The Celestial Vault

Fast Find >> The Dogson-2 project, Page-2, Barn door tracker, Barn door-2, VSOing, Robotic telescopes,
Amici prisms, Clocks, sidereal clock, Cosmology, Basic astrophotography, Astrophotography, In the news,
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The Dogson-2 project, Choosing a 'scope project, Mirror, Pitch, Pitch lap, Polishing cradle, Ocular case,
Polishing strokes, Stroke speed, MOT, The laser test, Ronchi test, More Ronchi, The star test, eyepieces,
Rez test, Aluminizing, Collimation, Sky compass, Foreleg, Focusers, Glow finder, Refractors, Binoculars, StarRocker,

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(last partial edit: June 24th, 2017b)
*Click* here if you want to know more about how these pages were composed.
contact: craig er oochi  a t  outlook dotty com
* For a more complete background on ATMing, try the following link:
For an excellent overview of amateur astronomy, see:
Hold "Ctrl" and tap "+" for larger text.  My 800x600 authored pages look best if shaped squarishly: 

Hey Neocities,
Thanks for this free Web space!

I like Kyle Drake's Neocities philosophy (as quoted from the Wiki) of facilitating the publication of small (byte-wise), basic web pages: "I want to make another Geocities. Free web hosting, static HTML only, 10MB limit, anonymous, uncensored." So thanks much Kyle (although in a better world we'd all stand behind our words).

Choosing A Telescope Project
(more of this on the the Dog-2 page)

* It's best to read widely, to understand the terminology/jargon, know how telescopes work, and (if possible) have some idea about what kind of astronomy you want to be doing and where --before deciding what to build or buy. My advocacies assume (of course) that your circumstances and goals are much like my own :-)  You're in or near town, have a safe spot in your yard or a nearby yard that's somewhat sheltered from annoying yard and street lighting, that you'd like to make just one trip and not be bashing through doorways when trundling your gear outside.

* The average "good seeing" night offers us (atmosphere limited) one arc-second resolution, assuming you have a decent telescope (6 inches of objective diameter and up). The average person with "20/20" vision resolves one arc-minute (= 60 arc-seconds) of resolution. While the use of a 60 power telescope seems to be indicated, and does indeed offer nice crisp observing on most nights, to see all that the sky offers (on an average good night), and all that the eye can take in, requires 120x to 180x power (in part due to the "rule of thumb").

* Taking that 120x number, and at an eyeball pupil dilation (and a matching eyepiece "exit pupil") of 6mm, suggests an aperture (objective diameter) of 28 to 30 inches (6mm or about 1/4 inch times 120x). However, if we're talking "count the planetary stripes/gaps and split the binary star" resolution of brighter objects, your eye's resolution might be best at 3mm --and then: only 12 to 14 inches of aperture fills the bill.

* If we're instead talking nebulous "faint fuzzies", then we probably want that 6mm pupil, but maybe we don't want a bunch of field-of-view limiting power. Affordable (but good) Plossl eyepieces yield an apparent 50 degree field of view, and the longest full field eyepiece (to fit a 1-1/4" focuser) is of 32mm focal length --which delivers about 40x power with a typical Newtonian telescope (say: about 1300mm focal length), so there you have about 1.25 degrees of actual field --whereas the official sizes of some interesting objects (neighboring galaxies, nebulae, clusters, "IFNs") range up to 2 degrees or more.

To see such wide stuff requires shorter objective focal lengths, but if you do that with large mirrors (ie: low "focal ratios"), you can end up spending serious money on eyepieces, secondaries and maybe a correcting lens (such as a "Paracorr") as well. Worse still: you need a rather large diagonal, so there's a black hole in the middle of your telescope's exit pupil --taking out your core vision. The alternative is a small mirror of modestly short focal ratio --say: a 5 inch f/6, which might yield a 2 degree field of view at 24x with that 32mm focal length Plossl eyepiece (1.25 inch barrel diameter)  --along with a healthy 5.3mm exit pupil, and the image should still look tolerable at the edges.

* On the way toward a wide, "rich field" project, one might notice that a good (or even a not-so-good) pair of binoculars provides a 5 to 7 degree field of view (maybe 2 to 3 degrees if higher powered) and with a large exit pupil. They only turn 50mm to 80mm of glass to the sky, but if you do the simple math --to SEE a (say) 5 degree patch of sky with a (say) 5mm exit pupil and a (say) 50 degree eyepiece, then you're operating at 10 power. That means you can only use (in this instance) a maximum of 50mm of objective (or -say- 70mm, for a 7mm exit pupil).

** The kicker: with a binocular or a refracting telescope, there's no black "donut hole"(diagonal shadow) in your exit pupil, which takes out your best core vision. That has to be far worse than how much the "secondary obstruction" upsets a telescope's diffraction disc (the smallest resolvable point). It's certainly worse than losing 6% to 15% of the light to the sahdow --then another (say) 25% to the lowest power image edge --because you installed an undersized diagonal.

* There's often talk of "light gathering power". A 50mm binocular objective has some 100 times the light gathering power of your naked, 5mm eye --which suggests that a gain of 5 magnitudes --and 6 + 5 = an 11th magnitude limit, which is about right for the stellar magnitude reach of a 50mm objective at low magnification. Such a humble instrument, well mounted and accessorized, could be very useful for VSOing. However: we're talking stars here, not "extended objects", meaning visually large things like a nebula or the Moon.

No telescope can make any "extended object" brighter --only bigger --which does help a lot in being able to see small dim objects.

** Again: note that we have to keep backing off in focal length, aperture and power in order to see more sky with a practical telescope. At 7x to 10x, you simply can't use more than about a couple inches of glass/objective, since the instrument's exit pupil would become larger than your dialated eyeball pupil. The limit is 1 power, as you simply lean back in a garden chase lounge chair and behold the night sky, taking in and paying useful attention to some 60 degrees (about a "steradian") of night sky.

* Given the high prices of shorter focus refractor telescopes, I'm tempted to see what can be done with the objective lenses of a moderately priced (or maybe a junked out) pair of binoculars --say 70 to 80mm diameter. I estimate that my Konus 20x80 binoculars have something like a 300mm focal length, which is only f/3.75 --interesting. Would eliminating the prism set and using a good Plossl 25mm eyepiece (12x, 6.7mm exit pupil, 4.2 degree field) give me a rather nice "rich field" telescope/monocular?

* Although old 35mm film type SLR camera lenses make the light go through many (hopefully well coated) glass surfaces, it's toward the good cause of delivering a flat field --to a 1.25 inch (ocular sized) piece of film.

I looked at what I could see through my old 135mm Minolta f/2.8 telephoto (which has nearly 48mm of glass). Using a 25mm Plossl by day I saw a nice, 9+ degree wide, crisp field. Using a 20mm Plossl eyepiece by night (6.75x, 7.4 degree actual field, 7.1mm exit pupil), the magnitude reach at night was not impressive.

So what about my old Minolta 58mm f/1.4 lens? A 6mm eyepiece should give about 10x, 5 degrees, a 6mm exit pupil, in a very compact package --but with minimal eye relief (meaning: your eye is very close to the eyepiece).

* Again: the above examples use very modest objective diameters, but they all deliver an "eye  full". I don't see how any sort of reflector telescope could theoretically put more (extended object's) light in your eye --particularly if we're talking about large fuzzy objects --like maybe an "IFN".

** Another consideration in the decision to make, buy or repurpose optics for a telescope --is that the grind and polish ATM will be working with an assortment of unusual substances. Aside from silvering chemistry (which few of us any longer engage in), there's glass dust, fine grinding and polishing compounds. You want to avoid scattering, inhaling and ingesting these items, or letting kids play in or have access to the area. You also want to avoid flushing coarser grinding compunds and sludge/slurry down household drains --where it might clog up.

The polishing compound sold as "cerium oxide" is special in that it's made up of variable components, one of which might be radioactive (as is the batch I'm using). Here's the list from an old MSDS sheet:

"Rare Earth Oxide": 30% - 65%  (presumably: that's the  nominal cerium oxide --Craig)
Calcium Oxide:          10% - 15%
Strontium Oxide:         1% -   6%
Alumina Silicate:         1% - 40%
Fluorides:                    4% - 10%
Silica:                                2%

(Clearly, this is a poorly defined and controlled substance. Though not listed, the radioactive component is sometimes said to be thorium. My sample is a heavy beta emitter. [I don't know if there's any alpha.] --Craig)

Type of mount:

All of the 'scopes I'm suggesting are Newtonians, but they differ on account of how they're mounted. Here's a typical commercial Dobson:

An early Orion 8 inch Dobsonian (with an added handle)

An affordable to use, commercial 4.5 inch 'scope, which is equatorially mounted:

To which has been added an extra RA (right ascension) pointer and more counterweight.
(I found this optically good 'scope very awkward to transport, set up and use.)

The results of using various common eyepieces with various Newtonian telescopes

 * For a good introduction to eyepieces, see Doug Tanaka's Web page at:
    >   --^

^ However, I feel compelled to rewrite and extend his: "But medium-powered eyepieces produce exit pupils that range from 2–4mm in size. Choose one that produces a 2mm exit pupil. This exit pupil most closely matches the resolution of the human eye: about 60 arc-seconds. The resolution of a telescope is 4.55 arc-seconds divided by its aperture in inches. For optimum resolution we need to find the magnification that will produce an image of 60 arc-seconds, which computes to roughly 13x per inch of aperture. This will produce an exit pupil of 1/13 inch, close to 2mm."

Try instead (and I'm being somewhat repetitive to my "choosing" paragraphs):

"20/20 vision" amounts to a resolution of about one (1) arc-minute --or 60 arc-seconds, typically with an eye dilation of about 2mm under good lighting. Amateur astronomers are familiar with dividing a telescope objective's inch aperture into the number 4.55 in order to get its theoretical resolving power in arc-seconds. While 2 millimeters (about 1/13 inch) of eyeball pupil diameter, divided into 4.55 inches (116mm) of aperture, gives nearly 60 arc-seconds, and while most observers are said to gravitate toward toward such eyepieces, the lens of your eye might perform better at a pupil diameter closer to 3mm, depending on how good your vision is. Find out what's best for you by spending a lot of time with your telescope.

From the above paragraph and Tanaka's article, you can see that using a power of about 13x per inch of aperture yields a 2mm exit pupil, and that 8.5x per inch yields a 3mm exit pupil. (Also: the focal ratio of your telescope divided into the eyepiece focal length gives the exit pupil.)

To be clear: an exit pupil of 2mm with (say) a 6 inch (150mm) telescope aperture yields 75 power --a bit more than you need to boost good arc-second sky seeing to arc-minute eye resolution --but that's fine. An exit pupil of 2mm with a 12 inch telescope aperture, however, yields 150 power --which you might need to comfortably sort out detail and split double stars.

* A confounding (but intuitively true) rule-of-thumb: To get full performance out of  (say) photographic film (or a modern sensor, or the retina of your eye), the lens should be 2 to 3 times better. But to get full performance out of that lens, the film has to be twice as good. And for either the lens or the film to hit their specifications, the imaged resolution target (or that night's "seeing") has to be twice as sharp --a vicious circle.

Unfortunately, when our eyes open up wider than 2 to 3 millimeters, more light does get in, but the sharpness of the retinal image usually falls off, which might even result in star magnitude loss --as their point images spread out into dim, blurry little blobs.

From The Rule-of-thumb, we see that, on a "good night" of arc-second or better "seeing", one might lay on not 60x of power, but 120x of resolved power (which requires 10 to 12 inches of well figured aperture) --in order to realize a throughput of arc-minute resolution onto your retina. (That is to say: while a crisp 60x image is visually pleasing, your goal might be to milk out all the available sky resolution.)

In my humble experience, on nearly any cloudless night, I've been delighted with the brightness, field richness, clarity, contrast, ease of finding and tracking when using 40x to 60x of power --through most any telescope. A 6 inch by f/8 telescope with a standard one inch (25mm) Plossl eyepiece yields a well defined, one degree (two moons wide) field. Moreover, in the form of a reflecting telescope with a full length "closed" tube, that's as much telescope as I care to carry around. (My Dog-2 'scope weighs 30 pounds.)

I had the opportunity to closely study an 8 inch by f/6 commercial Dobsonian telescope with a scant round tube of 9 inches inside diameter (should have been a tad larger). It would have been possible to use to use a low profile 1.25 inch focuser if the lowest power ocular was to be 25mm by 50 degrees. My impression is that any telescope larger and shorter than a 6 inch x f/6 should be fitted with the equivalent of a 2 inch focuser.

(Longer focal lengths are made, but 1.25 inch Plossl oculars with an apparent field of 50 degrees start clipping a maximum 27mm field stop at 32mm of focal length, Panoptics clip at 24mm. For 2 inch barrel oculars, that's 55mm and 39mm.)

* It's been suggested (by Doug Tanaka & others) that most of us can only critically look at about a 50 degree wide
   field of view at one time. Jean Texereau was doubtful about the utility of apparent fields wider than 60 degrees.

 * Bolded values indicate some advantage for the added expense (though you might need a larger diagonal).

 * The listed eyepieces don't necessarily exist in the given focal lengths, so go for the next longer or shorter.

 **Please advise me of any errors here --in my math, awareness, understanding, something missing --whatever.

Big Note: The "Plossl" listings under F/3 are only be good for theoretical comparisons and about what's do-able. You need eyepieces designed for an f/3's steep cone of light, something like a TeleVue coma corrector, and then there's the "hole in the donut" issue.

* The best information on short focal length "richest field telescopes" (RFTs) is on Mel Bartels' web pages, along with a wealth of other resources. Mel offers an interactive utility for diagonal sizing and performance, as well as a telescope planner utility with which you can plug in scores of real world eyepieces. If you like the simple "Newt" program and are trying to go RFT, you'll love Mel's utilities. (Be sure to check out his short focus, wide angle, very rich field of view, 6 inch aperture telescope, with which he's been drawing impressions of immense filamentary structures --which might otherwise have gone unobserved. Some of these may well be discoveries!)

The missing eyepiece chart:

I removed my eyepiece chart in favor of downloading the "NEWT" program to play with eyepiece and 'scope geometry options. In the course of plotting your course toward building a scope, keep in mind that 1.25 inch barrel eyepieces allow a maximum field stop of 27mm, and 2 inch barrel eyepieces allow a maximum field stop of 46mm.) --the 2 inch focuser and eyepieces as needed. That stop, against the telescope's focal length, sets the maximum actual field of view. Example: 27mm divided by 1200mm = .0225 radians. 57.3 x .0225 = 1.29 degrees. That's part of the NEWT program --as well as:

 * A diagonal which will support the chosen eyepieces and focuser (which might legitimately be "undersized", depending on the intended use).

 * In general, I suggest affordable Plossl eyepieces (aka: "oculars") with about a 50 degree apparent field of view.

 * I suggest avoiding "get the ladder" Newtonian focal lengths over about 1500mm.

* To design my telescope, I started with the standing and stool-sitting eyeball height of young people and myself, then built an affordable, do-able telescope around that dimension: one that's (hopefully) inherently stable, vibration free, easy to transport, simple to set up, intuitive to steer around and adequate for the less than ideal skies most of us live beneath. I ended up with traditional (6" x f/8 to f/9) optics in a design I call a "Dogson".

It turned out to be a 5.75" by f/8.74 (as masked) with 75% illumination (secondary limited) to the edge of a .85 degree (51 minute) field of view, and is quite usable for a (one magnitude dimmer at the edge) 1.25 degree field with an affordable (say: $40) 32mm eyepiece.

For wider angle observing, I've got a pair of Russian 20/80 binoculars (2.75 degrees) and a pair of excellent 10x50 Brunton binoculars (6 degrees, purchased at a close-out price).

** That all having been said: my 6 inch mirror turned out to be damnably difficult to make (this first time). Such problems as I experienced are usually written off to the errors of newbie ATMers, but an experienced and very active voice at the Eugene, Oregon club advises beginners to start instead with a 10 inch mirror. He recounts that, despite his many exemplary telescope project successes since, his only failed and abandoned mirror was a traditional 6 inch. More-over, he's not seen but one really good 6" mirror.

So at this point, I've made one "good" 6 inch mirror (at least by my standards), but only after 76 hours of polishing(!) --work which should have taken me about 6 hours (of actual polishing and figuring). Only the making of my second 6 inch mirror will demonstrate if I've finally got the process bolted down, but I'm presenting what appears to be the methods and materials which --work.

* Here's the main page of my as-built drawings for Dog-2:

Since this plan and photos, I've gone to 5" wheels (which turn only with the 'scope) and
one inch extensions under the over-center balls --for better ground clearance on rough terrain.

(Click these images to enlarge them.) (A more recent image on right, and see.)

* It's time to address the Dogson design/concept's deficiencies:

    ~ Chief among them is low altitude (below 30 degrees) sky and terrestrial observational performance. You can hoist the butt end up onto a stool or table, but the balance and vibration gets bad. (Dog-2's low altitude adjustment was somewhat designed around a Cosco brand step stool that we own. With added crutch tip feet, it seemed ideal to use with this scope --sitting, small kids stepping up, and "butt hauling" for the range of 15 to 30 degrees.)

    ~ While (screw) jacking the Dogson up and down in altitude goes swimmingly, some won't like turning this 'scope in azimuth --with its non-turning wheels dragging in the dirt (and there's usually some backlash).

    ~ By today's strut and string 'scope standards, at 30 pounds it's heavy for a 6 inch telescope, though maybe not when compared to other long focus, closed tube scopes. I have on loan a typical, commercial, 8 inch Dobson (Orion brand). The tube assembly with mirrors weighs 24 pounds and the base weighs 25 pounds. Were I to scale my Dogson up to use an 8 inch mirror, it would weigh 71 pounds, and I'd need to stand on a step stool at times. (The Orion's tube is only 9 inches inside diameter and a trim ring at the mouth reduces that to 8-3/8 inches, so this scope should have been a bit larger and heavier.)

    ~ The Dogson is not a scope for swinging about and earning your Messier certificate. It's for picking and finding a target/object, studying it, and maybe shooting an afocally coupled snapshot (if the object is bright enough).

    ~ So far, I can't think of any way to make this telescope track.

* Dogson Advantages:

    ~ As a one-hand lift, one-piece telescope (not counting a stool and kneeling pad), you can take it and go (if the separately stored mirror has already been slipped into place).

    ~ At astronomical altitudes (above 30 degrees) the OTA/tube is itself two parts of a steady tripod to the ground. There are no vibrations, no shaking when you adjust the focus, and no balance problem when you use a large eyepiece or mount a camera. If you're tired, rest an arm on the scope.

    ~ By using the Cosco stool or a typical plastic garden chair (has an 8 inches lower seat), an adult can comfortably observe from about 45 degrees of altitude to the zenith. For the range of 30 to 45 degrees, an adult who's able to use a kneeling pad or a low stool is accommodated.

    ~ The mirror is securely held captive, but easily removed with a single thumbscrew --such that it's convenient to store the mirror at outside temperatures (in a cheap, desiccated, air tight container).

    ~ The primary mirror cell rides on a sled which can be moved to adjust focus and/or to accommodate gross prime focus changing accessories --like an erecting Amici prism, Barlow fore-lens, and close subjects (to 100 feet). More such accommodation can easily be designed in. This gross focus adjustment range can also make up for a mirror that fell short or long of its target focal length --without having to bore another focuser hole.

    ~ The "focuser" also focuses --helically: such that distances of 1000 to 10,000 feet might be estimated.

    ~ Despite not having a rocker box, the Dogson does have setting circles

    ~ It also has a swing out (and around to the other side, if desired) lightweight finder --

    ~ --and a swing-up camera mount.

   ~ Since the tube is square, it's easy to mount accessories and features like those black "Fomecore" top-side insulation panels, internal baffles, the cell sled, tension arms, the secondary strut positioning "float block", a plumbing parts focuser, slide-off mirror access panel, frame attached Dog leg and feet, swing-out finder and the DDNU navigation platform.

Focuser detail
(The set line and bumper piece is for laterally positioning an afocally coupled, swing-up hand camera.)

This limited helical focuser is cobbled from plumbing parts (you can see the inside detail here). It can hold the waist banded, short barreled 32mm Celestron eyepiece in the below image, but such slow adjustment wasn't otherwise needed. Given smooth barrel'd eyepieces and the sled approach to primary focusing, one can easily do fine focusing with less than parfocal eyepieces by simply turning and push-pulling them in a simple "eyepiece holder" like the below pictured plumbing item: a 1-1/2" to 1-1/4" ABS, male trap adapter (under $2, and thanks to Richard Berry for the suggestion). The nut adjustment and washer produces any desired degree of buttery smooth grip upon a standard eyepiece barrel.

A few 1-1/4 inch choices
Rack and pinion focuser, Plumber's delight eyepiece holder, Smooth barrel eyepiece, Celestron 32mm eyepiece

The traditional focuser at left is usually fitted so as to allow an inch of inward travel. As such, and with an eyepiece fully seated, the top of its tube stands an eyepiece 4 inches off of a round tube, 4-1/4" off a square tube. Using a low profile helical or friction focuser like that ABS plumbing item can bring the eyepiece in to only an inch and a half (leaving a bit of inward travel), which in turn allows a significant reduction in diagonal size/obstruction, diagonal weight and potential vibration problems. (The plumbing item is a no-go with that Celestron eyepiece, of course.)

Modern Times:

4/16/2016: * Yes, I'm aware of "goto" 'scopes and the amazing "Safari" ($20 --!) application for i-Pads --which I've played with for a few minutes, and which affordably turns any telescope into a goto instrument --or buy a long focus optic for the i-Pad, which then itself becomes a worthy, navigating, astrophotographic telescope --!-- (but you might then want to mount it onto a good tripod).

