Monday, October 27, 2008

Bring out the Newtonian Reflector!

Telescope My fascination for photography stems from a more deeply rooted passion for all things optical. I've always loved lenses and mirrors, and the funky things they do to light. Back in school, physics was never a subject--it was a thrill. A large part of this was due to my being introduced to this subject outside of the classroom. I inherited my dad's fascination with the subject, and he introduced me to the practical world of science at about the same time that Atari was on every kid's wish list. I was presented with my first telescope and hobby microscope kit way back when I was in 4th grade. I was, indeed, blessed. Over the years that I owned those two devices, I viewed everything from ants, spiders, fleas, leaves, and algae to planets, birds, wildlife and everything in between--I more than adequately covered the near and far field. School summers were spent poring over that little microscope and changing lenses for different magnifications, or carrying my refractor telescope while tagging along with dad as he went on his fishing trips at Bandra's Bandstand, a great spot for spin fishing not far from where we lived. Those were the days...

Flash forward about 20 years and I'm still a nut for optics (my shamelessly sycophantic rants on photography are testament enough). A couple of years ago, we (the wife and I) decided to invest in a decent telescope--after all, it's an educational, fun, and geeky device, and will be a super tool to educate young minds down the line, right? And for the time being, the kid in me was ecstatic! I bought this telescope from a company that manufactures them here in Bombay--Galileo Telescope. While shopping for the telescope, I needed to brush up on my fundamentals, and had to revisit several resources for telescope types, magnification powers, resolutions and other terms that were now muddy after all those years. While getting up to speed, I found a super resource in the Sky-Watcher Web site, which elegantly explains the intricacies of understanding and buying a telescope (be it for terrestrial or astronomical use). After several days of collating specifications and understanding fundamentals, I singled out a 4-inch Newtonian Reflector scope. At 4-feet and 6 kilograms, it was significantly larger than the school-time telescope I used, and it looked gorgeous. With its tube measuring a tad under a meter, mounted on a solid, metallic tripod, it adequately fired my passion for stargazing. I was hooked all over again.

Tycho Crater | Moon So what's it capable of? Well, it magnifies from 40x to 333x (though I don't generally use it at the upper end of its magnification), and enables viewing a 12 magnitude star (this refers to the apparent magnitude of celestial body--the higher the number, the fainter the dot in the sky). You'll find a full list of its technical specifications here.

This telescope offers reasonably good light gathering capabilities, and a nice set of accessories for observing different celestial bodies. The rings of Saturn, and the ray system around the Tycho crater on the moon (shown here) are sights to behold! Suffice to say that this telescope embodies pretty serious stargazing firepower.

It's been about two years that I've had this telescope, and it's been fantastic. Which brings me to why I'm ranting about it--it's finally time to bring it out of cold storage again! With the Indian monsoon being anything but ideal for stargazing, the Indian winter is great for it. The skies are clear, some of the best constellations are visible at this time of year, and it's comfortable weather--all conducive to plenty of astronomical action. It happens to be the festival of Diwali in the next couple of days, and I'll finally get time to unpack the telescope, clean and collimate the optical system before enjoying the months of stargazing ahead. More on this experience over the next couple of days.

Update: Talking about lenses and scopes, I came across this awesome new-age kid's microscope--the EyeClops BioniCam. Oh, to be young again.

Another update: Here's the telescope cleaning saga.


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