President's Letter - Photon Starved! Now What?


It really doesn’t matter whether you are a new astronomer who got a cool new telescope for Christmas (though it might make you the target of blame) or if you are a seasoned observer with more telescopes in your collection than you can count. By now you are getting frustrated with the weather!

Since before the New Moon in December, south east Texas has had only a few brief periods, measured in hours (not nights) that were clear enough to do astronomy. We call this condition being PHOTON STARVED!

Photon Starvation Syndrome occurs when an individual who has been regularly exposed to concentrated ancient photons (described as any photons having spent more than 8 minutes traversing outer space) is continually and rudely cut off from their source – a clear night sky. Symptoms include frequent checking of the hourly and 10-day weather forecast, repetitive and enthusiastic setup of one’s astronomy equipment followed by a frustrated take down of it only a few hours later, and involuntarily kicking the dirt while gazing disappointedly at the night sky. While uncomfortable to the individual, the toll on the sufferer’s family is much higher as they must cope with bouts of erratic behavior, emotional outbursts, and overall general grumpiness of their afflicted loved one. 

What can be done about this insufferable condition? While some have suggested that sacrificing “new glass” by throwing the offending new telescope into the Brazos River, this remedy has been proven not to work. Moving to a dessert climate can reduce the frequency of Photon Starvation Syndrome, but there are no known cures, we can only treat the symptoms.

While it can’t be cured, here are some tips to beat the effects of PHOTON STARVATION:

•     Start an ATM (Amateur Telescope Making) project – If you’re handy in the workshop, this could be just the ticket. The project doesn’t need to be elaborate, you can design and build accessories useful to you when observing. Check out this project – the Denver observing chair

•     Watch a How-to Astronomy Video – there are lots of videos that demonstrate how to use your equipment and software out on the web. For example - take a look at this video on collimating a Newtonian Telescope

•     Read a book about astronomy. A great author to start is with is Timothy Ferris, author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way, The Whole Shebang, Seeing in the Dark and The Red Limit, or The Deep Sky Companions Series by Stephen J. O’Mera.

•     Plan your next astronomy trip or observing session. This is time well spent and almost as good as gathering photons.

•     Hang out in an online group or forum.  Our own HAS facebook group can be a good resource  Just ask a question, read or post an article. There are also some very active forums like or both great places to visit.

•     Take an online or video astronomy class – There are several places online where you can take astronomy courses. Some are free and some are pay-for. My favorite free course can be found here: Coursera typically has several online astronomy courses listed, and you might also check out. The Great Courses which has several good astronomy video courses on DVD or for download. You may have to wait for a sale, but the courses taught by astrophysicist Alex Filippenko are very good.

Hopefully you will find a way to soothe the symptoms of Photon Starvation Syndrome, and if my suggestions help, I have done my job, because while none of these activities will ever substitute for time under the stars, they will all make the time that you are able to spend more productive and enjoyable. It is my great hope that by the time you read this, the weather will have taken a turn for the better, and you will have already caught some photons.

Now where’s that sacrificial telescope just in case it is still cloudy?

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