When it comes to pursuing our passions, sometimes it's the unexpected twists in life that lead us down the most exciting paths. Meet Steve Siedentop, whose journey into the world of amateur astronomy is a testament to the wonders of the night sky and the power of community. Originally hailing from North Carolina, Steve's story is a fascinating tale of how a love for stargazing and the cosmos can transform a life.
A Bright Beginning in North Carolina
Steve's story begins in North Carolina, where his father's service in the Marines meant that his family lived near a military base along the picturesque coastline. However, it wasn't until Steve was 13 years old that a significant move to Indiana would change the course of his life. This shift from a bustling and diverse community to a tranquil town surrounded by cornfields would set the stage for his journey into amateur astronomy.
In North Carolina, city lights and the presence of the military base obstructed the night sky, limiting young Steve to only a faint glimpse of a few stars, which he scarcely paid attention to.
A Glimpse of the Milky Way
The night that Steve ventured outside in Indiana would forever change his perspective. As he gazed up at the sky, captivated by the enigmatic clouds above, he unknowingly beheld the awe-inspiring beauty of the Milky Way. It was during this period that he decided to dust off a telescope he had received as part of a subscription to Ranger Rick magazine. Though modest and somewhat rudimentary in design, it was his own, and its view surpassed anything he had previously witnessed. Steve directed its lenses towards Saturn and Jupiter, but it was the Moon that truly held his heart.
This initial fascination with astronomy led him to use that telescope to catch a glimpse of Halley's Comet, an opportunity he would later come to recognize as profoundly significant, thanks to the guidance of a science teacher.
Life's Detours and a Return to the Stars
As the years passed, the distractions of adolescence, including cars and relationships, momentarily pulled Steve away from the telescope. However, life continued to progress with the typical milestones: college, service in the Army, further education, marriage, and the joys of parenthood. Yet, his curiosity about the cosmos would not remain dormant for long.
About 12 years ago, his wife presented him with a Meade DS-2130 telescope, reigniting his passion for stargazing. After some initial struggles, he began to search for astronomy clubs, convinced that, like other interests he had pursued, there must be dedicated enthusiasts gathering together.
Discovering the Joy of Community in Astronomy
Steve's search led him to the Charlie Elliott Astronomy Club, a chapter of the Atlanta Astronomy Club. Attending a night of stargazing with Jon Wood Astronomy, he encountered warm and welcoming individuals who shared their knowledge generously. In just one evening, he absorbed more information than he had in a year of solitary internet research.
Transitioning into an avid observer, Steve acquired a 12-inch Dobsonian telescope. He soon felt compelled to share his astronomical experiences with others. His maiden attempt at astrophotography, though initially blurry with star streaks, revealed the vivid colors of the Orion Nebula, a sight that proved irresistibly captivating.
A Fateful Encounter and a Journey into Advocacy
Steve's astronomical journey took an unexpected turn when he crossed paths with Tim Nix, the owner of Camera Bug in Atlanta. Their friendship flourished, and he used his skills to create Camera Bug's website and organize its inventory online. This endeavor introduced him to individuals at various telescope manufacturers, most notably Scott from Explore Scientific. Their collaboration on several projects, combined with the ED127CF telescope he received from Tim, inadvertently transformed him into a passionate advocate for the Explore Scientific brand. He enthusiastically spread the word about the company's exceptional telescopes and customer service.
Within a year, the Charlie Elliott Astronomy club went from possessing just one Explore Scientific telescope at their observing sessions to amassing over twenty. They humorously referred to themselves as the "Explore Scientific Astronomy Club."
Giving Back to the Cosmos and the Community
Steve's dedication extended beyond personal interest. He aspired to ensure that Charlie Elliott Astronomy would be an organization his children would want to be part of and actively engage in outreach programs at local schools and scout troops. Over time, he assumed various roles within the club, including Director, Program Coordinator, and Observing Coordinator.
A Message of Involvement and Community
Steve has a clear message to those in the astronomy community: If you find yourself discontented with your local club, involvement and active participation can instigate positive change from within. Alternatively, if no such club exists, take the initiative to establish one. There is likely someone nearby who shares your passion and is seeking a community of like-minded individuals.
Reflecting on his journey, Steve underscores the pivotal role of his active involvement in an astronomy club and the invaluable support he received from others. If he could offer a single piece of advice to newcomers to the hobby, it would be this: Get involved in a local astronomy club. The night sky, with all its mysteries, is best explored with friends who share the same wonder and curiosity.