Michael A. Stecker


Allen Hwang

Contact information
Locator Map
Level of accuracy: Riverside County, CA, USA

My interest in astronomy goes back to childhood when I saw a picture of Halley’s Comet in a Time Life book of the Universe.  The picture was a 1910 Lick observatory photo and after adding 76 years to that date I realized that I would be able to see it when it returned.  I would be really “old” but I should be able to see it.  I never had a telescope before and I knew little about the hobby.  My wife and I ended up buying a Halleyscope at Fedco.  I started reading Sky and Telescope in the library and dreaming about traveling to Australia to see Halley at its best.  Barely able to afford a cheap telescope, travel was out of the question.  We had to settle for a drive out to Joshua Tree national park.  The only time I had off was a single Saturday in March of 1986.  Off we went Friday night with a little food and sleeping bags.  It was the tail end of a cold front that passed though southern California and it had been snowing in the mountains.  Little did we realize how cold it can get out in the desert.  We spent most of the night shivering.  However, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of Halley.  The storm passed during the night leaving transparent skies.  Halley had a 10 degree tail and was a spectacular sight for a complete novice who had never seen a comet before.

Astronomy Tales
My most memorable stories seem to revolve around things with tails like comets and meteors.  Some highlights would include seeing Halley’s Comet after waiting almost 20 years.  Another was seeing comet Hyakutake with my good friend David Jenne in the local mountains of southern California.  Both of us had never seen a great comet before and we were driving around trying to find a clearing in the trees to view the comet.  After a while on the twisting mountain roads you lose your sense of direction and you don’t know where to look.  Finally we came to a small clearing and saw the comet.  It was a jaw dropping experience to see a bright comet with such a long tail.

 Comet Hale Bopp was another memorable sight but my best memories are seeing it from the driveway in July 1995 when it was just a faint fuzzy star like object.  I was elated just to have found it and be able to see it.  The other time was in November 1996 when Hale Bopp was a pre dawn object.  David and I spent cold night out in the desert waiting for it to rise in the east.  It was already a bright comet and had a prominent tail.  This was months before the predicted peak of the comet and before it became an evening object.

The Leonid meteor shower in 2001was another highlight.  The family flew to
Ayers Rock in Australia to see this.  We met some other astronomers on the
plane in Australia and one of them was Vic Winter of ICSTARS http://icstars.com/index.html who was leading his tour group to see the Leonids. 
He kindly allowed us to observe with his group.  As Leo started to rise we began
to see many extremely bright meteors streaking across the sky from horizon to horizon.  We saw the surprise Leonid fireballs in 1998 from the desert but 2001
was far better.

Comet Bradfield C/2004 F4 was another surprise in April 2004.  This comet wasn’t widely known and wasn’t expected to be very bright either.  However it was a chance to see 2 comets simultaneously.  The other being LINEAR C/2002 T7.  David and I left at 2:00 a.m. and drove out to Joshua Tree national park.  When we got there we only had a short time to observe before dawn.  WOW!  Bradfield was naked eye and had a tail 15 degrees in length.  Completely unexpected.  I went the following morning with the family but the sky was hazy and the comet was disappointing.  Luck plays a large part in observing comets.

Areas of interest
Comets and Deep sky imaging

Astrophotography publications
Astronomy, Sky and Telescope, Popular Science.
Images From Science

Various articles for the Riverside Astronomical Society

Observing sites
Various desert and mountain sites in California

Astronomical Equipment
Astro-Physics 155 mm refractor and 900 mount

Additional Information
Interested in the supernova of 1054 A.D.?  See:


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