President's Letter: The Forever Scope

Original article appears in GuideStar July, 2017.

by Rene S Gedaly

Do you have a “forever” scope?

What I mean is a single, last (if need be) telescope that would see you through aperture fever, maintenance issues, portability concerns, possible moves, could be set up alone and would have really, really nice optics.

The forever scope must also have some basis in reality. I met up with reality this year at the Dark Site when I became an observatory telescope operator. One requirement of the TO is being able to close the observatory roof in an emergency. In case of power failure, for example, the roof and south window must be closed manually using the wall-mounted hand winch. This requires a lot of muscle, or failing that, dogged determination and time. Though I passed this test, I realized I'd never again be able to knock out 20 pushups as in my girlhood days and thereby my dream of a 20+ inch truss Dob was forever gone.

Happily, a new contender recently fell into my lap: an 11-inch f/4.3 Starmaster reflector. The Starmaster is no longer made, or more properly, crafted, so when one comes available it's snapped up quickly. The Starmaster was billed as a portable telescope, and while there are many even more portable telescopes now, the unique truss and mirror/rocker box design of the Starmaster reflector ensures rock steady viewing and balance when the easily lifted sections are fitted together. This Starmaster “shorty” version allows me to view the zenith flatfooted and for every other part of the sky, I can observe comfortably seated. The Starmaster is also outfitted with a Zambuto mirror and Starlight Feather Touch focuser.

Obviously this new-to-me telescope was previously owned, which as a rule, I don’t do. The thing about getting a used telescope is one needs the time, knowledge, and persistence to get it into working order, a learning curve one generally doesn't face with a new scope.

So far, I’ve run into problems fitting the trusses singlehanded, the secondary mirror has four adjustment screws, not three, the Bob’s Knobs I ordered don’t fit due to one funky design year change, the focuser works nicely but slips on the cage, and that beautiful mirror is not only dirty, but looks to have a couple of scratches. When I release it from its mirror box to clean it, I’ll know for certain. In any case, I’m excited about developing the skills it will take to get her in shape and keep her that way.

With all this care and attention, I feel called upon to give her a name. Naming a telescope seems a new trend at HAS, particularly by members of the Women’s Special Interest Group. The owners of Astraea and Stella are WSIG members—I believe I’ll follow these women’s lead. My forever scope will have to give me a hint about her name herself, though. Maybe the work will be straightforward and a simple Astra will do. If more involved, and I hope so, a more befitting name may spring to mind, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead.

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