Birth, Life & Times of the Lawnchair
year was 1989. The idea for "The Starman Chronicles" was
hatched. Early that summer I had finally upgraded from a tin
constructed, four inch reflecting telescope, to the often bragged on,
"Big Red", a 13.1 inch Dobsonian mounted light bucket. The four
inch had served me well for nearly ten years. It had accompanied
me on some of my most memorable stargazing adventures to date. It
was with this instrument that I first found and saw the amazing Orion
Nebula for myself. Though already hooked, that cemented it for me.
I'd set up out in the only nearby place I could get to in those days, where I could access a fairly wide open expanse of sky a cemetery. On the outskirts of the city, even though it was rife with light pollution, it was the only big open space near home that provided access to the entire celestial tapestry. But there it was, M 42, big and glowing, filling the eyepiece with sheer grandeur.
It was cold. The ground was covered in a half foot of snow. But there I was, me and the little white telescope, in the middle of one of the cemetery avenues behind the tailgate of my 12 year old SUV. Metaphorically, I was in heaven. Practically, however, I was at the jumping off point of my ancestors! But here is where I would travel to when I didn’t have the time or inclination to embark on a long road trip to the country for a less light polluted piece of sky.
It was here that I would scan the skies for hours. Not yet the now seasoned amateur astronomer I am today, I reveled at the sights I beheld, sometimes alone, though oftentimes with a friend or family member I had convinced to join me out on the adventure. The stars had always been a passion for me and, as I always admonish my readers, sharing was and has always been a main component of the activity.
When I was a young boy, my dad had purchased a small refractor for me. It was soon after that I saw the moon up close and in person for the first time. Fascinated, I began my lifelong study of Astronomy. Over those formidable years, during the time when the occasional big news was of the Apollo Missions to the Moon, I started reading everything and anything I could on the subject.
When finally, as a young adult, I started off on my own life. There were several things that I had planned to accumulate for my initial bucket list. One, of course, was a bigger telescope. I started small, though, with that toy grade four inch reflector and, as I mentioned earlier, it provided me much improved access to my heavens. From there, as they say, the rest is history.
Fast forward to the late eighties, I began writing both weekly and monthly newspaper columns and enjoining readers to partake of the astronomical pursuit. My original aim, still the focus today, was to share my fascination of stargazing and promoting the seeing for one’s self, the amazing universe at our finger tips, or in this case, in the eyepiece.
In 1990, I became the Astronomy Instructor at America Online's Campus Area, arguably one of the first "distance education" programs in the world. In addition to the eventual roll out of a second Astronomy II course, I had also begun working with my boss, head of the campus area, as a programmer, developing and setting up new teachers and courses within the Online Campus. By the end of the AOL Campus Area's reign, there were nearly three hundred online courses being presented. It wasn't yet called the Internet or the World Wide Web in those days I guess Al Gore was just beginning to formulate the idea!
By the middle of the decade I had met an agent through an online, writer's group, message board (read blog today) where the Lawnchair Astronomer was born. He had been looking for someone to write an Astronomy text for my eventual publisher, Dell Trades. They had embarked on the Armchair series with such titles as The Armchair Magician, Conductor, what have you. Originally, it was to be the “Armchair Astronomer”, but within the proposal we had developed, I had named one of the sample chapters, Lawnchair Astronomy.
Once again, the rest was history. The book was ordered and to be named The Lawnchair Astronomer. Of course, that heralded the end of "The Starman Chronicles" and I re branded my column, "The Lawnchair Astronomer". I've been writing under the moniker ever since and the fascination is still prevalent.
The Lawnchair Astronomer
Gerry Descoteaux is the author of “The Lawnchair Astronomer,” a Dell Trades paperback. He has been writing about astronomy for more than 25 years. He also played an integral role in the development of America Online’s pioneering distance education program known as AOL’s Online Campus and served as Professor of Astronomy there for 10 years. He can be reached at TheStarMan@thelawnchairastronomer.com.
Notes From the Lawnchair