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Hearing "Wow" A Hundred Times ...

By John Foster
Published 2001-01-23 00:00:00

I took my finished telescope for a night out on the sidewalk last Friday. Mojo and Jane were setup when I got there so I dropped off my scope (which was tiny compared to theirs) and searched for parking. It didn't take long to park and get set up. "No waiting for the Orion Nebula!" shouted my out of town guest. The line formed and I heard it for the first time.

"Oh, wow!"

I smiled big because that's what I said after seeing first light just a few weeks before. But this was coming from a random person that didn't know anything about telescopes. The next person in line gets their turn.


The little kids got their turns while their Dad asks why we're out here on the sidewalk. Another women leaves and comes back with more people because she's so impressed by sight in the three scopes. By the end of the evening I was cold, my feet hurt and I'd answered the same questions over and over again. But what a fun time!

"How far away is..."

"Can it see the space station..."

"Did you tape a picture of that in there..."

Best of all was "you built this yourself? It's so clear!" That was the reward (if there needed to be one) for all the hard work of grinding, cutting, sanding, painting and scrounging parts.

I think the best compliment for my creation was Jane saying, "you can add more power" then offering her barlow for the evening. The Cassini division and banding on the Saturn became visible!

I learned a lot about my telescope in those three hours. Like that it's a little sticky in it's left/right motion. But the up/down is right on. I thought it was smoother but you start to feel the subtle after you've tracked something for a whole night. That my focuser while precise is hard to use because turning it makes the whole scope shake. So I have to make a change, wait for it to settle, then make another change.

But hey, you'd expect a back yard built telescope to have a few problems! Ships go on shake down cruises and so should telescopes. All in all I'm pretty happy overall with it's performance. And I can fix these things or at least try out some mods and see what they do.

The next time there's a clear night I'd highly recommend bringing your scope out and making an evening on a side walk. You'll learn more in three hours than you ever would by yourself in your own backyard. If not in San Francisco try it wherever you are.