John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2004 July 27
[This is a reprint of a correspondence about the dropout rate in home 
astronomy. It was carried out in the sci.astro.amateur newsgroup in 
2004. Minor editing fixed typos and grammar. The right beaks at the 
beginning of certain lines indicates the level of quote from previous  
From: JOHN PAZMINO (john.pazmino_at_relaynet.org)
Subject: High attrition rate
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004 21:13:51 -0400
 > From: khatcat@hotmail.com (BigKhat)
 > Subject: High attrition rate
 > Date: 29 Jun 2004 14:14:26 -0700
    You really covered the major reasons! An other prime reason for 
the high attrition is the lack of local support system or network. It 
is really, like really, tough to learn a profession like home astronomy by 
yourself with no other astronomers near you to call on.
    That's why it's important to join a local astronomy club BEFORE 
getting into the expense of a telescope and accessories. The local 
astronomers will know what instruments are best for the sky and 
territory around you. They will know of places to view the sky from 
safely and conveniently and comfortably. They offer answers to your 
questions and show you how to work your equipment. 
    Sadly, so much of the mainstream litterature simply passes over 
home astronomy clubs as a major resource. The fixation is on the big 
buy a of a telescope. 
    TAn other major cause [of dropout] is the supposed identity of 
'home astronomy' with only 'stargazing'. Of course if you have the 
means and will to do the orthodox skywatching, go and do so! However, 
home astronomy is a lot more than stargazing. In fact, at least in New 
York, there are far more chances to get your astronomy fix without the 
clear sky over you than with it. Check out lectures, exhibits, 
planetaria, science museums, bookshops. 
    If you scan my NYC Events calendar, posted here [in the newsgroup] 
this night, you'll see many away-from-sky activities to keep your 
astronomy interest alive. (There are also, surprise!, a LOT of 
starviewings in and around New York in that table!) 
    I do agree that the frustration factor and learning curve in the 
regular route to home astronomy can be extremely steep. This leads to 
abandonment of the profession or hobby and the sense of wasting some 
very good and substantial money and time. By incorporating the other, 
considerable, facets of home astronomy and allying with the local 
astronomy club, both frustration and learning curve can be lowered. Low 
enough to allow a long and enduring enjoyment of astronomy.
    Now i do appreciate, based on the correspondence for my NYC Events 
and pazMiniBits (not posted here but only in the NYSkies yahoo 
maillist) that New Yorkers are specially blessed with so wonderful an 
astronomy climate. Not that I dispute the comment, you see, but I 
can't accept offhand that NO where else has at least a useful slate of 
astronomy offerings to supplement or ampliment the orthodox 
    It may take a bit of spade work and scratching to dig up those 
other options. I sure did when I started NYC Events a year and half 
ago [in 2002]. (Before then the article was confined to activities of 
the Amateur Astronomers Association, in New York,) Once the new column 
got going, I have a stable of contacts and correspondents who keep 
eyes and ears open for astronomy happenings. 
    the mainstream home astronomy is artificially segregated from the 
society it's embedded in. Look at any picture of an astronomy event. 
See the people? The telescopes? The tents? The cars? Look in the 
background. Trees? Fields? Barns? 
    Where was the picture taken? It could be any where and no where. 
There is no interaction between the home astronomer and the community 
around him. You guess Podunk? Paducah? Peoria? Piscataqua? Pukingburg? 
A picture of astronomy in New York shows the complete amalgamation of 
stars and city. 
    Consider the recent transit of Venus[ of June 2004]. The main 
group of astronomers, from several clubs, was at Carl Schurz Park. You 
see a busy river with ships and barges. people coursing by on foot 
skateboard, bicycle. Skyscrapers. Streets filled with traffic. 
    You can HEAR in the picture bells, horns, shouts, chugging, 
whirring. You can SMELL in the pictures hot dogs, hot asphalt, salt 
air, coffee, dog deposits. You can FEEl the steel fence, the wood 
benches, the stone parapets and walks, wind on your face. 
    The astronomers watching the transit are part and parcel of their 
city! They live here, perhaps in that there tower beyond the bushes. 
They work here, maybe behind the wheel of that bus passing by. They 
eat here, likely at the pushcart a little up the path or the coffee 
shop out on the street corner. 
    You can SENSE in those pictures that after the transit, many of 
these astronomers will stay together socially, walk home together, 
ride the subway together. 
    And so you KNOW in the pictures that astronomy BELONGS here as an 
integral feature of the city life. 
    And, that's what makes a better astronomer, with lower attrition. 
 > I was wondering if amateur astronomy his a high attrition rate. I
 > wonder this because I read all these postings (here, on cloudy nights
 > and (on Astromart) from newbies about buying a new telescope. After
 > newbie gets lots of advice, he/she buys a scope and is very excited
 > after the first couple of viewing sessions. Pretty soon, we don't
 > hear from them again.
 > So I wonder what the one year attrition rate is (people stop using
 > scopes for all intents and purposes) after one year. My guess is
 > around 50% but I might be wrong.
 > Also, why doesn't this hobby have staying power? Some reasons I can
 > think of are
 > * Must be done at night; those who have families, work, etc. can't
 > commit a lot of time.
 > * Is expensive. While it is possible to get away with spending as
 > little as $200 to $300, expenses soon add up quickly. Finders,
 > eyepieces, software, chairs, magazines, etc. can easily add up to
 > $1000 or more. I won't even go into aperture fever or apo [= 
 >  apochromatic refractor] fever.
 > * Is limited. Most of us live under light pollution. If we become
 > too lazy to travel, we can really only see a few dozen good objects
 > (planets, brighter clusters, a couple of nebulae). Quite frankly,
 > after the "premiere" objects, a lot of deep sky objects just look like
 > smudges with no structure (in light polluted skies). I think only
 > die-hards can get excited about those.
 > * Hard to time. I don't live under the best skies in terms of
 > clarity. Between the clouds, jet stream, mosquitos, incredible cold,
 > and bright moon, I probably can only get a handful of nights per year
 > to actually view any of the less visible DSOs. I suspect others have
 > similar situations.
 > * Doesn't come easily. One option is using GOTO, but part of your
 > money goes to electronics rather than to aperture. While you can find
 > things relatively easily, you really can't see them. If you opt for
 > aperture, you'll probably get a dob in which case you need to learn
 > the sky, learn how to move and point the dob and know what to look for
 > in your Telrad, finderscope, etc. This can be very frustrating for
 > beginners.
 > Just my $0