But even people from our dimension have quit astronomy - sometimes for good reasons. Galileo was threatened with death. Some Ph.D. holders leave astrophysics when they're only offered raccoon-level starting salaries.
Looking up at the universe is not built into every mammal: wolves, yes; cats, no. Some animals, like dolphins, simply cannot focus their eyes at infinity. For our part, humans have an odd gender discrepancy. About nine times more males than females are into astronomy. Why is this? Anyone know?
Whatever the reason, it starts young. You rarely see fourth-grade girls doodle rockets zooming past Saturn, the way we guys did as an alternative to whatever was happening on the chalkboard. Up on most young boys' walls is a poster of the Solar System. Sometimes it's part of a science phase that starts with dinosaurs, moves to fossils and astronomy and then gets left behind. That period always includes having a telescope, and they've never been better than they are today.
But every telescope is a compromise. Research-grade instruments weigh a ton. Portable reflectors with short tubes demand collimation. Hassle-free refractors are economically unavailable in large apertures. You simply cannot have it all.
This bothers those who do want to have it all. "Can't they make one telescope that does everything?" people ask. Of course not - just as sports cars aren't SUVs. Large can never be small. Lightweight can never mean huge-mirrored. A private observatory can solve it all, but how many of us have spare mountaintop acreage, or neighbors who keep all their lights off? Such compromises can weed out the pathologically fussy.
Lots of people buy those "go-to" telescopes that are supposed to find Jupiter, galaxies, anything, with just the press of a button. Forget it; they don't. You first have to program them before each use with four or five steps, and that's just too difficult for most folks to bother with. Result: The instrument gets used once or twice, then winds up being stored. I see this over and over.
If you're in doubt, maybe buy a pair of image-stabilized binoculars instead, like the Canon 10x30 IS: pricey, at $350; but you'll really use it forever and treasure it forever.
Ever hear of jailhouse astronomy? I taught Astrophysics for Marymount College at a maximum-security prison for women for four years. That was at Bedford Hills, here in New York State. Those specially selected inmates were trying to get college degrees. Turns out they all loved astronomy and stuck with it. Like the constellations, they had lots of time on their hands.
Me, I enjoyed having a captive audience. Nobody could walk out of my classes, no matter how boring. But I couldn't get the warden to kill the lights. I actually asked, half in jest: "C'mon, just for ten minutes." She stared at me in disbelief. However, it showed why a lifelong passion for stargazing was so popular in bygone centuries: plenty of free time after nightfall.
Maybe that's the ingredient missing today: leisure. Ours is a snap-snap quick-edit society. Even movie cuts change every four seconds on average. Gone are films like Casablanca, where an actor sometimes had a full unbroken minute of dialogue in front of the same camera.
Of course, once Nature-lovers are under the stars, they love it. That's why it's great to drag friends to a "star party," where a bunch of nerdy telescope-owners set up shop. The matchmaking side of me always wants to drag a single woman to one, after telling her that lots of smart guys will be congregating under the romantic Milky Way. In the dark, she'd never notice their clothes, which were stylish in 1972.
Some folks are still into classical slow-paced activities like reading, yoga, chess or astronomy. But young newbies who take up such low-speed pursuits...well, they seem to be getting fewer. Oh well; fashion ebbs and flows.