When I was a kid, my Dad gave me a telescope. It was a Refractor telescope. I had it for many years. It heightened my interest in the stars and planets. It wasn’t a quality telescope but it was enough to get me hooked on the idea of star gazing. It eventually fell apart and I did without a telescope for many years.
In early Fall of 2012, my Dad, being the nice guy he is, gave me a gift of some spending cash. I decided to honor his gift by stepping back to those early days and getting myself another telescope. I was careful with the money, keeping some to handle everyday concerns. But I felt it was also important to use it as he intended, to get something for me that I could not otherwise afford to spend money on.
I was very careful with my use of that gift. I examined a wide variety of options and eventually made a choice. What I got was a nice Newtonian (Reflector) 4.5 inch diameter telescope. Like such things, there were pluses and minuses. The size, focal length, and f-stop (light gathering capabilities) of the scope itself are very good. I made sure I got the best telescope I could for the money I was willing to spend. As the case with items like this, the peripheries were weak, poor, or lacking. I knew that going in. I wanted the scope to be good. I could fix its surrounding ills later.
The mount for the scope was a table top Alt-Az mount. Alt-Az is short for Altitude and Azimuth, or sometimes called a Dobsonian mount. It tilts up and down, and swivels left and right. Good enough to point at a planet or star, but not good for tracking them as they move across the sky. Stars and planets move in arches. The best way to track them is with a mount designed to move in an arch, called an Equatorial mount. But, I needed to consider the money I had, and the scope itself was the first goal.
In addition to being very poor for tracking sky objects, the table top Alt-Az mount is also very good at picking up small vibrations, which make things giggle in the telescope. It is small and very portable, but only good for quick looks at objects. Long, leisurely studies of things were not going to happen with such a telescope mount. But again, I knew that. This was just a starting point.
The Finder Scope that came with the telescope was a cheap little device. I had actually seen similar things sold as gun sights for Airsoft (pellet) rifles. You have to have a Finder Scope. Telescopes magnify so much and narrow your view of the sky so much, you can almost never point them at what you want to see, with the exception of big things like the Moon. You need a smaller, less powerful scope or device that lets you easily target your desired object and get your telescoped lined up on it. Kind of like using the sights of a gun, devices designed to help you point the main barrel where you need it.
The little Finder Scope that came with the telescope worked, but not for long. It uses an LED to shine a dot on a range finder film. Basically you have a large ring, with an LED dot reflected in the middle. Get the red dot over the star or planet of interest, and your telescope should be pointed right at the object. Once you get things lined up, it does work. But it does require batteries, and it is an electronic device, and it was very cheaply made, and eventually it stopped working all together.
Well, much to my luck I have received some Christmas money. So now is the time to fix my scope. The two weak peripheries that I have mentioned will be replaced. The Finder Scope will be replaced with an optical Finder Scope, something that cannot break, well, not easily. Something that will not require batteries, and will be much easier to use.
The table top Alt-Az mount will be replaced with a proper Equatorial mount with small movement controls and anti-vibration worm gears and a wider, more stable base. You can computerize telescopes these days, getting electronic clocks that track objects as they move across the sky. A sort of ‘set it and forget it’ approach to star watching, but not this time. The mount will be able to accept such a clock drive, but the drive itself will have to wait for some future lucky break. For now, it is time to fix my scope.