Telescope Making - ScopeX

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Telescope Making > ATM Diaries 1

Louis Viljoen on Telescope Making
Nov 2009

Chapter 1 – The beginning
A long time ago, there was an artist that lived in the bush. He was happy. He was happily married and had 2 wonderful children. He practiced his art, painted pictures in zero’s and one’s (that was also his hobby) 5 days of the week, and he even got paid to do it. Life was good. He has always been interested in mathematics and astronomy, and understood some of the concepts in those fields. He even studied those 2 subjects at the local university, and had papers to prove it. In his free time, he read about the subjects that interested him and just chilled out in the bush.
One day, by chance, he read about a strange gathering that was going to happen, it was called ScopeX. It intrigues him so much, he decides to saddle up his vehicle, and asked a friend to meet him at this gathering. This was the year 2009. In his life, he tried to avoid the big town, but for this occasion, he had to make the trip to the centre of the big metropolis, locally called Jozi.
It was not long before the day finally arrived to go to this foreign place. He was excited, armed with his trusted Map Studio book, he embarked on this journey. It did not take him long, he arrived in one piece with his family at around 15:00 at the gathering. In his mind, he thought that this crowd would be strange, but to his surprise, he felt immediately welcome. He almost felt he belongs.
He spent the day there, leaving only at night.  He talked to a lot of people; some of them would play a role in his life later on. He enjoyed the experience, but there was no immediate desire to join this crowd, but the seed had been planted.

Chapter 2 – The realisation
A few months passed, and for some strange reason, the artist decided to explore the making of a telescope. This is one of the secrets of life, how these things are decided, without any conscious thought about it. This reminds the artist about the time he decided to run that big fun run, you know, the one that takes you from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. The same type of black magic applied there. There was no clue that this decision would be made, but it was made.
After a couple of phone-calls and e-mails, the artists decided to make the journey to the centre of Jozi once more. It was a pleasant experience; he met one of the elders of this group of telescope builders, named Johann. He took the artist under his wing that day. Much was discussed, ranging from the “focal length” to the nature of light to some aspects of the construction of a telescope. The artist could deduct from the enthusiasm of this elder, this was a happy place that would be part of the artist life for the next couple of Moons.
Once more the artist was surprised by the nature of the crowd of people he met at this gathering. Contrary to his own believe, this group was diverse, young and old, from diverse sections of society.  There was Bosman, working away in the corner of the dungeon on his 14” mirror, a friendly chap. Cobus that joined the clan a week earlier, in the same boat as the artist. Old George that was stressing a lot about the state of his mirror, chatting away and mostly waiting for one of the elders to have a look at this big mirror. Even in the area of telescopes, it seems that bigger is better.
Then there were the leaders of this secret society, firstly Chris the spiritual leader, thinker and final arbitrator about that all important mirror that will be the heart of the telescope.  Johann, the hands on, advice giving, guiding joker of the pack. He believes that the simpler the design, the better. His philosophy has influenced the artist the most.  Dave, the builder of one of the weirdest pieces of art of this group, advice giver, hands-on person. Then there is Julian, book keeper, organiser, friendly chatty person, always time for a chat. Percy that could make smoke, talk and make a lap at the same time, practical, helping member.  Later on, Keith with his sense of black humour. All these people would play a role in the artist life. But these types of societies cannot be sustained without the novices and the interaction at the society.

Chapter 3 – After the fact
A few months have passed since that first encounter, and a lot has happened. The artist tries to attend the gatherings that take place every Saturday in Braamfontein at 14:30 to 18:00, but it is not a requirement , but highly recommended. The gathering is not just for technical advice, but also for social, eating cake and just chatting about life. Every person works at her / his own pace, and a formal handbook is provided. Like many other things in life, most people can successfully complete a telescope in a reasonable amount of time.  All that is needed is commitment. The end result will be a working and functional telescope, with better optics than a commercial telescope, and at a fair price.
What makes a telescope maker, is not the fact that you need to be very practical or have a workshop or know a lot about physics, but rather a commitment to something deeper, to be part of a select few that enjoys God’s universe, and want to create an instrument that can be used for the pleasure to learn more about our surroundings.
If you are interested, join the group.  
It is fun.

[Louis.Viljoen@eskom.co.za]
18 November 2009



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