the best telescope is the one you have with you
December 20, 2016 9:15 PM   Subscribe

What's that? A bong? A trench mortar? A thermos? A bomb? No, it's a parabolic Newtonian reflector on a ball type cast aluminium altazimuth mount.
It's an Astroscan!

it's how I got my start.
posted by the man of twists and turns (25 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, memories.. that was the scope my Dad used to take out in the backyard and introduce me, and the neighbor kids, into the worlds beyond the world. It was amazing to see things 'for real'; no matter how many times you saw in your schoolbooks that Saturn has rings, etc, there's a kind of pure connection when you can actually glimpse it yourself, how-ever fuzzy it might be.
posted by The otter lady at 9:24 PM on December 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I was hoping that second link was arcane instructions on creating a telescope out of a bong. You never know when session might need astronomical verification.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:29 PM on December 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


Don't tell, but Micro McGee, my space-obsessed 5-year-old, is getting a telescope for Christmas.

Parent constellation update: I can now fairly reliably identify the dippers, Orion, the Pleiades, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Lyra, Cygnus, Pisces, Scorpius, and Gemini. I'm getting good at spotting Mars, Venus, and Jupiter without checking my app, and I'm pretty sure I saw Uranus through my binoculars. I gasped aloud the first time I saw the Pleiades through my binoculars, and also the Andromeda Galaxy. It's like HOLY CRAP THERE'S A GALAXY THERE. You feel a little bit what it was like to be Galileo, and to look through your telescope and see these four tiny dots dancing around Jupiter and being like HOLY SHIT IT HAS MOONS. Or Hubble and be like "Um I feel like that's maybe not a star but like a whole galaxy and the universe has more than just the one?"

(Also pretty cool: Google Cardboard + Star Tracker VR = PERSONAL PLANETARIUM)

Anyway it is a great hobby (even in my urban backyard) and I am excited for a telescope that possibly I will use more than my 5-year-old but OH DOES HE WANT HIS OWN TELESCOPE and Santa/grandma is happy to oblige.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:40 PM on December 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


Everything can be a bong, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:08 PM on December 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


It was amazing to see things 'for real'

The thing that gets me, especially for stars and other self-luminous objects rather than reflective ones, is the process. When you look up at Orion and see Betelgeuse in his shoulder, what's happening, at least at my layman's level, is that photons are physically streaming off of Betelgeuse and traveling hundreds of years only to land exactly in your eye, where they physically interact with your body.

Something about that still gives me little chills; the nuclear fire in a star hundreds of light years away is in a small but measurable way physically changing my body.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:09 PM on December 20, 2016 [34 favorites]


whoops I just shivered myself to death by considering interstellar scale in those terms

(That's a super cool point, though)
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:40 PM on December 20, 2016


Any recommendations on where to buy one outside of rolling the dice on eBay? I'm enamored
posted by rosary at 11:57 PM on December 20, 2016


The man who designed and created the original Astroscan, Norm Sperling, has a Kickstarter campaign currently running to build a new Astroscan-type telescope called the Bright-Eye.

Details here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1592946658/bright-eye-telescopes
posted by mikelynd at 1:19 AM on December 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


For anyone who gets a telescope for Christmas (like my kiddo did last year) I recommend the Pleiades (which were just shocking when I looked through the scope) and Jupiter (because if the sky is right you can see one of its moons, which was just amazing). About once a month we go out and look at stuff at night (it's single digit temperature at night now so not so much anymore) and it's always a treat. I still only recognize Orion by sight, but I have one of the 5000 star guide apps on my phone, so that helps.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:06 AM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows, funny you should mention that, because my kids (slightly older at 7 & 9) are also getting a telescope this year. Specifically the NexStar 6SE by Celestron, which is computerized so that it will track an object for you. (It's a gift from my parents.) I wasn't expecting it to be in the same price range as the bong-scopes on that KickStarter...

Interestingly, the box, ~4'x4'x2' is sitting on the side in our living room with a sheet over it right now, until I put it together on Saturday, and I'm not sure I even need the sheet -- they don't even seem to have noticed it's there.
posted by mystyk at 3:47 AM on December 21, 2016


Thanks for this! I moved out to the country last year and was amazed to be able to see the Milky Way stretching across the sky—very rarely before that had I been in places where even that could be seen.

I've been interested in getting into astronomy because of that experience; I've seen that most websites recommend getting started with binoculars. The problem for me is that I have big, old, thick glasses and am blind as a bat even with them, and I've been unable to find binoculars with enough eye relief to be used alongside my glasses. This has dissuaded me from getting started!

Is that something that needs to be considered with telescopes, too? It would be awful to get a shiny new telescope only to find I can't even see anything through it!
posted by ragtag at 3:49 AM on December 21, 2016


There she stood in drag, just-a lookin' cool in Astroscan.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:23 AM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I saw Uranus through my binoculars.

It wasn't just a moon?
posted by fairmettle at 4:26 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Unf, I wanted one of these so badly back in the day. (And Edmund Scientific's catalog was my dream book back then.) Looks like they plan to put the scope back on the market next year.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:32 AM on December 21, 2016


The Astroscan has several significant issues, the most important of which is probably that it can't be collimated. I have one and like it, but either an Orion Starblast or one of the various 130mm mini dobs (the smaller ones have poor optics) is probably a better choice for a beginner.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:09 AM on December 21, 2016


The problem for me is that I have big, old, thick glasses and am blind as a bat even with them, and I've been unable to find binoculars with enough eye relief to be used alongside my glasses. This has dissuaded me from getting started!

