I built my 12.75-inch Dob for less than $700 — much less than a comparable commercially made scope would have cost. But is making your own scope always a money saving proposition? That's what inquireing minds (canine or otherwise) want to know.
For diehard ATMs, building telescopes is a way of life. But for others, the decision about whether or not to make a scope often hinges on economics. Will I save money building my own? The question shows up regularly in on-line forums and in my e-mail box. Before the emergence of a large-scale commercial telescope industry, the answer was a definite “yes!” But with the current abundance of low-cost, imported Dobs, and the increasing expense (and scarcity) of telescope-making supplies, it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s still possible to save a few bucks by going the home-made route. The prevailing conventional wisdom says “no,” but my own experiences suggest the answer isn’t as cut and dried as that.
Return of the ETX is the title of my telescope review, appearing in this issue’s S&T Test Report. Check out the ongoing saga of Meade’s venerable Go To pioneer.
In this issue's Binocular Highlights column, I look at some interesting deep-sky treasures around Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius.
Finally, this month's Telescope Workshop describes one of the niftiest telescope finders I’ve ever come across. Jerry Oltion’s novel “split-pupil” finder is a terrific unit-power sighting device that’s also easy to make.
Not the Big One. Comet PanSTARRS in the evening sky on March 22nd.
One aspect of being an avid sky watcher is that the passage of time isn’t marked just with pages in a calendar, but also by gaps — the spaces between “once-in-a-lifetime” events. It's been over 15 years since Comet Hale-Bopp visited the inner solar system and the gap widens with each passing year spent watching amd waiting for the arrival of the next great comet. Could the wait finally be ending?
Ever get the feeling that all the very best stuff is in the southern sky? It sure can seem that way. But one well-known southern treasure is actually visible for many living in the U.S. and even (barely) Canada. In this issue's Binocular Highlights column, I profile magnificent globular cluster Omega Centauri.
Dobsonian telescopes are remarkably effective instruments in spite of their inherent simplicity. And yet, some move like a dream, and others like a nightmare. For those with scopes more like the latter, this month's Telescope Workshop column describes a simple, hardware-store fix that might cure what ails your Dob.
Considering that most of the Moon’s features are the product of a single process, the diversity of landforms you can see in even a modest telescope is remarkable. In my On The Moon column we look at one small sliver of the lunar surface near Mare Nectaris that offers a wide variety of fascinating formations from big craters to narrow little rilles and plenty in between.
For those of you unfamiliar with SkyNews, read on . . .
Me, my new scope, and a bloody big rock. (Courtesy George Brandie)
My new airline-portable telescope is featured in the March 2013 issue of Sky&Telescope, but given the publication's finite page space, it wasn't possible to include a great number of photos. So, presented here are a series of detail images along with some construction tips and tricks. Keep in mind that this isn’t intended to be a full description of the scope and how it's built — it’s merely a supplement to the S&T article, so be sure to give that a read first.
Requiring only a few parts, this simple and effective setup provides stable images for detailed views of the night sky.
“This is the best binocular mount I’ve ever used!”
Those were the first words out of my mouth as I came indoors from testing my just-completed binocular rig. It’s rare that I build something that actually works better than expected, but finally I’d come up with a binocular mount that provides steady views, is easy to use, very portable, and simple to build. It was a good night.
I’ve been building and using telescopes for more than three decades and I’ll share with you a secret: collimating a Newtonian reflector is easy. So why does it seem so difficult when you’re just starting out? Probably because you’ve done your homework by Googling the subject and have read and re-read everything you’ve found. And now, you’re lost in a forest of information — some of it contradictory, some of it densely technical. Truly, sometimes less is more.
This ultraportable telescope is ideal for outings in which stargazing is a “maybe” instead of a “definitely.”
Although I have a house full of telescopes, I still find myself dreaming up new ones that would be ideal for this or that situation. But that’s one of the real joys of learning to make telescopes — you can build instruments uniquely suited to a given application, limited only by your budget, skill, and imagination.
This image of the Scorpius Milky Way was captured from Costa Rica with a DSLR camera and the simple hinge tracker mount described here.
If you have a DSLR camera and are interested in astronomy, you’ve probably considered dipping a toe into the astrophotography waters. But a camera is only part of the equation — for exposures longer than a few seconds, a tracking mount is usually necessary. Unfortunately, most suitable mounts are relatively bulky, or expensive, or both. But not the hinge tracker. It costs less than $10 to build, takes less than an evening to assemble, and requires no batteries. And best of all, you can put one together even if you’ve never built anything more complicated than Ikea furniture.
Although the Canon line of image-stabilized binoculars (reviewed here)
is the most comprehensive, there are other manufacturers making similar products. The one that I most often get e-mail requests to evaluate are the Fujinon 14×40 Techno-Stabi binoculars. Little wonder — Fujinon is a highly regarded manufacturer popular with backyard astronomers.
