This appeared in the newsletter of Starfest 2022 where I gave a talk about this scope.
There are many reasons why amateur astronomers choose to build their own telescopes. Sometimes a scope to suit a specific need is not commercially available. Other times it’s for economic reasons. But there are other reasons not generally considered which I would like to visit.
In the 21st century, many men (and unfortunately amateur astronomy and especially ATM is still a male domain) are ensconced in careers with tenuous connections to the tangible world. What they do might be important but it leaves little physical trace. Middle class parents insist their children attend university with the mistaken belief that an academic education prepares its graduates for employment. Working with one’s hands is frowned upon as is a career in the trades since that’s something parents can’t boast about with friends over dinner.
So for some men making a telescope is a chance to be physically productive, to build something of value whose function can be shared. The value of a man amongst his peers is not judged by hunting prowess or how many heads he has crushed, but he is still judged by his skills. The primal ability to build and repair anything is an indicator of self sufficiency. In an increasingly harsh and dangerous world, the worth of a man is not his net worth but his ability to get it done.
For others it is a chance to indulge in role playing. To be a Michael Faraday performing real experiments and collecting real data on self built Victorian steam punk contrivances. To entertain that inner Walter Mitty that anyone who has ever worked in a cubicle surely develops.
And finally building a telescope is a chance to tell a story. Every scientific advancement is borne upon the shoulders of those who came before and very often a successful new telescope project is the result of a failed and abandoned project taken on by new eyes. There is great value in that story to be told because it emphasizes the spirit of collaboration and that no person toils in isolation. That all accomplishments are made by a group and help and assistance is just one member away.
My 12” f/13 Classical Cassegrain was one of two scopes I brought to my first meeting of local telescope makers and the first time I met its congenial host, Norm Folkers. These groups are notoriously hard to organize because everybody has busy lives so there has to be star attraction and that of course was Norm. Norm had done it all. Norm was the mentor that everyone wanted an audience with and in the best tradition of mentorship his wisdom was passed on to us and continues.
My Classical Cassegrain has its origins so deep in the past that it nearly predates me. The optics came from the smaller of two telescopes purchased and installed in the nascent York University in 1968 and then replaced in 1999 by the current Meade 16” SCT. The scope exchanged hands several times, its equatorial mount was lost and finally only the optics and the original OTA were all that remained.
Rather than be dismayed, I was delighted. This gave me the freedom to reconfigure the optics in a modern open truss structure, save valuable resources and bring a historic instrument back to life.
And in my own story, as a I transition from a house to a 2 bedroom condo as I downsize in the last quarter of my life, this will remain as the largest aperture scope I have and for which I will use for mainly planetary imaging and observation.
I have degrees in Biochemistry and Dentistry and practice clinically 2 day a week. The rest of the week I devote to photography and bringing you the best writing in this blog.
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