The beginnings of a custom-built telescope

Last year, as a first-year student, I tried hard to get involved in any and every activity I could find — a conquest that quickly overwhelmed me. I've continued with some activities and dropped others, but one notable activity I found myself involved with last year is still important to me now: I became an amateur telescope maker.

The story starts when a professor asked me if I was interested in getting involved with a peculiar project: I would be making my own telescope. At first, I didn’t really know what to expect, but took the two-credit course because I wanted my own telescope to look at the night sky. I signed up, paid for a telescope mirror blank and jumped right in, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Our class met in the basement of Olin, one of science buildings on campus, and I was one of six or seven students who were given card access to a special room downstairs, usually used for processing images from the main, roooftop telescope on campus. There, I met Jay Drew, an amateur telescope mirror grinder who would be our instructor for the class. He proceeded to tell us all about how to turn a mirror blank for a telescope into an accurate imaging device. The thing that stuck in my mind was how many hours it would take — upwards of 100 hours.

Fast forward to the end of the course. Now, I have a beautiful, 8-inch mirror for the telescope I've yet to build. It is more accurate than something you can buy online for thousands of dollars and I got to make it with my own hands. Carving the concave glass with a convex tool night after night was tedious, but seeing the progress I made was incredible.

I ended up really enjoyed making something beautiful, and gained an appreciation for the delicacy of imaging instruments like cameras and telescopes. I’ll be building the rest of the telescope later this year, but, until then, I have something beautiful to show for my hard work. There is nothing like seeing a product come to fruition, particularly one that you made with the sweat of your own palms.