Way back in 1989, living in Mobile, Alabama, I went out one evening with a friend, to a county road on the outskirts of town, with my small refractor and his trusty 35mm camera ( sorry; I don’t remember what brand, but the “garden variety” shutterbug camera of the day ). One thing he could do was manually hold the shutter open, literally keeping his thumb on the button!
Even though my telescope was a department store instrument, it had an equatorial mount. Just no clock drive for the right ascension axis, which keeps the telescope centered on a celestial object, countering the earth’s rotation. So…while he was holding the shutter open with his thumb, the camera duct-taped to the top of the telescope – “piggyback” astro-photography, sans piggyback mounting accessory!- I was gazing at a random bright star through the eyepiece, manually guiding the telescope, tweaking the R.A. (right ascension cable; think of it as the “horizontal”, or “longitude” control of an equatorial mount, versus the declination, or vertical/latitude knob) in an attempt to keep the “guide” star in the center of my eyepiece field of view.
With steady nerves, and a manual right ascension cable, you can keep the scope in sync, offsetting the earth’s rotation, for about 30-45 seconds (especially if you have an eyepiece with crosshairs, which I didn’t). You cannot, cannot achieve this in any state of inebriation: “friends don’t let friends manually guide Under The Influence” (GUI). It’s just enough of a time exposure for some stars to show up on the picture. About half of the two dozen of our jury-rigged attempts actually came out! I still have the prints, but of course the negatives are long gone (or are they, Terry?).
It was a priceless evening for us, as I’d either turn the RA knob too much, too little (the shot is ruined if you’re not slowly turning the knob in a steady motion)…or Terry would let go of the button on his camera…or, what I think actually spoiled most of those shots: one of us would crack a joke!
Bear in mind, too, that this was in a bygone era in which film reigned supreme. You had a finite number of exposures. No “delete: are you sure?” option. You finished the roll of film, dropped it at a drug store…and when the prints were finally ready to be picked up, I don’t recall the I-Don’t-Like-X,Y,Z-Prints option. You got ’em all; warts & zits included.
I wish we could recover those negatives.
I still get the image in my mind of two guys, on the shoulder of an obscure county road at night, hunched over in what probably looked like a vampire embrace. If a County Mountie had come along, a) we might have been arrested b) our ‘dark adaptation’ would’ve been ruined for the evening, c) our film might have been confiscated, and d) he might have inserted something extra into reading our Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent. I’m going to kill you. If you cannot afford an attorney…”).
What we did shouldn’t have worked. But again, almost a dozen of those turned out!
There’s an old adage that goes something like this: You Can’t Learn How To Make An Omelet Without Breaking A Few Eggs…but, sometimes, a bit of egg yoke on the face can end up being one of your more precious memories!