The Reverend Paul V. Temple
Ever since I can remember I've loved astronomy. Some of my earliest remembrances are of the warm breeze at dusk just as the first stars come out. Somewhere around the age of 9, I received my first telescope. In the wily ways of youth I kept verbally hammering on my parents until they broke down and bought me the scope of my dreams just to shut me up! It was a Tasco 10-50 variable power, table mounted, 50-mm refractor. It was a beauty! I had no idea what I was looking at most of the time, but I sure felt like I was doing important work.
A year or so later aperture fever hit. Again I resorted to the tactic of verbal parental abuse and won out with a 3" reflector for Christmas. It was great! However, every "real" astronomer had to have a refractor (Of course I kind of broke my 3" mirror "Cleaning" it.) so my parents got me a 60 mm Sears beauty. I even saw the "Canals" of Mars with this baby. Keeping an observing log is also what the books say all great astronomers do, so my notebook was filled with drawings and records of my celestial conquests. I was so sure that my work was ground breaking that I sent my drawings off to Lowell Observatory just like my hero Clyde Tombaugh had done. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a thought that maybe they would want to hire me and I too could discover a new planet! Needless to say they were not quite ready to hire a 12-year-old!
It was during this time that I saw an article about the AAVSO in an astronomy book somewhere. The writer claimed that even small telescopes could make scientific observations of variable stars. So with trembling pen I wrote to the AAVSO and waited for a reply. Like Leslie Peltier in his book Starlight Nights, I raced to the mailbox each day hoping that my beginner charts had come. When they arrived I was at the height of scientific ecstasy! Now I would join the race for knowledge, follow in the footsteps of Galileo and stand on the shoulders of giants! A week later I had still not found one variable. In fact, I couldn't even read the charts. Where is this SS Cygni? All I see is a circle, where is the star marked SS Cygni? At that time I knew no one else that was even faintly interested in Astronomy much less variable stars. After two weeks of effort I gave up in despair.
During graduate school I lived in the San Francisco area. Since our school was on the bay the scenery was unbelievable but the seeing was poor. Plus, Theological Graduate school is extraordinarily hard! There wasn't much time or money to pursue my hobby. Even after graduation lack of time and resources dogged my astronomical dreams for a long time. Each year I thought, "next year I will set aside some money and buy me a telescope." Alas, the car broke down, the kids had doctor bills or we had to move so a telescope never came. At least until 1992, that year I got a deal and built an 8" Dobsonian for $80, optics and all! Now I wanted to do some real work with my "Bargain Bucket."
In the fall of 1992 I saw an ad in Sky & Telescope, wanting ground-based observers for a Hubble Space Telescope project. Mr. Harold Schenk, an amateur observer, was looking for cometary haloes around six asteroids. Other amateurs were asked to join the ground-based effort to observe the asteroids at the same time the HST did. Here was my big chance to make a real contribution. The first observation period was rained out. I decided for the second period that I would use the Astronomical Society of Kansas City's 30" telescope. I found out that the secondary mirror had fallen down and broken the main mirror! It was out of commission. Undaunted, I wrote to Dr. Robert Millis at Lowell Observatory requesting time on one of the telescopes there. Permission was obtained to use the 31". A month before the scheduled run, the astronomer assigned to help me left the observatory and everyone else was too busy. Now what to do? I finally contacted Lake Afton Observatory in Wichita, KS. Sure, they would be glad to give me time. The day of the run was a beautiful sunny day. As evening approached clouds began to appear. By evening it was raining! I sat in my motel room and listened to the rain come down while I watched "Backdraft" on TV. It rained for a week straight! There was one final observing period left, so of course it was cloudy for that week! So much for my contribution to science.
Several years later I found myself flat on my back, bitten by the flu bug, and eventually contracting whooping cough. I had already been sick for one month and now I was headed into my second month of convalescence. Being sicker than I had ever been before I could do little but lay on the couch. With such restrictions and no cable TV, I could do little but read and think. I realized that when I got healthy, I wanted to do something in science that would be more than just look at dim fuzzies or bright planets.
During the Mid-America Regional Astrophysics Conference in Kansas City the previous year, many of the papers were on variable stars. In fact, several smaller universities spent much time and energy obtaining observations for light curves. These light curves were used to build models of the interiors of the stars. As I lay on a couch coughing uncontrollably and thinking, lo and behold, an idea appeared. Here was a chance to do some real astronomy! Variable star work, that's the ticket! To make the pot sweeter, I could even do this type of astronomy with my present telescope or even binoculars!
With trembling hand (literally trembling from illness and cough!) I wrote to the AAVSO once again. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, a reply came. Janet Mattei, the executive director of the AAVSO at that time, apologized profusely for the delay but indicated she had to track down my address through the local astronomy club since I had neglected to write it in the letter anywhere. It must have been my illness, since I am sure that I would never normally forget something so basic as an address. A beginner's chart came several days later. With child-like eagerness I rushed outside on the first clear night I could stagger out of bed without coughing uncontrollably and began to search. After only one half-hour I found Z Ursae Majoris. This was exciting! After all these years, I finally made a real contribution to science!
In the spring of 2003 I got the privilege of presenting a paper at the 2003 spring meeting of the AAVSO on the stars WW UMA and CV UMA. Since I had little time for observations, (read lazy!) my paper was on how to prepare for studying these little observed variable stars. Which goes to show that you can contribute to the AAVSO even if you are not an avid observer. After several years of teaching the Physical Sciences to high school students and coaching, which left very little time for observing, I am now back as a senior pastor of a church, in an area with many clear nights and dark skies. With all of my children living in other states I now actually have some leisure time to devote to my hobby.
One of the benefits of getting older is a little more disposable income! Over the last several years I have been able to acquire 2 small CCD cameras, a computerized telescope, a 3.5" maksutov and most recently a 6" refractor on an equatorial mount. All of these coupled with my 8" dobsonian telescope have now placed me in the ranks of the "well" equipped amateur. All of the accessories, (read stuff), is now being housed in a much larger case bought recently from a large home improvement store. Adding to all of this, more time to observe, over 275 clear nights a year and warm weather, life is good!
I would suspect that there are many in the hobby of astronomy that long for a chance to really do something important. They thirst after the excitement of discovery and knowledge. Joining a club, they may be disappointed eventually with observing awards and picnics. They desire to be enshrined with the likes of Edwin Hubble, Clyde Tombaugh, William Herschel, and Leslie Peltier. Add your name to the rolls of honor by joining with the variable star community in its quest for light!
Reverend Paul V. Temple
Deming, New Mexico