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Large Achromat Refractor Stories?

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#1 jragsdale

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 10:53 AM

Greetings classic crew! I was wanting to post this to read everyone's experience and anecdotal stories regarding observing through a large achromat refractor, especially observatory class (10"+) refractors. Share your best highlights visiting a famous observatory or large amateur scope and the views you saw. I'm trying NOT to seek out opinions of refractors vs reflectors or "how much chromatic aberration does it have". Obviously big refractors have CA, but looking beyond that, what did YOU see? Please share objective size, maker, location and maybe when you viewed? Looking forward to reading through some history!

 

-Jordan


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#2 Jeff B

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 11:02 AM

Greetings classic crew! I was wanting to post this to read everyone's experience and anecdotal stories regarding observing through a large achromat refractor, especially observatory class (10"+) refractors. Share your best highlights visiting a famous observatory or large amateur scope and the views you saw. I'm trying NOT to seek out opinions of refractors vs reflectors or "how much chromatic aberration does it have". Obviously big refractors have CA, but looking beyond that, what did YOU see? Please share objective size, maker, location and maybe when you viewed? Looking forward to reading through some history!

 

-Jordan

Jordan, do you mean like this?  grin.gif

 

Jeff

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#3 jragsdale

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 11:30 AM

Jordan, do you mean like this?  grin.gif

Yeah! What size, maker, etc and what are your favorite things to view and what do they look like?



#4 opticsguy

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 11:39 AM

Many years ago I was told about a fellow astronomer conducting an "optics garage sale". In his collection were not one, but TWO 10" achromats.  One was mounted in a folded OTA and a second objective was available unmounted.  I purchased the unmounted version and had it shipped to my home.

 

I had no plan for this project but over time slowly designed and built my version of an alt-az mounting.  The optical tube is a 24 sided wood slat glue-up.  The rest of the mounting were various items laying around my workshop looking for a home. The large counterweight is a cast antique flywheel.

 

Assembly requires about two hours with help of a friend or two. I incorporate a rope and pulley system combined with a worm gear driven crank system for raising this heavy beast into position.  I have designed and built a Dobsonian mount version for this scope but have not yet completed a method for raising the OTA into position safely.

 

I have no observatory for this large scope and thus it remains inside my house, rarely used. I did set it up one time at Table Mountain Star Party. First light was Saturn about 15 to 20 degrees above the horizon. Even then, the images were superb. I am considering a set up at Oregon star Party this year but at 73, my energy levels are not as strong as a few years ago.

 

No images here but you can see one on my profile. Computers used to be easy to use but today have become so complex, have not got a clue how upload images to this conversation.  Wern't computers supposed to make life easier?


Edited by opticsguy, 29 January 2023 - 11:56 AM.

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#5 gstrumol

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 11:42 AM

Is that an 11"?! Wow!

 

What is the height of that pedestal? Do you view at the EP or have a camera there to view remotely? And are there tiny counterweights along that thin rail?



#6 Jeff B

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 06:12 PM

Yeah! What size, maker, etc and what are your favorite things to view and what do they look like?

It's an ATM OTA with a D&G 11" F12.3 achromat that I tinkered together in 2009.

 

The mount is a Parallax 250 Observatory Model using the AstoPhysics goto system.

 

Favorite things to view?    EVERYTHING.  Seriously.  It has the  raw light grasp of a C14 so it is wicked good on deep sky, especially open clusters and globs.  

 

The moon and planets are outstanding, seeing permitting and I use aperture stops to match the aperture to the seeing as well.  

 

I also have a suite of Chromacor color correctors which greatly mitigate the color focus differences between red, green, and blue light.  They work especially well at reduced aperture (9.5", 8.5" and 7").

 

I have had some extraordinary views of the Moon and planets...and so have thousands of others, especially kids, as it's used at a private foundation that serves mainly special needs, underserved and disadvantaged children.  

 

And then there's this bad boy recent arrival but it's not a "classic" yet as it was made in 2015.

 

Jeff

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#7 clamchip

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 08:20 PM

Here's a picture of my optics laboratory.

