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Deciding to Build a New Telescope

Cosmos Mariner is what I consider to be my third "personal" telescope; all have been homebuilt. The first was an 8" f/6 called Albireo that I built in 1995. It served me well for almost six years. I spend a lot of time looking at deep sky objects, and eventually found I was pushing the boundaries of what I could see with Albireo. So when I got my PhD, I decided to step up in aperture, and built my second scope, a 12.5" f/4.7 Dobsonian named Equinox in 2000.

In 2007 we moved to a house in mountains of Utah with dark skies. With Equinox I found I could see things from my new house that I had only seen from dark sky star parties! Like Stephan's Quintet, the Cocoon Nebula (IC 5146), and extended detached parts of the Veil Nebula. I had just gotten my first tenure track job as an assistant professor, I had fantastically dark skies out my back door, so clearly: it was time to step up in aperture!

When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had built an observatory (Starwood Observatory) to house Equinox, and was thrilled with how much more often I got to observe when I didn't have to set the scope up and take it down. So when we bought our house in Utah, I naturally planned to build a new observatory.

The problem was that I knew I was going to build a bigger telescope. In order to plan and properly size the observatory, I needed to know how big the telescope was going to be. After waffling around for almost a year, I finally decided that I had to build the telescope first.

Ever since I started out in amateur astronomy, I have named my telescopes. It is a habit I learned from reading David Levy (my favorite book of his is Guide to the Night Sky, which used to be called "The Sky: A User's Guide", a title I like much better!). I had always known I was going to build a larger telescope, and had waffled around with names for some time. One of the formative experiences in my life that firmly put me on the path to being a professional scientist was watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Further, my youth was filled with incessant study of deep space missions, and I was well aware of the Mariner series of spacecraft, notably Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to visit Mars. Additionally, I had been impressed by Gale Christianson's book, Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae. Somewhere along the way, it all got put together to become Cosmos Mariner.

Inspiration and Help

By my count, this will be the ninth telescope I've built for myself, family or friends. Amateur Telescope Making (ATM) is an enjoyable hobby that combines woodworking and shop skills with a fair amount of design work that is necessary to insure your telescope works by the time you're done!

Building a telescope is not something I did on my own; I had lots of help and inspiration from many sources.


scope books

I first learned telescope building from two great books: Build Your Own Telescope: Complete Plans for Five Telescopes You Can Build with Simple Hand Tools (by Richard Berry), and Making & Enjoying Telescopes: 6 Complete Projects & A Stargazers Guide (by Robert Miller and Kenneth Wilson). Both are great books for starting out, and I still thumb through them for inspiration about the craft.

For big telescopes, however, the standard reference has become The Dobsonian Telescope: A Practial Manual for Building Large Aperture Telescopes (by David Kriege and Richard Berry). David Kriege is the owner of Obsession Telescopes, and the book details how to construct a telescope in the classic Obsession style. I became familiar with this book on my last telescope project, and again used it for guidance on this project. It has lots of specific details about building modern Dobsonians, some of which I follow, and some of which I don't.


CN logo

Cloudy Nights is an online community of amateur astronomers. Their formus are a vast archive of vonlunteered wisdom about observing, equipment, and astrophysical sights. The ATM and DIY Forum was a source of many ideas and some good advice that made its way into Mariner.

It was on Cloudy Nights that I was greatly inspired by a 22" f/4 telescope built by Fiske Miles. I had been planning on the traditional large side bearings, but Fiske was the one who clued me into the fact that I could have the pivot point from the bearings above the mirror box to keep the scope balanced! Fiske graciously answered a round of questions I had (Thanks, Fiske!). You can read about his own 22" f/4 telescope at his site (Fiske's 22" Project Blog | Fiske's 22" CN Build Thread).

Credit Where Credit is Due

Before we dive into the project, I also have to thank my wife, Michelle. This project would not have been possible without her support, patience, and willingness to simply let me build the telescope I wanted to build. She never blinked an eye through the entire long process, listened to me agonize and rant about how to do this that or the other thing, and nodded like she belived me everytime I promised that things would not look like little white smudges when it was finally done!

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Last Updated: 25 September 2012