* Basically everyone we know, young and old, has a hand-held computer/cell phone/Internet device --except ourselves. My understanding is that once you've acquired an I-thing (used ones are affordable or free) with GPS and inertial/gyroscopic capabilities --and have downloaded a Safari-like sky program, it can then be operated (sans any updates) without a communications contract. But: the Luddite in me says: "whoa".

* Please send me corrections for errors on these pages. Our great-grandchildren had to tell us about WiFi a few years back. We stood there like amazed bush people as they sucked the Internet out of thin air. We pack a bottom-feeder CDMA Tracfone (under $10/month) for hello-goodbye voice and have no Internet access at home which would cost us $55/month --more than water and sewer!-- unless part of a $90/month "bundle". (We remember $10/month for an Internet connection.) So instead, we use a pair of Chromebooks to cadge free public WiFi.

Some of the "passions of our times" (like posting this page to the Internet) we must share (even embrace --and ain't HTML grand?), but when I make use of things that are price fixed and far beyond my understanding, the more alienated I feel from my own activities and interests. (This is really more about my own struggles here with modernity --than any retro advocacy.)

The Mirror (11/7/2015)

The 6 inch mirror I made is for my "Dogson-2" telescope. This has only been my 2nd time at grinding and polishing in 58 years. My first mirror was an 8 inch x f/10, which I finished to a spherical figure.

To begin: * If the back of your blank isn't smooth and clear, make it so --by grinding with #120 and then #500 grit against flat glass or ceramic tile. Follow that up with some sleazy polishing technique --like #500 grit against a plastic tool --whatever works to make it transparent.

    * Next: put a good 45 degree bevel (or "chamfer") around the peripheries of the back and the face of the mirror. Yes: you'll be initially losing some diameter --as much as 1/4 inch (1/8" bevel), but you get some back as you grind, and you want enough bevel so as not to be doing it twice. I used a typical, traditional, two-sided (rough and fine), carborundum sharpening stone --and the fine side seemed fine enough. (This beveling work takes a while.)

    ~ When cleaning my finished, polished mirror in preparation to send it in for aluminizing, I was unable to simply wash off a ring of cerium oxide (polishing agent) which was crusted onto the bevel. I had to go around the bevel again with the carborundum stone --holding the stone such that I could not possibly scratch the mirror.

Grinding: The grinding part of this project was pretty straight forward, plus I benefited from good advice by my circle of astronomy friends.

* Unlike 58 years ago when I made my first mirror, and per suggestions from others in my astronomy e-group, I short-circuited the little incremental abrasive steps by starting with #120 grit (102 micron average, 165u max), then #500 (20 micron average diameter, 40 micron max --quite a jump) --and straight to polish after that. The old timers didn't have today's "micron" grits and generally went from #600 grit (12u average, 30u max) to polish. I wanted to find out how tough it is to polish out #500 grit pits --with today's advantage of using cerium oxide.


    ~ The rough and fine grinding both went fast --maybe too fast for good control. I spent more time gauging my progress (ended up using automotive leaf gauges and a truly straight [hard to find] steel rule for the sagitta) --

    ~ --and trying to judge when #500 pits had vanquished the #120 pits (made a glass slide with #120 grind on one end and #500 grind on the other for microscopic comparison).

    ~ You can switch to "wet testing" the mirror (plain water is best) by reflection (a flashlight next to your eye) shortly after starting the #500 grit grind.

    ~ Be very sure to do the "pencil" or "felt tip marker" test for contact --before calling it quits with your finest fine grind. (Simply mark up the mirror, then see if a few strokes cleans your marks off evenly.)

    ~ Yes: it's plenty tough to polish #500 grit pits out of Pyrex --something like 20 hours to pass traditional microscopic inspection. The alternative is to use a final, very fine grind with "micron grit" --maybe 12 micron. However, this is the point at which your mirror is most vulnerable to getting scratched (a reason why I skipped micron grits).

* There are many little questions and decisions:

    ~ How much grit per "wet" (1/8th teaspoon);

    ~ How long is a "wet" (go by ear, and you can add drops of water to extend it a bit).

    ~ How hard to bear down during rough grinding (as hard as you can comfortably sustain without getting sloppy: 20 pounds total for me).

    ~ How wet is a wet (sluice off the tool and mirror in your plastic bucket, leaving both wet).

    ~ How wide & long is the "hogging" stroke (what you're comfortable with -maybe "4/5ths". Don't tip the mirror.)

    ~ How close to the RC (radius of curvature) should I rough grind (2% long, since the "1/3rd W" "maintenance stroke" pretty much stops RC progress when you need to (fine grind or polish). You can hog #500 grit to 1% long).

* Again: For a more complete background on ATMing, follow this link:


* I repeatedly experienced the common problem of a blankety-blank "turned down edge" (TDE) plus it had a stubbornly oblate figure --even with an undersized lap (MOT). I've read and heard that a TDE is especially common for beginners and for those who make longer focus 6 inch mirror --for over 100 years, and maybe for 300 years. I think it's time to get a better consensus as to what causes a TDE and what doesn't.

** For sure: since the edge of a mirror must "go around the corner", there will always be a bit of TDE. One ATMer routinely flats and frosts it with fine grit, then paints it flat black. Many others, some commercial, routinely mask off a wee bit of TDE --perhaps using a metal band with a rolled edge.

Fingers are often pointed at soft pitch laps as the TDE culprit and one can imagine the mirror's leading edge plowing into soft pitch. Mel Bartels and others, however, can work with a relatively soft lap and not end up with a serious TDE. Also, the periphery of my mirror was the last to polish out (which is typical), so the TDE didn't develop because I was knocking down the edge --but because I was deepening the slope of the central zones (despite that it somehow remained oblate, overall), and/or the polishing action wasn't getting to the edge.

Never-the-less, I slowly came to the realization that my pitch was indeed too soft, which is at least a nuisance in that the lap needs frequent trimming.

It also dawned on me that we need a much better way to gauge pitch hardness. Traditionally, one simply bends a small piece or pushes his/her thumbnail into a sample, but touching, holding, or the very work of pushing your thumbnail into it will heat and sharply soften the pitch. (In India, ATMs try chewing a piece -!- but before you write them off as primitives, I also have an account of that being the practice in a pre-WW-2 optical lab here in the states.) Consequently, I took a long detour in order to nail down the hardness of my pitch --against temperature.

While I suspect that I'd not have developed such a horrible turned down edge with harder pitch, I first went (by stages) to a 17% (1 inch) undersized lap (polishing with mirror on top = MOT) to see if that alone (using my rather soft 58 minute [plunge test] pitch lap) --might roll back a turned down edge --without producing other problems. It didn't, and I've gotten the impression that undersized and otherwise "mutilated" laps are a zone problem making bad idea.

My pitch strip mold and grinding tool, marked for a 6" lap with 1" tiles
and the failed undersized lap  effort (click to enlarge)

* I eventually settled on using softer (166 minute plunge test) pitch --about the same viscosity/hardness as (brand name) "Gulgolz-64", and I reduced my TDE with a 4/5th "W stroke".

Polishing Speed and Pressure (11/8/2015)
I have to force myself to go slow and not bear down when polishing. Developing good contact and drag ("micro-facets" help) has a natural effect of slowing the stroke speed. It does seem that, to get the smoothest and most careful results, minimum pressure and a slow rate of mirror travel (MOT, a maximum average of 8 inches per second) are important.

The negative consequences which ATMs have experienced by polishing "too fast" and the "strokes per second" or minute advice we get on that matter must also be weighed against mirror size and stroke length --since (obviously) a "1/3rd" W stroke per second with a 12 inch mirror requires moving it twice as far per second than with a 6" mirror.

I've decided against inertial tipping/plowing and drag heating being issues (unless polishing squeaky dry), but it seems intuitive that if the "give" of pitch isn't fast enough for cerium oxide particles to yield (when they snag into the pitch), then they might start to tumble --in the fashion of grinding particles.

The Pitch (11/8/2015)
and checking the "hardness"/viscosity

(Click on these images to enlarge them.)
Not shown is the box I put this rig in, the ice chest and 12v muffin fans which supplied and circulated cooling air, the HVAC household thermostat, DPDT relay, 12 volt DC supply, nor the small 120v lamp and dimmer switch which adjusts the rate at which the temperature is brought up again. A programmable digital thermostat (the affordable Lux brand) and a Coleman Peltier effect 12V cooler would have been better choices, but I tend to use what's at hand.

Alternatively, one can simply use the normal temperature and environmental controls of the room this apparatus is located in, but be sure to keep the air moving for uniform temperature. The below graph will help you compare a single plunge time that you've clocked against my measurements --at least for the two brands of pitch I've tested.

* Optical pitch is normally a much more viscous substance than I'd expected. My plunge times for both Willmann-Bell "hard" pitch and Gulgolz-64 were running to 12 and 9 hours --at 68 degrees Fahrenheit with 400 grams of weight force. Consequently, I switched to lead shot and doubled the plunging force to a weight of 800 grams. That didn't halve the old plunge times, since the work performed in plunging the BB ball contributes to the local temperature of the pitch. Results will be peculiar to the test method used.

* I suspect that a lot of the advice we read about pitch and laps is based on several times reheated/recycled pitch, which then ends up pretty hard. However, the beginner starts with freshly delivered pitch, some of which is impossible (judging from the Willmann-Bell "hard" pitch I purchased) to heat to a pouring temperature without a lot of froth. Perhaps beginners, having been soundly counseled against "boiling" the pitch, consequently end up with a poorly poured, soft lap. (The Gulgolz-64 product I tested did not foam when heated to pouring temperature.)

My approach to Willmann-Bell's "hard" pitch is to first slowly heat fresh pitch past the pouring temperature (I reached 230 Fahrenheit, and I've seen 257 degrees suggested), drop back to my pouring temperature (205) and stir down the foam for a fairly bubble free pour. (It's not to worry about little bubbles. They make good micro facets.)

* Judging by the rudeness of traditional hardness tests, I suspect there's a wide range of hardness which will work well, especially for small, long focus mirrors. (Deep mirrors are said to need softer pitch.)

* Making a batch of pitch harder seems to require either adding rosin or enough heat for sustained "ebullience": the frothing off of volatile components in the pitch --which begins below the 212 degree boiling point of water with fresh W-B pitch, but such frothing/foaming tends to be less in once heated pitch --until you exceed the last temperature reached. (I've also seen ATM advice specifically warning against any foaming, but -again- that might be based on recycling long since foamed off pitch at reasonable pour temperatures.)

** Please go slow, use low electric heat and be prepared to smother a fire. (Don't use water!)

* I used linseed oil to soften pitch (it's less volatile than turpentine, and you need only a few milliliters/cc per pound of pitch to make a big difference).

* I used a candy thermometer, which wipes pretty clean when hot. Later (burner off and away from the stove) you can wipe the rest of the pitch off with a little mineral spirits (paint thinner) and a paper towel.

* My W-B pitch was pour-able at about 200 degrees, so I stopped heating it at 230, stirred down the foam/bubbles, and took it off the kitchen range at 205 degrees.

    ~ However, you shouldn't need to take the temperature of your pitch, especially when using the Gulgolz brand. Just heat it to an easy pouring temperature.

** Again: go slow when adding heat and do not leave the stove unattended.

*** After many tests and reheatings, the bottom fell out of one of my several Mason jars --which incident holds potential to become a disaster. Since you don't have to experiment with a dozen different blends and heat treatments of pitch, skip the foil and jars. Just buy a dedicated pan from your local Salvation Army store.

Hardness increases as temperature drops --at a steep rate.
The average of these rates is +22% per -degree F.
(click to enlarge)

* After much experimentation, I ended up with a batch of pitch that plunge tested at 166 minutes (corrected to 68 degrees). I can't tell you how I got to that hardness (too many detours and reheats), but you can get there with W-B pitch by adding very little Linseed oil (maybe 1cc per pound) --or: simply buy some Gulgolz-64 (which is said to have conditioners against chipping) --which checks out at about the same hardness.

The Pitch Lap (11/8/2015)

This is far from a complete overview of the pitch lap and polishing --but it might hold few useful items.

* In view of the above graph, simply raising the temperature in my (small) mirror shop let me do the initial lap pressing ("cold pressing"^) in 3 hours. Another time it took 9 hours at about 70 degrees with the same pitch. I see no reason to do "hot pressing" and risk mushrooming the lap tiles --or thermally imprinting the mirror. (Those who make monolithic, poured and pressed laps must, of course, do it hot --so hot as to almost be liquid.)

* I ended up making 7 laps for this one 6 inch mirror. In the future, we'll only need to make the lap once.

* What really works well for adhering the pitch tiles onto your ceramic (floor tile) grinding tool is to first wipe an almost dry sheen of turpentine (the real stuff, not "mineral spirits") onto the ceramic face.

    ~ Problem: wiping turps will erase your lap lay-out lines, so deftly wipe within the marked one inch squares.)

    ~ I see no need to warm the tool if the tiles are well candled. (Hold the squares by their opposite corners --thumb and forefinger. Bring the rough side in close and somewhat under the base of the candle flame, lest you be burning your fingers. Melt the pitch just short of it running, then squeegee it down in place.)

    ~ For the 5th (a full sized) lap, I tried to stick the pitch tiles onto residual pitch from the recently removed 4th lap. That was a no-go. Every one of those tiles easily popped off when tested.

    ~ It might be that turpentine only works for the pine tar based pitch that Willmann-Bell sells.


* I ended up pressing (using 10 pounds total weight, including the weight of my 6" mirror --or about 6oz/square inch) with a disk of synthetic window screen against the lap, and a single sheet disc of (Reynolds brand) non-stick baker's parchment paper between the mirror and the screen (to keep pitch from sticking to the glass). As the pitch tiles comes into conformance with the mirror, that screen gave their shiny surfaces a cerium oxide holding micro-faceted finish, so it's easy to tell when pressing is sufficiently complete. (Baker's parchment also covers the floor of my pitch strip mold.)

    ~ I think it's important to follow screen pressing with 15 minutes (using 166m test pitch) of pressing with just parchment (or tracing) paper, since the upwelling of the pitch flow into the screen is surely irregular.

    ~ I do not like "direct" cold pressing, using only cerium oxide or rouge slurry between. Such long contact has transferred pitch deposits onto the mirror, which then become polish and test fouling smears.

    ~ Again: I don't feel that initial "hot pressing" is necessary for a traditional, discrete tiled lap. Extended cold pressing works well for me (with 166m test pitch). One might raise the polishing room temperature 5 degrees.

* Eventually, I ended up using a nominally full size lap, but with a diminishing bevel --as is the normal practice.

* Mel Bartels (no slouch!) holds the opinion that an over-sized lap prevents a TDE. (Truth be known, Mel makes lots of great mirrors, while I mostly struggle with my little piss-ass mirror.)

** The common wisdom is to ensure that the central tile/square is well off center, so as to not polish in a pattern of zonal departures, ripples or whatever into the mirror. So far I've been following that advice, even though I suspect it's hogwash. What's more: I managed to "dog-biscuit" my mirror (meaning: mottling/choppiness) --anyway.

The Ronchi Test

* Some parties in our ATM circles (most notably: Willmann-Bell) count both the black lines of a Ronchi grating and the equal width spaces between --such that a grating with 50 black lines per inch is said to be a "100 line" grating. However, the vast majority of the optical and science industry outside of our ATM community either counts only the black lines --or: refers to the (black and white) "line pair" count of a grating or a resolution target. Seldom do vendors, ATM web pages and other published articles state which definition is being used.

* Most ATM workers who report and image or illustrate Ronchi grating results place the grating just inside the focus. Fortunately, most everyone is keen on stating whether a given Ronchi image or drawing was inside or outside --because the results are opposite each other. However --

Jerry Oltion pointed out to me that a grating placed outside of focus gives a better indication of the shape of the peripheral zone of a mirror, and he's right. Once I tried outside-the-focus with a good Willmann-Bell grating, I converted over from having been an "inside man".

* I can't think of an explanation as to why, but the Ronchi image is also much sharper outside the focus, and that's with the (W-B) grating turned to face either way. This phenomenon is much less apparent when using a laser printed Ronchi grating. Presumably, that's because a laser printed transparency grating is so crummy:

A comparison of two 50 line-pair per inch Ronchi gratings

The basic Ronchi images: A  -  B  -  C  -  D

At left is what we see if the mirror has a nice spherical surface, for which a Ronchi setup can be considered a fairly good "null test". The following three Ronchi illustrations (all just outside of focus) describe other surface shapes, which require seasoned, subjective judgment to interpret: B: "oblate", meaning flatter (more shallow) than spherical; C: deeper than spherical (might be paraboloid, might be "hyperboloid", or too deep); D: deeper than spherical and the edge/periphery of the mirror either remains sphere --or worse/flatter: the "turned down edge".

* A subtle variation on the above might be a central area that's sphere, plus an outer/peripheral area that's either paraboloidal, a different sphere, or oblate/TDE. In either case I go carefully (15 minutes per session, minimum pressure, using rouge) with a long and wide (4/5ths) "W stroke". This tends to over-run a TDE, but it also deepens the center^.

Should the center go too deep ("over-corrected"), I resort to a 1/6th to 1/4th W stroke with medium pressure. That raises the center --with less tendency toward a TDE than a 1/3rd W smoothing stroke, but it also tends to make the surface choppy ("dog biscuit") --though not as badly as does the short "I-stroke".

^ If you're making a small, long focus mirror (say: f/9), you might be going for a spherical surface, or "figure", which brings you within 1/8 wave when working a 6 inch mirror. (Presumably, shadowing by the secondary lessens the effective error of a spherical mirror, but not significantly for long focus scopes with minimal secondaries.)

More About Ronchi Testing

** Being such a lazy barsted, I've found that a (good) Ronchi grating can be used like a Foucault knife edge (as others have noticed). I've also skated out on having to add a micrometer pusher or a manipulator to delicately move the grating left and right. I do lots of nudging, although it's possible to move the Ronchi bars and adjust the focus point without touching the Ronchi apparatus --by introducing and twisting glass slides.

(click to enlarge)
This Ronchi apparatus simply slides along the edge of a typical long folding table.
Illumination is from an AAA battery pen light shining through a piece of vellum, and
then a good Willmann-Bell "100 line" (counts 50 line pairs, actually) grating.

I'm holding a pair of microscope slides (home made, chamfered edge, 1" x 3.5" window glass). The slides don't have to be optically flat. (Any introduced problem would be readily apparent, of course).

By placing slides into the beams, the focus point of the RC (radius of curvature) is lengthened. By checking a stack of slides, I found that a single piece of 0.110 inch thick, "single strength" window glass placed in both beams lengthens the focus by 0.035 inch, and by 0.0175 inch in just the return beam. A real (0.050" thick) microscope slide should lengthen the focus by 0.016", a 0.025" thick cover slip by 0.008". (I've since made a little slide-around wooden caddy for holding one or more glass slides upright.)

If the mirror is on the paraboloidal^ side (its center having a shorter radius of curvature focus), then use (say) 2 or 3 slides for a long focus mirror and nudge the Ronchi apparatus to evenly darken an outer donut area of the mirror first. Next, find out how many slides to remove in order to darken the center of the donut --and to stop the apparent Ronchi bars there from moving in the opposite direction when you budge the apparatus (moving in from outside the focus).

* I've repeatedly tried using "Couder"^ type masks and variations on the simpler center-and-periphery masks we see in the ATM-1 book^, but I feel much more aware of what's going on without masks. As ATM-1 counsels, we're simply looking at the over-all difference in radius of curvature, center to edge. That, together with seeing and knowing that the surface smoothly transits from center to edge --is enough information for completion.

(^See section II-31 of Texereau's book: "How To Make A Telescope", pages 94-98 and 220 of ATM-1.)

When such measurements are made by way of using masks and a Foucault knife edge on (say) a 6 inch mirror, the outer 1/2 inch is looked at, and maybe a central diameter of 1.5 inches. The simple formula: difference = r2/RC, gives us a good idea of where we're at, mirror figure-wise. However: that formula applies to the focus difference from the dead center to the very edge, versus the actual mean radius we're looking at somewhat inward from the edge, and somewhat outward from the center --since we need a goodly area for judging the shadows. Consequently, "r" might be better taken as 2.5 inches, rather than 3, especially if the outer edge has a strong bevel, or some TDE is to be abandoned. That would yield 6.25/102" = 0.061".

    ~ The inner (say) 1.5 inches of mirror (ie: a 3/4" radius) only accounts for .563/102 = 0.0055" of the would-be difference, whereas the jump from r = 2.5 to r = 3 extends the RC from 0.061" to 0.088" --something worth paying attention to.

    ~ Using my old eyes (and mind), and not using a mask, it takes me a while to get grounded as to what I'm looking and nudging at. I'm watching no less than a central 2 inches of blob-like diameter (there goes 0.010") and maybe as little as 2.25 inches of radius for the average "donut" diameter --for a perceived difference of (maybe) only 0.039". For my (nominally) 6" x f/8.4 mirror (which would probably work okay even if left spherical), I decided that just one glass slide's worth of parabolizing difference was going to be just fine.

^ If your mirror is on the "oblate spheroid" side, you don't need to know by how much. Just fix it.

* In order to tweak a single Ronchi line across your mirror --or just the inner or the outer zone of your mirror, that can be done by twisting the slides in the beam a little. However, I find it easier to just nudge the apparatus or table a little. Sometimes shifting my weight on the floor will do the adjustment.

* I mark a big fat arrow on the back of my mirror so that it's always oriented the same for tests. Again: I always come into the RC focus from outside the focus. The bars are cleaner and I'm better oriented that way.

    ~ Be sure to turn off any heaters in the room, lower the lights, banish your enthusiastic dog and your clumpity-clomp restless spouse to a distant room, because your home is now made of quivering Jell-O.

   ~ Famously: you can fairly determine whether your mirror is sphere: the Ronchi lines are straight across.

