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Previous events > ScopeX 2010

ScopeX 2010 ATM Awards
By Chris Stewart

It seems that the ATM awards remain a popular component of ScopeX, the underlying purpose of which is in large part to promote the advancement of Amateur Telescope Making as a hobby. The awards are intended to highlight achievements, draw attention to particularly interesting or exceptional items on display, and to inspire people to higher levels of achievement. Certainly ScopeX presents a deadline towards which it is evident  that many people work feverishly each year, and this time was no different. In fact, the largest telescope on display was driven 1200km from George to achieve “first light” at ScopeX, the beautiful crescent Moon obliging as the first target.

As usual, the criteria for judging involve consideration of:

  • Workmanship: quality of finish, beauty, style and precision of execution

  • Innovation: application of new ideas, principles, materials or techniques

  • Difficulty: challenging optical configuration, grand scope of project, courageous modifications

  • Lateral thinking: unusual ways of solving old problems, interesting application of found materials.

Naturally the most interesting contenders would embody a mix of these attributes, and all exhibits are carefully scrutinised with a view to finding  them. It may be that a single element or component is particularly interesting or - on the other extreme - a body of work comprising several disparate items may be deemed exceptional as a system.  Work in progress is always welcome, and may well incorporate a certain “something” that is especially noteworthy. An instrument that was previously the subject of an award would only  be eligible for another in the event that significant improvements should be recognised.

One never knows beforehand what will appear at ScopeX on the day, so there is no room for preconception and every event is unique. Prizes are of course awarded with some regard to matching the value of the award to the magnitude of achievement, but more importantly we also try as best we can to match the prize to our understanding of the recipient’s needs. We are very grateful to our sponsors who have over the years put us in a position to hand out some rather desirable items. This year we were pleased to be in a position to hand out 6 awards to very deserving candidates.

George Jagals  went on a mission. He was determined to make the largest telescope that could reasonably be completed and actually used, given the need to trundle it through the house to his observing spot. A 13”/330mm mirror could just be squeezed into Rodney’s aluminising plant, so that dictated the maximum size. To overcome the difficulty of locally sourcing such a big blank, he took 2 pieces of 19mm thick float glass and fused them into one, in a kiln. Having previous experience in polishing  a somewhat smaller mirror, he chose to build a machine to assist this time round. The f/ratio was carefully chosen to allow the telescope to get through the door. Once the monster was together, an ingenious trolley to enable transport to the observing spot was produced, as well as a rugged adjustable observing chair to allow comfortable viewing even at the maximum eyepiece height. In recognition of this body of work, he received 15mm & 20mm SuperView eyepieces courtesy of The Telescope Shop.

Rainer Jakob expanded his stupendous collection of home-made sundials that attracted a lot of interest from our visitors. Specially for this year’s ScopeX, he crafted a large Heliochronometer – an equatorial sundial adjustable for latitude and longitude, that can reliably indicate the time to within a minute. In recognition of this achievement he received an eyepiece and accessories case containing six 1,25” filters  - including the rather desirable UHC and OIII varieties, courtesy of The Telescope Shop. The organising committee would also like to thank Rainer for his behind-the-scenes assistance in preparation for the event, including manufacture of the new display stands.

Fred Oosthuizen does not shy from a challenge. Seeing how well TCTs (tilted component telescopes) could perform, he chose to tackle a 3-mirror version: the Stevick-Paul design. The tube assembly of this large instrument separates into two for transportation, reconnecting with a keyed coupling to preserve collimation on reassembly. The alt-az mount is arranged for a comfortable seated eyepiece height, putting the focuser on the elevation axis to minimise the need for operator movement. A third virtual axis is provided by the stepper motor driven equatorial platform. A laser pointer and right-angled finderscope conveniently close to the focuser, and slow motion controls readily to hand complete the package, which is optimised for long periods of planetary observation. In recognition of his successfully completing this interesting and challenging 2,5-year project, he was rewarded by a set of 40, 25 & 17mm Plossl eyepieces, courtesy of The Telescope Shop.

Julian Shellard has an enviable knack for cleanly integrating unusual design features in such a subtle way that to the uninformed, most of his innovations would go unnoticed. This he manages to do with a flair for industrial design that enables simple everyday materials to be transformed into sleekly elegant  instruments with smooth movements that are a joy to use. They abound with intriguing details resulting from deep consideration of the needs for utility, practicality, readily available materials and human ergonomics to come together into an integrated system, the gestalt of which is somehow  greater than the sum of the parts. This year’s submission, an 8” f/7 Dobsonian is a fine exemplar of his philosophy, which others are encouraged to emulate. In recognition of his achievement, Julian received an eyepiece and accessories case together with 6x filters, courtesy of The Telescope Shop.

Johann Swanepoel takes a long-term view, follows a rigorous engineering approach and works meticulously to his goal, researching every step and then thoughtfully improving the state of the art as he goes. In this way, he happily tackles challenges that would daunt only a slightly lesser man. This year, he presented the largest home-made scope ever to grace the field, a 20” f/4 in the Krige/Berry style - but with his own unique improvements. To achieve this, he first imported two mirror blanks and built a versatile reconfigurable grinding and polishing machine. Figuring was done with subdiameter laps. Testing involved a Foucault tester equipped with a camera and precision micrometer movements, surface analysis being rigorously  conducted via image analysis software he wrote himself. This enabled a large number of zones to be examined at each stage, whilst eliminating human bias in the analysis, vital to ensure high quality in such a large short-focus mirror. Finally, the behemoth truss-style optical tube assembly (sporting an 18-point mirror cell designed with PLOCS, a rear-loading system for safe transport of the mirror, and a balancing system to cater for eyepiece changes) was treated to a motorised alt-az drive that can be controlled in go-to mode from a PC. His years of meticulous engineering were recognised by the award of a Baader Planetarium Hyperion zoom eyepiece courtesy of Eridanus Optics.

Nigel Wakefield brought his 16” f/4,3 truss-tube Dobsonian up from Natal for the event. It is unusual in that he has incorporated novel mechanisms for conveniently adjusting the spider, primary mirror and finder scope. The theme of exploring the road less travelled extends to the “reverse Crayford” focuser, which features a planetary gear system for fine focus control. None of these would be obvious to a casual glance. The whole instrument breaks down into manageable parts that pack easily into his sedan for transport. Sadly, in the rush to get to ScopeX on time, Nigel managed to forget to bring his eyepieces. Fortunately he was able to participate in the evening’s star party, gathering a long queue, his award being 25 and 15mm long-eye-relief eyepieces courtesy of The Telescope Shop.

So, “the big Dobs” seem to have simultaneously come to fruition  - and they certainly caught the eye!
Nevertheless, we were gratified to see that instruments meeting all of our judging criteria were abundantly visible on the field. When the lights went out, queues quickly formed at every instrument. We could not materially reward everyone that participated, but the excitement and joy expressed by the visitors attending the star party were a gratifying endorsement. There is nothing like seeing the splendours of the universe through a telescope that has been lovingly hand crafted.  The majestic crescent Moon, marvellous Saturn with almost edge-on rings, the ever-favourite Orion Nebula, millions of stars in Omega Centauri, and the like were obligingly poised to thrill the crowds.

Well done to all. We hope to have yet more exciting submissions next year.

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