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Whats it all about

Whats it all about

You sweat and toil for months and sometimes years with unfamiliar requirements, arcane formulae and lore, learning many new skills, utilising some old skills.

The mystical art of Amateur Telescope Making

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What its really all about.

You sweat and toil for months and sometimes years with unfamiliar requirements, arcane formulae and lore, learning many new skills, utilising some old skills.

Sorting out the truths from the hearsay and old wives tales. You follow in the footsteps of the masters or you go against all credos and try something new.

Purchasing items ready made, making many others from scratch, and somehow, against all the odds there is born an instrument of incredulity, an optical masterpiece, capable of peering back through time to personally witness splendours unseen by the naked eye.

In the pursuit of this ideal instrument some of us agonise over measurements so minute and to the Nth decimal place whilst others of us are satisfied if it’s close enough.

It is a shame that in this field of endeavour like many fields there are some who look down their noses with disdain upon those who instead of making their scopes actually purchase their lenses or mirrors or horror of horrors a complete telescope.

There is nothing wrong with pursuing a level of perfection to the Nth degree or fabricating every single component of a scope if you derive immense satisfaction from it, indeed it is to be highly commended, but let us not denigrate the methods of those who choose to follow a different path to achieve the same ends, because no matter what path we choose the final goals are those awesome views of the night skies splendours.

Unfortunately I cannot speak from a vast amount of experience here as I have only been observing for the last 6 years or so and am still in the building phase of my first scope built from the ground up.

Although I have re-designed and assembled a six inch f8 Newtonian of dubious antecedents to a usable instrument I have a sneaky feeling that I would like to fit into the group who wants to build every component himself. It is a shame that reality has to enter into the equation somewhere but it does and so I have to go with what I am able to achieve or afford, at least for the time being.

As am ex teacher I count myself very lucky to have been on the receiving end of that really special feeling that comes from watching individuals suddenly realise they can do or understand something they have been unable to before.

But never before have I felt that joy and wonderment to such a degree as I did the other week when I showed an 8 year old her first look through a large scope. It was only the 6” f8 of dubious ancestry but her total commitment, enthusiasm and sheer delight were an absolute wonder to behold.

Many of you who take your scopes along to public star parties will know exactly what I am talking about here.

This all happened a couple of years ago now but its something I've never forgotten.

I had to travel down south for a short course and took two scopes with me in, just in case the weather took a turn for the better.

It actually turned out glorious, not a cloud to be seen.

One was a Russian four-inch f6 newt on a German Equatorial mount; the other was the notorious six-inch newt of dubious distinction.

One of the other teachers I knew told me about his 8 year old daughter who seemed to be interested in astronomy so he bought her a simple telescope to use. He said he had absolutely no idea if it was any good but she used it every night she could, primarily to look at the moon.

Well, this was too good an opportunity to miss, like all the newly converted I cannot wait to convert others so I asked if he would like me to bring round what I had in the car for his daughter to look through. He said yes but as he had to work until 10 pm that evening we did not get to his house until after 11 and of course all little girls are fast asleep by that time of night.

I set up both scopes on the front lawn where the only view between the trees was of Orion and straight upwards to Cetus with Saturn and Jupiter in excellent prime time positions and off went dad to wake up the family.

After the introductions all round I showed her the Newtonian and how to aim it with the reflex sight, slid a low power eyepiece in and how to focus and then let her have a look at some of the stars. Obviously at eight years old she did not know much about the sky but the questions she asked were very searching and mature, in fact they were better than most of the adult questions I’ve heard at many star parties.

After about 10 minutes of undirected observing I referred her to my copy of Sky Atlas For Small Telescopes and Binoculars by David S Chandler and Billie E Chandler (a great beginners book in my humble opinion)

Well, I’ve never seen anything like it; it was fantastic to watch, after orienting it to the view of Orion and pointing out Rigel and Betelgeuse she was up and running.

The 6" f8 dob with a reflex finder, the star map, a chair and two solid hours of intense concentration. She would look at the map and find a target, hug the scope (twice her size) to swing it around whilst looking up through the finder, moving the chair to climb up and then focus.

The sounds of absolute sheer delight and excited explanations to her parents of what she was looking at were something that should be shared by everyone, particularly when she eventually found Saturn and Jupiter (I was just waiting for that moment) and correctly identified them.

According to her father when she went to school the next day she could not stop talking about what she had seen and was so enthusiastic that the teacher has arranged for an astronomy night for the whole class with some local astronomers so they can all participate.

This is what its all about, isn’t it? Sharing the knowledge and wonderment as far and wide as possible to all, irrespective of where the components were sourced to build these optical masterpieces that allow this.

Remember that first time you saw Saturn? Can you think of anything better than spreading that feeling on to others?

Don’t just wait for the chance, go out there and force the pace, try the primary schools, they are always looking for an opportunity for real science for their students.

Trust me, it feels great.

Article: Charles Mitchard