   ~ When it's deeper than sphere (possibly a paraboloid): the lines curve to cup away from the center of the mirror (when seen outside of the RC focus).

   ~ But: when the Ronchi lines curve a little to cup the center of the mirror, it's --

slightly oblate
--but at least there's no sign of a TDE here

Not only is this mirror "over-corrected",
but it's got bad TDE as well.
(All of my Ronchigrams are outside of focus)

The Laser Test (11/8/2015)

* Although any pits have been long gone under microscopic examination, I keep seeing the same, soft, granular light scatter when giving the surface a laser light test for at least the past 10 hours. I switched to using rouge for the final hours of polishing and figuring, but that made no difference. Perhaps this is just the nature of Pyrex.

It looked the same at 76 hours.
That scabby stuff is a casting impression on the back (far)
side of the mirror. Next time I'll first grind and flash polish the back,
since it's nice to have a clear view of the grinding and polishing action (MOT).
(Click to enlarge.)

* At 40 hours, I was still fending off the TDE and trying to coax a paraboloid out of the recurring sphere. What finally answered was the classical parabolizing stroke.

The Star Test

Just as the single "blinking" line Ronchi test (aka: the "red blood cell test", which is about the same as a Foucault test) --seems far and away more sensitive than just looking at Ronchi grating lines, the "star test" is yet again an order more sensitive. The basic idea is that you need your telescope in good alignment/collimation and to do this test on a night with good steady "seeing", such that you can compare a bright star's image to either side of prime focus. Mel Bartels tells us all about it at:

--from which page I call your attention to Mel saying: "--you must learn the star test on small long focus mirrors. This is the only way to learn the subtleties of the star test. Small long focus mirrors tend to have fewer confounding defects, are more easily mounted, tend to be less affected by cooling night air, and [by allowing the use of less powerful eyepieces] keeps the eye's afflictions out of the picture. Scopes with 4 to 10 inches aperture and a focal ratio of f/6 to f/10 are best [to learn with]." With that statement, and with the striking similarity of Mel's and Jerry Oltion's star test rigs to a Dogson, I feel comfortable resting my case and advocacies for choosing a scope project.

* However, I find good seeing rather rare where I live (near the Oregon coast) and the high power star test difficult to interpret. Polaris seems too dim for my small mirror before it's aluminized, so I picked out a bright star and manually tracked it. (I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen a star here that wasn't somehow "boiling".)

* I've several times tried to set up an artificial star --way up on a great sand dune which peaks about two blocks from our front yard. However, my solar powered lights up there (clearly visible, even at dusk) were short lived, thanks to bugs gathering in the dark and kids gathering by day to tear them up. My impression was that for critical testing, one must wait until the early morning hours --when the ground is too cold to be sending up turbulent waves of warmed air.

* I tried it one more time with a convex mirror reflector (that bagged automotive accessory rear view mirror, glued to the top of my stake, along with a yellow automotive reflector to help find the stake at night):

--using a 1/8th inch LED aimed off the front of my telescope --which (I think) the -6 diopter convex mirror reduced to about 0.0007 inch --plenty small, even at only 100 feet. (However: 100 feet is rather close for null testing a paraboloidal mirror figure.)

I had problems:

    ~ As mentioned at the top of this page, the Dogson telescope design is a poor one for low altitude/terrestrial observation. Although one can hoist the butt end up onto a high stool, the balance and vibration gets bad. (Adding a purpose built stool would help solve that problem, but I'm staying with the high astronomical aim of my Dogson for now.)

    ~ The thin lens formula has served me well over the years, but this time I didn't have as much back-focus (closer subject/longer focus) as I should have. I did managed to squeak out a 100 foot focus, however.

    ~ The faint diffraction disk I ended up seeing was too dim to evaluate, so I'll just forget about testing a non-aluminized 6 inch mirror this way.

    ~ The automotive mirror's surface is simply not good enough. I saw smatterings of more than one point of light.

    ~ Some while ago I made an artificial star source out of a white LED for modeling small obstructed lenses at 50 feet or so --inside the house. Under a microscope its pinhole is quite round and measures 15 microns (0.006 inch, but to subtend 1/4 arc-sec, I'd have to place it 400 feet distant --and probably for checkered results in the early morning hours. ---Hmmnnn

** So: unless someone can think of a much better way to do it, I vote that star testing, artificial or real, is yet another "hobby killer" which drains the sap, takes blocks of time away from the goals of documented celestial observation, creative interpretation and (at least) personal discovery.

I can see doing a star test at long last with a finished and aluminized mirror --to document/log the mirror's true condition --should one ever happen to have a night of great seeing, a high power eyepiece handy, and a fully collimated 'scope at the same time --but not as yet another hurdle to clear on your way to the observing chair.

* That leaves me with the fabulous "blinking" or what Jerry Oltion calls the "red blood cell test" --aka: the cheap and easy, brighter alternative to Foucault testing, by using a good Ronchi grating at focus.

* Standard Ronchi testing is, of course, also very useful.

* --And then there's the flattering, feel-good, "Ronchi eyepiece" test, which is a paraboloidal null test (you see straight lines). It's not very sensitive, but will reveal gross problems.

* The resolution target test:

Click on this image to get a full size version for your own use.

I printed this target one inch square, laminated it with shipping tape and made it self-adhesive with double-stick carpet tape --then stuck it high onto the post of a stop sign --about 330 feet distant from our front porch. This is a traditional photographic standard for testing/proving throughput resolution. If my mirrors can separate those bars at an arc-second or better, what more could I want out of my optics? As it turned out, I was able to distinguish the line pairs at only 0.81 arc-second --which worked out to "32" (line pairs per inch) on the target --the diffraction limit. Although line pairs are easier to see than close binaries or low contrast planetary details, I can have confidence in this repeatable, "case closed" test and I'm happy with the result.

The "hardware test": There's also the possibility of using power pole hardware, but I found little by way of bolts with threads or other repetitive shapes --save for transformer insulators. Those insulators are too big for "neighborhood" use, but might be great if you have some distant poles and transformers to examine.

The "Ronchi eyepiece" test, consists of a 35mm film can with a hole in the cap's center --covered with (say) a small piece of "150 line" (75 line pair) Ronchi grating. This amounts to a null test, meaning that if your mirror is at least a fair paraboloid, you see straight lines when looking at the light of a star --spread out across your mirror. If that star is other than Polaris, turn the Ronchi grating to align with the star's drift to make the lines stand still. Otherwise, let the lines drift across your mirror and watch to see if they bend and wiggle --meaning your telescope is a can of worms :-) since this is not a very sensitive test.

A Grinding and Polishing Cradle (11/8/2015)

In trying to speed up the process of grinding and polishing, I became persuaded that the rapid reversal of the mirror's direction (MOT), when being normally pushed and pulled by gripping the mirror's top edges --and especially when being moved by means of a traditional "handle", results in a torque arm (against the inertia of the mirror's mass), which tends to tip the mirror's leading edge down into the pitch lap --hypothetically resulting in a TDE. After building a "cradle" to minimize that effect, I found this problem well described on page #344, and then the same cradle idea on page #370 of Amateur Telescope Making, Book #1, but manifested as the "steering wheel dingbat". It was invented (circa 1930s?) by one J.V. McAdam.

** Although I no longer think that inertial tipping is much of a factor, a cradle also keeps the heat of my fingers and palms off the mirror, vastly improves my view of the lap at work, of my stroke limits and of the periodic rotation of the marked mirror.

* Eventually, I realized that hand heat is a big factor in pitch hardness for small mirrors, and might well be why so many 6 inch mirror efforts go south. Obviously, a proportionately larger (say a) 10 inch mirror has 4.6 times as much mass to heat up, and 2.8 times the radiation area to shed heat.

Those 3 top Teflon pads applied even downward pressure on the mirror (or the option of no additional pressure) and the handles provide alternative positions for old arthritic hands. Unseen is a pad moderated thumb screw on the far side. Also: the right handle can be turned to adjust the clearance of the right side bumper pad. The other two pads are fixed.

Polishing station (click to enlarge)

Here's a further development---

--in that the widely spaced Teflon pads in the upper view have been replaced with 4 closely spaced felt pads --in hopes that centrally concentrated downward pressure (as was the case when handles were used back in the 1930s) --would have less of a tendency to produce a TDE. (That large, rectangularish patch on the mirror's back is from the Pyrex blank's casting mold. It seems a good idea to coarsely polish the back of a blank before proceeding.)

Here we see 6 dabs of "office tacky clay" (buy the "Uhu" brand), which really help to anchor the tool/lap. They work and release best after getting a tad more dirty than what you see here. Note also my tool turning index arrow and lap channel alignment lines.

Aside from being spoiled by the cradle's advantages, I've come to realize how different are my efforts with a polishing cradle, compared to the hands-on work we read about in our literature and ATM Web sites. When using such a cradle:

* The mirror is significantly and uniformly colder, with little or no temperature gradient, mirror back to face. How much the mirror's temperature gets raised by hands-on polishing is, of course, an individualized and variable factor that makes advice between workers iffy.

* The lap tiles also run at a significantly lower temperature (8 degrees lower for me^) --and pitch viscosity is very sensitive to temperature.

^** I borrowed our son-in-law's optical thermometer, which I first checked out for accuracy and consistency with different materials (including pitch), finding it to be a good instrument.

^* After 30 minutes of hand "W" (1 inch stroke) polishing on a 5-1/8" lap --mediated only by surgical gloves for non-slip friction, I measured (a black tape target on) the mirror back at 82 degrees, (a cerium oxide slick on) the mirror face at 79 degrees, and the tile faces at 78 degrees. Room temperature was 70.2 degrees.

^* Earlier, after polishing a normal W stroke with the cradle on a full size lap for 15 minutes, I measured no more than +/- 1 degree differences across the lap face (I was expecting a significant center to edge difference), and those temps were within 2 degrees of room temperature. Even with a bit of demon polishing, the difference between a tile in good contact and one in poor contact was about one degree. (I had to work quickly to get near instantaneous readings, but I also did second and third readings after waiting 30 and then 90 seconds for any deeper tile heat to reach the facet faces.)

* I've read, and it seems intuitive, that there will always be a bit of TDE --that the simplest cure is to mask it off --maybe with flat black paint, but I'd use an O-ring.

* My cradle polishing did not go well. Mel suggested I go to softer pitch and Jerry suggested going to mini or micro facets --which effectively makes the pitch softer (aside from avoiding possible stroke length resonance issues). I ended up doing both, but first I changed just the best candidate: pitch hardness --and in view of the fact that my polishing lap and mirror temperatures remain near ambient. I made another, standard, one inch square tiled lap with softer (166 minute plunge test) pitch --and got much better results.

6 inch mirror project notes section

At the 59th Hour (9/15/2015):

Ah do declare: neber did see such a hellatious "hill" --!-- over half an inch longer in radius of curvature.

The left Ronchigram is at the hill's RC. The middle image is at the surrounding area's RC.
At right is a general outside Ronchigram. (Wow: looky dat turned down edge --!)
(Note how one can measure differences in zonal RCs with Ronchi bars.)

* After seeing that hill, I took notice of a crack across the central most lap tile. It must have settled lower than the others (pushed further down by the "bakers parchment paper" I use) --and I failed to notice the lack of polishing action there. Next I pressed at length to equalize the tiles --plus I raised the shop temperature to 70+ degrees, which made my (then) 418 minute test pitch nearly as soft as Gulgolz-64 247 minute pitch.

* ATM mirror work is not yet a science, it refuses to be so constrained (at least for me), the advice we get is all over the map --and "the map is not the territory" (Alfred Korzybski).

11/03/2015: Having gone to softer pitch (166 minute test), I used short (1/6th to 1/4th) "W" stroking to address the TDE. That "raised" the center, and while it reliably brought a slightly slightly flatter curve outward from middle to edge with harder pitch (to either match or to over-run a TDE), the advance of that corrective curve stalled out with the new 166 minute pitch.


At 65 hours of polishing (my Ronchis are outside of focus)
The right image was made by "blinking" with a Willmann-Bell 50 line pair ("100 line") grating.

It was then back to using the 1/3rd "W" stroke for smoothing. Then I had to use an all-out, classical, 4/5 (or so) "parabolizing W stroke" to get even a hint of producing a parabolic curve. A pleasant and unexpected benefit of this stroke was that it appeared to keep a TDE at bay.

At 72+ hours:

At 72.5 hours of polishing (my Ronchis are outside of RC focus)
The right image was made by "blinking" the mirror at focus with a 50 line pair grating.

Here's a dark and grainy actual Foucault-gram (made with a 30 to 40 micron vertical slit)--

--which confirms that the lumpiness we see in my Ronchi "blink-o-gram" is real.

My mirror seemed to be getting smoother, but I was concerned about over-correcting --by continuing with a 4/5th "W" stroke, 1 minute rotations, minimum pressure, and red rouge. -----Hmnnnnn

Again: my polishing was not going well. Mel suggested I go to softer pitch and Jerry suggested going to mini or micro facets --which effectively makes the pitch softer (aside from avoiding possible stroke length resonance issues). I ended up doing both, adjusting the pitch hardness first. The new, standard, one inch square tiled lap with softer pitch  gave much better results. By impressing micro-facets with window screen, I got much better "drag".

* Here's a cheap and sleazy-easy way to (needlessly, as it turned out) convert your Ronchi tester to do the slit Foucault test:

That's a book reading flashlight with a goose-neck.
Simply use a razor knife to cut the slit and the "knife" edge
against the same straight-edge position (with smooth plastic
for backing). I got about a 35 micron slit on the first try.
Work in from outside the focus, so as to nudge the return image into the knife edge,
rather than trying to chase after it when inside the RC focus. You can also get numbers.

Comments on my 6 inch mirror at 74 hours (images 1, 2, 3, 4)

* Since the Ronchigrams at left are outside of the RC focus, the mirror, overall, is slightly "oblate".

* My short "W" stroking nearly eliminated the 1/4 inch or so of "turned down edge" I'd been looking at for days --presumably, by adjusting the rest of the mirror to match. Perhaps you can see a vestige of it by clicking on and enlarging the first image.

* While that slight kink near the ends of the Ronchi lines might escape casual notice, the reason for it is clearly shown in the 3rd image, when the Ronchi grating is nudged into position to act like a bright Foucault test.

* I find this 3rd image difficult to visualize. My mind's eye wants to imagine a light source to the left. However: once you "get it" with imagined light from the right, it snaps in and that central area becomes a "hill" --a big smooth hill, sitting in the middle of a spherical looking dish.

* It's not an actual hill, of course, but an ever-so-slightly flatter central area with a slightly longer (radius of curvature) focus. In the 4th image, the Ronchi apparatus has been gently nudged a wee-bitty further from the mirror in order to find that longer focus --and Lo: it "blinked", indicating that it was fairly spherical. (The surrounding area could be blinked as well, at a slightly shorter focus.)

**At 75.5 hours: At 74 hours I'd proceeded on the gnotion that my (MOT) 1/6th to 1/4th "W" stroking was slowly marching a flatter spherical curve outward, to over-run the existing, peripheral spherical curve --taking out any vestigial TDE in the process.

Nope, it didn't happen. The "hill" area got weaker, then stronger --but it stayed put. I next used a 1/3rd W stroke --which once got rid of a choppy surface and produced a nice smooth sphere (but left some TDE). This time I got a more pronounced hill (again: a central shallow area, actually).

* My next step was to tear into that stubborn hill with a 4/5th W stroke (which always gets results) for a solid half hour, with medium pressure, rouge, a cradle, and the new 166 minute pitch lap. Although apprehensive that I'd end up with a badly over-corrected surface, all I did was remove that pronounced "hill" and produce a perfectly spherical surface (and just a tad of TDE).

    ~ Due (surely) to my polishing room starting out colder than normal --plus my long strokes, a few flakes of pitch snapped off and smeared up the mirror. It took 3 cleaning sessions with lighter fluid to get it all off. This has happened before with harder pitch. I'm glad to report that it doesn't seem to mess up the mirror's figure.

** At 76 hours:
For the last session, my polishing room started out cold (66 degrees), so this time I had at it with the 4/5 W stroke again --but with the room warmed up, and for only 15 minutes per session --with minimum pressure. The first session produced just a hint of deepening the mirror's center. The second session's results follow:

Comments on my 6 inch mirror at 76 hours (images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

* I roughly measured a center to periphery RC difference something like 0.035" for this 6" x 50.25" (f/8.38) mirror. I tried measuring that difference again with masks, but ended up returning to rocking a Ronchi "blinking" bar back and forth.

* The "star test": We had fair sky with stars (also with cold, wet and dog poop). I ran the power as high as 196x on a bright star (Cygnus Alpha/Deneb at mag-1.3), since Polaris seemed too dark for my unsilvered 6" mirror --but golly: the same(?) mess to either side of prime focus didn't tell me much.

Hopefully, this "blink tested" tip-of-the-hat to parabolizing is gud-enuf for a 6" x f/8.4 telescope.

Aluminization: * My astronomy circle of friends having made no objections to the current shape of my mirror (what can be seen of it via my Ronchigrams), next up is to choose a coater and have it aluminized.

* The first order of business is to religiously clean up your mirror. As mentioned above, I ended up having to grind off crusted-on cerium oxide from the beveled edge, using a carborundum stone. After thoroughly washing away the grit from that, I washed the mirror 3 times with Fells-Naphtha soap (using a stiff little brush on the back and sides, face resting on a clean, soft, terry cloth towel) while wearing surgical gloves. Next I washed it with alcohol, followed with a good rinse, a finish rinse with distilled water, and blot the mirror dry with clean, soft cotton towels.

* The second issue: how best to pack and ship my precious mirror? (Answer: ask the coating service how they want you to package and ship it --so they don't blame-shed on you for any mishaps.)

The packaging not only has to cushion the mirror from blows, but the cushioning/bracing must not rub against the front of the mirror in transit --to or from the coating service.

* One solution --and what seems to be the generally preferred solution, is to wrap and tape up the mirror tightly in packing tissue (but maybe with a piece of a soft cotton dish towel or tee-shirt next to the mirror?), such that if the mirror moves, the wrapping moves with it --no abrasion --then pack the wrapped mirror in styrofoam or typical plastic cellular foam sheets --cut to fit. (See the instructions on that at:

> (scroll down to their instruction photos)
> (click on "Customer Education" in the drop-down menu).

In Texereau's book, he suggests using four wooden wedges, against which rests the fragile edge of the mirror's face. Should the package take a hard blow, that would magnify and concentrate its force upon the part of the mirror most vulnerable to chipping. However, Texereau wrote this before protective coatings were common, and a fresh coat of aluminum takes weeks to skin over its own protective coating of aluminum oxide.

* Paul Zacharias, owner of "Spectrum Coatings" (currently: $50 for a standard coat with a silicon oxide overcoat), suggests packaging similar to this:

--but not in that USPS box. Both Spectrum and Optical Wave Labs (OWL) prefer that I send it UPS Ground. The Spectrum web site is silent about protecting and supporting the mirror's face, but when drawn out, Paul also talks of tissue packing paper and such.

* That white stuff (from the UPS Store) is messy. Plastic cells break off and blow around. Spectrum Coatings suggests using some "blue or green foam from Home Depot or Lowe's", which must be available from other building materials stores.

    ~ I asked Majestic Optical Coatings for their suggestions as to shipping, packaging and costs (none of which could I find at their web site --which might be due to my fault/connections) and their Jeff Decker responded, suggesting that we wrap the mirror in any suitable material (perhaps bubble wrap), snuggly pack it with more material into a smallish box, seal it, then pack that box into a larger box --such that if there's to be any slipping and sliding, it will be between the boxes and packing. (Jeff also assured me that their coating process leaves no support or "fixture/rail" marks on the coated surface.)

* Here's my mirror, back from OWL --and it was less than a week for them to turn it around. The coating looks perfect and that perforated center spot is accurately placed.

By using a Stouffer gray step strip, one should be able
to determine the percentage of light being reflected,
but I don't trust myself to get it right (yet).

The mirror was supported upside down in the coating chamber by 3 round ears, which left those 3 bare spots, one of which intrudes about 3/16 inch, and won't get fully covered by the 1/8" trim ring I planned to use --per:

Oh well, I can easily live with that. (If this was a larger mirror, it's likely that the support marks wouldn't reach past the beveled edge.)

That blue thing is the trim ring --sort of a square cross-section, 1/8th inch O-ring that I had laying around, which really wants to be a black, round cross-section, O-ring. It's cut a tad long, so as to hold itself "roundly" in place. At 50.25 inches of focal length, my Dogson then becomes an f/8.74.

What I ended up using was a simple strip of black poster board paper, onto which I sprayed two coats of artist's varnish. First I taped it snugly to itself --such that I could still pull it up to the height of the O-ring, at which point I taped it to the bottom/edge of the mirror in 4 places. (I'll hang onto that embroidery hoop for bench testing future 6 inch mirrors with trial peripheral masks.)

Here's the finished mirror in its "SnapWare" brand air-tight box,
along with 2 bags of desiccant and a hygrometer. The mirror already has a retainer puck on its backside.
The idea is to move the mirror into this box and seal it --before it's brought into our warm house.

The trim ring's purposes are to cover the ragged beveled/champhered edge, perhaps a wee bit of turned down edge (most mirrors have some), and to present a smoothly defined aperture to the incoming light --per Gary M. Bloom's web pages titled: "The Perfect Telescope" (which, unfortunately, is no longer posted, so I'll try to find out if there's a "Way Back" copy somewhere). (Again: I have no Internet access here as I compose this page.)

Which coating to go for:
--the "standard" (90% efficient), "semi-enhanced" (92% or so), or "fully enhanced" (96% or so). The cost difference is trivial. What concerns me is that enhancements are achieved by building up multiple layers: first the aluminum, then alternating layers of transparent substances with sharply different refractive indexes. Getting the thickness and evenness right for each layer is critical work, far more so than applying the basic aluminum coating and one protective overcoat.

