ScopeX 2008 ATM Report - by Chris Stewart
This year the ATM turnout was rather modest. The initially chilly, overcast weather probably had something to do with it. Nevertheless, many interesting aspects of the equipment on show made adjudication surprisingly more difficult than expected. Delightful!
As usual, the criteria for judging involved ...
1. Workmanship: Quality of finish, beauty, style precision
2. Innovation: Application of new ideas, principles, materials, techniques
3. Ambitiousness: Difficult optical configuration, grand scope of project, courageous modifications
4. Ingenuity: Lateral thinking, unusual ways of solving old problems, interesting use of found materials
Naturally the most interesting contenders would embody a mix of these attributes, and all exhibits are carefully examined with a view to finding them. It may be that a single element or component is considered particularly noteworthy. Or, on the opposite extreme, a body of work comprising several disparate items may be deemed exceptional as a system. One never knows beforehand what will appear at the event, so there is no room for preconception. Similarly, available prizes are usually only known virtually at the last minutes. So every event is different.
Prizes are of course allocated with some regard to matching the value of the prize to the magnitude of the achievement being recognised, but more importantly we also try as best we can to match the prize to our understanding of the recipients' needs. In no particular order, here are the results for 2008:
Gerhard Koekemoer received a book on rocketry in SA from UNISA Press, for his truss-tube Dobsonian. This, the most recent in a long line of interesting submissions over the years, is a departure from the highly experimental nature of some of its predecessors in that it embodies a number of fairly common principles. However, the thoughtful selection of appropriate elements has resulted in an instrument that is not only well finished but eminently useable. Certainly it is a good model for others to follow.
Keith Lou is well known for his involvement in this hobby, particularly for his assistance to others. Indeed many instruments out there incorporate focusers, spiders and finders that he has produced. He too received a book on rocketry from UNISA Press for his elegant blue Dobsonian with the unusal yet thoroughly South African appellation "Eish". Many will have paid attention to aspects such as the wire spider vanes designed to minimise diffraction effects, but I would wager that few noticed the fact that the brackets coupling the tube to the trunnions (dispensing with the usual box) artfully hides a means to slide the tube up/down for balancing.
Paul Marais received a 15mm Plossl eyepiece from Telescope SA for his Dobsonian on an equatorial platform. Paul, working with basic hand tools on his farm in Magaliesburg, finished a working scope in short order with minimum advice and supervision. Interestingly, the few electrically operated devices involved during this process were powered by a wind generator he constructed himself from scratch. A notable innovation, simple though it may seem to the uninitiated, is provision for altitude/azimuth adjustment of the platform, incorporated into the levelling mechanism in order to facilitate polar alignment. Anyone who has struggled to with polar alignment will instantly recognise the benefits and wonder why such features are not built into all platforms.
It seems to be a trait of the Pretoria contingent to pay extra attention to the quality of their mirrors. Generally they seem to be prepared to go the extra mile, performing the proper but time-consuming mathematical analysis required to quantify the surface accuracy, rather than being content with a qualitative Foucault test assessment. This dedication pays off and is certainly to be commended.
Percy Jacobs received a 6.3mm Plossl eyepiece from Telescope SA for his 10-inch Dobsonian which, despite a moderately fast f/ratio has very good optics - especially for one so new to the hobby of mirror making. I believe that his satisfaction in the views he enjoys while observing is eclipsed only by his delight at star-party visitors consistently returning to his telescope, saying that they prefer the images it renders to those of rather more expensive (and larger) commercial instruments on the same field. Sadly, just a week before ScopeX, Percy managed to break the secondary mirror for the 6-inch Scheifspiegler he is constructing, this just as he had finished figuring it. Hopefully we will see the completed instrument at the next event.
Danie Barnado received a green laser pointer from Eridanus Optics for his 6-inch Dobsonian with good optics. His observing chair is of basic construction but eminently functional and noteworthy as being something others can easily replicate; without it, the low telescope would be incomplete. Being able to observe in convenient comfort adds immeasurably to the experience. Taking the trouble to put together a total observing system is highly recommended.
Pat Kuhn also received a green laser pointer from Eridanus optics, for his observing system that similarly comprises a 6-inch Dobsonian with good optics and a fine observing chair built on kinematic principles, but includes in addition a microprocessor-controlled equatorial platform for tracking. Pat has a certain touch; everything he builds combines carefully-selected basic materials to end up both good looking and highly functional.
Fred Oosthuisen received a 40mm Plossl eyepiece from Telescope SA for his Caustic Test setup. The tester is a precision instrument, with tolerances constrained to but a few thou where appropriate. Many subtle features, some difficult to implement and others so simple one wonders how come nobody else has thought of it before, combine to facilitate single-person setup and operation. We look forward to viewing through the fine mirrors that should result from this painstakingly meticulous approach to testing.
Wim Filmater received the grand prize of a cased set of eyepieces and filters from Eridanus Optics, for his 12-inch portable telescope. This instrument, with an eyepiece position so high that a ladder is required to observe anywhere in the vicinity of the Zenith, loomed over everything else in the field. But the award was not for its size! The entire instrument breaks down into components that have artfully been designed to pack securely into a relatively small box, leaving just a small bag of truss tubes separate for transport. The success of this quest for portability is evidenced by the fact that this was also the telescope that came the farthest to be at the show, all the way from Riversdale in the Cape. Fortunately the airline handled it delicately. Every component evinces considerable thought. Not only does it pack away so neatly, but subassemblies such as the focuser can be reaffixed easily (some with but a single screw), secure in the knowledge that collimation will be essentially preserved. Even the lid of the final box serves double duty as an observing table, not to mention a place to arrange vital components during assembly/disassembly. The spider incorporates a uniquely innovative means to rotate the secondary about the optical axis. All in all, quite a tour de force.
While we would like to tangibly reward everyone who takes the trouble to participate in the event, inevitably most will simply leave with our gratitude, hopefully enriched by memories of an enjoyable day and some good ideas. The point of the event is to spur people on to greater things, to share ideas and knowledge, mingle with friends old and new who share our interests, and introduce others to the hobby. In this regard, we can once again count the event a success.
Once more I would like to thank all participants - the exhibitors, our sponsors and my co-judge Dave Blane - for their respective parts in achieving this success. Well done and congratulations to all.