And on the chair being tested is my Brandt 6 inch.

I won the lens on ebay but something wasn't right so I was fixing it.

Back then I didn't have auto-collimation for testing so I did it cut and try.

I just kept playing with it until I could read the oil capacity on a power

transformer across the valley.

When the sky and the land are near the same temperature I can really

go crazy with magnification, I mean insane over 1000X with this scope

during the daytime reading labels and signs letters and numbers.

Robert 

 

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Edited by clamchip, 29 January 2023 - 08:27 PM.

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#8 luxo II

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 08:42 PM

A selfie with the Oddie 9" f/16 refractor at Mt Stromlo... I had weekly access to it as a student for several years. It had a 4"x5" plate camera (as I recall, about 20" focal length f/5) and a darkroom for loading and processing plates, and the observatory kindly supplied boxes of plates with emulsions as requested, and chemicals for developing. The RA drive was interesting, a clockwork affair with spinning governor driving a huge sector worm wheel about 1 metre radius - at the start of an evening we wound up the weight, set it in motion and every couple of hours had to wind the RA worm wheel back.

 

We found it was straightforward to piggyback my 8" f/7 newtonian on top and used the 'frac as the guidescope, and guided manually; that resulted in many awesome images for the film era... sadly I don't have them anymore.

 

A few things stick in memory ... one night with superb seeing we pushed it over 1000X on Mars, and several nights measuring open clusters with a filar micrometer at stupidly high powers for an experiment we were doing. The experiments we did included measuring Mars' orbit, the moons orbit and measuring the height of mountains on the moons (as described in Gerry Waxman's "A Workbook for Astronomy").

 

Although Mt Stromlo was destroyed by bushfire in 2003, this scope has a baby brother which survives - the  school I attended had a 4.5" Cooke refractor donated by Col. Oddie in 1936, it was fully restored in the 1970's and lives in its own little observatory at the school, in the south of Canberra. It is a beautiful thing and I have many fond memories of nights with that scope.

 

First light with the 4.5" was a beautiful calm evening with Saturn rising in the east, we took this little scope up to 200X and it was simply sublime, Saturn just hanging there, something I will never forget. It was this memory that made me revisit APOs 10 years ago.

 

Also had access to the Reynolds 30" cassegrain to do photometry, that's a whole other thing.

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Edited by luxo II, 29 January 2023 - 09:22 PM.

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#9 NinePlanets

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 09:01 PM

The first real telescope I ever looked through was this 10-1/2" refractor at Sommers Bausch Observatory. As a kid I lived about 1 mile from it. My older brother was taking the Astronomy course at the University and he had the key to the place for a while. One night he took me there and we opened up the dome and looked at the crescent moon, Venus, and M57, among others.

 

It changed my life forever.

 

A few years later the telescope was replaced with a 24" Cassegrain. Years later, the telescope resided in the adjacent planetarium as a museum piece. It is my understanding that the objective lens wound up doing duty as a collimator in a physics lab somewhere for college brats to defile.

 

I took this picture of it the last time I saw it, lost in the planetarium dungeon, forlorn, which must have been 25 years ago or so. A shame to see such a beauty lost in the bowels of the beast.

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Edited by NinePlanets, 29 January 2023 - 09:02 PM.

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#10 NinePlanets

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 09:05 PM

There was a time circa 1981-ish when I was invited by the old boy who ran it, to spend a few evenings with the 20" Clark refractor in Denver. Pulling the 4-ton mass of that wonderful machine around on its 67-ton mount, atop its 130-ton pier, was a joy and a deeply moving experience for me - not to mention the views of M13 straight overhead...  ;)


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#11 NinePlanets

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 09:12 PM

So it's no wonder that when the opportunity came to acquire a 6" F/18 lens made by a German POW in the 1940's, I committed to building it right. It's a shame I have no dome though. Refractors need domes.