    ~ There's an interesting article discussing such considerations posted at Oldham Optical:
> (among several other subjects). It points out that the Hubble Telescope mirror was not given enhanced coatings, and that major observatories often use bare aluminum (which takes about 6 weeks to skin over with a transparent layer of protective aluminum oxide). When it comes time to chemically strip and recoat the mirror, a protective overcoat (let alone a stack of enhanced coatings) might make the process spotty and less predictable --perhaps chewing up some of the glass surface as well. (Thanks for these articles, Oldham Optical!)

    ~ I gather that nearly all coating services now routinely apply a protective overcoat, usually of silicon dioxide or magnesium fluoride, which presents no special thickness problems of its own.

    ~ My plan for the Dogson is to always take out the primary mirror at the end of an observation session (it has a door and a single thumbscrew for that purpose), then store it with desiccant. The "SnapWare" brand 18 cup (size) sealable plastic storage keeper is perfect for my 6 inch mirror --and available in the kitchenware department of a store near you.

The "finishing" touches

What (if any) optical tube assembly ("OTA") finishes^ should one apply?

* The inside, of course, has to be flat black (leaving threads and bearing surfaces bare) --but what paint to use?

    ~ I don't like breathing the stuff --or "overspraying", so I went for a good bristle brush and a can of real paint.

    ~ When I tap a spit wet finger on the OTA's tempered HDF, it soaks right in --so I bought oil base flat black (assuming it's better for oil/solvent to soak in, than the water of "latex" paint --right?).

    ~ If you turn the rough side of your HDF panels inward, that self-adhesive black "flocking material" (from ScopeStuff) won't stick --but the rough side painted flat black seems pretty good as is.

* Most everyone tells me that the best protective coating is urethane spar varnish ("Helmsman" brand), and my HDF needed 3 coats before it looked varnished. This way the outside of the 'scope looks like what it is: tempered HDF and wood. My inside and outside coverage won't be 100%, but some should be better than none. (As soon as I'd finished doing that, my 2nd oldest friend assured me that I should have went with "Deft" exterior varnish, since a coat of that lasted 20 years on the propeller of his airboat.) (Oh well.)

In the next photo you see what I bought.

* I opened up the varnish, stirred (didn't seem to need stirring), and poured it into a quart Mason jar --since I don't like or trust resealing metal cans. Each time I decant, I wipe the jar's lip and the lid/ring areas dry with a paper towel, so the lid will come off easily next time.

* I decant an inch or so into another Mason jar for use, the lip and lid of which also gets a good wipe when I'm done. While that minimizes air exposure and prolongs the life of the varnish, my experience is that varnish, once opened, will skin over in a few days anyway. Just cut/pull it off and use what's left.

* That 3rd jar has an inch of mineral spirits for cleaning the brush. First brush out as much varnish (or paint) as you can on one of your crummy (and getting crummier) shop walls, clean some more with a paper towel, lightly dip the brush in mineral spirits (don't swish or stir --keep your spirits clean), brush it out some more, paper towel again --and your brush is ready for another session.

* That white thing is chalk, for filling the many Phillips head screw divots --so as not to fill them with varnish, but I've since decided that a sharpened "Crayola" (brand) crayon works better.

* That ugly round thing in the OTA is where I plugged a hole. (Some of my HDF was salvaged from another scope project.)

^ As you can probably tell, I know very little about painting and otherwise "finishing" wood --except that you shouldn't apply water base latex/acrylic type paints over oil base type paints and finishes --and it also seems a bad idea over oil based primers or sealers. I have my doubts as to whether paints, lacquers, varnishes and oils actually seal wood/HDF, but I think they at least slow the ingress and egress of moisture.

(12/11/2015) *The collimation trip--

--is fairly simple for a long focus mirror. Whereas with an f/4 telescope you have a 1.4mm diameter "sweet spot" to center up (meaning: best focus, coma doesn't detract from a perfect mirror); an f/8's  sweet spot is 11mm wide, and an f/10's is a whopping 22mm.

I can do a fair collimation without the actual primary, by making a dummy 6 inch mirror --

--out of an ordinary mirror glass, using a circle cutter. I center spotted and adjusted its location in Dogson-2:

Those edge supports are eccentric, such that the mirror can be centered
by turning them. Since my Dogson is 8.5 inches square on the inside, here
I'm measuring down 4.25 inches --from what will be the bottom position
of the top panel. (Photo shot before all the flat black paint.)

Actually: that section of top panel is a door that slides off for installing & removing the mirror, which will be held captive with a thumb screw. This seems a safest way to go for the first approach to collimation, instead of putting the real primary --at risk of a dropped tool or fastener.

* I made a collimator eyepiece as well and it seems to work:

Using a junked out Barlow, I masked the field end with red plastic
to appear a bit wider than the diagonal. Instead of fussy cross hairs,
I glued in a brass "points-at". On the eye end I glued on a black disk
with a 1mm peep hole, which gives me enough eyeball depth of field to
sharply (enough) see the points-at and the field mask. I don't know if I'll
need it, but the other side of that peep hole is white and it's mounted on a
translucent 35mm film canister --such that I can shine a flashlight and light up
the white side --something like a "Cheshire eyepiece". (Presumably, I'll want to
do that for some reason --right?)
(*Click* my photos to enlarge them.)

Collimation steps for the Dogson-2
(before I painted it flat black inside)

1) Center the (spotted dummy) primary with a ruler, vertically and horizontally.

2) Verify that the ocular focuser is centered. (It does focus a wee bit, due to the thread.)

3) Verify that the curved strut makes right angles. and that the secondary mount dowel piece is drilled straight.

4) Center the strut's top end --vertically and horizontally, with a ruler.

5) Install the collimator and make sure it's snug --no slop.

6) Snug up all the adjustment screws, while still being able to turn and position stuff.

7) While aiming and re-aiming the secondary --so as to keep the collimator's center point on the primary's center spot, introduce and remove (as necessary) the white poster board sheet and contrasting color backgrounds behind the diagonal --in order to see and distinguish the secondary (just the secondary) --and to concentrically center it within the collimator's mask (custom made for this purpose).

Depending on how well you planned, cut out and drilled out this scope, you might have to enlarge the strut base block's location holes in the OTA bottom panel, then add fender washers to span the holes (--like I did.)

8) That having been accomplished and the various screws tightened down (without disturbing your collimation), it's time to adjust the primary's 3 locating screws. (There are no "locking" screws nor mirror retaining clips in the Dogson design, just 3 rather tight (nylon T-nutted) thumb screws tipped with soft electronics solder.)

    ~ In the photo is a length of green #10 or #12 gauge electrical wire. I use it to reach down and tug on the (dummy) mirror a little bit to see which screw I want to turn which way. This helps a lot.

When the reflected image of the diagonal is centered up, you're almost done.

9) Finally install the actual primary mirror, bring it to infinity focus, exchange the eyepiece for the collimator, and tweak the primary's 3 locator screws as might be necessary.

Different strokes
(11/8/2015)  -  The two-star strokes ('taint many!) seem most likely to succeed):

* At first I hoped to discover a stroke pattern --or a pattern of strokes, which would surely lead to a fair spherical figure --as one would logically expect, and where the "proper application" of the venerable "W stroke" is often said to lead.

* My fall-back goal was to assemble a small and simple armory of strokes which, used one to mitigate the other, will definitely and prescriptively produce the same result. (I've only selected, defined and restricted these strokes --all of which have long been variously practiced and advocated by others.)

* Unfortunately, my methods (unless found to be more widely applicable by others) will probably have only limited application --to the making of a traditional, shallow (f/8 or so), small mirror, from a thick blank, by means of a "cradle" (at least in the polishing stages), using a lap made of discrete tiles and the hardest pitch which is practical to use (about the same as Gulgolz-64 at 68 degrees Fahrenheit) and keeping the mirror on top ("MOT").

* Normal stroke speed:
    ~Slow: the mirror averages about 4 inches per second (varying sinusoidally)
    ~Normal: 8 inches per second

* Normal rotations:
    ~The mirror is turned 45 to 90 degrees CCW each minute (maybe more --to distribute slurry).
    ~My stance moves about 30 degrees CCW around the tool at 5 minutes (avoiding
      alignment with the lap channels) through 150 degrees, completing 180 with my
      return to the starting position (that drain mat work surface cut-out).
   ~ Each session (30 minutes) the tool/lap is turned 90 degrees CW.

* One minute R&Rs (important for short and parabolizing sessions):
    ~The mirror is turned 45 to 90 degrees CCW each minute.
    ~My stance moves about 30 degrees CCW around the tool ALSO at 1 minute
      intervals (avoiding alignment with the lap channels) through 150 degrees,
     completing 180 with my return to the starting position.

* Stroking pressure, rudely defined:
    ~Minimal: only the weight of the mirror and the cradle (about 3 pounds, 2 oz/squinch).
    ~Medium: the weight of hands and forearms --5 pounds forward, 4 back (5oz/sqinch).
    ~Normal: Conscious pressure, which adds about 5 pounds for me (7.5oz/squinch).
    ~Heavy: Adds another 5 pounds for me (3 + 15 pounds (10 oz/squinch).

** The following strokes were mostly explored with much harder pitch than what I've ended up using. I'm gradually revising my comments here to reflect results with the current 166 minute (test) pitch lap.

* A 1/6 to 1/4 "I stroke" (ie: straight, center over center), applied with normal pressure:
    ~Rapidly eliminates a TDE with hard pitch.
    ~Raises a central hill (even a hill within a hill with hard pitch).
    ~Results in a very choppy surface if prolonged (ragged Ronchi lines).

* A 1/3rd and greater "I stroke", applied with minimal pressure and 1 minute R&Rs:
    ~Reduction of TDE and any central hill is gradual.
    ~Tends to result in an oblate spheroid.
    ~Tends to leave the surface mildly choppy.

* A 1/3 wide by 1/4 high "Tangential stroke", applied with medium to normal pressure toward one side of the tool:
    >This stroke is carried over the edge until "pinch" resistance/drag is just felt (or just short of that).
    >The mirror is rotated CCW every 60 seconds.
    >One's stance is moved 30 degrees CCW every minute.
    >Tool/lap rotation is only needed if stance rotation is less than 180 degrees.
    ~This significantly reduces a central hill in about 15 minutes (Pyrex) --and
    ~Appears to reduce a TDE as well. (With more rotations, Jerry reduces a TDE this way,
      but with TOT.)
    ~Produces an ever more choppy surface, though not nearly as bad as a short "I stroke".

* A near 1/2 wide by 1/3 high "Tangential W stroke", applied with minimal or medium pressure:
    >This stroke is also carried over the edge until "pinch" resistance/drag is just felt, then returned
       to center.
    >The mirror is rotated CCW and one's stance is moved 30 degrees CCW every minute.
    >Tool/lap rotation is only needed if stance rotation is less than 180 degrees.
    ~So far, this produces a spherical, TDE-free figure with roughness if medium pressure is used.
      I was hoping for smooth results with minimal pressure, but the roughness persisted through an extra hour of polishing. Also: the mirror remained slightly oblate, so I had to aggressively attack the center of the mirror (which resulted in a rough surface again).

** A 1/6 to 1/4 "W stroke", applied with medium (or minimum) pressure and normal rotations (or one minute R&Rs for finish and figuring stage):
    ~ Smoothes the mirror, with less tendency toward a TDE.
    ~ Tends to produce a "hill" (a flatter central spot with a longer RC).

** The standard, 1/3 "W stroke", applied with medium pressure and normal rotations:
    ~ Smoothes a mirror, but with a tendency for TDE to creep in.
    ~ I saw little reduction in the radius of curvature during many hours of polishing out #500 pits^ with this stroke.
    ~ Working with a cradle and a 166 minute (test) pitch lap, this stroke showed no tendency to remove a "hill", once it was established with a long period of 1/6th to 1/4th W stroking (used to get after a TDE).

** The classical, 4/5 (wide and high), parabolizing W stroke --applied with medium pressure. This is the only stroke (for me, and using the cradle) which turns out a paraboloidal surface. My initial impression is that medium pressure, and perhaps even minimal pressure --results in a small, but unacceptable degree of surface roughness. There's posted talk on the Internet about needing to actually lift off some of the mirror's weight (MOT) in order to get the best results. I hope that's seldom necessary --it wasn't for me, using Pyrex glass.

    ~ My most recent experience with this stroke (30 minute session using rouge, a cradle, medium pressure and 166 minute pitch) was that it removed a pronounced "hill" (large, central shallow area) and produced a perfectly spherical surface. My polishing room was a tad cold, however, so will have at it again --warmed up.

^ Those #500 pits were deliberate --and the last fine grinding stage, since scratches are most common during grinding with "micron grits". Also: old timers didn't have micron grade grits, so I wanted to see how tough it was to polish them out --and with Pyrex to boot.

(No distinction between this page and the "Old Page" beyond here, as of 11/8/2015.)
(Watch for a follow-on, and more disciplined re-edit of my Dogson-2's construction.)
(Below find poorly organized Dogson-1 information.)

What follows is an update of my old astronomy pages (formerly at and It's intended to be a lean archive of their original content --plus recent developments. Save for some credits, gone are many outside links and references to my good friends' postings, such that web site/page maintenance will be less of an issue.

The Dogson Telescope
Some of the following appeared in the Fall 2008 Issue #59 of Amateur Astronomy magazine.
(Last worked on: 6/3/2016, but lotsa older stuff here yet.)

This telescope, without my knowing how it would end up, went through design changes for 59 years --since I was 14 years old. I think it's finally matured into a satisfactory 'scope, but we'll see how practical it is to use --once I get to see the night sky again, here in rainy Oregon. The only things which haven't changed since my initial equatorial mount effort is that it remains a long focus Newtonian instrument, embodied in a closed tube (the "OTA"/optical tube assembly) --and a rectangular one these past 20-odd years. The accompanying photos reveal extra holes and scars which attest to mistakes, redesigns and modifications --in the Dogson's long struggle to be born.

Now that the design has finally stabilized, best I'd recognize/admit that this is only the second "roll-out" in 13 years --by calling it the "DHS-2A1" (and, as ever: just "Dog-2").

The "DHS" part recognizes and appreciates Mr. Holcomb's and Mr. Sellers' priority (see below).

In my opinion (something which changes with age), it's important that the doing of astronomy be physically comfortable, not demanding of time or sleep, and not overly intrusive into one's family/personal life. Whether it's simply "sky appreciation" or (as is my preference) some sort of a personal project or thesis that you're pursuing --don't stand when you can sit, don't observe at 4 AM when you can do it at midnight on another date, don't guide photography for minutes if you can get adequate results in seconds without tracking --or if you can conveniently whistle up imaging from a robotic telescope --or if the astrophotography you need already exists and is accessible, via the many Internet resources we now have.

The most pleasant way to personally take in the night sky is probably with a good pair of binoculars, either while leaning back in a lounge chair (using a counter-balanced binocular mount) or comfortably seated at a sturdy table (your short tripod mounted binoculars fitted with angled oculars, your charts and etc at hand). Next best would be some kind of a (light concrete) table mounted telescope, perhaps in the style of a Questar. 3rd best (hopefully) will be one of my forthcoming "Dogson" telescopes --perhaps even a "Dogstar" version.

* In general, I suggest you'll be happier looking at familiar objects (perhaps some variables that you follow for the AAVSO) and using low to medium magnification --not much more than 60 power, since that's about as much as average "seeing" supports with excellent contrast, visual resolution, a nice field of view, a comfortable exit pupil and eye relief.

For observing with a telescope, one is tempted to go for a 45 degree "erecting prism", such that sky charts, aiming and moving the scope are intuitive --rather like a binoculars experience (but without the sore neck). We're cautioned that such an "Amici" prism "won't work with DOBs and other Newtonians" --for lack of enough inward focus travel, but that it should work with most refractors and Cassegrain or Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes.

A William Optics Amici prism should also work with a Dogson-2 telescope, due to its traveling cell sled, and provided it has an adequate secondary mirror. However, at this point I only intend to use an Amici (if at all) for terrestrial observing, and future Dogsons might forgo this option in favor of more focal length (f/8.66+). (I've read that even the best Amici prism will add a horizontal spike to bright stars.)

* I also suggest that you'll be least happy when trying to do imaging (photography), unless you keep your approach really simple and fast (like: a camera aimed at the sky and: *click*). I'm really torn on that issue, since I do much better actual "astronomy" by analyzing photos/astrographs --than I do in "real time" at the eyepiece. (For more on that approach, see my (and others') "barn door drive" experiences). Never-the-less, I fantasize about doing direct astrometry, photometry and sketches --in real time --at the eyepiece. (Ha!)

* In my humble opinion: if you live in or near a city, a 6 inch f/8-10 (however configured) might be all the telescope you want or need^, and something much smaller (like binoculars) is what you'll likely use the most --provided that you're familiar with and can navigate with your instrument, you know what objects/fields it works well with, and you have a well configured observation setup/setting --including a well behaved telescope or mounted binoculars, a nice chair, an ample work table, notes, adequate illumination, warmth and charts near to hand.

* Yes: "adequate illumination", meaning white light --perhaps as a headband mounted LED lamp. Adequate "red light" is no better than white at not knocking down dark adaptation (IMO), and fuzzy "night vision" is only good for logging and bragging on having noticed faint "DSOs". I want to study, count, measure and describe stuff.

* The nebulas in Orion, of course, are reason enough to purchase or build a larger 'scope. Our Coulter 13" really did a job on that and other such objects, but I think you need reasonably dark skies --and it is not fun (IMHO) to drive to some distant spot, set up, fight sleep, and then drive home half dead (unless you go through the greater inconvenience and grunge of turning it into a fursluginer camping trip).

^ Most observers (especially modern ATMs and ATBs) disagree with me, saying that bigger is always better (aside from any portability and set up inconvenience). My opinion is influenced by living very near the Pacific coast under an urban, often hazy/cloudy, light polluted sky. I jointly own a good 13" reflector with my friend Chuck. I've wheeled it out and tested full aperture, then with a 5" (oval off-center) aperture mask, looking nearly straight up at something like M-13, --and seeing little advantage in the full aperture.

I'm also biased in favor of the people-compatible dimensions, weight and the relative simplicity of "eyeball" collimation possible with a 6"x f/8 to f/9 instrument.

* So: many opinions here but no "discoveries" to report (other than what's turned out to be film anomalies). Like many observers, I've seen  fascinating apparitions among the Moon's fleeting shadows. Do take at least 15 minutes to steadily watch the Moon's terminator sweep along while the Sun's grazing rays catch prominences --so stark and isolated on the terminator's dark side that they look like colossal artifacts.
Here's the new Dogson link --which is what's become of my "6x10" Dobson telescope project. The scope shown here is what's become of Dogson-1 --now in the hands of my friend Buddy, who follows the stars under far better Oregon skies than we have here on the coast --and he's already improved upon how I'd configured that scope --
--by turning it into a "Buddsonian".  Buddy's loyal dog "Shadow" is demonstrating the design's stability. It uses a high rocker box plus the foreleg that you see in the early part of my Dogson article: the best of both designs!
.* Here's an early photo of my pre-Dogson, 6 inch f/10.5 reflector telescope :-)

This scene was "first light" with a temporary primary mirror.

--At this point she was an overweight square tube job with lotsa baffles and an altitude bearing only 10 inches from its (shallow helical) focuser.

I used traditional Wilson Art "Ebony Star" for the azimuth bearings (against 3 Teflon pads, of course), and I wasn't satisfied with it. The static equaled the dynamic friction (nice), but with both something like twice as high as I'd expected. *here* are some earlier friction tests with various materials . Tight/loaded bearings make a 'scope vibrate, since the energy is otherwise dissipated into one-way, non-elastic motion.

Heavy duty thanks goes to my astro friends David, Ted, Chuck, (later on, Jerry and Tom and others have joined our group) --also Fran and Virginia (my departed parents) --for their material, intellectual, and inspirational support. I'm also indebted to a host of sources I've accessed over the years via the Internet, a number of fine books, our magazines Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, and Amateur Astronomy: a fine magazine for astro doers.

Here's the earliest (stereo) view of --what became Dogson-1 --before I painted the interior flat black.

Setting circle details

I spent some while going in opposite directions: wanting on one hand an eyepiece that doesn't move around much (ie: very near or even inside of the altitude bearing):

The Dogson's earlier incarnation as a Dob
with a very high altitude bearing.  Note the corner
convection vents and the over-sized tube.

--and on the other extreme: wanting to lay that bearing nearly on the ground, so as to make the tube itself part of a stable tripod configuration.

Dog-1's wheels, which don't turn, get relieved by
the pads of that upper arm at high altitudes --just before
the scope's center of gravity goes over center.

Dog-2 (seen here before the last of the flat black paint) ended up with 5 inch
wheels and 1 inch extended over-center balls for better rough ground clearance.

However it was to come out, I wanted my telescope to be simple, stable, humbly practical, and easy for others to build, but perhaps it's mainly "easy" in that one doesn't have to worry about weight distribution.

I'd been inspired by the obvious stability of F. J. Sellers' 1920s design, which our regional discussion and construction group: "The Toledo Scope Works", took a look at some time ago. (David, Chuck, Jerry, Tom, and Ted of the Scope Works were the reason and the resources by which I was able to resume my old passion for astronomy and telescope making. They've been supplying me with ideas, software, encouragement, and components for years. David made the mirror and Chuck made the Crayford focuser for Dogson-1. I've yet another 6" mirror on hand from Jerry --"Dog-3"?)

** A newer fellow at the Skopewerke, Mel Bartels (who goes way way back with the Oregon ATM scene, plus he has a great presence among our literature and web sites --including his own) --alerted me that this type of mounting goes back much further than Sellers. It was invented by the first manufacturer of telescopes in the United States: Amasa Holcomb, who you can read about at:




Holcomb was a self-taught American Renaissance man who lived a long life and made great use of his time. He started making telescopes later in life, purely for the love of doing so, but ended up filling many orders from private and institutional clients. There are a number of observatories which still bear his name.

