Jump into Astronomy with Mike Reitmajer

Mike Reitmajer and his hand built telescope. Photo provided by Mike Reitmajer.

After visiting the Haggart Observatory at CCC’s Environmental Learning Center, which boasts a 24-inch Newtonian reflector telescope, The Clackamas Print spoke with Mike Reitmajer, the outreach coordinator of Rose City Astronomers, a local amateur astronomy club, to learn more about him and his side passion of astronomy. 

The Clackamas Print: Besides being a part of the RCA, what do you do for a living?

Mike Reitmajer: As of the start of the pandemic, I was in a long search for a job, I would say around a year and (applying for) over 80 jobs. A friend of mine from Oregon State University saw a post complaining about my job hunt and told me Intel was hiring, and with my background in engineering (it fit).

TCP: Where did you grow up? Have you always lived in Oregon?

Reitmajer: I grew up in Eastern Oregon, a tiny town called Cove. It’s a very rural place with dark skies, so I really enjoyed looking up (at the sky) at night.

TCP: When did your love for astronomy begin?

Reitmajer: I can narrow it down to a specific date. Spring of 1988, around the 7th grade, my school had an outreach daytime presentation from some folks at Pine Mountain Observatory (PMO). They couldn’t use telescopes because it was the day, but they still held a classroom presentation to explain how astronomy works. At the end they gave us a brochure for the observatory, and I thought it was super cool!

TCP: Did you learn more about astronomy by going to the observatory? 

Reitmajer: My dad and I actually went to the PMO the summer after their visit. I think the first year I went, it was a night where the moon was up and it blocked the rest of the sky with its light so it was near impossible to see anything else. I like to call the moon “Nature’s light pollution,” it would have to be somewhere very dark to actually see anything other than the moon. In that first year, I was able to see Jupiter and Mars. My passion, after that, stuck and I was enthralled ever since.

TCP: You mentioned during the Haggart Observatory visit that you have owned many telescopes and even built one yourself. How old were you when you received your first one?

Reitmajer: Actually, that winter for my 13th birthday, my dad bought me a telescope. It was a little cheap. Poor quality optics, low aperture, which means you can’t see much and the quality is bad. I mostly used it to look at the moon a few times and had fun with it but I pretty much ran out of things to do with it. After that, growing up in a rural town pre-Google, I lost interest for about 12 years or so.

TCP: What reignited that passion to go back into astronomy?

Reitmajer: Around 2010, I am now married living in Longview, Wash. I see a bright yellow star out my balcony, thinking to myself; “That’s way too bright to be a star, it might be Saturn!” I  happened to have an astronomy app on my phone and sure enough, it was Saturn. I scrambled to my old telescope, blowing the dust off as I looked for the planet. I was so excited, it rekindled my love for astronomy. After that, my wife and I went to various observatories the following year and it started to fizzle out again.

TCP: What kept you grounded in your pursuit of searching the stars?

Reitmajer: In the summer of 2016, I am camping with my wife and some friends at the southern Oregon coast. It was Milky Way season with clear skies and no moon. I was trying desperately to find the Andromeda galaxy, and I ended up spotting a small smudge of light. I was stupidly excited because it was the first galaxy I had ever found by myself. It was life changing. I decided that night I needed something better than the telescope I had.

TCP: How did you find out about the Rose City Astronomers?

Reitmajer: I was really into astronomy at this point now and I had discovered the RCA by searching for clubs nearby. Living in Vancouver, I didn’t make many meetings that were in Portland. I assumed it was a fairly small club with amateurs with niche projects. I saw they had a star party published online. My wife and I scoped out the place after our camping trip, and there were a ton of people with scopes set up. They were very welcoming and ended up joining the outreach team when I was asked. I eventually became a permanent member, helping out with every star party that was held.

TCP: How did you end up being an Outreach Coordinator for the Haggart Observatory?

Reitmajer: The fall of 2018 had the Haggart Observatory finally opening to the public and volunteers were needed to run it, so naturally I was the first person to do it. It is so much fun to see people see these things for the first time and get excited, it’s almost a reflection of the excitement I felt myself 25 years ago.

TCP: How was building your own telescope? 

Reitmajer: It always felt like a task that was out of my league, even though I have done shop classes and knew my way around power tools. It just seemed like a lot of undertaking. At a swap meet in 2019, there was a guy selling a huge telescope. I knew there was no way it could fit in my car, there was no way I could take it anywhere. A couple of months later I saw the same telescope for sale posted on the club forums, so I messaged him to see if he took layaway and he gladly took the deal. He didn’t even care about a down payment, he just wanted it out of his garage. I purchased a book as well to assist me with building a new scope with the one I bought. I constantly worked on it, missing work, buying materials over a long period of time. I finished the build in mid-January in 2020. It worked beautifully and I was so excited. Since then I have logged over 800 new objects.

The Rose City Astronomers are “an organization of amateur astronomers dedicated to the promotion, education and enjoyment of astronomy among its membership and the general public.” RCA meetings are free and open to the general public as well. Visit The Rose City Astronomers website with this link to learn more information if interested.

The next star party at the Haggart Observatory will be held on July 25. Visit the CCC portal under the Campus Life tab to learn more information and future dates and contact haggart@rosecityastronomers.org with any questions or concerns.

Diego Garcia