception from NASA that’s a little better than yours.”

About charles frenzel

I've been writing all my life. I've also painted, composed, sculpted, contributed to molecular research, advanced some mathematical concepts, lived on a sailboat, and worked for a Nobel Prize winner. Nothing in my life has pleased me more than to share my life with my wife and friend of over forty years.

View all posts by charles frenzel

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