Monday, June 20, 2022
Issue 581: The Thirty-Seven-Year-Old Telescope Redux
Anyhow, I wanted to get a June 2022 issue of the blog up,
but it was clear now was not the time to try to continue one of my two current
observing projects, “Urban Astronomer” and “The New Herschel Project.” Why? You
know how it’s been in most of the country in mid-June—hot, and I do mean h-o-t-t
hot. It’s probably been bad enough in your part of the USA, so you can imagine what
it’s been like way down here on the borders of the Great Possum Swamp.
If you can’t, I’ll spell it out for you: “Feels like 95F (plus)
way after sunset.” Oh, and that light pollution-scattering haze from
stagnant high-pressure systems? Lookin’ up at the sky has been like seeing stars
immersed in a bowl of milk. So, it ‘peared it would be “No blog for you!”
Till early one hot evening I was walking back to the main house from my radio
shack/workshop, the vaunted Batcave.
It can be boring out in here suburbia if’n you’re retired…well,
unless you have an amateur radio license (your ol’ Uncle Rod has had one
since 1969). There is no shortage of things to do on hot days and hazy nights
if you can get on the air. Especially if you can do so from the air-conditioned
comfort of a shack like the Batcave, which I had a contractor finish-off about four
years ago (it began life as a detached garage). Anyhoo, having pulled the Big
Switch on my beloved Icom IC-7610, I was heading back to the house to
inventory the Rebel Yell <ahem>, when my eyes lit upon the Thirty-Seven-Year-Old
I wrote a blog entry about this old instrument some 14 years
ago. If you’re interested, read the story of the telescope that began life as a mirror kit I received as a graduation gift in 1971. Ol’ 37 was a good telescope, and I used her purty frequently for six
years. But then she met her near demise.
Miss Dorothy and I decamped from legendary Chaos Manor
South for the suburbs following my early retirement at age 59 in 2014. Ol’ 37, of course, went with us, but I never
quite found a place for her. She spent some time in the not-yet-finished
Batcave. And she spent some more time in a corner of the sunroom. Until…
I’ve made no secret in these pages I had a difficult time
adjusting to retirement. Very difficult. I went from 30 years as an
engineer working plenty of 12-hour days to “Well, whatta I do now?” I won’t
say more about that today, since I’ve mostly come to terms with it, and you’d
just find the details boring. Be that as it may, 2015 was a particularly
tough year for your old Uncle…
One afternoon in the summer of that misbegotten annum, I
nearly knocked Ol’ 37 over in the sunroom. At the time, I had very little
patience for anything, had had enough of the scope being constantly underfoot, grabbed
her up, took her to the carport, and stashed her on a shelf. A shelf open to
the elements, though, of course, partially protected in the carport.
|Operating Position Number One at W4NNF...
Then, just a few days ago, as above I was walking back to
the house from the shack and my eyes lit upon the scope as they often did. Something
was different this time, though. I began to think about the wearyingly long
years the poor thing had sat on that wretched shelf waiting for a taste of
starlight that never came. I was suddenly overcome with remorse and the resolve
to do something about it. I grabbed a step ladder, got her down, and
brushed some of the thick layer of dust and grime off before heading to the ‘Cave
As you won’t be surprised to hear, after seven years the plastic
and masking tape sealing the tube had deteriorated to the point it all crumbled
when I began to carefully remove it. Frankly, I was afraid of what I might
find. Would I be years too late to save her?
Nope…looking down the tube I could see the primary mirror
was dusty and badly in need of a bath, but not far gone at all. The same was
true of the secondary. I removed the primary and the secondary from the tube by
the simple expedient of pulling the whole spider assembly (a nice curved one that
produces no diffraction spikes) and primary cell. I stashed ‘em in the kitchen
for cleaning after I did something about that horribly grimy tube.
I didn’t take a picture of the tube in “before” condition, campers.
Frankly, I was embarrassed to share that with you. The dust of years…spiderwebs…bug
poop… It was so bad the only way to attack it was with a garden hose and rags and
a bottle of Dawn dishwashing detergent. As you can see, she cleaned up rather
well. Oh, the girl will never look as good as she did in just-painted condition,
but is fine.
I could grab a can of Krylon and repaint the tube. However, I
have decided against that…maybe it’s best to let the OTA be and serve as a cautionary
tale for your old Uncle concerning being too hasty. I should have stopped,
counted to ten, and returned Ol' 37 to the Batcave rather than exiling her to
Would the optics live again? I cleaned them carefully with
water and a little Dawn and, yes, they would. They are no longer
pristine. There are a couple of spots on the secondary. And on the primary too.
There’s also a “sleek” that’s actually more of a scratch on the periphery of
the main mirror. However, that has been there since the mirror returned from
the fricking-fracking coater, Spectrum, who put it there. Luckily, it
|On the operating table...
Finally, I mounted a Synta-style finder shoe on the tube
with double-sided tape. Yeah, there was a Telrad base on the OTA already, but I
was surprised to find I no longer have a working Telrad (!). I’ve switched over
to Rigel Quick Finders and didn’t have an extra base (I could locate) for one.
I figured a Synta red dot sight would be enough for goto alignments.
