ATM Awards - ScopeX

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ScopeX 2012 - ATM Awards
By Chris Stewart

The purpose of the ATM awards is to recognise accomplishment and to spur people to stretch themselves, thereby advancing the intriguing art of amateur telescope making (ATM). By highlighting the merits of certain exhibits, it is hoped that others will adopt the good ideas and perhaps find ways to make further improvements.
Instruments that previously garnered awards are not generally eligible for another, but significant improvements to those instruments might well be recognised. The judges may consider a component, a complete instrument or a body of work to be worthy.

The following characteristics are of particular importance...

Workmanship: Quality of finish, beauty, style, precision
Innovation: Application of new ideas, principles, materials, techniques
Ambitiousness: Difficult optical configuration, grand scope of project, courageous modifications
Ingenuity: Lateral thinking, unusual ways of solving old problems, interesting use of found materials

Every year a long list of unknowns during the run-up to ScopeX has the organisers biting their nails. For the ATM awards, we wonder whether there will be sufficient entrants. Will there be enough that is new and interesting? And so on. It is gratifying that throughout the past decade our fears have been unfounded, and again this year there were enough worthy exhibits to force some serious discussion. Once the selection has been made, the perceived needs of the individuals concerned are - as far as possible - taken into consideration when deciding the allocation of the available awards.

Unfortunately, some unavoidable delays earlier in the day had the event running behind schedule. This required the announcements to be kept very brief. It is hoped that any participants who would have appreciated more commentary at that time will understand. The award presentation sequence is not prioritised; prizes were simply announced in the order in which the came to hand.

Pat Kuhn and Rodney Hyman jointly put in hundreds of hours of research, experiment and construction, to produce the impressive Foucault Pendulum on display in the Armoured Car Hall. This self-contained unit will hopefully go on to find use in education and show up in future events. The significance of the pendulum to astronomy is that it was the first experiment to convincingly demonstrate that the Earth is rotating on its own axis. Simple in principle, it is remarkably difficult to make a (relatively!) small pendulum that performs. For their achievement, Rodney received a year’s subscription from Astronomy Magazine, and Pat a Baader Planetarium Neodymium light and skyglow filter courtesy of Eridanus Optics.

Scott Farndell produced an ultra-lightweight 16-inch Dobsonian with motor drives on both axes. The use of toothed belts ensures little chance of slipping and is both cheaper and lighter than solid gears would be. Small but significant touches like the wire spider and the front-accessible primary mirror adjustment show that all details were carefully considered to make an instrument that would both perform well in the field and provide convenience in operation. We hope that the Baader Planetarium Hyperion zoom eyepiece bundle, courtesy of Eridanus Optics, will enhance his enjoyment of both visual and photographic use of his fine instrument.

Louis Viljoen’s Mk II coffer scope (or, as he mysteriously likes to refer to it, “coffin” scope) employs simple, readily-available materials that can be worked with hand tools. The result is a 9-inch telescope that, apart from two struts, packs into a compact carry case for easy transport. The case itself actually comprises interlocking parts of the mounting, leaving no superfluous parts. The spider extends to support a light baffle, obviating the need for an optical tube (or part thereof) at the top end. A clever touch is the way the one barrel of a small scrap binocular is pressed into service as a collimating coupling attaching the finder to the main instrument. For this intriguing gem, Louis received a Baader planetarium 3,5mm Hyperion eyepiece courtesy of Eridanus Optics.

Peter Rendell’s first telescope exhibits some fine craftsmanship, particularly the beautiful round wooden tube constructed entirely from veneer. Attention to detail includes a “book matched” veneer pattern, with the join line running through the line of the focuser (also with a wooden body) to present an especially pleasing aesthetic to the observer. The unusual alt-az mount features an inverted bicycle fork, through which the counterweight passes, with an adjustable friction clutch. Peter was awarded a William Optics 12,5mm Super Planetary long eye-relief eyepiece, courtesy of Eridanus Optics.

Rainer Jakob is himself a phenomenon sans pareil. For the last several years, his intriguing collection of sundials has become an ever-growing and much-enjoyed feature of ScopeX. Their variety, the workmanship and aesthetics never cease to impress; this enables the public to enthusiastically absorb important information on the mechanics of our solar system, a valuable educational aspect. Behind the scenes, he has tirelessly provided great support to the event; for instance in constructing the display board stands that have been so useful. For his long-term support, the organising committee are eternally grateful. Somehow, he still manages to find a little time to pursue his telescope making hobby – but with time being a scarce resource this year he decided that building a grinding and polishing machine would save time on his next telescope project. With a view to it being useful beyond one project, it was decided that mirrors up to 24” in diameter should be accommodated. But it still had to fit through a domestic door! The result is a remarkably compact machine that not only meets these requirements, but has a “hogging” attachment that can perform curve generation as well. This drastically cuts down on grinding time, whilst minimising the amount of material removed from the mirror while getting to depth, an important consideration when one only has thin glass at one’s disposal. The machine employs electronic speed control and has certain features to improve safety in operation. This exceptional piece of engineering garnered him a William Optics 2” carbon fibre diagonal with dielectric mirror, courtesy of Eridanus Optics.

Honourable Mention is due to the following:
Doryn Jolly’s Dobsonian, which previously gathered an award for its slow motion controls, now sports a neat chart table that is easily attached and removed, and which certainly improves convenience in the field for the observer.
Johan Smit is forever tinkering. Recently-constructed exhibits included a resurrected Apogee moonscope on an alt-az mount that affords a fixed-height eyepiece, and a gravity-powered, clock-driven equatorial mount for astrophotography with camera or small telescope.

Michael Robbins’ small Foucault Pendulum sports a rotatable structure that graphically illustrates the fact that the pendulum continues to swing in its own frame of reference despite its surroundings being moved with respect to it. Although the pendulum itself is so short and lightweight that it is swamped by air resistance, wind, vibrations, etc. it provides a very effective educational demonstration.

Keith Lou finally finished his leopard-spotted Dobsonian, which previously was recognised for some innovative details. It is now a fully-functional and rather attractive scope that is worthy of inspection by people looking for good ideas.

The organisers would like to thank all exhibitors for their participation and wish them “clear skies” for the year ahead. Or, at least enough clear skies to keep them happy and enthusiastic, while still throwing in enough inclement weather for them to seek shelter in workshops – where they will hopefully concoct yet more surprises for next year.

We would also like to thank Rodney Hyman for the self-adhesive medallions provided to the exhibitors.

The judges especially would like to convey heartfelt thanks to Eridanus Optics and Astronomy magazine for their generosity in providing such excellent ATM prizes for distribution this year. It gave us great pleasure to hand them out to people whom we are certain will appreciate and treasure them for years to come.

--- Chris Stewart & Dave Blane

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