ScopeX 2016 ATM Awards
By ATM Judges Chris Stewart, Dave Blane and Francis O’ Reilly
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 way to make further improvements.
Instruments that previously garnered awards are not generally eligible for another, but significant improvements to those instruments might well be. The judges may consider a component, a complete instrument or a body of work to be worthy.
The following characteristics are considered to be 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
Once the selection has been made, the perceived needs of the recipients are as far as possible taken into consideration when deciding the allocation of the available awards. The items awarded are donated by commercial vendors, mostly in lieu of payment for exhibition space at ScopeX. We are grateful for their contributions to this special day.
This year, the usual judges (Dave Blane and Chris Stewart) were joined by Francis O’ Reilly - an experienced telescope maker who is an instructor at the Springfield mirror making class at Stellafane and the optics judge for the renowned annual Stellafane convention. Yet again we were pleased by the number of worthy examples of new and interesting items on display. Each year brings something new and sometimes themes emerge, though this year the new instruments were quite varied. As usual, there were a large number of small details which reflect great ingenuity and creative thought, much to Francis’ delight.
In no particular order, here are the awards for 2016...
Rainer Jakob, famous for his ever-changing field of exotic sundials, is also a constructor of thoughtfully designed telescopes. This year he fielded a beautiful little 6" f/4 Newtonian made for his granddaughter. Compact and lightweight, it features a carbon fibre tube which packs into the Dobsonian base for transport and storage, without the need for any disassembly. The azimuth platform can be detached to make it even easier to carry and store. For this gem, he received a pair of 1,25" filters (UHC and CLS) filters courtesy of Astronomik, which we expect will enhance his viewing from the city.
Johan Jordaan was one of several who fielded a tracking platform. A number of these employed similar design principles, but his just edged out the competition. Notable is the paired curved threaded rod drive pioneered the previous year in our telescope making class, which has proved to be extremely effective. Johan had a Sun Finder on his platform to demonstrate its performance as it tracked faultlessly for hours. The platform is eminently capable of carrying his 10", or even larger scope, and we encourage others to follow this example. For his efforts, Johan received a 12V "emergency" power supply with built-in intelligent charger, 7Ah gel battery, a USB charging port and red/white emergency light, courtesy of Elemod. We are sure that this will complement his platform nicely.
Gerhard Bloemhof fielded a particularly beautiful doublet refractor on a commercial mount. Gerhard made the carbon fibre tube, mirror cell, 3D-printed tube rings, balsa internal baffles and the tube-to-focuser adaptor to extremely high levels of precision and workmanship, such that only a quarter turn of one screw was necessary for full collimation of the system. For this exquisite tube assembly, Gerhard received a set of three 2" colour filters courtesy of The Telescope Shop, which should enhance his planetary viewing and photography with this instrument.
Johan Smit, as usual, fielded an interesting collection of items. New work products on show included a camera tracker, an infinity focus assist device to enable DSLRs to autofocus on infinity in the dark, and a 10-inch collapsible telescope. This last he built for Monica Loubser of the Unika Voortrekkers, a stalwart supporter of ScopeX and keen observer who does a lot to interest the youth in astronomy. For his body of work, Johan was awarded a pair of GSO Superview 20mm eyepieces courtesy of OPT, with the provision that one of the eyepieces be dedicated to Monica’s telescope to assist in her astronomy outreach activities.
Chris Curry enjoys building compact, lightweight scopes. This year, his minimalist collapsible 8 inch f/4.2 telescope featuring a 3D-printed laser pointer finder bracket won him a William Optics SPL 24mm eyepiece courtesy of Eridanus Optics.
Fred Oosthuizen, known for his huge Stevick-Paul telescope, this year chose to make something much more portable – a 10 inch f/6.2 "string scope" on a driven split-ring equatorial mount. A nice touch is that the entire optical tube assembly can be rotated about its axis and locked in place, to provide a convenient eyepiece position irrespective of where it is pointed – a great convenience to the observer. The split ring mount also comes apart and the ring folds, meaning that the entire system can be collapsed into a remarkably compact package which fits nicely into his small car. Apart from those already mentioned, there are many other small but elegant features which show that a great deal of thought went into making this eminently useable instrument. For this captivating instrument, Fred received a Baader Planetarium Eudiascopic 35mm eyepiece courtesy of Eridanus Optics, which we believe will complement it nicely.
As with Richard Berry and Chris Forder in years gone by, we like on occasion to have a suitably qualified visiting judge accompany us. This brings an outside perspective and allows us to recalibrate our mental benchmarks. Having such an experienced ATM judge as Francis O’Reilly from Stellafane (the Mecca of telescope making) this year, was wonderful. We are delighted that Francis, at his own cost, made his way from the USA to Johannesburg especially for ScopeX and we greatly enjoyed his company. He was very complimentary in his assessment of the standards of workmanship and ingenuity on the field; we can be sure that South African amateur telescope makers are still well in line with world standards and in some respects ahead of the field. We would particularly like to thank Francis and the Springfield mirror makers for their extremely generous donation to our ATM class of a number of 8 inch Pyrex mirror blanks, as well as a precision flat for testing purposes – all of which Francis himself couriered. Such materials are very scarce in South Africa, so these will be doled out sparingly to deserving individuals as and when suitable opportunities arise. In addition, Francis made two of the Springfield-style grinding and polishing tables to demonstrate how a lightweight yet extremely rigid and stable grinding table can be simply made from relatively low cost, commonly available materials. Lerika Cross and Chris Stewart were the fortunate recipients of the finished articles, for which we are immensely grateful.
Again, a big thank-you to our kind sponsors for the prizes, and a well done to everyone who participated. Thanks for spending many hours patiently explaining and showing off your instruments to the visitors throughout this rather hot day – and then wowing them with views of the night sky in the evening, for which the weather thankfully held up. We look forward to seeing more innovation next year.
--- Chris Stewart, Dave Blane and Francis O’ Reilly