I’ve been quite for a week or so because I’ve been out of commission lately. This past Friday and Saturday were the last day’s that I’ve been able to do anything, and I’m very lucky that I was even able to on Saturday. My telescope fell down because I’m cheap.
I was going to do some volunteer outreach
Friday, January 23rd, 2015. I was scheduled to volunteer for a group of kids who are part of a PTA organized Astronomy Club at the elementary school 2 blocks from my house. I was excited for this particular event because these kids are all quite young, most of them are between the ages of 8 and 10. None of the children have ever seen a comet in their lives, and C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) was high in the sky, and bright enough to still be seen with even modest binoculars despite the crescent moon.
I packed up my equipment after work, and drove the two blocks to the school. I found the basketball court in the back of the school where we were all supposed to meet. I setup my equipment in the fading daylight and waited for Polaris to shine through the twilight. I did a quick polar alignment, and hooked my laptop up to the hand controller, fired up Stellarium, and slewed to the comet. There it was! Slightly green but still faint and fuzzy, the comet was centered in my 25 mm eyepiece secured to the 105 mm StellarVue triplet.
Everything was going smoothly
The kids began to arrive with their parents, and they took their turns peering through the eyepiece. I took some time with each kid to explain the significance of this comet; that this is likely the first time in human history that it’s ever been seen by humans, and it won’t be back for another 8000 years. It’s even possible that we could be the last humans to ever see it if we master interstellar space travel and colonize a new star!
Let’s skip ahead an hour. The Pleiades were past the meridian, moving relentlessly towards the Western horizon. We just finished up observing it and I was finishing up a small lecture on it when I noticed that Jupiter had risen above the roof line of the school. The kids ran off to the playground when I finished talking and was preparing to slew the telescope to the king of our solar system. My telescope began slewing in RA, and went straight up for the first time tonight.
My telescope fell down
The next fraction of a second was sheer terror for me. I heard the saddle plate slip, followed by a silence that lasted an eternity. Longer than that. The entire Universe could have been born, grew, and evolved to it’s inevitable Heat Death state in less time that the silence lasted. The stillness was only broken by the teeth rattling cacophony that signaled the abrupt deceleration of my telescope. My telescope fell down about two feet. The star diagonal broke the fall. The fall broke my focuser.
Shoved entirely into the telescope body, the diagonal was the delicate balance point of 17 pounds of precision machined aluminum and hand crafted glass optics. The fragile balancing act degraded almost as quickly as it was created, and the telescope toppled over, guide scope down. The guide scope rings broke the fall. The fall broke my guide scope rings.
I rushed over to pick up my telescope, and it was immediately clear that it was seriously messed up. The parents gathered around the frail body as if it were one of their own kids who tripped on the playground. I scooped up the body and the rear half of my telescope was no longer attached securely to the rest of the telescope. I had sheared a few screws that held the focuser to the rest of the OTA upon impact.
Gently, I placed it back in my CGEM, and I manually slewed it to the moon. Immediately after my telescope fell down, I assumed the focuser, star diagonal and eyepiece were all completely toast, but I had to check the optics. To my surprise, I was able able to see the moon. Although, the focuser was a bit tight in some spots, I did manage to get my telescope into focus. In fact, it may have been the most lovely I’d ever seen the moon before in my life! I joked (because that’s what I do when I’m distressed (and when I’m not)) that whatever happened during the impact somehow made the moon look way better than before. I invited some of the parents over so I could have second opinions about the clarity of the moon. Maybe I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but hopefully if something was not right, someone would speak up. All I heard were “Wow” and “That looks ssssooooo cooool!” . I sighed in relief. Even after the fall, my telescope could still wow stargazers.
What had happened? I am not completely sure. I do have a theory, however. My CGEM has a cast aluminum saddle, which is prone to uneven thermal contraction and expansion. When I had originally setup, it was in the mid 60’s. When the Earth suddenly stopped my telescopes free return trajectory, the temperature was in the low 40’s. I imagine that the 20 degree drop in temperature caused the saddle to contract, pulling away from the Losmandy “D” style saddle plate.
The Losmandy saddle plate itself is 7 inches long. This is the exact same dimension as my CGEMs saddle. Because the telescope has a three element 105 mm aperture, it’s front heavy, and I have to actually balance the scope with the saddle plate hanging out the back of the saddle itself. This configuration makes it impossible to use a stop screw that would have otherwise saved my telescope after a brief inch or two slip.
A trip down memory lane
So let’s back up a few months now. It’s May, 2014 and I had just placed an order through a company online to purchase an AstroTech AT65EDQ. This telescope was a 4 element, flat field astrograph offered by Astronomics for many years. It was to become my primary imaging telescope. Because of the arrangement of the elements, and the fact that it would indeed be rear heavy, the 7 inch Losmandy saddle plate that I had purchased would allow me to balance the scope forward enough to use a safety screw. The AT65 was currently out of stock, the last had been shipped out a few days before my purchase. I agreed to have everything else in my order sent now, and I would simply wait for the new production run to begin shipping. I was among the very first to place orders for the new run, and therefore my telescope would be one of the first to ship out.
I waited, and weeks turned into months. By late July, however, it was made known to me that the AT65 was being discontinued due to issues with the optics supplier, and the last batch that shipped would be the last batch made. Ever. My money was refunded, and I went on the hunt for a new telescope.
I found a deal on AstroMart that I couldn’t pass up. A used StellarVue SV105T with 3 inch focuser. From what I read, the 3 inch focuser allowed the use of focal reducers, and the vignetting wouldn’t be as pronounced. I had to have this telescope. It also came with the Losmandy “D” Style saddle plate. When corresponding with the seller, I informed him that I already had one, and wouldn’t need his. He agreed to remove $50 from the total sales price, then since he would likely buy another telescope in the future, and could reuse it.
The decision to save $50 has now cost me over $230 in shipping and repair costs, all because I was not able to screw a five cent bolt into the front of my saddle plate. Now if we add in the cost of a new saddle plate, my total costs are closer to $300. Even though I could never have anticipated my telescope falling down, It’s common sense that you have the proper saddle plate, and a safety screw just in case.
The moral to this story is that whenever you try to save money, you invariably end up spending more.