Ah, November. Clear dark nights, not too cold. A great month for stargazing — to say nothing of the Leonid meteor shower, which will swing by in a couple of weeks. For meteors, all you need is your eyes, or else a good pair of binoculars. But if you want to look at planets, you’ll need a telescope. You have a couple of options: buy one or, less practically but far more geekily, make a telescope! OK, let’s get building!
While the idea of a DIY telescope sounds intimidating, it’s far from impossible thanks to a guy named John Dobson. A former Hindu monk who started building telescopes to learn about the universe, he eventually left his order (which frowned on his explorations) and began promoting astronomy as a hobby. He designed a simple and easy-to-build alt-azimuth mount for a Newtonian telelescope, a combination which became known as a Dobsonian.
So how do you build your own Dobsonian telescope? Not surprisingly, the answer lies on the internet. There are a number of schematics available. Craig Jones built two telescopes and kindly provides notes, photos and PDF diagrams on his site. The San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers and Ray Cash have similar resources on their site. Typically materials cost around $300 and up, depending on the design. The mirror, finder and eyepieces comprise the bulk of the expense, and some are cheaper than others.
Finally, if you’d like to build your own telescope but need more help than the schematics provide, consider looking online for a kit. There are many, many suppliers out there; expect it to cost a little more than a home-made Dobsonian and a lot more than a “department store” telescope.
Photo by Craig Jones.