Amateur Astronomy in the Time of Pandemic

Christmas Tree Nebula at Amboy Crater by flickr user William Allen. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Astronomy in the time of Covid-19: Getting out in the desert for astrophotography is definitely sheltering in space. Taken at Amboy Crater on March 16, 2020.

Imaging details: Tele Vue-85 APO refractor with Tele Vue TRF-2008 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (converts TV-85 to 480mm f/5.6) imaging into ZWO ASI071 MC Pro Camera. Accessories: Tele Vue Starbeam Finder with Apertura illuminator, ZWO 30F4 Guides Scope with Starlight XPress Lodestar X2 Guide Camera. Mount: Celestron CGX EQ. Software: Celestron PWI, PHD2 Guiding, Astro Photography Tool 3.82.


It was March 19th of this year when we published a blog post, Shelter in Space, inspired by an image posted to flickr by Los Angeles based amateur Bill Allen. At the time we wrote:

Getting out in the desert for astrophotography is definitely sheltering in space.

We encountered the above phrase, this week, in the caption of an image of the Christmas Tree Nebula, made with our Tele Vue-85 APO refractor. We felt it apropos for our hobby as it succinctly conjures the connection between amateur astronomy and our current moment in world history.

Toward the end of the blog we opined:

As a strategy to avoid “cabin fever,” one local New York City television station has urged people to get outside and connect with the natural world — while maintaining social distance. Not an easy task during the day, but an easy prescription to take for amateur astronomers doing their night-time viewing and imaging.

During the course of that week, New York State had been putting out proposals for limiting the number of employees working in non-essential businesses. The proposals first called to limiting staff to 75%, and as the week wore on it evolved to 50% and then a draconian sounding (for the time) 25%. 

The next day, Friday, March 20th, the first full day of Spring — exactly 7-months ago — we found out that social distancing under the stars was not enough: New York State had ordered 100% closure of non-essential businesses statewide for the foreseeable future.  So, we hastily announced on this blog that we would be Closed Due to Covid-19 Until Further Notice.  The news headlines at the time and the uncertainty of the duration of the closing was a jarring development for our staff and some wondered how this would impact the hobby when and even if we re-opened our doors.

Seventy-three days later, the situation had improved to the point where the State allowed non-essential businesses to open. We announced Tele Vue’s reopening with full staff on our blog post Yes, We’re Open! It was clear that the hobby hadn’t “disappeared ” during the “lockdown.” We wrote:

Thanks to all who supported us over the past seventy-three days! We read your kind words on our Facebook page and even got letters through the mail! Our blog newsletter saw an increase in subscriptions and a multitude of amateurs continued to @televue on social media as they found more time for their favorite hobby and “sheltered in space.”

We began by filling the back-orders that had accumulated over the Spring when the company was closed. Dealer orders just kept coming in — we attributed that to temporary pent-up demand during the closure. However, in the months that followed orders didn’t slow down.  Since Tele Vue takes a very “hands-on” approach to our products, we inspect every eyepiece, build each telescope, assemble mounts, etc., our completed product inventory started to get low as orders kept coming in.  This led to some temporary shortages of products and a multi-week backlog for telescopes as we busily inspect and build!  Company President David Nagler made it clear to all here that no matter how busy, job #1 at Tele Vue remained quality control as it has always been. 

Amateur astronomy had become the new normal during the course of the pandemic.

Evidence that this interest in astronomy was driven by new people entering/re-entering the hobby showed up in social media postings of the June and July lunar eclipses. Events like this have always lead to a surge in image postings on social media. But these events in June and July opened a flood-gate of postings from old-friends and newbies alike. Amateur astronomy had become the new normal during the course of the pandemic. It also showed up in the phone calls we receive at Tele Vue.  Common threads of conversation these days are, “I’m new to the hobby, but have always wanted a telescope, now I have more time on my hands…” or “I’ve pulled my telescope out of the closet after 8 years…”

“A funny thing is happening during this long pandemic of COVID-19. People have been stuck at home and having to entertain themselves in seclusion, all of which seems to have inspired a newfound interest in the night sky.” Sean Walker

Sean Walker’s “Pandemic Inspires Surge in Telescope Sales” blog post (©2020 AAS Sky Publishing)

Sean Walker, writing in Sky & Telescope‘s online “People, Places, and Events” blog just penned a post titled Pandemic Inspires Surge in Telescope Sales where he discusses the impact of COVID-19 on the hobby of amateur astronomy. Sean’s interview with manufacturers and dealers pointed to one conclusion: the hobby of amateur astronomy is thriving in the midst of the pandemic.

Sean describes a huge increase in business with many people entering or rediscovering their interest in astronomy. David Nagler is quoted as saying “Who would have thought that it would take a global pandemic to save amateur astronomy?”  He says that comment was made relative to the past 15-years at least that there has been an industry-wide concern about the “graying” of the hobby. What William Allen had foretold before the lock-down was true: astrophotography is definitely sheltering in space.

Latest Tele Vue Optics print advertisement.

For the foreseeable future, there is still a waiting period for some products but most are in stock at your favorite store. Give us a call. We’re still here to answer your questions and advise you as best we can. As we say in our latest advertisement:

More people are looking up these days and with a little more time to breathe, families are discovering the sense of wonder and connection amateur astronomy provides. 

Did you observe, sketch, or image with Tele Vue gear? We’ll like your social media post on that if you tag it #televue and the gear used. Example:
#televue #tv85 #ethos #jupiter

 
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