ScopeX 2007 ATM Report
by Chris Stewart
By all accounts, our 6th annual ScopeX telescope and astronomy expo was again a most enjoyable and successful day for many. For the organizers, the last-minute rush thankfully lies behind us; now there is just the close-off to deal with, of which this report is a part. It focuses on the Amateur Telescope Making awards; comment on the rest of the expo is left for others.
We were fortunate this year to have had Richard Berry as our international guest speaker. Richard was for over 15 years editor of the US monthly magazine "Astronomy", the largest-circulation such magazine in the world. He also edited Telescope Making magazine for the 10+ years of its existence. In addition he has authored and co-authored a number of respected books on telescope making and astronomical image processing. Apart from having himself built several telescopes and reviewed countless manuscripts and pictures, he has had the opportunity to closely scrutinize many amateur-built telescopes and accessories at various gatherings.
With this background, Richard was eminently qualified to join Dave Blane, Oleg Toumilovitch and myself in adjudicating the ATM display. We were naturally interested to find out how ScopeX compared to other such events world-wide. As always, there was a nail-biting start - not until the telescope field filled did we know how well represented the ATM fraternity would be. It was gratifying that 66 exhibits were entered, with a fair mixture of old and new showing wide variety. Richard says he has seldom seen more than about 20 home-made instruments entered at any one show. Further, he pronounced both the exhibits and the expo itself to be of world-class standard. We were quite charmed at the enthusiasm displayed by people discussing their creations. There was so much to see that we nearly ran out of time in getting through the field.
The purpose of presenting awards is purely to encourage and celebrate good work in the ATM field. Unfortunately there must inevitably be a limit to the number of awards. To thank exhibitors and induce people to return with their exhibits each year, we also like to have an "exhibitor lucky draw". As usual, judging for the awards pivoted on the following considerations:
* Eligibility: Purely commercial instruments (or the judges' own exhibits) are ineligible for ATM awards though their display as a counterpoint is appreciated. Entries that have previously garnered awards would not normally be eligible for another award, but subsequent significant improvements or additions will certainly be considered according to merit.
* Merit: Either entire instruments or specific subsystems may be considered. This enables "work in progress" as well as modifications to commercial instruments to be recognised on the basis of some particularly interesting aspect. The following characteristics are sought:
* Workmanship: Quality of finish, beauty, style, precision
* Ambitiousness: Difficult optical configuration, complex mechanics, grand scope of project, courageous modifications
* Innovation & Ingenuity: These ideas are distinct yet linked. Innovation focuses on application of new ideas, principles, materials & techniques, whereas Ingenuity relates more to lateral thinking, unusual ways of solving old problems & effective incorporation of found materials and objects
As always, despite much to deliberate, there was clear consensus. Here are the highlights...
Dave Hughes' 4" Kutter schiefspiegler is finally functional following over 3 years' work. The care and perseverance put into finishing the difficult optics have definitely paid off. Evening visitors were rewarded with the stunningly crisp, high-contrast images of the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter, for which telescopes of this type are renowned. The instrument incorporates many subtle innovations that as a package make it quite remarkable. Dave garnered a laser pointer and bino mount from Foton Optoelectronics in recognition of this outstanding achievement.
Hugh Scholtz had constructed his own wood-turning lathe and was looking for a challenging project. Despite never having seen an astronomical telescope, he was willing to try tackling the mechanics by "remote control", i.e. listening to instruction over the telephone, interpreting it in his own way, and implementing his vision. The result is a beautifully crafted 4-inch with a style reminiscent of a 19th century cannon. The tube was built up by hand, using 4 crossed plies of pine veneer strip topped by cherry-wood sheet veneer for a beautiful, stiff, light-weight construction. The body of the Crayford-style focuser is built around a bamboo tube. All knobs are turned from African Blackwood and the mount is in Kiaat. There are minimal metal parts. Small it may be, but it certainly turned heads. For his excellent workmanship, Hugh was awarded half- and quarter-inch drive socket spanner sets from Toolquip & Allied.
Neville Graham uprooted his 8-inch from his observatory for the event. This finely-engineered instrument sports a truss tube and an equatorial fork mount with worm drives on both axes. Capable of handling a much larger instrument, it is the prototype for his big permanently mounted instrument. This ambitious project won him a Meade Lunar & Planetary Imager from Lynx Optics and a book on constructing a refractor telescope from Willmann-Bell Inc.
Julian Shellard's Dobsonian with right-angled finder drew some appreciative glances for the neat finish, but only the truly curious discerned the host of subtle design improvements and innovations incorporated. Small touches like the mounting carry handle that doubles as an eyepiece holder, the deceptively simple X-Y adjustment on the finder mount and dual monofilament illuminated cross-hairs certainly are not obvious. They do however make all the difference in use. Julian's philosophy is that wherever possible, a component should serve several functions, promoting elegance and economy of materials usage. It is a rare talent to achieve such a refined level of design without in any way compromising functionality, while managing the delicate balance so effectively and stylishly. For his innovative embellishments, Julian received a kit comprising 4 Eyepieces, a Barlow and filters from Eridanus Optics.
As the top achievers for this year, the above also received trophies donated by Shades of Ingwenya, fittingly in the form of engraved telescope mirror blanks on glass bases. The following received "special mention"...
Johan Smit's "bino mount", of square steel tubing with inexpensive plastic bearings looks superficially like many others. Yet, through thoughtful analysis of real-world usage requirements, Johan produced a design which is not only reproducible from commonly-available materials, but which exhibits an astonishing range of precise motion. The binoculars can be moved from the position required by a tall man standing, to one lying on the ground - without losing the target. Also, a wide range of movement is possible from one observing position, enabling a vast proportion of sky to be swept without obstruction. Richard pronounced this the best bino mount design he has ever seen. Johan's excellent design was recognized via a gift voucher from The Telescope Shop.
Lorenzo Maritz' 4-inch Newtonian on a steel tubing alt-az mount sports a tube assembly largely fashioned from PCV pipe fittings. Richard mentioned that Lorenzo is the youngest person he has met to have completed a telescope. Doubtless, the Skywatcher 15mm & 25mm Plossl eyepieces donated by Telescope SA will find much use on this instrument.
Of course, with so many items on display, there is plenty more that could be commented on. For example, the Bloemfontein contingent exhibited a progression of intriguing spider designs utilising bicycle spoke vanes, while the large lattice- and truss-tubed work-in-progress instruments of Walter Bacchio and Gerhard Koekemoer respectively certainly bear watching.
There are always interesting things that cannot be at the show - Walter Bacchio's large self-built aluminizing plant is a case in point. For many years, Walter has provided a low-cost high-quality aluminizing service to the community, an enabling factor which has boosted ATM activity immeasurably. However, as Walter intends joining his family in the UK, this service will inevitably cease at some point. Walter was also the prime designer of the "ASSA Mk I Crayford focuser", many examples of which have been built to good effect. We took the opportunity to thank Walter for his sterling service to the ATM community by presenting him with a book from Springer on galaxy observing, a special interest of his, as a token of our appreciation. Walter – again, thank you from all of us.
So... well done to all who participated, and a big thank-you from the organisers for your efforts. We hope you will continue in the years to come, to contribute towards increasingly impressive displays. Thanks too to Gill and Lerika for arranging an excellent crop of items to give away.