When COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect in 2020, many of us turned to Netflix and Hulu to while away the hours and stem the tide of boredom.
For FishHawk resident Les Gatechair, he used the time to foster a hobby that has become a passion. Gatechair, who was living in Pinellas County at the time and working as a high school chemistry teacher, said when schools stopped meeting in person, he became bored.
“I was sitting at home for weeks with nothing to do and trying to figure out how to make use of my time,” he said.
He and his wife had just sold their boat, so excursions on the water weren’t an option.
Being an avid scientist, he had always been curious about astronomy. He found an inexpensive telescope on Craigslist, watched a few introductory astronomy videos on Facebook and YouTube and reconnected with an old friend who had a passion for astronomy.
“My friend is extremely knowledgeable,” said Gatechair. “His barn is his dedicated astronomy space and features a retractable roof for stargazing.”
As much as Gatechair enjoyed viewing the stars through his telescope, what he really found rewarding was taking photographs of the images. Some of his favorite images are of nebulas, enormous clouds of dust and gas that occupy the space between stars.
“Much of what we see in the night’s sky is difficult to discern even with a telescope,” he said. “It’s only through photography or computer-enhanced imaging that you can bring out the shape and color of nebulas and other galaxies.”
Long gone is the beginner’s telescope he purchased on Craigslist. His latest equipment is a cluster of three telescopes that affords him a better view of the heavens. He goes outside two or three times a week during cloudless nights.
Some of the photos he’s taken and digitally enhanced are spectacular, but Gatechair admitted he is still a beginner.
“In the astronomy world, my photos are a two on a scale of 100,” he said. “I’m still perfecting my skills.”
Stargazing isn’t a solitary pastime. In addition to the online community, Gatechair is also a member of the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club. The group meets monthly for telescope-making workshops, science lectures, astronomy lectures and education outreach sessions. It also hosts a dark sky party at Withlacoochee River Park each new moon weekend.
For more information about astronomy or to learn more about St. Petersburg’s Astronomy Club, visit www.stpeteastronomyclub.org.