Michael A. Stecker


Jay Ballauer
Azle, Texas


Contact information

Locator Map
Level of accuracy: Azle, Texas

For the most of my adult life, I have had two separate careers, one as a Southern Baptist minister and the other as a public school educator.  As you might expect, my formal education mirrors those careers - I have a Bachelor's Degree in Music from the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas, and a Master's Degree in Divinity with Biblical Languages from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.   However, through some fortuitous events in my life, my avocation (astronomy) is now my vocation.

I am currently employed by the Three Rivers Foundation for the Arts and Sciences (3RF), a non-profit organization with a mission to promote public awareness and education in the arts and sciences.   Lucky for me, our first and largest vehicle for this is through Astronomy.  My job is as Director of Technology, where among my tasks is to help equip our 50-acre astronomy campus, Comanche Springs, located in dark sky country near Crowell, Texas.  In total, despite the relative youth of our organization, we already have one of the largest collections of amateur gear anywhere in the world, with a multitude of complete imaging and observing systems.  These resources are at work both at Comanche Springs and within our public outreach programs that encompass and serve the entire North Texas area.   And it’s in doing outreach that I derive much pleasure. 

My passion for astronomy began in 1997 with Comet Hale-Bopp, and it was then that I purchased my first telescope, a 10” Meade LX-50.  With this scope, I learned how to view the sky using the old fashioned star-hop method with the standard Meade finderscope.   But with my love for computers and photography, it didn’t take long for me to hook up a camera to it, first my Nikon F2 film camera and soon moving to the “dark side” of CCD astrophotography, progressing though most of the SBIG line-up of cameras.  Likewise, I have traded up through various types of gear over the last decade, finding my first real success at “prime focus” CCD photography with a short focal length Takahashi FSQ-106 refractor and Takahashi NJP mount.  Having first used 10” and 11” SCTs for my long focal length frustrations, I’ve since graduated to a 12.5” RCOS Truss Ritchey-Chretien scope with a Paramount ME mount, all compliments of my employer, 3RF.   My cameras of choice are now the SBIG STL-11000m and STL-6303e cameras.   I still shoot the FSQ-106 on occasion, but I’ll soon be expanding my imaging options with an AP900-mounted 6” apo refractor. 

In between exposures, whether at my light polluted skies near Fort Worth or the 3RF dark sky site 3 hours to my west, I always love scanning the night sky with my wonderful Fujinon 16x70mm binoculars and doing some star-hopping with an Obsession dob.  

But my favorite part of the hobby is driving out to dark skies in my 1972 Airstream 25' Tradewind and sharing the night with my many astronomy-loving friends.  I have many good observing friends at 3RF and several astronomy clubs in the North Texas area.  Likewise, I'm fortunate enough to have many great friends around the country.  Many are long-time Internet forum friends and yet others I've met at star parties.  

Between observing, imaging, and sharing the night sky with others, I feel truly blessed.  But mostly, I feel blessed to be surrounded by wonderful family and friends.  I look forward to a lifetime full of astronomy and astrophotography, having the full support of my new wife, Helen, and our two children, Will (6) and
Peyton (3).

Astronomy Tale
What is dark sky observing/imaging without a little bit of wildlife activity?  Being in Texas, I’m comfortable with the concept of certain animals being in close proximity to my dark sky location, and I guess, inevitably, all astronomers must come to a symbiosis of sorts with nature.  While our new 3RF site has been blessed with some natural spring-fed water sources, hence the name, Comanche Springs, little did we understand the problem that arises from that – Mosquitoes – Texas-sized!   To help combat the problem, we have slowly begun to introduce bats into our local ecosystem, knowing that a single bat could eat its weight in mosquitoes during any given night.  While I’m told that there are indeed bats beginning to make Comanche Springs their home, it hasn’t kept me from immersing myself in “deet” at least 3 times a night.  However, it’s not the mosquitoes that bother me anymore; rather, it’s the other critter I saw recently…you know, the one that “won’t harm you if you don’t harm it.”   I just wonder how long that 2 ft. long rattlesnake was resting under my chair before I noticed it?   Moral to this story…I guess “deet” doesn’t work on rattlesnakes either!

Areas of interest
Astro CCD imaging, mostly of extended sources, wide and narrow field, RGB and spectral-band; public astronomy outreach.

Astrophotography publications
Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, Dark Sky Insight
Digital Astrophotography by Robert Reeves
NASA's APOD, www.space.com, www.astronomy.com
2004 Texas Star Party – Best Deep Sky Photograph

Observing site
Local site:  Ballauer Observatory near Azle, Texas, 15 miles northwest of downtown Fort Worth.   Elevation at 600 ft. and limiting magnitude of 4.8 to 5.2.

Dark sky site:  Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus (3RF), 15 miles west of Crowell, Texas; 100 miles west of Wichita Falls, Texas.  Elevation at 1400 ft. and limiting magnitude of 7.0 to 7.2.

For more info, see -- http://www.3rf.org/CS/ComancheSprings.htm

Astronomical Equipment
12.5” RCOS truss RC, Takahashi FSQ-106, & 18” Obsession
Paramount ME, Astro-Physics AP900, & Takahashi NJP
CCD Cameras
SBIG STL-11000m and SBIG STL-6303e


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