 

 

 

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#12 ccwemyss

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Posted 29 January 2023 - 10:12 PM

As a grad student, I had an opportunity to spend an evening using the 18" Clark at Amherst college to record a transit of Saturn's rings by a star. The setup was to use a video camera with a T to C adapter connected to a VHS recorder, and feed the WWV time signal into the audio input. That way, the light levels of the star could be precisely timed (at least to 1/30th second). I don't think the data ever got used, but it was cool to spend a long evening alone in the observatory, periodically moving the dome and the observing platform to track the scope and keep the cables from pulling the recorder off the desk, while also monitoring the image on a little B&W monitor.

 

At that time, I was approved to open and operate the observatory by myself. A bunch of us grad students had an astronomy club (some of them were actually in the astronomy department) and would use it on nights when it wasn't booked for a class. It's a headache to point, since you have to drag it around with one hand while running the controls to move the heavy copper dome and rail-riding platform - and it's got a lot of mass, so despite the good balance, there is significant inertia to overcome. There were also risks involved. One night, for example, we couldn't get the dome to close (the screws for the top and bottom of the slit would sometimes slip, causing the shutters to angle and bind). So we had to park the scope perpendicular to the slit, be sure that the garbage can lid was securely covering the objective, and call the tech, who came and fixed it the next day. If you weren't careful, you could also rip the 220V 3-phase power feeds out of their connections to the dome motors and power rails.

 

Given all that, and the narrow FOV, we mostly used it to look at things that were easy to find. Planets (although the adjacent pine forest, which had grown up since the observatory was built, blocked them unless they were high in the sky), M13, M57, M31.  I remember M13 looking huge, even in a low power eyepiece. Only the central area of M31 fit in the view and was quite bright. We tried and tried to see the central star in M57, but I never managed it. 

 

In the intervening years, they've completely changed the drives for the dome and platform (much safer, more reliable), so I'm no longer on the operator list. But the year before Covid, I took my class there for one of the open observing evenings. The long line to go up the stairs to the platform stopped moving for a while, and I realized the operator was struggling to get something into the view. So I cut the line and climbed up. The operator was about to give up, but he knew I had experience with the scope, and accepted my offer to try. It all came back quickly, and in about 20 seconds, I had the object centered. 

 

The Clark had an interesting history, having been dismantled and sent at the behest of Percival Lowell, via steam ship, around the tip of South America, and carted in pieces by mule train into the Andes, where it was set up with the pier at a crazy angle, to observe a particularly close opposition of Mars. Then it was taken apart and shipped back to the college.

 

The thrill of using such a massive and historic instrument never goes away in my experience. 

 

Chip W. 


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#13 NinePlanets

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Posted 30 January 2023 - 09:03 AM

Yeah, I love the fact that you have to put your back into getting the tube to move, but then you have to put your back into getting it to stop moving too!  smile.gif  Magnificent machines!


Edited by NinePlanets, 30 January 2023 - 09:04 AM.

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#14 Bob Bunge

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Posted 30 January 2023 - 03:59 PM

During the early 1980’s, I had a friend who was an observer at University of Virginia's McCormick observatory in Charlottesville, VA, whom I could visit on weekends.  My friend’s job was to use the 26-inch Clark refractor to take glass plate photographs in support of a stellar parallax program that had been in existence since 1914.  When I would visit, normally, I would use the 6-inch Clark refractor that was in a nearby “dog house” observatory.  I used this telescope to image the Moon and planets and some deep sky observing, as well as operate it on visitor nights.  This telescope was on a large, very steady mount.

 

Each night, before and during observations, my friend would use a nifty device where he would visually look at a star and measure the quality of the seeing.  There were two parallel reticles.  One would be placed on the “edge” of the star.  The other would be moved by turning a knob until it was on the other side of the star.  A read out would show the “seeing” in arc-seconds and  recorded in the log book.  All these years later when I set up my large Dobsonian and start a two-star alignment on Polaris, I always use the same eyepiece and make a rough estimate of the seeing in arc-seconds.