Time to get the old gal’s optics reinstalled. Assembly was
easy enough…though it was a minor struggle to get the wooden primary cell back
in the not quite round tube and screwed down. Nothing a few minutes and a
little patience couldn’t see to, though. Naturally, after
removing and reinstalling both primary and secondary mounts, the scope would
need to be collimated. I went up to the main house and fetched my Celestron
combo Cheshire/sight-tube. And stopped dead in my tracks.
It had been a long, long time since I’d collimated a Newtonian
that needed anything more than a minor touch-up. My single other Newt, Zelda, a 10-inch GSO Dobsonian reflector, holds her
collimation remarkably well. Since we haven’t traveled to any star parties or
even the local dark-site since Covid began, she hasn’t needed any attention at
all. So…to my embarrassment, I realized I’d kinda forgotten what to do. Embarrassing,
yes, but I recalled I’d done a detailed article on collimating in these very pages years ago. My own words would see me through.
Indeed, they did. The secondary was only off a mite. And the
same was true, rather surprisingly, for the wooden primary cell. In about five
minutes collimation was done and it would be possible to get the old girl under
the stars and see how she might fare. Frankly, even after rereading the above article
on ol’ 37, I didn’t have much memory of what her images were like. So, I was curious
to say the very least.
When would I
satisfy that curiosity? Why, the very next evening. I had initially intended to
wait till late afternoon to set the scope up, but knew if I did, it might not
get done at all. The heat and humidity at the tail-end of a Possum Swamp
afternoon would be just too much for your increasingly feeble Unk. Now, when I
was a boy, setting up a telescope early was usually a recipe for disaster. I’d
get distracted by a TV show, and when it was over, I’d be reluctant to walk out
into a completely dark yard for fear of what might be waiting with
the scope. Better to assemble the Pal Junior in early evening and stick by
her side as the shadows lengthened.
|Not lookin' bad at all...
No, it wasn’t terribly not, not yet…but it was hot enough I
went for “easy.” My beautiful Losmandy GM811G ain’t tough to get set up, but nothing
(well, no goto-equipped GEM) is easier than the Advanced VX. So, the Celestron mount
it was. In addition to the ease of erecting it, it has the advantage I know its
hand control and its quirks in general so well I can practically align it with
my eyes closed. On a hot and breathless evening like the one sure to come, I
didn’t want to fool around with remembering which button to push. OK, mount up, Ol’ 37 on mount…a little balancing, and we was done.
Well, almost. I hopped down to Publix on this warm Sunday
morning for a 2025 button cell battery for the SkyWatcher red-dot finder and a
couple of shower caps to serve as Ol’ 37’s aperture covers. That accomplished,
I had to admit she didn’t look half bad. No, not bad at all. But the only proof
in the astro-pudding is an evening under the stars. I’d wait for that before
getting more excited about the old telescope’s apparent resurrection.
And wait Unk did. This time of year, it’s almost
2100L before it’s dark enough to begin a goto alignment. “Oh, well, maybe it’ll have cooled off by Astronomical Twilight.” Nope. Walking out of the house was
like walking into that proverbial steam bath. But I did persevere, for a while anyway.
How did it go? I’ll give ya the good and the bad…
As above, I honestly didn’t have a clue what to expect of this
old mirror begun by moi and finished by talented ATM, Pat Rochford. But
it was just fine. No, more than fine, darned good as a matter of fact.
As is strangely often the case down here of late, the seeing wasn’t really
great despite the high pressure we were under. Advancing front? I dunno, but
near as I could tell, the star test was pretty good.
The focuser worked as well as it ever had, easily coping with
a 35mm TeleVue panoptic. Due to the quality of my alignment (below), I figgered
I’d better stick with a low-powered finding eyepiece.
Maybe best of all? Being on the field with a white-tube
Newtonian telescope brought a flood of memories rushing
back. Ol' 37's aperture was larger than that of the Pal Junior and the mount far
more sophisticated, but all-in-all, the experience was much like what I
remember of that long-gone eve in the Swamp.
The SkyWatcher BB gun red-dot sight was nowhere. I
could only get it adjusted roughly, so it barely coincided with what was in the
eyepiece. And the more I fiddled with it, the worse it got. With sweat dripping
into my eyes, I decided a “good enough” goto alignment was, well, good enough.
The collimation could stand a touchup, but I wisely decided
this miserably close night was not one for essaying that.
Did I mention it was hot and humid?
Which doesn’t mean I didn’t see a couple of cool things.
While the haze was growing steadily, both M13 and M3 were nice. Going from the 35mm Panoptic
to the 8mm Ethos (once I figured out I’d need an extension tube for it to come
to focus) delivered some rather convincing resolution, even of tight M13.
Certainly, I’d have been thrilled to see the ball of stars actually looking
like a ball of stars on the long-ago night recounted in the link above. Going
from 4-inches, even to include a 4-inch refractor, to 6-inches really does
make a difference.
M13 viewed for a fair length of time, I decided to pull the Big Switch. Observing is supposed to be fun, after all, and I was beginning to feel miserable. Inside with a cool sarsaparilly, I recovered and planned what’s next for the old telescope.
"Next" is order a Quick Finder base (from Scopestuff, my
usual source for such things). That will make a huge difference. When will I
give Ol’ 37 another chance? I won’t wait for cool weather—which might be a long
time coming—but I will wait for better than this.