Sellers, a professional astronomer, considered alt-az
mounts superior to equatorial for visual use. He discarded
several designs before settling on this one. (Yes: he carried
along that little board in back for smooth azimuth guidance.)

My 'scope became a "Dogson" (with a humble tip of the hat to John Dobson's fine telescopes, spirituality and philosophies) after I started trying to figure out how to add a foreleg or two:

(04) Modeling design variants and trying
to get a "feel" for how it would handle.

"side bar"

--which reminded me of a 1992 effort dubbed the "Earl's Leg":

"B" is okay, but attachment point "A" doesn't work as well on this fat boy --as it
did on the Earl's long tall Sally refractor tube.

--which was adapted from the classic Earl (of Crawford)'s "Arm":  a cord in tension between the front of a refractor and an anchor point --perhaps in the floor of a landed gentleman's observatory and library --which compelled an alt-azimuth mounted telescope to follow an approximate equatorial path across one's southern meridian (and additionally served to "ground out" tube vibrations).

How the Earl of Crawford might have dealt with today's fat DOBs
A1, A2 and A3 being progressively better.

** In the March 1989 issue of Sky & Telescope (which I came across a year after my article was published in Gemini, Maurice Gavin, an astronomer who was living in Surrey, England, contributed an article describing an approach to Earlizing a Dobsonian --in which two strings rise from point "C" and pass through a pair of eye screws in the mouth of the tube --to either side and on a diameter through the optical axis. It appears that the taut string is simply allowed to pass across that diameter. (See this posting about a lecture he gave to the British Astronomical Association in 1988.)

** In his 1989 S&T article, Gavin also suggested the possibility of using an adjustable rod with universal joints, but somehow didn't get around to attaching such a rod at point "B" (in order to track northward). (Yes: I wrote to him in 1993, but I don't recall getting a response, nor do I remember more details from that article.)

* See Mel Bartel's excellent mechanical drawings which illustrate most of these (and other) approaches to tracking alt-az mounted telescopes.

* Of course the Dogson, with its near ground level altitude bearing, is tough to Earlize. You'd need a pivoting ground rod in the butt end and a stout pole north of the 'scope, to the top of which the Dogson would be tethered.

Soon thereafter my "Dog Leg" 'scope (the leg was once going to be jointed) became the "Dogson".

Even with the earlier versions of this scope (as in the photo below) I was trying to either incorporate or simply hold onto a forward staff while using the scope, in order to better control my nudgings and to "ground out" vibration.

My altitude bearing kept getting closer (and more sensibly) to the ground:

That 1 inch longitudinal square tube on top is for torquing
the scope true. The door skin wood I used for the tube made it
twist --badly. I used the torque tube to attach the adjustable carry handle
and as a conduit for to pass wiring back to the 'scope's rear
clearance light and a miniature muffin fan --which blasted thermals
off the face of the mirror. It once clearly made a difference in being
able to see Saturn's Cassini gap, a near arc-second detail that night --when
the mirror was still warm.  I "switched" the gap on and off several times,
along with the fan. It took about 2 seconds both ways.  However, my small
mirrors are well ventilated and cool quickly so I don't anticipate
installing fans in future scopes.

To make a long trial and error story short, my first Dogson ended up looking like this:

That flimsy stool is only for holding my clipboard
and whatever's attached: stop watch, a good clock,
microsette recorder and a headband light for seeing
 stuff at night. My poses were to stand, stoop, or go down
on a knee. The short leg was used under 30 degrees of altitude
(ie: not often). Those rubber cane tips come off to be replaced by --

--a cut down plastic caster which swivels to catch the dirt and allows the pole to be smoothly turned.

I need a lot of light to see its little display, but this affordable --

--Zire 21 and the Planetarium program supply the information I need
to aim my scope.  Each of those stars was at the center of one of my
"Observation Areas" --which I watched and photographed for years
in hopes of at least getting to know a few small parts of the sky.

The Dogsonian design eliminates bearings, counterweights, weight and thinking^.

^Well, some. It takes a bit of thinking to relate sky program or planisphere co-ordinates to one's plan for the evening and night. What I'm trying to say is that it takes a lot less thinking to turn out a Dogson --a 'scope which doesn't need balancing, and which has cell sled focusing with a good range of adjustment. It's easier for an amateur astronomer to build and to transport this one-piece design (plus kneeling pad, which stows on top of Dog-1).

Yes: that's an ordinary hardware store or paint shop "pole sander block" and extension tube (30 to 60 inch) --which attaches with an Acme thread --which, when turned, gives slow-mo on the altitude. Dogson-2 uses a much longer thread, but operates the same way.

There are cheap through professional extension poles to choose from. That aluminum pole was easy to
cut down and it adjusts in steps. Dog-2 uses a custom made pole--

--and adds limits to the pole's lateral
excursions, such that the 'scope can't easily fall over.

An early image at left (sans leg excursion limiting) and a recent image of the leg snap set.

The larger leg section is made of two channeled (dato'd) 1x2 furring pieces glued together. The thread "wants" to be a square-ish 3/4" 6tpi ACME, but I used an affordable 6tpi "V" profile tap and die set instead. The (not very hard) hardwood ball is from an art crafts supply store. That 1/4-20, mid-leg thumb screw became the (ground down, slips in to lock the leg) 5/16 eyebolt seen in the right image.
* The altitude can be set from zenith down to 30 degrees (9/15/2016), at which point I yield my field stool to the scope's butt end and get down onto a kneeling mat --or: I just wait for my quest to clear 300 (and the trees). Originally, the foreleg was going to be articulated (folding in half by steps), thus the "dog" name.

* With the scope set up for stool sitting eyeball height (at 53 degrees altitude), I found that I could turn the thread and track in altitude from 49 to 62 degrees --and lean the scope in azimuth through 18 degrees.

You might ask: "where does one attach the setting circles?" Well the "DDNU" goes right here:

This early Dobson-Dogson Nav Unit attaches with
a single wing nut. The most recent version (2016)
has 4 feet and attaches with a single brass flat-head screw,
and is meant to stay atop the telescope's OTA.

The DDNU's altitude readings are not dependent upon
the scope being leveled --until you're near the zenith,
then I keep an eye on that extra level (below image).

With this early DDNU version, you start by
getting the current alt-az of Polaris (or maybe a radio
tower), sight Polaris with that disk, calibrate the circles
to read true, then go after your quarries --back-sighting
on Polaris for the azimuth. (Arghhh: I went to a magnetic compass.)

(10) That second level is for navigating
at higher altitudes and/or finding somewhat level ground.

Before going with a magnetic compass, I replaced the white CD sighting disk with a more sensible 2nd finder (which could
still be aimed horizontally for aligning on something like a radio tower --although that would often require a step stool).

And finally: a magnetic compass --along with a swing-out glow finder (seen here on Dog-2).

With the glow finder stowed I sight through that pair of fixed eye screw rings, get a bright object centered in the eyepiece, then swing out and aim the glow finder (which usually needs a bit of adjustment at the begin of each session). Those eye screw sights keep me from having to grovel on the ground in order to sight along the OTA.

* A helpful addition to the problem of "finding"/aiming has been a new 32mm Celestron Omni eyepiece --affordable and as much field of view one can squeeze into a 1-1/4 inch focuser. Its light gathering is somewhat crippled by my 1-1/16 inch diagonal, so it might be 50% dimmer at the edge, but the 40 power 1.25 degree actual field is all there. My old 25mm Plossl (Surplus Shed "500" series) only passes a 0.84 degree field (75% illumination at the edge).

There's a little cover for the glow finder's lens, which otherwise dews up quickly and I've rounded the sharp edges. In use, the glow finder usually ends up above my head when deployed and I've yet to so much as bump it. This configuration seems natural to use --just turn my head and look.

During a recent session (the night of 6/4/2016 UTC), the spirit level altitude indication was within 1/3rd degree (and is usually quite accurate) but my compass was off by 8 degrees on one object (Jupiter). Nearly all the hardware in the vicinity of the compass is brass. Maybe I need to degauss what's not (mainly: the diagonal strut).

The sky-ball approach (using just the device on the left):

--requires a fairly heavy ball and seems hard to work with in the dark. (More)

* While the level based altitude indication is accurate enough, finding the azimuth with any of these devices has been difficult, so why not simply use the imprecision of a magnetic compass (using a minimum of ferrous metal screws and whatnot in its vicinity)?

* Yes: something like a GPS, a Celestron "SkyScout", or a "Safari" ap'd i-whatever would probably work well, but I'm trying to use low-tech methods --that I understand, can make, and maybe improve upon.

What finally made the Dogson practical has been its finders and a widest actual (1.25 degree) field eyepiece. Getting an object into the eyepiece's field of view with a conventional finder or manual setting circles can be difficult, especially in that "low power" was 64x and 0.84 degrees for Dogson-1. For direct finding I started with a luminous (glow paint) collimating finder:

The paint got replaced by "glop" film from "Scope Stuff",
which is 100x better. This is similar to a 1952 design by Stanley B.
Rowson, but also in the vein of "points at" type
finders made by my friend Chuck.

--and just below it in the above photo was a finder scope with a 6 degree field made from a binocular objective, a rectangle of front surface mirror, and a 20mm Plossl ocular with a home made copper wire "points at" reticule:

At left is the finder's Plossl with a #24g wire
pointer. At right is a 25mm Kellner with a straight-
across wire reticule, for timing the passage of stars
and extended details. (That's since become an "X" of two wires.)

With the 6 degree finder as an in-between step, it was pretty easy to nail an object in the sky, but Dogson-2 has just a glow finder (with the ability to swing it around to the other side --for guiding the scope while a guest is observing). What made that work is a 32mm Plossl ocular with a 1.25 degree field. It will be about one magnitude dim at the edge (due to the one inch diagonal), but be plenty good enough for bringing the quarry to center.

* Extended comments 1: > While that copper tubing strut mount for the secondary painted nicely and presents smooth edges, I found it ever harder to bend and work with. I consequently went to a 3/16 inch steel strut,  but this time presenting a curve to the optical path (to eliminate "spikes"). It's mounted from the bottom of the tube, so as to keep it away from the DDNU's magnetic compass over the top panel.

> Dogson-1's oversized square tube worked out quite well with room for convection vents, wiring (but no more battery stuff  after this), a mirror cell sled arrangement and a long threaded rod for moving the cell sled back and forth (when trying out cameras, different oculars and focusers). I used Dale A. Keller's "Newt" program to place and size the baffles. For Dog-2 I decided that I can get away with just 2 baffles. There are also a pair of top vents, so as to not force convection currents over the entry baffle and into the optical path.

> The top side of the second baffle below the secondary really catches the light and should be treated to something like a black velvet or a flocked black covering, but the stuff didn't stick to my HDF board. Consequently, all of the tube's interior relies upon the rough backside surface of HDF and a good coat of flat black oil based paint (brushed on).

> I originally decided upon an f/9+ telescope because a 6 inch mirror can be finished sphere and still be about 1/10th wave away of perfection. (A 6" f/8 sphere is about 1/8th of a wave from paraboloid.) However, when David made the mirror for Dogson-1 he troubled to fully correct it  :-)  Since giving this scope away (to become the "Buddsonian"), I've been given another 6" mirror plus I've purchased 6" blanks for making a new 'scope. This next one will also be figured paraboloid. I've been persuaded that even at f/9, on a really good night, a spherical 6 inch mirror can noticeably fall short of one that's been figured. Also: the height of the eyepiece was too tall for kids and shorties at f/9, so the aim point is now a more traditional 6" x f/8 (or so) scope.

* Another consideration is the "sweet spot", and how critical collimation becomes with a short focus scope. f/9+ is really to be preferred, but I think f/8-plus is still manageable with "eyeball collimation".

The "sweetspot"
--thanks to Gary M. Bloom's (now missing) web page: "The Perfect Telescope"

Comment 2: The plastic half-lens' optical center is level with the pointer and top of the target block, but is cut off 1/8th inch higher, such that the phosphorescent pointer's image (projected at infinity onto the sky) easily clears your line-of-sight over the block. The blunt point is about 1/3rd of a degree wide --as projected. Mine is made from amazingly bright and long lasting glow film that I got as a sample. It's otherwise to be had from ScopeStuff as their "Glop" product. The next versions will probably use a "pointless arrow". See here for the view through it, and here for a drawing and prior art.

General comments, unrelated to the Dogson mount design

One of the nicest features of Dogson-1 and 3 is having a back door for easy access to the
mirror --which gets removed after each session to a "SnapWare" sealed container with desiccant
(and a monitoring hygrometer). (The lesser door covers a hole through which a fan once injected outside air .)
**Click here** to see Dog-2's slide-off access panel.

The mirror cell sled is moved by turning the
threaded rod stock --seen on the floor of the tube. The
sled carries the rear-most baffle and positions the mirror
via the usual thumb screws in back (mirror is held against
them only by gravity), as it rests on two one inch dowels. The
dowels are held in place by screws which are about 1/8th inch
eccentric, such that the mirror can be centered in the tube by
turning the dowels. Spring clips locate the sled as it moves.
* Dogson-2 also has centering dowels, but a wooden threaded rod.

This view of the bottom of the scope and the
back of the mirror cell reveals that a wooden puck
is glued to the mirror's back with dabs of silicone
rubber. There's a 1/4-20 T-nut in the other side of
the center hole which accepts the thumb screw which
holds that canning jar cover in place--

  --and thereby holds the mirror captive to the cell

(This cell-sled design isn't beefy enough.)

The secondary's copper tubing strut
mount at least looks nice and has a smooth
profile in the beam --

--and it took paint nicely, but I've gone to a doubly curved
3/16" steel strut for Dogson-2. Also: that universal
joint has been eliminated and it's just the knob now
(for turning the threaded rod which moves the
mirror cell-sled), and it got moved to the left corner.

Later on those pretty brass corners got replaced with sensible corner
baffles.  In this photo the elbow light is shining light pollution down into the
tube, providing some background light for my non-illuminated crosshair
reticule --for when all that baffling worked too well and normally ample our city light
pollution and haze cover was insufficient.

I've officially designated the current Dogson project "DHS-2" in recognition of the resourceful guys, Holcomb and Sellers who originated this type of telescope. (Holcomb's was a diagonal-less Herschelian).

Dog-2's diagonal is supported by a positionable float
block and the whole of it gets involved for collimation.
I doubt that secondary vibration will be a problem, but
that gap between the nuts carries a dampening washer --

--and you might like to try this experiment to see
how effective a loose washer can be at stopping
vibrations. (Far better than a dangling loose chain).

Here's the unfinished interior of Dog-2 (only two baffles this time).

Here's how the "glow finder" works:

This type of glow finder was first described by ATM Stanley B.
Rowson in 1952 (*click here*)

Here's the first wire mount --on my old Minolta SLR,

--and here's what you see:

--with the phosphorescent pointer "jumped up", superimposed, and locked on a distant target.

Here's some stray old ATMing stuff --patched in (for now):

The pitch lap
(rev: 8/17/2015) (but see newest comments.)

It had been decades since I last made a pitch lap --thanks to gifts of mirrors from good friends. I started with some came-with kit pitch from Willmann-Bell that had been sitting around since 2009. Unsurprisingly, the W-B "bend test" indicated it was too brittle, so I ended up adding 5 milliliters/pound of linseed oil to get it "right", but that turned out to be too soft.

Along the way, I realized how vague are the "thumbnail test" and the "bend test". Just a little warmth from your hands, or the warmth from working a small piece can make a big difference. So I came up with the following:

A test for pitch harness

The 1/4" x 1" square pitch tiles are kept in a 68 degree Fahrenheit water bath until tested and the room temperature (or that of an enclosing box) is maintained at 68 as well (20 degrees centigrade). What you see is a hardwood arm with two glued in BB bearings in the back and a single test BB in the front --captive and located by a 7/64 inch hole and a bit of "office tacky clay" (wonderful stuff). I added enough lead shot to that tube such that the scale read 800 grams (with the arm level).

For more about these tests, see here.

For more about my approach to making a small pitch lap (ala Jean Texereau), see here.


8/17/2015: A seemingly inevitable "hobby killer" which we all face --the more so as average amateur mirror sizes and shipping costs increase, is getting a finished mirror aluminized, or recoated. I've thought about this at length (and haven't we all) in search of alternatives. Recently I even had a go (several glass-to-aluminum tests and two full "goes", actually) at gluing common kitchen foil (ie: "Reynolds Wrap") to a good mirror surface --once with 3M Photo Mount Spray (disastrous), and again with Bob Smith Industries epoxy (much better --only "horrible" this time). The idea was to end up with an already figured surface that needs only a final polishing.

I believe (now) that the aluminum in kitchen foil is much too soft and ductile for such an application, the adhesive would have to be more fluid (for thin, even, bubble-free distribution) and very slow setting, and it would have to stick to the foil. (The epoxy stuck well to the glass [partially aluminized], much less so to the foil --which might have had a processing film of some kind on it.)

8/17/2015: Another idea:

* Top grades of aluminized Mylar have (had?) amazingly good specifications for thickness and surface uniformity, so many attempts have been made to use aluminized Mylar --alone-- to make a telescope mirror by biasing it with air pressure/vacuum or electrostatic pressure. Why not simply make a bag of it around a finished glass mirror and pull a vacuum --almost any degree of vacuum? I bought a silvery novelty (birthday, "get well", etc) balloon at our local grocery store and gave that approach a try. It didn't work for beans.

* Just to see what would happen, I pulled a vacuum on a disc of ordinary (looked like "single strength") mirror glass. I could almost find focus at a vague radius of curvature, but the effort held no promise.

Oh well

Cleaning the mirrors
(rev: 4/9/2016)

Have on hand:

* A plastic shopping bag --large enough to cover the mirror's cell (if duct taped to mirror).

* 1 quart of 70% rubbing alcohol.

* 1 gallon of distilled water.

* 2 quarts of large pharmaceutical cotton balls

* 2 boxes of unscented facial tissue.

* Roll of paper towels (drying hands, spills, mirror cell, possibly for blotting, but not rubbing the mirror).

* Dawn dishwashing detergent.

* Three clean pans or mixing bowls.

* Several new surgical gloves (to be worn throughout).

* Teaspoon and a quart measure.

* Good, bright lighting.

* Black electrical tape and 3M Scotch tape


0) Remove the diagonal/mount, primary cell and mirror from the OTA. (Separate them --or not.)

1) Lay out all your materials onto a nearby table that's covered with paper toweling.

1b) If the mirror is held in place with clips, This is a good time to make sure the clips aren't too tight.

2) Cut off the top of the shopping bag squarely (so as to eliminate the handles).

2b) Open and place the bag on a level surface.  Lower the cell onto it (mirror up) and raise the bag up to the mirror's edge, pulling it around the cell (assuming it's duct taped to the mirror --or that you just don't want to remove the mirror from the cell) and snugly fitting the open end around the periphery of the mirror, using short pieces of "Scotch" tape to secure it, with the excess folded over and taped down to one side (about halfway up the mirror's edge).

3) Finish up by sealing the bag in place with one overlapped turn of black electrical tape.  Take care not to run the tape too close to the aluminized upper edge/face of the mirror.  (If the mirror is held with clips, be sure to dry any water that gets under them after the final rinse and blotting.

4) Use a laundry tub of a large enough sink, with a hand sprayer. Scrub and rinse it --spray head and faucet handles as well.

4b) Place a plush towel into the bottom of the tub such that it's folded over 2 or 3 times where the mirror will rest upon it. The idea is to somewhat over-hang the mirror's face or to lean it back a bit, allowing water to freely run off. Be sure the drain is not blocked.

5) Pour out a cup of alcohol into one bowl, mix a quart of water (slightly warm) and a teaspoon of Dawn into the 2nd bowl. Pour a pint of distilled water into the 3rd bowl.  Set out your cotton balls, wads of facial tissue and a handy waste receptacle.  Have a few sheets of paper towels stacked and ready to grab..

6) Put on your rubber gloves and lower the cell-mirror assembly sideways into the tub, such that the mirror's surface is vertically on edge --resting on the folded over portion of the towel, and maybe securely leaned back, such that you can see it's surface with good bright lighting.

7) Play/spray slightly warm water onto the face of the mirror, dissolving and pushing off what dirt it will remove. (Not very much, in my experience.)

* Some advise to "soak" off dirt and grime, but I don't think it's a good idea to prolong this or the other steps beyond a few minutes. I get the impression that the reflective coating can be a bit hygroscopic. In any event, you should attempt to keep the mirror fully wet or fully dried.

8) Keeping the water running and lukewarm, the spray head deployed and handy, completely wet a large cotton ball in the Dawn detergent solution, then lightly wash the mirror with it, using a gentle, backward rolling stroke/swipe. Discard the ball before you completely turn it over-around and start in with another.

* It's critically important that you initially roll the ball in a direction opposite the ball's travel, such that removed dirt is immediately and continuously rolled up and away from contact with the mirror's surface. Subsequent cleaning might be done with one "side" of a cotton ball per single stroke. (I get 3 such "sides" per ball.)

9) Immediately rinse off the mirror with the spray head.

* Does it look clean already (or as clean looking as it's likely to get)?  If not, repeat steps 8 and 9.  Any grime or greasy "smear" should come off. Caked on deposits might take 3 soap sessions --and you'll probably have to gently swab (not scrub) to get the mirror clean. (You might read elsewhere about "using only the weight of the cotton ball" or some such. That's not likely to do the job.)

10) After the final spray rinse, completely wet a fresh cotton ball in distilled water and very lightly rinse the mirror with it. Do this several times with fresh balls.

11) Now rinse again, using the bowl of rubbing alcohol. (The alcohol might now be removing what water and soap could not, so turn the cotton ball as you rinse/wipe.)