 

On rare nights, the seeing conditions would be poor enough that it wasn’t worth the time and cost to expend the expensive glass plate film on the parallax program, so the big telescope would be open to casual visual observing.  When this would happen, we would usually “slum” our way around whatever was up.  Historically the telescope was only used on the East side of the pier.  In fact, over the years, wires have been added that prevented the massive telescope from being flipped to the other side of the pier.  At some point, someone in the astronomy department had found the funds to purchase some nice televue eyepieces and the department’s machinist had made a very nice visual adaptor to hold 2-inch and 1.25-inch eyepieces. 

 

Needless to say, it was a treat to use the big scope.  But it wasn’t always easy.  An oddity of the mount was it had hour angle circles instead of right accession circles.  To use these, you had to take the RA of the object and subtract the astronomical time (not UT or local time) to come up with the hour angle.  Of course the longer it took you to move the telescope, the more the error would be!  In fact, this difficulty contributed to a number of deep sky discoveries made with the telescope in the late 1880’s and contributed to the New General Catalog (NGC) being “lost” when modern researchers could find the objects on the Palomar Sky Survey plates while compiling the Revised New General catalog (RNGC).  Later, we discovered original drawings of the objects in the rare book section of the UVa library, made copies and used them to help identify these “lost” objects which had long been recorded in other catalogs.

 

But perhaps my most memorable observation was made while setting up for a public night.  My friend and I pushed the telescope around and the tailpiece up to catch Venus just above the trees.  It was perhaps 25% lit, an almost blinding white crescent with the normal pink/green color, but sharp and crisp.  Just a wonderful sight.

 

Bob


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#15 jkmccarthy

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Posted 30 January 2023 - 05:01 PM

Great post, Bob.  Just in case any readers might benefit from some further explanation, for more about the "nifty device" see https://en.wikipedia...ilar_micrometer, and for more about "astronomical time" see https://en.wikipedia...i/Sidereal_time.

 

Thanks Jordan for offering-up this thread topic ... have greatly enjoyed all the stories thus far and look forward to more !

 

        -- Jim


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#16 Jeff B

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Posted 31 January 2023 - 12:51 PM

I have very fond memories of using the 9" F12(?) Clark on top of the Harvard Smithsonian in Cambridge MA along with fellow Boston ATM members back in the late 70's and early 80's.  Optically, a very nice objective!   John Briggs, who was/is an avid Clark collector/restorer, though very highly of the instrument.  

 

I imagine it's still in use for public viewing.

 

Jeff


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#17 MisterDan

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Posted 11 February 2024 - 03:55 PM

The first real telescope I ever looked through was this 10-1/2" refractor at Sommers Bausch Observatory. As a kid I lived about 1 mile from it. My older brother was taking the Astronomy course at the University and he had the key to the place for a while. One night he took me there and we opened up the dome and looked at the crescent moon, Venus, and M57, among others.

 

It changed my life forever.

 

A few years later the telescope was replaced with a 24" Cassegrain. Years later, the telescope resided in the adjacent planetarium as a museum piece. It is my understanding that the objective lens wound up doing duty as a collimator in a physics lab somewhere for college brats to defile.

 

I took this picture of it the last time I saw it, lost in the planetarium dungeon, forlorn, which must have been 25 years ago or so. A shame to see such a beauty lost in the bowels of the beast.

Actually, the objective is still on campus, serving duty in the solar telescope there at Sommers-Bausch (in the 1980-1981 addition). The solar telescope was originally installed on the roof of Duane Physics in the early '70s (not sure if atop Gamow Tower or on a lower roof level - probably the latter), then moved back to S-B in 1980.

 

Cheers.

Dan


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#18 NinePlanets

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Posted 11 February 2024 - 03:57 PM

I read something recently that the old lens has finally cracked. It is done. Another flickering candle in the world has gone out.  :(



#19 MisterDan

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Posted 11 February 2024 - 04:49 PM

Well, that just stinks. frown.gif

 

I remember seeing the mount and OTA on display, some 35 years ago (before I knew its history).  Funny how I recall it "smaller" than it actually was.  Most folks thought it was a Clark.

