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What's Up - My Telescopes through the years—Part 1

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What’s Up

By Steve Coe

My Telescopes through the years—Part 1

This is the 99th article I have written for the Cloudy Nights website.  So, I thought I would do something special.  What follows is a listing of images and text about the telescopes I have owned.

After having a chance to own a variety of telescopes over the years, I have learned much about telescopes in general and the ones I possessed in particular.  It seems that it would be helpful to share that knowledge with you now.  This will be a chronological listing of each scope and some information about it.

I saw one thing right away and that was a setup or teardown time of around half an hour was imperative.  If a telescope took far more than that, it was just too clumsy to use and I would start making excuses so that this scope would not get used.  The convenient telescope goes out observing the sky, the difficult to use telescope stays home.

The first telescope I bought was an 8” f/6 Meade Newtonian, model 856.  For what I paid in 1978, it was a good telescope.  I saw lots of the sky with it and before I succumbed to aperture fever it proved to be an excellent starter scope.  It had enough aperture to show plenty of detail on bright objects and was small enough to be easily setup and ready to go.

Here is my college roommate, Frank Zullo, setting up the scope in our backyard near Arizona State University.  This is from 1980.

After a night of observing the sky near Saguaro Lake, I am viewing the distant Four Peaks mountains to the east of Phoenix, Arizona.

Ok, I have already admitted to getting aperture fever, so I started thinking about a larger telescope than the 8 inch.  I sold off that telescope and ordered the 17.5 inch mirror from Coulter Optical. 

I enjoyed this telescope, it was not the best mirror, but it was good enough for me to see detail in a variety of deep sky objects.  Any Messier globular cluster was fabulous in the telescope at 200X.  Dark lanes and bright spots in the arms of galaxies could be viewed from a good observing site.

It is 30 years since I owned my 17.5 inch and even today telescopes in the range of 12 to 18 inches are still very popular.  Virtually all the manufacturers of commercial telescopes make an instrument in that size range.  The reason is that they will show an observer much more than an 6 or 8 inch telescope and yet they are much easier to get ready than a 24 inch or larger.

The 17.5 in f/4.5 Dobsonian and me, also near Four Peaks.

After owning the 17.5 inch scope for several years, I wanted to see what a telescope of that size with a more accurately made mirror would do.  So, I built the largest telescope I ever owned, an 18 inch f/6 Dobsonian.  The mirror was ground and polished by John Hall (Pegasus Optics) and it was excellent.  The views were spectacular, this telescope really worked well at 300X, something the 17.5 inch never did.  Even at lower magnifications, this scope provided a sharp view with very good contrast.

But this telescope did not meet the criteria I set forth in the beginning of this article.  It took 45 minutes of hot, sweaty work to get set up and ready to use.  I was OK with that for a while, but it got tiresome as time went on.

Even though the views were excellent, the effort to use this telescope was wearing and I was ready to move on when my Australian buddy offered me a reasonable price to buy the mirror and take it back to Australia.  I said yes to the deal and the mirror of the 18 incher was on its way south.  The Brisbane Astronomical Society built an observatory for this scope, which is exactly what it needed.

The 18 inch at Sentinel, Az.

I had become attracted to drawing what I saw at the eyepiece.  When using a Dobsonian, you must pull the scope along as the object moves through the field.  This adds a layer of complication to making a good drawing.  I had decided that my next telescope would have a driven mount, like the Meade 8 incher.  A driven mount will use a battery operated motor and gear mechanism to move the scope at the rate the stars move overhead.  This means that whatever you are viewing will stay in the field of view of the eyepiece as you observe.  I was drawing many objects that I viewed in the telescope and having a driven mount would make it much easier.

I knew that driven telescopes in the same size as the 18 inch were beyond my budget, so I looked for something a little smaller with a driven mount.  The Universe supplied me with Pierre Schwaar.  He had been making telescopes in the Tucson area and had recently moved to Phoenix.  Pierre and I agreed on a price and he started grinding me a 13 inch f/5.6 Newtonian mirror and this tube assembly would fit on one of Pierre’s Bigfoot mounts.  This was an invention of Pierre’s, a wooden German Equatorial mount that is large enough to handle a scope such as the 13 inch. 

I had him grind the mirror to f/5.6 so that the tube assembly fit into my long bed Toyota truck.  You have to answer the question of “how will I move this thing around?” before you buy the telescope.  Otherwise, you will find yourself going shopping for a vehicle after you have purchased your “telescope of a lifetime”.

This is the telescope I used for 14 years and I only moved on because I had observed all that I wanted to see with that telescope.  There are several SAC members who still own and use their Bigfoot telescopes.  I sold mine to a friend who teaches high school near Prescott.  He has trained the students to use it and they are still viewing the sky with it to this day.

13 in f/5.6 Newtonian, mirror and Bigfoot mount from the late Pierre Schwaar (left).  In 14 years, I viewed the northern sky contents of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook with this scope. 

Here is another of me and the 13 inch Newtonian, easily the telescope I owned for the longest time. 

I have always enjoyed a wide field view of the sky and I decided to try a smaller scope that gave a wide view.  Bill Anderson had a 6 inch f/6 that he was not using because he had an 8 inch that he liked more.  Bill had rigged it up with setting circles so that you could use it with a calculator to determine exactly where to point the scope and get the object you were looking for into the field of view.  I know that there are hundreds of thousands of such scopes today, but in 1995 it was a novel idea.

This telescope provided good views of the sky and gave a good, but not great, field of view.  I used it for several years and enjoyed the time I had with it, but I found that I wanted more.  Do notice the huge 38mm Giant Erfle eyepiece on this scope.  This eyepiece is World War II surplus, it was used in the periscope of a Sherman tank.  In an era before the huge, heavy eyepieces we have today, it was a good wide field eyepiece.

6 inch f/6 Newtonian, me with a T shirt showing William Herschel, my hero.

In the time from 1999 to now, I did a lot of telescope buying and selling.  I did not set out to do so; it just turned out that way. 

My next purchase was a 6 inch f/6 Maksutov-Newtonian from Orion.  It was a terrific wide field telescope and worked pretty well at high magnification also.  The images were excellent, tiny star points and much detail at higher powers.

I liked the scope and it was well mounted on a Losmandy German equatorial mount.  The combination of a large, well made mount and a rather small telescope certainly created a solidly mounted instrument.  I used it with a set of electronic setting circles and I found that I really liked being able to point the telescope accurately at any of the large number of deep sky objects in the memory. 

This is the only scope I have owned in all these years that I can say I regret selling off.  But, I may replace it one of these days.

6 in f/6 Maksutov-Newtonian on Losmandy G-11 mount at Sentinel.

OK, this have gotten long enough that I am going to break it into two pieces.  Next month, Part 2.  See ya.

  • Dave Mitsky, Diego, droid and 27 others like this


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