Is that something that needs to be considered with telescopes, too? It would be awful to get a shiny new telescope only to find I can't even see anything through it!


The general rule is that telescope focusers will correct for nearsightedness or farsightedness (which are, after all, just being focused at the wrong distance). If that's all you have, don't use your glasses at all while viewing. Telescopes generally can't help astigmatism, so you do need them if that's what you have. They sell long eye relief eyepieces that offer about 20mm of eye relief, which is usually enough for glasses.

I don't recommend starting with binoculars. It's outdated advice. Telescopes are cheaper now, but more importantly, light pollution is a beast. Binoculars are mostly useless on planets and the moon, and are mostly good on larger, brighter deep sky objects... but these suffer a lot by being viewed from within cities. And binoculars don't have much aperture for overcoming this. So unless you're going to drive out in the country to use your cheap binos, they're going to be underwhelming. Whereas with a telescope, at least you have planets and the moon, and double stars, which aren't affected by light pollution.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:21 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I used to get the big Edmund Scientific catalogs, probably as a result of being given a microscope out of it one year for Christmas. I loved meandering through it, looking at all the lasers, magnets, assorted optical and electronics gadgets, and so on. Never had any particular uses for all those things, just thought they would be cool to have. I would have been about 10-12 years old at that time, and remember when the Astroscan came out. Popular interest in astronomy was pretty high, in part due to the space program, and in part due to the appearance in 1973 of comet Kohoutek (which ended up being pretty disappointing). I particularly remember that Edmund Scientific held a naming contest for the telescope, with the winner getting two telescopes, one for themselves and one for the educational institution of their choice. I would have loved to win, but never did come up with a name I thought worth entering. I had no idea it remained in production for so long, but do recall seeing ads for it for some time. According to the Wikipedia page, production stopped because the mold for the body broke. That seems like an inglorious end for something that seems pretty well thought of for what it was.
posted by TedW at 6:34 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


A couple of other thoughts:
1: Nice post for the winter solstice!
2: Apparently designer Norm Sperling went on to edit the Journal of Irreproducible Results. Sounds like a really interesting guy!
posted by TedW at 7:00 AM on December 21, 2016


Everything can be a bong, though.

You could have bought just the shell for $60 on that Kickstarter page.
posted by achrise at 7:07 AM on December 21, 2016


I've been very slowly grinding a mirror with the telescope makers workshop in Oakland. It's been awesome slowly working through all of the various conundrums that come up in fabrication, and I still have a long way to go... It will be a 6" mirror, and I'm planning on building a body for it, too. And probably attaching some servo motors and a raspberry pi, for good measure... Will probably be done by 2020.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:27 AM on December 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


What a blast from the past!

I still have and still use the one I got when I was 14 (ish). Introduced both my sons to stargazing using it. It's definitely not as sharp as it once was (many trips in moving trucks), but is still great for showing the kids the moon, Jupiter's moons, Saturn's rings, etc.
posted by Calibandage at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2016


Astroscans vary a lot, particularly since they're so old. The manufacture of the optics moved around over time. The Japanese-made optics are the best, US made ones are usually pretty good, and Chinese ones are usually pretty bad. Miscollimation is also a concern - they are not user collimatable, although you can kind of loosen the corrector ring and shove it around (it worked for mine!) For some of them, the foam that supports the primary mirror is deteriorating, which is hard to fix (but can be done).

Mine is quite sharp despite being banged around a lot. It can split Epsilon Lyrae comfortably. It has some issues for functioning in the modern world, though. The focuser can't handle heavy eyepieces like good, modern widefields. It'll also slide down if you overload the focuser. It has a boatload of coma and no way to fit a coma corrector (which are all 2" and would be too heavy besides). Whatever the manual says, you need a finder (red dots, rigels, and lasers work well). You also need something to put it on. I have my mount bolted to the top of a cheap telescope tripod.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:46 AM on December 21, 2016


Mitrovarr: The general rule is that telescope focusers will correct for nearsightedness or farsightedness (which are, after all, just being focused at the wrong distance). If that's all you have, don't use your glasses at all while viewing. Telescopes generally can't help astigmatism, so you do need them if that's what you have. They sell long eye relief eyepieces that offer about 20mm of eye relief, which is usually enough for glasses.

Thanks for the information. I'm strongly astigmatic, so no luck doing without my glasses, but knowing that there are eyepieces that can work around that is helpful. ♥
posted by ragtag at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's also a Tele-Vue thing called the Dioptrix that can be used to correct for astigmatism. It's expensive, though, and it works with their eyepieces, which are really expensive.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Look for local skywatcher groups or maybe school-associated astronomy departments doing viewing parties. Growing up I used to go to a lot of these, where you'd show up at a park or someone's yard and there would be a giant assembly of many varied kinds of telescopes all trained on different objects. One could look at many different objects over a very short time without having to search for each of them, and it was always a bit mind-blowing, even the zillionth time I saw Jupiter or whatever.

(I grew up in the same town where Clyde Tombaugh (Pluto IS a planet, dammit!) lived, and went to a few of these nights at his place, where he had a pretty large actual installed rotating telescope (not big enough to really be called an observatory). Being kind of young when I went to these (not even in high school), it was a bit awe-inspiring to be in the midst of a lot of university professor types or grad students, from all varieties of disciplines, so fucking EXCITED about seeing $THATTHING that had finally been spotted by the big red one in the corner over there... I had a really strange childhood, now that I think about it.)

((The UU church only a couple of miles from my childhood home has this amazing stained glass window commemorating Tombaugh.))
posted by hippybear at 3:39 PM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


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