There’s no getting around the fact that collimating your reflector telescope (Dobsonian or otherwise) is much easier when the centre of the primary mirror is marked with a paper doughnut. Thankfully, these days a good number of commercially made telescopes come with their mirrors pre-marked. But if your scope isn’t so equipped, don’t worry — the procedure for adding a centre doughnut isn’t difficult. In fact, the hardest part might be convincing yourself that you can take out the primary mirror without inviting disaster.
Aligning the optics of your reflector telescope is crucial for optimal performance — all the more so if you have a telescope with a focal ratio of f/5 or less. A good tool can make the difference between successful collimation, and an exercise in frustration that encourages you to settle for “good enough.” But selecting the right tool can be more confusing than actually using it. On-line discussions offer a bewildering array of opinions and experiences — some of which posted by people who make and sell the products they (naturally enough) recommend. So what do you really need to collimate your scope?
I invite everyone to check out my new web site, FilmAdvance.com.
As regular visitors to this site already know, in addition to astronomy, photography is a big passion of mine. So, to keep the content of this site tightly focused on stargazing, telescope making, and related topics, I started FilmAdvance.com as an outlet for my photographic explorations. There will inevitably by some astronomy related content posted there, but mostly it’s about seeing the universe through the lens of a camera, instead of the eyepiece of a telescope.
This site will roll on much as it always has with new article being added regularly, but I hope you’ll also look in at FilmAdvance often to see what I’ve been up to with my cameras and darkroom!
Combining optical excellence with rock-steady views, Canon's image-stabilized binoculars are a stargazer's dream come true. But is one best for you?
For a long time, 7×50 or 10×50 binoculars were considered the best choice for stargazing. Such binos are relatively lightweight, inexpensive, and capable of delivering fine wide-field views of the heavens. But most people find that hand-held 10×50s represents the upper limit of the weight and magnification comfort zone. Models featuring higher magnification or more aperture require a tripod or dedicated binocular mount for steady views. Even 10×50s rarely work near their potential without support. Unfortunately, such devices ensure that an instrument much loved for its portability and convenience becomes encumbered with as much paraphernalia as a small telescope. Enter the image-stabilized binocular.
Attention to detail is what separates a regular Newtonian reflector from one optimized for high-contrast performance. This 6-inch f/9 uses every trick in the ATM’s book to deliver superb planetary and deep-sky views.
This was the first telescope I made using my own optics. Like most telescope makers, I got started the easy way, by building Dobsonians with mirrors ground by others. But one day I got bit with the mirror-making bug. I blame my friend Lance Olkovick, our local club’s mirror-making ace. But why a long-focus 6-inch? At the time I was a hardcore Jupiter junkie and was convinced that a long-focus Newtonian would deliver excellent views of my favourite subject. I also wanted to prove a point.
What you need to know when it comes to optimizing your scope’s thermal behavior.
Generations of backyard astronomers have debated why, inch-for-inch, the performance of a high quality refractor usually edges out an equal-quality Newtonian reflector. This disparity is most apparent when viewing low-contrast planetary detail — the images in a good refractors often have a touch more snap to them. Is there some intrinsic shortcoming in the design of the Newtonian reflector that makes this inevitable?
This simple, easy-to-build mount provides the perfect introduction to long-exposure astrophotography.
Round stars. That’s the difference between astrophotos captured with a camera that tracks the sky’s motion versus one that doesn’t. Traditionally you’d make a tracked photo by placing your camera piggyback on a telescope with a motorized equatorial mount. But that’s a lot of equipment to deal with if all you want are some nice-looking constellation portraits or a shot of a newly discovered comet — especially if you have to travel to reach your favorite dark-sky destination.
Have scope, will travel! This Dobsonian not only gives great views, it also fits into an airplane’s overhead storage compartment.
One of the best reasons for learning to build telescopes is that you can make instruments that perfectly match a particular observing need or circumstance. As an editor at Sky & Telescope, my “circumstance” happily involved a lot of travel, and as a result I found myself dreaming of a telescope that I could take with me as I zig-zagged across North America from one star party to the next. It seemed a shame to arrive under the dark skies of the Texas Star Party or Mount Kobau without a telescope of my own.
Too big, too small, or just right? Making sure your reflector’s secondary mirror is the correct size is a straightforward task.
The Newtonian reflector has many strengths, not the least of which is that it consists of just two elements: a precisely shaped paraboloidal primary mirror and a flat diagonal secondary mirror. Yet for all its intrinsic simplicity, confusion abounds when it comes to the optimum size of the diagonal. Many amateurs, and apparently even some telescope manufacturers, seem unsure as to how to choose the correct size for the diagonal. So how big should it be? That depends on several design parameters and some personal preferences.