 

Today's bit of research was prompted by my wife's purchase of tickets to a March showing of "Beautifica" at Fiske.  A little voice in my head asked, "I wonder - is the original refractor still there? Will I be able to show it to my wife and daughter?"

 

This will be my first planetarium "show" since... good grief... Lazer Floyd?! back in '86?!.. How archaic! wink.gif

 

Okay - back to topic.  BIG ACHROMAT STORIES.


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#20 mikey cee

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 07:53 AM

It's not fitting in my garage or house for roll out.

 


Here is a pic of my 10" R35 F/11 Istar with a 6" F/8 Jaegers and a "classic" 2.4" F/11 Shrine Manon to top things off! The Istar's heavy flint glass reduces it's CA by 35%. With an Aries Chromacor N mounted to spacers ahead of my Baader 2" prism my field around Jupiter is absolutely black!shocked.gif I'm satisfied and that's all that really couns I guess. Later Mike

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#21 NinePlanets

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 10:25 AM

For MisterDan:

 

"Digital" setting circles:

 

 

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#22 NinePlanets

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 12:04 PM

The last time I visited the old SB 10" I photographed the mount and scope in great detail with the idea of someday reproducing it, perhaps in a smaller scale. I collected universal joints and angle gears and drew a schematic of how all the fittings work. I still have it all in a file cabinet but haven't got to it yet. Perhaps it will always remain a pipe dream to me, but the memory of looking through it with my older brother and the screeching of that old dome as it turned is burned into my memory.

 

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#23 Dave Trott

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 12:54 PM

I used to operate the Alvan Clark 20 inch refractor at the University of Denver on a regular basis. Unfortunately Denver has abysmal seeing due to the lovely mountains, apparently. So the scope only performed up to specs a few times over the many years I used it. I remember one of the Mars oppositions in the 90's when the scope gave astounding views of Syrtis Major and other surface features. But mostly the view was about as good as an 8 inch scope. I tried for the pup (Sirius  B) on many occasions with no luck. This was back when it was more challenging. It is easy in much smaller scopes now.

 

It used to be fun when I had to do minor repairs to the equatorial mount. I would have to climb the rickety gantry, balance on tippy toes at the top and cling to some protuberance while trying to fiddle with a part. I had to replace a set screw in one of the slow motion linkages once. I could easily have broken my neck!

 

The Clark and its original Director H.A Howe

 

tumblr_nusff7JgMf1sdzmuoo4_1280.jpg

 

Here's the roll-around gantry (observing platform) in position to make repairs:

 

cham14.JPG

 

 

 

 


Edited by Dave Trott, 16 February 2024 - 01:00 PM.

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#24 Joe Cepleur

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 01:26 PM

Does six inches count as a "large refractor?" In the context of this thread, maybe not, but just in case:

One of the founders of my club owned an optical lab. When he retired, he donated many unusual items to the club. Among them was a six-inch, extremely long-focus lens (I never knew the exact focal length). Having found the most perfect lens on his career, the donor had set it of aside as test lens for his optical business. The club built a folded optical tube for it, an odd, pentagonal, plywood box. It threw the finest view of Saturn I have ever seen! It was loaned to a member who died while it was in his possession. While cleaning out his belongings, his heirs disposed of that old, ratty plywood box!

Edited by Joe Cepleur, 16 February 2024 - 01:26 PM.


#25 photoracer18

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 02:17 PM

The late Dr. Green on Long Island had 2 long FL folded refractors built by Barry at D&G. I bought his Jaegers 6" F15 that Barry also built for him in the early 2000's. One of the finest views of Mars I ever had during the 2005 Opposition. He invited me up to view thru his scopes but I never made it. His heirs sold his astro gear on an on-line auction and I think both scopes went to Europe. His requirements were that he could not view from the area of his house due to trees and such. Plus all the scopes had to fit into one particular garage building, be mounted on a trailer, and had to be towed to another area of his property to be used. The 6" F15 came with a trailer also. First scope was a 10" F34 achromat using Schott A glass (6 months annealing time) and Cer-Vit zero expansion relay mirrors. Second was a 12" F18 with the same build specs and construction. 


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