12) Dry by blotting/pressing with wads of facial tissue. Quickly follow with fresh tissue wads.

* Spots of water are tenacious.  Designed to be absorbent tissue is essential. Gently wipe/brush to dry only as you have to --but be quick enough about it that droplets are not allowed to dry by evaporation.

13) A clean dry mirror accumulates static electricity and dust --like a magnet. Use a small squeeze bulb air puffer hand to blast it off (which, of course, imparts more static electricity).  A camel's hair lens brush also works --and also leaves static electricity.  (In the bad old days we could buy a radioactive darkroom photographer's negative brush, which would discharge the electricity.  I believe they used polonium.)

4/14/2016: * I've had Dog-2 outside several times now. (We might get one good night a month during winter near the Oregon coast.) The dropping in and removal of the primary (to its sealed and desiccated box) goes swimmingly.

* Presumably, such an approach, or maybe an arrangement for placing an air tight desiccated cover over the primary of a larger telescope, could preserve a silver coating indefinitely. The Reverend Ellison (pages 102-103 of ATM-1) reported such results using lesser efforts. (The cost of silver nitrate is quite high now, but so is the cost of shipping a mirror --especially a large one.)

* As to mirrors which remain exposed: the advice in Sidgwick's Handbook, sections 7.2 and 7.4, runs opposite our common practice of only washing a mirror when it's become ungodly dirty. The recommendation is to preventively wash an aluminized mirror with detergent ("Dreft") --maybe every 2 months --especially if near the ocean --and even if it's a silicon dioxide over-coated mirror.

Again, here's the mirror/cell compartment access:

--how the mirror is held in place by one thumb screw (dummy mirrors in these photos).
  The current cell sled is far more robust, but the mirror is still located and collimated
    by gravity versus 3 solder-tipped thumb screws and 2 eccentric support pegs:

--and where it's kept --with a handy pair of white cotton gloves, when not being used:

This "Snapware" keeper contains desiccant and a thermometer-hygrometer unit which displays its highs-lows memory. The keeper is stored in my unheated shop, so the mirror starts out a bit above outside temperature. That blue surround is a smooth, aperture defining, square cross-section O-ring. It covers 3 un-aluminized vacuum chamber support marks and is held in place with a paper collar. This is probably a good idea, even if you have nothing (like a turned down edge) to cover up.

* There use to be a wrapping paper for silverware and plated silverware, guaranteed to prevent tarnish. My copy of "Fortunes In Formulas" sez it's made by dipping wrapping paper into a solution of sodium hydrate and zinc oxide. (Preparation details on request.)

'Scope Bearing Friction Tests
(rev: 5/25/05)

Unless otherwise specified, all these materials were dragged along a fairly smooth "Formica" (Wilson Arts equivalent) surface --namely: the counter top in our kitchen. I made a little sled arrangement and pushed it along with a home-made/calibrated gram force gauge.

As such, these tests should be run over again using Wilson Arts "Ebony Star" --that pebbled stuff which is THE favorite for Dobsonian bearings. (I special ordered it in, but it arrived here long after these tests.)

Materials                     Creeps    Static    3 in/sec    12 in/sec    Comments
                                        friction  Friction    Friction

4 1/2" dia cork pads                    170 gram  92 gram     92 gram

4 1/2" dia soft felt pads               65g       47g         65g

2 1" dia hard felt pads                 60g       47g         47g

1 5/8" dia soft rubber pad              65g       47g         65g

x wooden block (pine)                  120g       47g         47g

1 1" "Slideglide"
    (Shepherd #9452)                    32g       28g         30g          Pretty good

1 1" "Slideglide" roughed               30g       28g          30g         Quite good

1 1" square, smooth black Teflon        35g       30g          35g         Some jerkiness

1 1/2" sq Blk Teflon, roughed           30g       28g          32g         Quite good

3 5/8" dia nylon glides                 32g       28g          30g         Surprisingly good

Fuzzy Velcro, Lt. duty (loops)          70g       50g                      jerky

Hard Velcro, Lt. duty (hooks)           35g       30g          35g         pretty good!

Fuzzy Velcro, Hvy duty (loops)          65g       40g                      Bad jerky

Hard Velcro, Hvy duty (hooks)           65g       40g                      Bad jerky

Teflon (smooth) running
    on milk jug                        30g       20g                      jerky

Milk jug running on Formica             35g       25g                      jerky

Same as above, but add dry
    soap                                15g       05g                      jerky

Teflon (smooth) on Formica
    plus silicon lube                                                      very jerky

Materials                     Creeps    Static    3 in/sec    12 in/sec    Comments
                                       friction  Friction    Friction

Teflon (smooth) on Formica
    plus dry thin soap smear  Yes       --->     5g to 10g range           Some jerk
   (Ivory, Teflon unsoaped)

Teflon (smooth) on Formica
    plus dry thin soap smear  Yes       --->     5g to 10g range           Some jerk
   (Ivory, Teflon soaped)

Teflon (roughed) on Formica
 plus dry thin soap smear     Yes       --->    15g to 30g range           no jerk
 (Teflon unsoaped)

Teflon (roughed) on Formica
 plus dry thin soap smear     No        20g     15g                        jerky
 (Teflon soaped)

Teflon (smooth) on Formica
 plus heavy soap smear        Yes       --->    25g to 65g range           no jerk, excellent
                                                                          force proportional

Teflon (smooth) on Formica
 plus heavy soap smear        Yes       --->    15g to 20g range           no jerk, good
 but with path worn shiny                                                  proportional creep

Teflon (smooth) on Formica
 plus heavy soap smear        Yes       --->    15g to 25g range           no jerk
 with path moistened                                                       still good

* I call this creepage "Lewis effect", in honor of Martin Lewis, who first advocated force proportional, intuitive, hand guidance --based on a special material he found: "PFA" and "PFFA" sheet, normally used as a release sheet when applying heat transfers to T-shirts. See his article in the October 2003 issue of Sky and Telescope (and see also:


In general:

* Soap, other organic lubricants and "creep agents" (molasses?) are difficult to use in an environment which is subject to dew and running moisture.

However, since Ivory soap worked so well when wet, one might consider placing a renewing stick of it next to the Teflon pads, or simply re-applying it by hand as needed.

* It's tempting to try making small hydraulic struts out of PCV pipe, O-rings, and such instead (as Chuck suggested, to achieve pressure proportional creep rates), but I think I'll pass on that.

* The use of Velcro hooks patches is also tempting --and I'll try them. They should be immune to contamination. I suspect I'll need fairly large pads, lest the hooks bend over and produce hysteresis effects when I try to reverse the slew direction. I get the impression that it works because hundreds of plastic legs bend and "walk" along. The heavy duty stuff I tried appeared to have much thicker and shorter hooks (under a microscope). Both light and heavy duty had rounded hook tops, since they're merely loops which have been sliced on one side. Apparently, the mating "fuzzy" loops Velcro worked poorly because those loops are too densely packed to bend and "walk".

       * Lewis' objective is to be able to guide a Dobsonian type 'scope with hand pressure. Previously I was trying for a "joy stick" guidance arrangement --which would verge on actual tracking ability (for up to 100 seconds): moving the stick x distance to move the scope 1/100th x. It would really be nice to simply push on the stick to achieve the desired rates, rather than to accurately move it.

Ocular problems and imaging:

I bought a bargain Meade 26mm Super Plossl "LP" 4000 series eyepiece from the Surplus Shed and it turned out to be an oddball, specially made for ETX telescopes. The barrel fits loosely in my focuser, measuring 1.231 inches in diameter (will add some tape), compared to 1.240 inches for the other two  standard 4000 SP eyepieces I have. More  importantly, it's probably the only "4000 series" eyepiece that isn't par focal. I had to back it out 5/16" (8mm) to focus on an object that I had looking through my Meade 9.7mm SP-4000. Other dimensions (barrel, body) are different too.

I'm wondering, however, if the "LP" isn't the better eyepiece anyway. I'll have to repeat my comparisons (and hopefully against other eyepieces) to be sure, but in my "first light" tests on Jupiter, there seemed to be a halo --or cone-- of halation around the planet with the standard  lens, which wasn't there when using the "LP". (Update: confirmed that again with the new mirror -6/5/2005.)  I also saw quickly skittering ghosts --thinking they were meteorites at first. (Update: not sure of that now.)

** It's important to note that I have an epiretinal membrane in my right eye, vitreous floaters and deterioration in both, so it takes me some while to sort out just what I'm all looking at. I don't use much less than a 1mm exit pupil on account of my eye problems. Eventually my friends will confirm what I seem to be seeing.

Here's how the two 26mm and my 9.7mm eyepieces compare in a casual test of their anti-reflection coatings:

The standard 26mm SP-4000 (from Harden Optical) is at top, the "LP" version (from is on the right. At this angle (to an overhead incandescent trouble light) I see more and brighter reflections in the "LP" 26mm. The two standard 4000 series oculars have similarly colored reflections, the LP looks greenish-brown by comparison. It appears that the eye lens of the LP isn't black edged.

By turning this threesome a wee bitty: the standard 26mm shows a bright, full scale reflection flash. Must be a plano lens surface in there someplace (uncoated?). I can see the same flash looking in from the field lens too, but I couldn't see any such flash in the other two, fore or aft.

Here's what those 26mm oculars look like under an overcast sky (the "LP" version is on the right).
Here's what the 9.7mm SP-4000 looks like closer in --catching a single 2-tube fluorescent light fixture this time:
I ordered up 25mm and 10mm coated (they didn't state: "fully coated") Kellners from the Surplus Shed (see:

---for comparison and found them to perform fairly well. The 25mm is at least as bright, free from halation, and sharp as the Meade 26mm LP, but it does have a faint ghost on bright objects (like Jupiter, don't see it otherwise) which moves across center in the opposite direction of the primary image. I didn't think their 10mm Kellner was nearly as good as the Meade 9.7mm I have (which doesn't have any halation or ghosts). I'm tempted to order the Surplus Shed 25mm Plossl, as well as two more 25mm Kellners --which have a nice field stop landing for home-made reticules.

My ocular case is a "Biokips" brand plastic storage container with a snap-seal top:

--but you want it to be dry and warm in there before sealing it up. That's my head lamp hanging off the corner, the "lipstick" thing is a lens brush, my "finder glasses" are to the side, mini-bagged filters are pushed down into a 35mm film can, and those two other film cans are actually "Ronchi eyepieces", for null testing a mirror with star light. The separable case underneath holds a camera and associated gear.

** These cases don't go outside, so missing here is some sort of an under-your-coat "photographer's vest", "fisherman's vest" or sling with a number of small clean pockets --for what does go outside. You want to keep your eyepieces warm, such that your breath and hot eyeball doesn't fog the eyelenses.

The Sky Compass:

At left is a ball based equatorial "Sky Compass", recently following the two (in the above stereo pairs)
from 30 years ago, none of which have I used in earnest --just tested them to see if they worked (yes).

* The alt-az Sky Compass is the type which got used (with a better compass and spirit level) and it worked fairly well --especially for the altitude setting. It needs that 360 level for steering to high altitudes. It (of course) also needs a sky program application and a computer --if only as some sort of a hand-held digital device.

* The ball type steers to the local hour angle and declination of an object, such that it might be used with a sidereal clock, and without resort to a computer^. (Just any clock set to sidereal time for the night will do, since it would lose only 10 seconds per sidereal hour.)  ^These equatorial sky compasses plus the 'scope amount to a torquetum: an analog computer.

What alluring things, these affordable optical jewels!

(updated: 6/24/2017)

* Mel Bartels conducted and posted an account of the recent Oregon Star Party's "Walkabout" (Google it for now), in which we get to meet a number of amateur telescope making/modification projects. Among them this year were the head/helmet mounted binoculars exhibited by Rob Brown and his son Quinn --the simplicity of which spurred me to dredge up decades of thoughts and memories of others' projects to tame these wonderful, terrestrially oriented instruments for astronomical use.

* My first thought: how natural it is to use a pair of binoculars. They hang on your neck. You look at something in the distance and raise the binoculars to your eyes (and maybe touch up the focus). Simple.

* The second thought is about craning to look at something high in the night sky and ---*oh* but my neck is starting to hurt ---and hey: my dang hands and arms keep shaking!

* I've long thought about what might be the most practical way to use them --as have so many others --anyone who's suffered that crick in the neck and tired arms. There are many fine plans for binocular holders (counterweighted with parallel arms, even merry-go-round rigs that carry the observer as well). The second best one I've seen is the "StarRocker" (Google it) --but it's a far cry from simply lifting binoculars to your eyes, plus it amounts to a piece of heavy lawn furniture!

* My friend Chuck and I looked hard at the mirror idea, which allows one to comfortably look down at the sky, but then your field is mirror-reversed and upside-down --although that can be replicated with sky program print-outs.

* Well heeled folks can afford binoculars with angled oculars, but then you're committed to moving your binoculars in altitude --90 degrees for 90 degrees, whereas the illustrated mirror arrangement might be modified to tilt just the mirror --45 degrees (+/-22.5 degrees) for 90 degrees of sky.

Something like this might work for VSOing with wide field binoculars or a monocular/'scope.

* The dew problem should be beatable by gently heating the mirror --the wave front errors being much less of a problem at sub-telescopic 8x to 20x powers. Short of prolonged observing, that might be accomplished with the illustrated warm thermal mass.

*Another thought: put a heating pad (plugged into a proper, GFI'd outdoor receptacle) under the glass top of your small, round, sturdy, 3-legged garden table, such that everything upon it remains dew free. (It's my limited experience that this can take a surprising amount of heat.) The sliding base of your binocular mount would have holes, so as to duct warm convected air up onto the underside of the big mirror.

* As pleasant a prospect as this might seem (looking down at the stars, your clock, charts and notes all together and near to hand on a solid, dry table top), again: the "spirit" of binoculars is to look directly at the target and navigate intuitively across the sky.

* However: if the mirror is large enough, you could look over your binoculars and through it at the (mirror reversed, upside-down^) sky --for your "intuitive navigation", mounting a small glow finder on the binoculars to help center your quest. Again: your printed-out charts for the night can also be mirror reversed and inverted, but (of course) with normally reading legends, which your sky program (like "Guide-8", say) might allow of.

^ I tried this once, and more recently modeled it in my office area. Crazy making, it is. (Hope I've gotten the following right:)

A mirrored view through a terrestrial instrument (binoculars, spotting scope, rifle scope, or use of an erecting eyepiece) leaves you reversed and upside-down. An astronomical instrument (say: a reconstructed "straight through" binoculars or monocular sans prisms) rights the view --but: it's still mirror reversed. With a fixed mirror, you'd tilt the monocular downward to look more upwards, but the combined monocular + mirror would tilt up-down right/as expected. A fixed binocular or monocular with a tilting mirror would also swing intuitively up-down. Of course, turning such an instrument + mirror left and right comes out correct (albeit upside-down).

* The base mount and binoculars attachment should be fairly heavy with glides beneath --and have the afore-mentioned altitude adjustment via tipping the mirror, such that no neck craning is required.

* So: just how useful are a pair of binoculars for observing?

* Might a monocular (aka: a short focus refractor) perform well enough? You'd still want a large mirror for intuitive/visual navigations, of course, so the rig's foot print would be about the same.

* The Gallows Mount:

Over the years (decades, actually) I've struggled with photography type tripod lashups and 3 binocular wrangler contraptions of my own design. The first two were pitifully inadequate. This 3rd lashup, dubbed "Gallows-2b":

Gallows-2b  (Click on these images to enlarge them.) At right: lounge chair and binoculars mount folded up.
Those are Konusvue brand 20x80 binoculars, which sold for about $90 from Surplus Shed in 2007.

--looks nice enough, but changing position (by more than 15 degrees or so) makes for fumbling and stumbling in the dark --especially for an old guy with sore joints and neck, trying to deal with that treacherous cheap lawn chair.

The deal breakers are two rather large, semi-feral tom cats: "Daddy-O" and "Fluffy", who are delighted to have me come out to play at night. They crawl up onto my stomach --and *kavetch*. (That's Daddy-O in the first photo.)

** One option:

    ~ Bite the bullet of mirror reversal and build a "look down" rig.
    ~ Make the mirror large enough to allow full altitude adjustment by tipping it (maybe with a setting circle).
    ~ Simply look at the night sky through the (large enough) mirror for eyeball navigation, using a mirror
       reversed and inverted chart print-out for the session --and a glow finder on the binoculars.
    ~ The base has a transparent azimuth circle with lines to match north-south lines under the glass table top.
    ~ The sturdily built table would be round, 24 to 30 inches in diameter, have 3 leveling feet, a glass top with
       an adjustable heater beneath --hot enough to keep dew off of everything on the table. (A cheap table
       might work fine --by adding a 3-point hanging concrete block weight beneath.)
    ~ Consider adding a projected sky grid and an adjustable brightness artificial star (or a "bright field" spot).

* There use to be a commercial rig/mount for binoculars which looked down into a tipping mirror. It was the "Sky Window", made by Trico Machine Products and announced in 2001 by a favorable Sky and Telescope product review. Unfortunately, I see no indication (yet) that this product is still being sold --perhaps because most folks bought a front surface mirror and made their own rigs at home. Here's a link to DIY plans:

--for a mount that's very similar to the Sky Window:

Imagine this rig with alt-az setting circles, a glow finder, 360 degree leveling bubbles, adjustable feet,
a sturdy round garden table, a reticule plus star projector and a mirror heater.  (photo by one minute astronomer)

    ~ An average piece of 1/4" plate glass, cut to size, chamfered and sent in for aluminization --might do for a pair of 7x to 10x binoculars. Trico considered 20x80 binoculars to be the limit for the glass they were using. (Be sure your aluminization service applies a good protective overcoat.)

    ~ Keep your fingers off the mirror, keep a close fitting, soft cotton cloth lined cover handy and put it on the mirror when not being used. This will also slow down cooling and dewing. A rubber edged, sealing cover with a desiccant packet compartment might be better --especially near the ocean.

* I want to at least have the capability to do some actual "astronomy", pursue-ing a modicum of visual astrometry and photometry with such a "Sky Window" type rig --then learning how to sketch what I see --with the aid of a reticule grid. (I think marking up a grid bearing chart print-out would be the simplest approach.)

    ~ I can imagine projecting an adjustable "artificial star" point of light into my field of view, but when I last tested myself, I was terrible at comparing and calling magnitudes visually. I should give it another good try, but I probably need some other kind of a gimmick --like the "bright field" spot .

    ~ "Extinction" methods are pretty rude. I tried stopping down --no good. Introducing neutral density filters (using a pair of polaroid filters) was no better. (Of course, defocusing or diffusing stars so that they become "spots" will severely impact star brightness.)

    ~ To judge the position of a star, I can imagine projecting a rotate-able hairline grid --into one of the binoculars' objectives, using a small mirror and a miniature lensed flashlight-like device.

** Howsabout: junking out a pair of binoculars for the objectives (and maybe the oculars) and building a purely astronomical instrument --perhaps no longer troubling with binocular vision --ie: a small, short focus refractor with a re-inverted image (so the view would be right-side-up, but still mirror reversed)? Eliminating half or all the prisms would let through more light. Using conventional oculars would permit of astrometric reticules and changes of power/field.

**Finally, there's Don M's appealing "StarRocker" invention:

He offered it as an easy DIY, using off-the-shelf components (like the Walmart $29.95 "video rocker gaming Chair" that it's built around). (One might want arm rests, for which a side-boarded lap tray could answer.  It would have bulldog clips for notes and a chart.)

Here are the links:
>  (for 3 pages of discussion)

I'll copy over some of text here, since it needed cleaning up (wrong quote marks text standards and such).


Posted September 7th, 2009 to Cloudy Nights by "Don M" - The StarRocker:

Enthusiasm for binocular astronomy is generally plagued by two things: "how do you hold 'em still", and paying the chiropractic bills to fix your neck after an observing session!

I have grown weary of leaning against trees, adjusting tripods and lawn chairs and lying on the hood of motor vehicles while trying to find a workable way to view the object of interest. As I considered constructing a viewing "aid" to ease the problems associated with binocular astronomy I wanted to meet the following criterion.

- Provide a "stable" view.
- 90 / 360 degree proportional slewing without leaving your seat.
- No neck or muscle strain.
- No counter weights.
- Inexpensive. (May cost less than inexpensive binoculars!)
- Easily adjustable for different size users.
- Built from "off the shelf" materials.
- Construction friendly [with] common tools.
- No batteries or external power required.
- Be able to switch binoculars easily in the dark with no tools.
- Perform effortlessly enough that all attention may be directed to the fun and
   excitement of viewing, not the equipment.
- Must be transportable in a car without disassembly.

The StarRocker (as my wife named it) has worked very well for me and has increased my enjoyment of binocular astronomy a great deal! From a design standpoint I realize that perfection is a beautiful unattainable goal. Although the StarRocker is by no means perfect, this device works extremely well and I feel that essentially all objectives have been met!

Oh yes, you can see your heart beat! However, as you calm down it diminishes considerably and is just not an issue! My viewing time is about evenly divided between my 10 x 50s and my 15 x 70s. Being able to easily switch between them with no tools, in the dark, is very desirable.

The ability to track essentially any object in the sky with the StarRocker produces a very special freedom. When viewing an object of interest, a "side trip" to view an unexpected visitor, whether an airplane or the ISS, is easily within your grasp.

I am aware of the robotic type of binocular chairs that have been built and marketed. These are truly awesome but perhaps a bit cost prohibitive for many amateurs. As ATMers know, it is fun, exiting, and rewarding to build your own equipment. The StarRocker is an easy build project which lends itself to many variations and improvements - I am sure, that's what ATMing is all about!

