A telescope can be so much more than just a piece of gear.
I count myself as fortunate—I still have my very first telescope. When I was a kid, I saved up all the money I’d received from birthdays and Christmases until I managed to amass $100, just enough for a decent starter scope in 1972. I purchased a Tasco 3-inch alt-az reflector called “Luna.” It remains one of my most prized possessions.
Luna has many strengths, including all-metal construction and one of the silkiest focusers I’ve ever used, but the scope also has all the usual deficiencies that remain common in beginners’ instruments even today. The finderscope is utter misery, actually making stars appear dimmer than with the naked eye. And the eyepieces . . . not good. The three, simple Huygenian eyepieces that came with the scope all give tunnel-like views. But in spite of these shortcomings, with the help of my parents and a mechanically inclined uncle, I was able to use Luna with success. Or did I?
Memory can be a tricky thing. We tend to remember childhood events as being better than they probably really were. Summers were always sunny, music sounded better, and friends were forever. But one advantage of still having Luna is that I can look at the Moon tonight and be sure the view I’m getting is the same as in 1972. The lunar surface hasn’t changed in the intervening years, and the telescope is still in good condition. Heck, I even have those crappy Huygenian eyepieces I used when I saw the Moon for the first time. What has changed is that I’m a better observer now than when I was 11.
Out of curiosity one evening recently, I unpacked Luna from its storage box and carried it into the backyard for a little moongazing. I wanted to see whether the views were as good as I remembered. Yes, the finderscope was still terrible and the Huygenian eyepieces were as bad as ever, but the beauty and wonder of the Moon remained intact. The unreal grey tones of the lunar surface, the improbably rugged terminator, the stark blackness of the sky beyond the lunar disc—all were as they had appeared the very first time I saw the Moon so long ago. And it was still exciting.
Today, my little reflector is actually better than ever. Thanks to the machining skills of my friend Dennis di Cicco, the focuser has an adapter that lets me use modern 1¼-inch eyepieces instead of the Japanese standard .965 oculars. With good eyepieces and the benefit of decades of experience, I can see things that would have been impossible when the scope was brand-new. I’ve come to appreciate the instrument’s virtues (such as an excellent, long-focus primary mirror) and to work around its deficiencies. But Luna is more than just a 3-inch telescope—it’s a time machine. In an instant, it can transport me back to a time when summers were always sunny, music sounded better, and friends were friends for life.
Editor Gary Seronik invites your comments and astronomy-related observations and photos, which can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the November/December issue of SkyNews (on newsstands now) for an expanded version of Gary’s Editor’s Report.