University Lowbrow Astronomers

My first Telescope.

by Ken Cook
Printed in Reflections: January, 2006.

Ken's Telescope

I am a relative newcomer to the Lowbrows having only been involved for 2 years. A new telescope prompted me to seek out those more knowledgeable than myself about these fascinating devices - but that is another article.

The first telescope I remember using was my Dad’s telescope. In the late 1960’s he built a telescope. It was a 4” f/10 Newtonian reflector made from a carpet tube on a steel and galvanized pipe stand. A friend of his welded the tripod. The mount was an alt-azimuth design built from galvanized steel pipe. Scope rings were made from particle board and pipe straps. The counter weight was a lead packaging shield from a radioisotope source. (He used to work in nuclear physics). An army surplus tank sight was the finder. A simple friction fit focuser worked fine - just push and pull until the image is in focus. The spider was a single wire from the focuser mounting plate to the secondary mirror. Just bend the wire to collimate; my dad turned a few of his own eyepieces, all this work from the excitement of the Apollo space program. I saw the craters and mountains of the Moon. The shadows were the most stunning things to see. I also saw the central bands on Jupiter, the Galilean moons, and little tiny Saturn. We observed these in spite of the mercury vapor street light in the front yard of my parents’ house.

My Dad observed more than I did. I was only five when we landed on the moon, but I remember it well. It was a major theme for my friends and me.

I did not pursue astronomy as a hobby. Space was always fascinating but observing was not on my list of hobbies, until Hale-Bopp. Comet Hale-Bopp (C1995/O1) prompted me to look into the night sky more. As I held my toddler daughter and pointed at the sky saying “See the fuzzy star?” I realized that I didn’t have a telescope. My binoculars were probably my best choice given the mercury vapor street light in my front yard (I detect a theme here). I was lamenting my lack of observing apparatus when my wife noticed a Tasco 60mm refractor on QVC with a 1-month money back guarantee if we didn’t like it, so we bought it. My first scope! Poor little device that it was: terrible chromatic aberration, awful eyepieces, wobbly mount, poor altitude adjustment and no azimuth adjustment. But I could see the moon, and sort of see Hale-Bopp (not quite). I could see Jupiter and its central bands, and I could see Saturn. And the Galilean moons which changed every night.

I could quickly tell the cheap little Tasco scope was not going to suffice, so I asked my Dad if he still had his 4” Newtonian reflector, which he did.

So I now had a small aperture reflector to use. There were a few problems: the mirror was very dusty and the wood supports for the finder scope had broken. So I didn’t have a finder. The counter weight is a square-ish block of lead on a hollow square tube. I was able to sight through the hollow tube on really bright objects to almost line up the scope.

This scope occupied me for about 1 year, I upgraded to other scopes but still have that old one my father made. It awaits a good rebuilding effort.

Ken Cook

Ken Cook


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