And So It Begins…

May 17, 2014

A few weeks ago, I posted a message on our local community Facebook group asking about telescopes. I’ve always had a deep interest in Astronomy and been curious about it. Lately I’ve been watching the new Cosmos, and along with a few other realizations and alignment of stars I decided the time was right for me to look into it further. But I was hesitant. A hobby? Time? Money? Thanks a lot Neil…
Neil deGrasse Tyson

So I posted on Facebook, hoping anyone could give me advice on where to start, what to buy, where to learn stuff. And secretly hoping someone would have a telescope they weren’t using that they’d be willing to sell me. Amazingly, someone turned me on to the Orange County Astronomers, the largest Astronomical society in the country in my own backyard. Who knew? Even more amazing, someone offered me their telescope! For free!

This was ideal. For one thing the specs of the telescope were beyond what I could afford if I was going to buy one new or even used. And I could try out amateur Astronomy at no cost and see where I go with it. I met up with the generous donor and picked up the scope, an old Meade 127NT/500 5″ Newtonian Reflector. But as soon as I got it home, I noticed something was wrong with it. After investigating it further I started to get some idea of why it was free.

secondary mirror holder missing mirror

Besides missing a spotting scope and eyepiece, at some point in its 20 year history it lost its secondary mirror. Ugh. I was stuck. If I could repair it, it was still nicer than what I could afford. But how much of a headache would it be to repair? I knew nothing about telescopes. After doing a lot of research I decided swapping out the entire spider assembly with mirror holder along with the mirror from another old telescope was the best way to go. Luckily I found one for sale online at Astro Parts Outlet.

Once I had the donor part from the other scope, I had to manufacture my own arms to attach it since the ones that came with it were for a different telescope, and the old ones that came with my scope didn’t fit. After visiting a specialty hardware store, I found some bolts that were the same diameter and thread and long enough, then cut them down with a hack saw. After screwing it in and aligning the mirrors, I finally took the scope outside for a trial run.

I half expected it not to work. This is a precision optical instrument that I hacksawed parts onto. I pointed it at a tree in the distance and focused in on it. It worked! After sundown I went outside again. Pointed it at Jupiter, a faint point in the night sky and looked through the eye piece. And there it was! Not only that, three or four of its moons clearly visible. Amazing! I felt like Galileo.

After that I pointed it at Mars. Then Saturn with its rings clearly visible but fuzzy. And then a little after midnight, I held my iPhone up to the eyepiece and snapped this picture:

the moon