The StarRocker has dramatically increased my enjoyment of binocular astronomy. Perhaps the main drawback is that the answer to that old question: "How long are you going to be out there?" has to be modified from: "Just a few minutes" to: "Less than an hour --I think"! The StarRocker has added a degree of excitement, comfort, freedom, and fun to binocular astronomy that I've only imagined in the past.

While discussing amateur astronomy, ATMing, binoculars, CCD imaging, and telescopes, with a friend, he said of the hobby: "What a beautiful addiction!" (Sleep deprivation is detrimental to your general well being you know!) In times of high fuel costs - traveling with the StarRocker will take you light years for pennies!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~end quote/edit

* For those interested in large fields of view, binoculars call to us. Assuming a preference and/or a financial reason to use oculars with a 50 to 60 degree apparent field of view (and let's go with 60 for now), we're talking 10x power for a 6 degree actual field --and that sure sounds like binoculars.

Assuming dark adaption and your eyes at 6mm, then we can only make use of 60mm of aperture. That also sounds like binoculars (and there's no secondary shadow hit to your best core vision).

* Aside from an unobstructed view, a natural erect image, intuitive finding/tracking, and being able to use both eyes --there are issues of light loss through the prisms and an "impossibly short" focal length --for a pair of doublet refractors. Of course, we've learned to accept/ignore image deterioration to the edges of affordable binoculars. One simply centers up what's of interest.

Basic Photography

** Documenting what one sees is a vexatious problem which easily dominates and distracts from both the doing and the enjoyment of astronomy. After decades, I still haven't resolved this issue. For many years I practiced fixed camera and tripod "celestial snapshots" --which neatly compliments binocular observations and notes.  Although small telescopes reach to an arc second or two of resolution --compared to a minute or so on my old negatives (which is also naked eye resolution), my photography reached to about the same magnitude (almost to 10th mag) as a small telescope or binoculars. The exposure was 10 seconds at f/1.4 (58mm lens) on pushed T-Max-400 --and later: 5 seconds at f/2.8 (135mm lens) onto Fuji 800 or 1600 color print film. That sounds simple enough, but it's unlikely that amateur astronomers are going to set up a darkroom and/or scan in film negatives --now-a-days.

For reference, I've glimpsed a 13th magnitude star with my 6 inch telescopes here in the Cities of Coos Bay/North Bend, but I sometimes have trouble spotting 10th magnitude stars on average nights.

Off-the-shelf consumer type (ie: affordable) digital cameras (to my knowledge) usually don't allow of time/"bulb" exposures and the consistent manual control one needs in order to obtain good results. Our affordable Canon A590 allows exposures to 15 seconds (a typical limit) at which point (I presume) sensor noise and "amp heat" become limiting factors. Such an exposure (full zoom, wide open) barely reaches 8th magnitude with our A590.

I've gotten surprisingly good Moon shots by afocally coupling a common digital camera to my telescope (maybe 2 arc-sec resolution). For star fields, the most practical method for me has been to just aim a mechanical 35mm camera (the venerable Minolta SRT-101) at the sky (as previously described).  Your camera-film/sensor might capture minimally moved star images near the celestial equator at (say) 5 to 10 seconds, but you can use the same lens/setting centered on the celestial pole for longer exposures. My old imaging would just "egg out" (due to Earth's rotation) 20 micron images of dim stars.

Note that if they're moving across the film, they won't get any brighter with more exposure anyway --right?

With the Minolta's excellent f/1.4 x 58mm lens wide open (no problem with sharpness!), the limit was just short of the 10th magnitude (T-Max 400, pushed to 1600 EI), which gave plenty of stuff to study on a frame. (These weren't meant to be "pretty pictures", but the means of doing astronomy: astrometry, photometry, VSOing.)

When I had a darkroom and before digital images, I printed my frames to Agfa TP-6wp, a very high contrast graphics process paper that nicely split star images out of the fog. One could easily see the curve of the light fall-off (common to all lenses) toward the frame corners, especially when I used a 15 degree circle out of the center. At a 6x enlargement, that was about a 3.5 inch diameter circular print, which I used two of, side-by-side, as stereoscopic pairs. (I later switched to a 135mm lens at f/4 and 10 degree circles, which practically eliminated light fall-off.)

A 58mm lens comes pretty close to 1 degree per millimeter on the film --since there are 57.29 degrees to a radian. Fainter stars can be resolved down to 1 or 2 minutes of arc (20-30 microns). These fainter images started blending into the film grain for 8th mag stars and are gone by the 10th magnitude.

I did several experiments to "hype" various films and found it most efficient to use pure hydrogen --in which I "baked" the film using minimum volumes and explosion shielding. I carried the hyped film into the field in a desiccation jar and even tried using it with a dry ice cooled camera. Hyping does make a (reciprocity failure) difference for long tracked exposures, but seemed to offer little advantage for non-tracked "snapshots" of less than a minute's exposure.

Whilst having a life and a job or business, a "spare time" program of astrophotography with the claptrap, time and effort it takes to set up even a "barn door" drive arrangement didn't seem to be sustainable, but taking an ordinary camera out and "going click" --that's something which only needs a spare 15 minutes to accomplish. Later: I came to appreciate that extending exposures to (say) a couple minutes requires only casual "northing" of an equatorial mount/drive. See: barn door tracker.}

If you're using a camera with a flash shoe, the easiest way to aim it is to bend up a piece of coat hanger wire so it fits the flash shoe of your camera, cocks up an inch, then carries forward about 6 inches --which points toward your target star. Paint it white or with glow paint and be careful to prevent damaging someone's eye with the (bend it round) wire end. {Better still}

* One of my many failed strategies is to photograph where others aren't looking: "uninteresting" areas and straight at bright stars (which diminish the visual observer's magnitude reach).

* Interestingly, the Bradford robotic scopes in the Canary Islands (Tenerife) are programmed not to do exposures below 31 degrees of local altitude, and to instead wait until the requested object is higher in the sky (which is never for Polaris, so request a target just to the [astronomical] south). That's because you're looking through twice as much atmosphere, turbulence and dust at 30 degrees elevation. So: given the tropical locations of so many large scopes, I have to wonder how closely the area around Polaris is being watched --plus it makes a nice quarry: always up for us northern hemispherians.

Again: I've used stereoscopy and a trained eye to fuse pairs of circular prints, sometimes taken years apart. After registering them, I turned both circles together through 90 degrees, examining all possible shifts in the star field --as well as watching for variables. Aside from the limitations of film and paper media, the human eye has 10x the acuity for stereoscopic parallax, being able to notice shifts of only 6 seconds of arc! (I discovered --nothing.)

Although my magnitude reach is poor and magnification low, I ended up looking at as much "stuff" as a photograph can hold. It's a mental test to pay attention to it all as the disks turn and all that autonomous parallax processing capacity in one's brain/"cyclopean center" chugs along.

* Of course: one might argue that "all the discoveries at such scale and depth have been made", but gain-saying that is a fellow who simply laid on his back and noticed some very large scale patterns to the cosmos --which more focused observers had missed. {Sorry: that's all I remember of the story  :-}

* Comparing my "then and now" star fields stereoscopically didn't work very well, due to film defects, disparities in sky transparency and other vague factors.

Two matched fields which turn together while being viewed.
Having gone as far as I can with a basic digital hand camera (the excellent Canon A590), I'm looking at DSLRs --and sort of waiting for the price break on mirrorless DSLRs. An older Canon T5i with its APS-C 18 megapixel sensor looks good (pixel spacing: a healthy 4.3 microns).

The T5i would be used for barn-door and fixed tripod "snap shots"/astrographs, with particular attention to the area near Polaris. At full, 55mm zoom (f/5.6) it turns the equivalent of a 9.8mm aperture of glass to the sky (only a 5.1mm aperture at 18mm minimum zoom [f/3.5]). Although the pixel spacing pencils out to 16 arc-seconds (at full zoom), the diffraction disk at f/5.6 is about 8 microns wide, which covers 4 pixels (the minimum pixels you'd want for photometry), so I'd expect a nominal resolution of 30 arc-sec --but probably with the (apparent) ability to locate a single dimmer star center to a given pixel or between two pixels (as I've done with our Canon A590).

Taking just a 9 degree circular field out of the center of the (full zoomed) 15 degree high frame should find the lens at its best behavior, with little need to correct for Gaussian light fall-off to the field's edge (although I believe such field "flattening" is -optionally?- automatic in digital cameras, along with dark subtraction).

(revised: 8/16/2016)

* Previously, I used the "works" from a quartz analogue travel-alarm clock, in which I connected the clock drive to the alarm piezo device. It went CLICK-click-CLICK-click, by which I could time my exposures. Of course, after going digital, neither that nor taking notes about exposure was any longer needed. I also used an inexpensive talking watch from Radio Shack and a pocket diary.

* After that I went to a microsette recorder, which was Velcro'd to my clipboard, along with an illuminated travel clock which reads out the seconds.

* Finally: I've gone to a retired Motorola cell phone (a compact "flip" phone, but old enough to have a pull-up antenna) which has a very nice voice memo utility, displaying it's sound files with time-date stamps. This particular model charges through a standard mini-USB port and shows the time through its flip cover whether on and illuminated or not (a high contrast passive display).

Newer cell phones don't need a contract or prepaid minutes to be very useful. They tell the exact time, WiFi onto the net, alarm, memo, take photos --on and on, and you can pick them up new for as little as $10. Our TracFones (LG, Huawei, and an older Kyocera) and the (sold by Verizon) Motorola are always in synch with the WWV shortwave time signal --as long as they can connect with a cell phone tower --but none of them display seconds.

** I think it's worth your while to see what your cell phone camera can do as an "afocally coupled" telescope camera. You should be able to get the photos out of your cell with a $5 adapter cable to your graphics computer. (If you have no personal computer, explore doing astronomy with i-Phone or Android applications like "Safari" (something I have next to no experience with).

An ordinary wind-up clock can be adjusted to run on sidereal time.

This nice looking Chinese made clock was purchased new in 2016, but it needed work to get the face to fully line up with the hour hand's pointer at 3, 6, 9 and 12 O'clock. After that, the minute hand would periodically lead or lag by about a quarter of a minute. (I'm guessing that the plastic gears inside aren't exactly round.) This performance is plenty good enough for steering to the local hour angle with a 3.5 inch skyball compass --and it might be tough to find an alternative wind-up clock with a seconds hand (for setting the escapement rate to sidereal time). I paid $10.99 (not on sale).

For a complete ensemble, you need a sidereal clock, a star catalogue (Uranametra-2000, and/or sky charts, and maybe throw in a good planisphere) --plus a current ephemeris for planets and the Moon. (Well: that ain't likely to happen, so mount the alt-az sky compass and run a sky program.) (Several of us often rely upon an ancient, DOS [meaning pre-Windows] version of "Cosmos".)

* You can probably tell just by looking at the sky-ball photo that the error box in the sky for that 3.5 inch ball would be about 2x2 degrees, or about a tenth of an hour, whereas one can at least hope for plus or minus a degree out of the alt-az sky compass (assuming a normal 1/8th inch per foot = half degree sensitivity out of the level).

A finely engraved, close tolerances sky ball and a magnifying glass would help. By going to a 10 or 12 inch ball (a hollow one for sure!), and aside from the bulk of it, the results should be satisfactory. One would probably start with an affordable commercial Earth globe, or maybe there are educational globes with just lines of latitude and longitude. One is also tempted to think in terms of integrating such a sphere (a custom engraved 9 inch bowling ball?) into the bearing of a ball mounted telescope, but I think that would be heavy and awkward.

I've also thought about making a 12 inch ball or disk based, honest-to-gosh, desktop torquetum --for getting local, current alt-az settings from the equatorial co-ordinates in sky charts, catalogues, and ephemeral information. The common directional reference could be a mirror on the wall behind it.

A 15th Century torquetum
(The optional blue section is for ecliptical co-ordinates.)

** A very nice (rough) alternative to all of the above use to be the Swedish "Precision Planet and Star Locator" planisphere which, besides showing tonight's sky map, would spit out the declination and right ascension of objects, as well as your local sidereal time (especially if you had the one made for your approximate latitude). This is also known as the "Kennedal planisphere" --for the man who designed and manufactured it.

The best planisphere ever !
(This later model Kennedal has "spider web" lines of local altitude and azimuth, absent from the earlier 1984
version, which is seen when you click for an enlarged image. One might add such an overlay to any planisphere.)

Here's the alt-az Sky Compass upgrade for use on Dogson-2:
* Start by working on a fairly leveled surface (like my cut-upon #1 here). You'll need an ordinary drafting protractor (2) and a magnetic hand compass (7) --in this case: a cut down $8 "Coghlan's" brand via (If the needle's sticky, tap it.) I added a laser printed second index line (no #, slipped under the graduated ring at left) at the local magnetic variation.

* That piece of glow tape (3) is double-stick taped to the compass and shines through the drafting compass --as the hand compass hinges up on 3M brand "V" plastic (#8 --for stopping drafts through door and window jambs) --and gets held at a given setting by spring tension (#4 --made from 1/16" brazing rod).

* The small level (6) (which might have to be salvaged from an inexpensive hand level) sets the 'scopes altitude with good accuracy, although that small 360 degree level (5) is needed aa you approach the zenith --and to find somewhat level ground. Both are adjusted against a small dab of "UHU" brand office tackie clay, then secured with "Duco Household Cement".

The Sky Compass, as mounted on Dog-2 (with its glow finder in the stored position, and here shown without the initial sights):

The finder is located such that I can simply turn my head away from the eyepiece to use it --
or: it can be swung and the taper fit remounted left, for assisting a guest at the eyepiece. Not
shown is a lightweight, cone shaped plastic dew shield (a plastic drinking cup) which slides over
the finder (and to prevent getting poked in the eye).

Remote Telescopy
at Bradford's Tenerife Observatory
(worked on February 24, 2017)
You can visit the Bradford group at:
    --but the place has been moribund for about a year: "The telescope is offline due to a number of problems that occurred after the University of Bradford stopped maintaining it".   --Pity.

While there's some discussion to be found at the BRT website as late as October of 2016, an exchange starting with: "Is this forum still live?", spanning January 18, 2016 to February 23rd seems pretty forlorn. "--we all lost our jobs, and for us to log in to BRT servers without express permission from Bradford would be illegal, and Bradford don't give a damn about how the telescope is running so that's not going to happen." "--Ed"

And finally: "--It seems that the sun has set for the last time for this site. I may have found this site to late but I hope it gets someones attention at the university that sites like this is a great place to learn. I know that my son and his class mates are really upset, They learned a lot and they looked forward to picking out stars, galaxies, comets to photograph. I hope ED and the rest of the crew that kept this site what it was will be hired back. Maybe if we all flood the university with emails they will do something. --Eric"

It was possible to do first class work by using this facility, per: "Another advantage of a wide field camera is that it can be used as a survey camera. Most of my work on variable stars was with [the] Cluster Camera. In the process I have discovered 21 previously unknown variables among the field stars (including 2 eclipsing binaries) which can be followed up with the larger instrument. A really useful little camera! --David. (10/17/2016)"

The Telescopes of Tenerife:

All cameras are equipped with CCD47-10 1024 x 1024 pixel (13 micron element) top notch sensors.

                Aperture  Focal L  F/D   Scale     Size              Dark Sat    Moon
                                                                      Exposure  Cres Half

Constel Cam:    5.7mm     16mm     2.8   2.8'/pix   “40 deg           60 sec    {12s} {6s}

Cluster Cam:    {64mm}   180mm    {2.8}  15.5"/pix  4.3 deg           60 sec    {12s} {6s}
                                                    square           (30 sec went mag 14)

Galaxy Cam:     355mm   1877mm     5.3   1.4"/pix   24 min           300 sec “to 19th mag”
                        (equiv)   (eqv)             square           180 sec max allowed
                                                                     120 sec max advised
                                                                     015 sec went ____ mag
{___} = estimated effective values.

Designed and organized primarily to make a well located and equipped astronomical observatory available to British public school classrooms, for years the Bradford group also offered similar services to the world, as demand from educational institutions might allow --for free. Eventually, private members had to pay a fee to participate. I believe the following fiarly characterized what facilities and services were available.

* Significant considerations about Bradford's past services:

            ~ You requested a certain object or part of the sky to be photographed, with what instrument/magnification, filtering, exposure (shutter times are suggested), in color or grayscale.

            ~ You didn't get to pick when. The exposure occured during the next available time slot, as weather, seeing and maintenance problems allowed. (There were many maintenance problems and long delays.)

            ~ You got to download and post process your exposures as simple JPEGs, or as professional 16 or 48 bit, dark field and flat field subtracted, optimized log, linear, whatever FITS format images.

           ~ They didn't make you mess with controlling the scope in real time or hamstring you with a list of settings restrictions.

Here's the first of a number of "job" requests that I got returns on:

--which resulted in the image at lower left --which is matched up with the my Guide-8 chart display (above it) and my own photography to the right. "SAO-308" refers to Polaris, which I asked for in order to calibrate what Tenerife's Cluster Camera would capture with a 30 second exposure. (Polaris is below the 30 degrees of altitude that they normally limit at, so try to choose wide field targets 2 degrees or more away from the celestial pole.)

Aside from that vertical bar (Polaris overexposed), bright stars don't spread out as much as with film photography (like in the lower right image that I took with a 35mm camera).

I initially had a problem making a match for the returned image, since it ended up east-west flipped, although it seems to come out right in the FitsView and Iris programs.

Chris at BRT took the trouble to legend some of the stars for me --per:

"I have labeled a few stars on your Polaris cluster image. I'm no astronomy expert so no guarantees! Also I have just labeled them all with SAO numbers."

(This is half the size of the image Chris posted to me.)

First there was:
Global Rent-A-Scope
--which became:

* iTelescope has a number of good instruments which are sited at great locations around the world. For a fee (which you could never hope to beat by owning your own gear), you schedule observation time, log on when that date and time comes up, then steer a large quality intrument to aim at your quarry and start recording images. These astrographs are then to be found in your folder at their web site for you to download. How simple --compared to loading your gear for a long tired trip in your car, spending much precious time setting it all up and getting your telescope well northed, then fumbling around in the damp cold and dark with your notes, photography and whatever you're using for a sky program.

The Gallery:

The left images are NASA, but the stereo-i-zations are copyright
The Damert Company (my agent's client, from work I did in the 90s)


Cosmology starts at the sensitive tips of your fingers.

Am I permitted to address cosmology^ without math?

^ This is my personal inquiry into how stuff is stuck together --heavy on questions, light on answers. (I'll try to knit the following asterisk'd items better together in follow-on edits, but for now and ever, check out Wikipedia's entries for Ernst Mach, inertia, and "Frame dragging". They're more comprehensible than anything else I've read.)

* Objects --material things, earthly and otherwise, have mass --and they have "inertia" --that aspect of mass which reliable resists attempts to accelerate, decelerate or redirect its velocity.

~ Unfortunately, it's difficult for the average person to think about such matters, which I partly attribute to the propensity of the world's science "deciders" (official scientific bodies) to clutter up our minds with honorific and often unreasonable names/terms --for the units we try to understand and discuss.

Witness the fine old (and intuitive) expression: "cycles per second" (or just "cycles", "kilocycles" and "megacycles") --for which we've had that mind stopping term "Hertz" foisted upon us. (That be just "Hertz", not Hertz per anything.) (Not to cast any aspersions on Heinrich Hertz --of course.)

Switching between temperature degrees "centigrade" and Fahrenheit was tough enough, but at least the name "centigrade" made its own argument, in that it reasonably divided the distance between freezing and boiling water into 100 steps. But NO: The Deciders want us to use the honorific term: "Celsius".

Anders Celsius, a Swedish astronomer and geodesist, surely rates honor. He advocated, and then joined in with a French expedition to survey a degree of latitude along a very northern (Lapland) segment of a meridian, which verified Sir Isaac Newton's theory that the poles are a tad flattened (and the equator comparatively bulged). More famously, he first proposed a thermometer which runs from freezing to boiling water in 100 steps --in 1742, just 2 years before he died at the too early age of 43.

* So let's try to make sense and pattern out of the many terms which describe the weightier aspects of matter.

~ Often, we casually equate "mass" with "weight", such as when using a look-up chart which lists the equivalent of European kilograms in English^/American pounds. But: the true English equivalent of the "kilogram" is the "slug" --a term which you've probably not heard or read of for years (if ever).

^ In 1965, England gave up on "a pint's a pound the world around" and adopted the IS (metric) System. The United States, however, continued with standardized, but otherwise traditional weights and measures. At the national level, there's an 1866 act "allowing" the use of the metric system (which changed nothing), the redefining of our units as accurate fractions metric units, and model state weights and measures legislation, adopted by all the 50 states.

Moving along now: the true European equivalent of the English and American "pound" (a unit of force) is the "Newton" --the term behind those oddball numbers we sometimes see cluttering up a tire pressure gauge --except that the intuitive "Newtons per square centimeter" (which is, numerically, not that much different from "pounds per square inch"), or even the unreasonably minuscule "Newtons per square meter" (which would be like stating tire pressure as so many "pounds per square yard", for crisakes) --was deemed not bad enough. NO: they had to turn Newtons per square meter into "Pascals". (Just "Pascals", of course --not Pascals per anything.) (We might as well rename "wise cracks" to so many "Grouchos" --and Miles Standish to Kilometers Deboutish [an old Max Schulman joke].)

~ As a life-long technician who's lived through several such changes, I bear some degree of responsibility for these outrages. (I should have at least organized a protest!  :-)  So in that capacity: my sincere apologies.

* So okay now: we've settled on there being distinctions --between mass and weight, weight and inertia, and inertia and mass --but the definitions of these terms are a bit circular --one derives from the other. Force = mass times acceleration, and in the physics book I'm looking at just now, it's proposed that the force be measured with a spring scale --calibrated in pounds --but hey: that poundage is in turn determined as being a fraction of a kilogram's weight (--even though we should really be talking English "slugs") --which amounts to the force on a kilogram of mass in a standard Earthly gravitational field --which is indistinguishable from being accelerated at the rate of (another) 32 feet per second --every second.

--Hmmmnnnn: I think we need a "place to stand".

* In the "MKS system", the basics are: a meter stick, a kilogram of mass, and a second of time.

The National Bureaus of Standards^ (in Paris, and here in the United States) use to keep bars made of a platinum and iridium alloy, each with a pair of grooves --one meter apart --by definition.

(^ Sorry: that's gone obsolete. Since 1988 it's been the U.S. "National Institute of Standards and Technology".)

As to the kilogram: same story: a chunk of platinum-iridium which weighs exactly one kilogram --by definition.

But a "second of time" was quite another (non-material) matter:

A "solar day" is the time it takes for the Sun to come around again, such that the shadow of the gnomon (staff) of a good sundial once more touches the 12 o'clock mark. Unfortunately, solar days vary by a minute or more throughout the year, so all the days were averaged together --to get the "Mean Solar Day" (and never you mind that the term "mean" is different than the term "average"). With lots of precision clocks ticking away, they'd be compared to that Mean Solar Day --and the clock which tallied 86,400 ticks in such a period of time --took the title: Our Number One Clock.

* No: I'm not going to trouble you with the cesium-133 "atomic clock", or that there are so many wave lengths of the Krypton-86 isotope to define a length of one meter, which is a whole 'nuther kettle of worms. (Besides: the latter is now obsolete as well. A length of one meter has been redefined as the distance light travels in a vacuum --in 1/299,792,458th of a second.) (Such a handy way to check it--!)

And then there's "Inertia":

The "slug" --is the (quite neglected), British-American engineering unit of mass. One slug weighs 32.174 pounds, which is pretty neat, since the acceleration of gravity is 32.174 feet per second --per second. If you (frictionlessly) tug on a slug with one pound of force, it accelerates at the rate of 1 foot per second --per second --by definition.

But when you accelerate a kilogram of mass (say: an iron hockey puck on an ice rink) --such that its velocity increases by one meter per second --every second, then the applied force to accomplish that is "one Newton" --

And that effect: that such a rate of change of velocity (ie: "acceleration") --requires a given amount of force, is called: "inertia".

In other words: inertia is a characteristic --a defining characteristic, of mass. Supposedly, it's always the same (per kilogram or slug unit of mass), so it doesn't need to be given a unit of measure all its own (--right?).

   ~ But: how do we know if --maybe we're being messed with? How would we know if the force required to accelerate a kilogram of mass --starts edging up a bit --when that's how a unit of force (the Newton or the pound) is defined^? Does the Bureau of Standards keep an old kitchen spring scale on hand, just to make sure?

After all: while folks in the science biz like to keep up appearances, they're really not all that certain as to why a slug of mass is --so sluggish.

^ Since the kilogram resides at the Bureau, then it defines a Newton of force --not the other way around. (Right?)

(Is this stuff bothering you yet?)

* In static mechanics (and I'm using the engineering or physicist's sense of the term "mechanics"), the force applied to a point gets balanced by a countervailing force, which together make a "couple".

* Let's make that a 200 kilogram iron puck --mounted on skate blades. You're wearing grit soled shoes for getting traction on the ice and you're hauling on that puck in an eastward direction with a tether and a tension scale --hauling hard enough to make it read "200 Newtons" (= 45 pounds of force).

It's a big ice rink: 100 meters across.

Gee but you're strong! After pulling on it for 10 seconds, the puck is traveling at the rate of 10 meters per second, which is about 22 MPH --as fast as you can sprint, so best jump out of the way, and the puck has reached the 50 meter line already (since the average velocity was 5 meters per second --right?).

5 seconds later, your puck takes out the boards at the far side of the rink, then smashes into the bleachers.

~ We know what the "couple" was between your feet and the ice: your leg muscles against the resistance of the Earth's spin --which you slowed down a bit (screwing up our #1 clock, thank you very much).

~ How about the force couple at the point where your tether attaches to the 200 kilo puck?

I suspect (which is meant to begin a much milder statement of conviction than "I think") --that it's too facile --to simply say that you transferred 10,000 Newton-meters (7,380 foot-pounds) of kinetic energy into the big puck, which subsequently got dissipated in destroying the bleachers (and restoring some of the Earth's spin).

~ So --what was the puck digging its "feet" into/against, in order to be pulling back on that tether and matching your 45 pounds of force?

* Inertia gets more interesting when it concerns rotation --angular momentum and gyroscopic effects, but maybe that's all more distracting than illuminating. Here again: simply assigning a torque vector to the wheel and calling it good --seems too facile.

Sir Isaac Newton coached us on how the water in a bucket climbs up the sides when the whole of it is spinning. He suggested that this was about you and the water knowing absolutely when it was spinning ( --relative to absolute space).

Frank Oppenheimer (blacklisted along with his brother, J. Robert) wondered if, when you gave a spinning wheel a twist, if it was felt by distant stars --which echo'd an off-hand remark by Ernst Mach, about being jerked around by the passenger car of a train. Mach somewhat vaguely maintained that an object's inertia is a result of all the matter in the Universe --a notion which Einstein credited as a motivating influence for his work.

* There's ever less controversy on this score, starting with the Lense-Thirring effect demonstration in 1918, leading up to the faulty Gravity Probe B experiments currently underway, and to observations/speculations about the "frame dragging" effects of (presumably) whirling "black holes".

* Clearly: this thinking has big implications.

* You can see why Machian inertia (not the same thing as gravity, of course) goes against the grain. For the collective matter in the Universe to be determining the nature of inertia --in the here/there and now, it would (seems to me) have to act instantaneously, and everything everywhere would be inertially connected. (Whether or not this would imply that gravity must also be instantaneous --well, the answer to that is well above my pay grade --but I have my suspicions.)

Gravity --on a spinning orb (the Earth):

* Our astronomy email group has discussed the question of centrifugal force versus the Earth's equatorial bulge --as they affect the force of gravity --at the poles, versus at the equator.

~ The short answer: it's been very closely measured. Gravitational surveys and instruments have become amazingly sensitive, meaning that many of Earth's anomalies and and tidal influences contribute to a variegated map of gravity around the globe. The results indicate that gravity is something like 1/2 of 1% higher at the poles --the current official explanation being that it's mainly due to the polar areas being flattened --and closer to the center of the Earth --where the mass of the Earth can be considered to be located.

~ However: my old college physics book (1955, Sears and Zemansky^) states that weight loss at the equator (relative to the poles) is largely due to the requisite subtraction of the wee bit of centripetal force^ required to help keep your feet on the ground --due to the turning of the Earth.

^The authors make it a point to deny that there's any such thing as "centrifugal force" --only the constantly redirecting centripetal force of that string as you swing your yo-yo around. Yet:call it "Machian inertia", or just plain old "inertia", and agreeing that if the string snaps, the yo-yo will fly off in a tangential direction --not outward along a radial, I imagine an instant force vector/couple that runs in the opposite direction of the string. (I reserve the right to think that one over, however.)

Although I get the impression that the centrifugal force effect at the equator gets somewhat balanced by the fluidity of the Earth (bulging out, thus placing more earth/gravity beneath your feet), again: the current official explanation seems to be that: you weigh a tad less on the equator --mainly because you're further from the Earth's center.

Well then, let's take that thought to an extreme. Let's say that the spin rate is very slow (so that it's not a factor), but that we lived on a planet which somehow ended up shaped like an old phonograph record. I think it's safe to say that a brave adventurer who journeyed to the spindle hole at Planet Record's center --would be weightless, just as would be someone who dug a tunnel through to the center of our spherical Earth (right?). And something tells me that the guy wouldn't be crushed by gravity as soon as he stepped out of that spindle hole and stood up. Indeed: he shouldn't feel the full force of gravity until he got back out onto the "equator" --on the edge of Planet Record (right?)^.

^ Formal scientific papers might do well to end their postulates and proofs with "(right?)"  :-)

The speed of gravity:

In February of 2016 it was announced that gravity waves have been detected. The assumption has been that gravity propagates at the speed of light, thus those waves might be deduced to have arrived from a source (say) so many light years distant.

One problem with that (in some minds) is that if gravity takes about 8 minutes to get here from the Sun, then we're always orbiting around where the Sun _was_ --about 8 minutes ago.

---Hmmnnn: while it seems to me that would be the same spot, given a circular orbit, our planetary orbits are elliptical --and (one time) cometary orbits parabolic.  --So  -  -

--Well: I'm not sure what the next "so" leads to.

How about to UFOs?


It's my impression that very few ( < 1% ) amateur astronomers see them. I attended the OSP, a major star party event attended by 800 people --who spend and awful lot of time watching and documenting the sky, and the subject never came up. While we all see some pretty bazaar celestial events from time-to-time, I seldom hear reportage from these people of objects which give the impression of a directed space craft (with a few exceptions).

* Beginning as a boy in 1957, I started keeping a camera handy for "when a UFO goes by", --but no such luck. Through to about 2005 I tried to save the last frame on each roll "for the UFO" :-))  (Now I have so much digital camera memory I hardly ever get to the end of it.)

I did see a "nocturnal light" type of "sighting" --a red light in the sky just large enough to not be a point. There was cloud cover to limit how far off it might have been and it made not a sound --on a very still night. At an apparent fixed rate of slow travel along straight lines, the object first "ascended" to about 30 degrees of elevation, moved horizontally to my right, then went straight "down" behind the hills and trees. I can think of no reasonable explanation for it.

Yes: I filed a report to CUFOS, but didn't think it was worth getting out a tripod for a long photographic exposure. I did do sling psychromatry to get the humidity and estimate the overcast height.

One correspondent of mine, a fellow astronomer and stereoscopist, says amateurs do see them, but our organizations and newsletters don't support such reportage. Well, yes: Sky and Telescope wouldn't print such an account, but I know my fellow amateur astronomers would tell me personally --as did this fellow, who saw something remarkable as a boy.

When I inquired of Sky Publishing about their policies on UFOs (25 years or so back now), an editor directed me to "The Skeptic" --which magazine I wasn't familiar with --and I failed to adequately check out. I naively forwarded that advice to my correspondent friend --who took it, and sent in his honest account of that curious apparition he saw as a boy. The Skeptic answered this earnest effort by printing a response which made him look ridiculous --so his witness has now been silenced.

When someone dumps on a friend of mine --well: that's bad. When I get roped in like that, the perpetrators can count on a response. Perhaps my life-time of enmity (and the "bad press" I give them) partly atones for having mislead my friend. There's work to be done --when spiritual numbness makes such antipathy toward people possible. (My boyhood fondness for Sky & Telescope has also been neutralized. I will never again subscribe.)

At this point, most of us have seen and/or met at least one person who's made what he/she considered a convincing "sighting". I've so far met 3 witnesses and corresponded with the mentioned 4th. Polls now have it that half the population believe there's something of substance (not saying what) to reports of UFO observations.

* By not entertaining any such discussion, respectable periodicals like Astronomy and Sky & Telescope default to fringe groups for commentary and questionable information.

My best hunch as to what's behind many sightings: large ball lightning --perhaps modulated somehow by rare natural phenomena. As to reports of bazaar direct experiences, perhaps Rupert Sheldrake's "morphic resonance" plays a part. I also suspect that UFOs have long been a game played by opposing intelligence communities --to waste each other's time with wild goose chases, and to selectively discredit troublesome individuals.

My apologies to the dear people who've shared their experiences with me. I believe your reportage to be honest and my mind remains open, but I'll have to personally witness one of those thangs (hopefully record and measure it somehow) in order to think of them as piloted vehicles. I've rather parked my stereo UFO film camera, but my digital "UFO camera" awaits --in my ever present "fanny pack".

My favorite astronomy and ATM books/sources:

** Scientific American's "The Amateur Astronomer/Scientist" from the Surplus Shed

The Telescope Handbook and Star Atlas (1967) by Neale E. Howard

The Guide to Amateur Astronomy (1988) by Jack Newton and Philip Teece

Burnham's Celestial Handbook (1978) by Robert Burnham, JR.

How To Make a Telescope by Jean Texereau (1957 --there are later additions)

Amateur Astronomer's Handbook (4th Edition) by J. B. Sidgwick (revised by James Muirden)

Amateur Telescope Making (4th Edition -1974) edited by Albert G. Ingalls

Making Your Own Telescope (1947) by Allyn J. Thompson

Astronomy (1913) by Harold Jacoby

Astronomy by Sir Fred Hoyle


HEY: You might want to do these events!

Oregon Star Party
The Table Mountain Star Party
(Google them)

An early version of the Sky Compass

* "The Gallery" (4 samples from the DaMert Space Odyssey set that I worked on.)

* Sky Compass

* A Barn Door Tracker

* Finder For a Small Digital Camera

Here's the very latest outdated news:

* Please see below for a (slightly less outdated) update on NASA's Dawn Mission.

* Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs):  There's a bit of confusion about the source and nature of millisecond short bursts of RF energy being picked up by radio telescopes --which have peculiar frequency signatures, but it should be clear from recent papers by Swinburne University's Emily Petroff:


--that FRBs are still an intriguing mystery, whereas it's the somewhat similar (but suspected of being terrestrial from the start) "Peryton" signals which have been sourced to the Parkes Dish observatory's own breakroom/kitchen's microwave ovens.

The rare Earth theory, and notes in bottles --cast upon the sea of time:

* Radio signals broadcast into space have vast range and speed, but deliberate efforts are usually focused and brief.  I suppose that even a year-long signal is brief by cosmic standards, but the milliseconds long "FRB" signals hardly seem long enough to be an ET contact attempt. I'd expect some sort of a permanent beacon or sign: perhaps some objects in tailored orbits around and occulting a small, durable source --lighthouse style.

* A few years ago it occurred to me that one might "piggy-back" transmissions on natural events. Should there be an interesting gamma ray burster, nova, FRB --or maybe some kind of a visual thing going on, then swing our dishes and lasers around exactly 180 degrees from it and fire off our signals. Similarly: be on the lookout for "noise" signatures, closely adjacent to any main celestial event.

* The mega-year duration of a good physical time capsule (buried somewhere, in orbit, or outward bound on a probe:


--is nearly canceled by its only being in one place at any given time. The Voyager probes were expected to keep sending us data well into this century, but I wonder if there are any sort of omnidirectional beacons aboard Pioneer 10, 11 and the Voyagers --to make that "one place" larger.

* Then there's the improbable (far future) solution of a self-replicating space probe (sometimes called a "von Neumann Probe"), which spreads and multiplies across the galaxy like dog fleas. Of course, that would end up amounting to a terrible clutter, as all the energy and substances of a galaxy gets converted into those infernal replicating machines. (Hmmnnn: this theme seems rather familiar^ ---   :-)

* The prospect of Earth being the only planet to spawn sentient, intelligent life haunts us because there are any number of processes and events which could doom our civilization --ending history and our fragile culture. Materially, energy-wise and technologically, it's a house of cards. Growth alone (most any kind --save territorial and/or spiritual) will find a way to do us in. (Any "territorial" gains are unlikely to be via manned travel in starships.)

* The premise of our Time Capsule Tiles project was that some sort of a follow-on culture (home grown or visiting) might find and study sufficient evidence of our civilization that we'd become a part of them. (Voila: retail salvation.) While that's extremely unlikely to include our tiles, we felt it a civic duty to try --and to plead our world views in the process. Even if human words end up being indecipherable, just the obvious social purpose of sequestering a time capsule is a gesture which might connect with, touch and affect future others.

* But what if there aren't any follow-on fellows --maybe just some slime covered life that manages to survive --deep down in our scorched or frozen Earth? That's why we badly need the comfort of turning one or more of our speculations about the existence of "external intelligent life factors" (meant here to be an inclusive term) and exo-biology in general --into a reasonable probability.

Of course, most religious folks have it made --external life factor-wise, and we might look into some of their (pretty good) arguments about (say) "irreducible complexity", evolutionary jumps, and there not having been near enough time for today's living stuff to have all evolved from green algae on our planet --which seems to consist well with suggestions from elsewhere about --

^ --"panspermia": the seeding of life across the Cosmos. These lines of inquiry might determine at least the necessity for there being plenty of life elsewhere --and rather familiar life at that.

* Another angle on this is to question "how can it be?" --that sentient life is able to emerge from the organic combination of basic material elements --unless material stuff itself is somehow infused with the capacity to end up that way ("a thing is what it becomes"). Whitehead and Schopenhauer felt that the material world is, to varying degrees, sentient. In Voices of the First Day is an account of Australian aboriginals spending time in the company of large isolated rocks --to help dispel their cold loneliness. At the least: it's a common inclination to project our humanity onto other creatures and things --gracing them names and souls,  and that (at least) amounts to an ontological argument --for it actually being thus.

Best we take such (often marginalized) ideas seriously enough to at least give them an open minded listen and put them to constructive tests of reason, field work, research, observatory time and experiment --simply because at bottom: we all very much need there to be life forms in other places, hopefully trying out gainful alternative approaches to civilization.

I've a suspicion that Earth's life forms are the "von Neumann machines", and that our weirdly distributed genetic material includes instructions for alternative paths of diversification --given the right environmental/situational stimuli to make them "express". That would be helpful for patching up the ecosystem after a catastrophe.

Goodgawd: the nucleus of every living cell in our body has 7 feet of DNA threads, but while we have 23 chromosomes, dogs have 38 --!-- so will dogs eventually overtake us --like 32 bit computers beating 16 bitters? (Shades of a Gary Larson cartoon world!)

Consider the extraordinary diversity of dog kind/s --all based on just the wolf gene pool.

* The Dawn Mission:  NASA's and JPL's extraordinary success with yet another robotic, interplanetary probe, the Dawn Mission, is being chronicled by Chief Engineer and Mission Director Marc Rayman in his entertaining presentations at --where you'll see the source images (frames from an animated GIF of the turning minor planet Ceres) used for the following (screen captured) stereo pairs:

(*click* on these images to enlarge them for high rez monitors.)
The above pair are from adjacent frames, cropped for a good stereo window

I gave the right frame a lot of tonal adjustment. This pair spans several GIF frames of rotation.
At the link, we learn one reason why those spots appear to be so bright: Ceres only has an average surface reflectance of 9 percent. Over-exposure on the central bright spot might result in false perceptions of depth/parallax, such that it appears to be on a peak.

Despite Dr. Rayman's and Andrew R Brown's very reasonable comments to the contrary (via the above link), and until closer imaging quashes our wilder speculations, I'm siding with commenters claudio martinez's and John Willis' suggestions that those spots are really special.


5/25/2015 Update: As anticipated, NASA's probe has provided us with a closer look --and good, viewable left-right screen captures. This time I needed to rotate the right image 11 degrees and bring up the contrast for both, but the pair otherwise required little "doctoring":

Wow: be it volcano or a whammy from a space rock, it seems to be still going on. What's the significance of those darker radiations? They're only around the upper-right 1/3rd of the crater. Is that because I'm looking at volcano tubes around the lower-left of the crater rim?

11/04/2015 Update: Here's a (clickable) image from the Dawn Mission's photography in September:

We're currently waiting as the Dawn probe slowly powers down into what will be its lowest orbit.

"Keep Looking Up"

(Depiction of an old-time mariner finding his position by the stars.)

* The original content on these pages is unencumbered by copyright.


Web Weaving Notes

* Firsterly: with long intermissions, some titles and parts of these web pages:
--have been up since I started composing them with "Netscape Gold" (Netscape-3.0: a combined browser, email and GUI web weaving program). As many times as I've worked on the old stuff, I still find gross problems. I apologize for what remains to be corrected: typos, grammar, bad edits, uncompleted thoughts, bad facts, bad form/presentation, or just plain p-poor composition. Feel free to point out problems to me (thanks).

* My web pages remain basic and painlessly composed with Netscape --version 4.7 (1999) now, which you can probably find somewhere as a free download. I run it on a typical desktop "tower" PC under the XP (with Service Pack 3) operating system. (Someone suggested that I try "Sea Monkey", which has Netscape in its lineage, but after doing so, I could see no advantage --for me --given the simple ways I put web pages together. However, SeaMonkey is the only way that I'm aware of to update an off-line computer's browser --in order to parse newer complex web pages. Version 2.40 is the last one which supports the XP-3 operating system.)

* These pages look and read best if you size them squarishly at 800x600 resolution --but to simply enlarge the text, hold down the "Ctrl" key, then tap on the "+" key. (I believe that "Sea Monkey" pages can be formatted such that they adapt to the display environments they end up being browsed in.)

Our home computers are strictly off-line. I got tired of paying Charter Communications $55//month^ --more than our water and sewer! --Consequently, we have no headaches about updating or being attacked by anything --except in the unlikely event of a virus contaminated flash memory stick.

(^ The other option is $29.99/month, provided we "bundle" for a total of $90/month.)

When my Neocities pages look good enough on our home computer, I take them on a flash memory stick to where we find public WiFi and upload them with one of our Chromebooks --just the added and updated files, of course.

Unlike a web page saved by (say) Firefox, which places all the image and other non-HTML files into a folder ("name_files"), Netscape-4.7 simply parks everything at the "root" of the drive or flash stick that you're using --and that's how you have to work on them. Afterwards you can copy all the files to a folder --like maybe on the flash stick memory that you take to the library/whatever for uploading.

If you get a copy of Netscape-4.7 for your own use, just make sure that you compose and save at the "root" of a blank flash stick of memory. Again: when you move the files to another flash stick or drive, copy them over from your composing flash stick/s --don't open and resave. (You might want to have a flash stick for each web document
that you create.)

I find that this old HTML stuff has everything I need to express my thoughts and link to those of others. I use no "frames", special Java scripts, or even "tables" on my pages (although Netscape-4.7 can do tables). I simply insert a GIF or a JPEG of a graph, table or chart when and where I need to.