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25 Years of ATMing

By Joe Castoro of the Astronomical Society of Long Island
2000-Oct-04

My introduction to Astronomy started in the early 1970's when I saw an article in National Geographic on Astrophotography. I never knew what was up in the heavens until I picked up that issue. At once it had my undivided attention and I began by making phone calls, first to camera stores and then to phone numbers being given me by those stores of other amateurs that had the same interest.

My first contact was with Tom Madigan, the proud owner of a 6" Criterion. The views through that Newtonian were breathtaking. I was hooked. I found out that you could build your own refractor by buying the parts from a Long Island based firm called A. Jaggers in Lynbrook.

On my first trip to Jaggers I purchased their 5" F/5 refractor in kit form. I quickly assembled this package and used it on a medium duty camera tripod. Next I decided I needed a mount and began construction on a fork mount in Altaz mode. Even though it shook as you focused, I was still awed as I looked at the Moon's craters. I don't have any PIC of that first mount; but I wish I did now.

I went to my first Stellafane in 1973 with five other amateurs. We made the 4 hour drive up to Springfield, Vermont from Long Island. That visit to Stellafane was the highlight of my amateur life. Just seeing all the different amateur built scopes and mounts at Stellafane that year encouraged me to continue ATMing.

Now onto some the highlights of my many telescope projects. All together I personally built 15 - 20 scopes for myself and assisted in another 50 dob scope kits in the 10" and 12.5" sizes for the club members. Over the years ( 1975-80 ), I built a lot of Jagger's refractor kits. A 4" f/15, 3" F/9, 4" F/6, 6" F/5 ( What field curvature - sure could have used a Paracorr back then ). Next I awaited the 9 month delivery of a 12.5" F/5 from a now defunct company, Essential Optics. It had an excellent Coulter mirror only discovered after the supplied secondary was removed from the steel diagonal holder on which it was glued to. The figure on the secondary sprang back and the main mirror performed flawlessly. Many thanks to my long time friend John Vogt for helping me out there.

Next I ordered a Cave mounting and waited another 9 months for it to arrive. Then I mounted my 12.5" F/5 Newtonian on it and used it for another year. I again got the urge to build another scope, so I began ordering parts for a 10" F/4 rich field Newtonian. I assembled this project in short time and of course needed a mount. The PIC you see is an early ( 1976-77 ) German equatorial mount I built to carry that 10" OTA. It had 2" stainless shafts and Byers gears. It was a "Pillow Block Mount". These were common back then and construction was simple. It just required a lot of aluminum plate. The RA axis was driven by a 12" Byers gear and the Dec had an 8" Byers gear.

This mount was super stable. A friend, Joe Daucantas, stopped over to see it and wanted to buy it on the spot. I did not want to part with it. (Photo 2)

After that mount, I stopped ATMing for a while. That was in 1979. I married my loving wife, Kathy, we had our only child, Kristina and for the next 10 years Astronomy and telescope making took a back seat. Not turned off entirely, just put into low gear. We made a few Stellafanes in the early 80's and then I built a 14.5" Porter split ring in 1984. It turned out pretty good and is now owned by one of our club members, Rich Bomer, who uses it upstate NY.

My next project was a 20" Split Ring. It was a lot more work than the 14.5" and a lot larger. The RA ring was 4 feet in diameter. I motorized it and the mirror was excellent. This was sold to a Amateur upstate NY and he still has it today. My last contact with him informed me he had done away with the Split ring and made a DOB rocker box for it. I have a PIC of it here showing Richard Berry and myself in a 1991 Stellafane interview for his TM articles. Sadly, the last issue of TM was that same month as I found out a few weeks later. (Photos 1 & 5)

The next scope I concentrated on was a mounting for my 7" F/9 Starfire from AP. In 1992-93 I built a tripod and dob platform, much along the suggested design of Richard Berry. I entered it into competition at Stellafane in 1993 and the mount won 2 awards. (Photo 3 & 19)

Dobs were in full swing in the mid 90's and I started to try my hand at them. My first large DOB was a 25" F/4. Construction featured a lightweight design (170#s total weight), used Obsession type bearings 24" in diameter and had 8" wheels attached for transportation which rotated out of the way for observing. The telescope and mount was made to be setup by one person and loaded in and out of a Mercury Villager minivan. The entire process took about 10 minutes. I entered it into competition in 1995 Stellafane and it won 2 awards that year. This remained a manual dob for the next three years and then I motorized it with electronics from Tangent Instruments. This worked very well and is unique in that it is a fully closed loop system. Unlike most, if not all the systems out there, when you move this 'scope manually, the drive still knows it's place and you do not have to setup the system again. All other systems require some sort of referencing after a manual movement. See some of the current PICS of this mount and drive system (Photos 17 & 18)

My current telescope project is binoscopes. We had purchased Miyauchi binos and were disappointed in the performance and construction. You could not use any power greater than 37X and the prisms were constantly going out of alignment. The Answer? Build your own: Take a pair of AP 155 EDFS scopes and build a mount for them in tandem. Next order from Japan a set of Bino backs and shorten the OTAs to accommodate the needed additional travel. The end result? Binoscope Nirvana.

The views through this binoscope blow away any binoviewer. Everyone who looks through this setup is amazed. When you view with two eyes and two separate tube assemblies, the true 3D effect punches through. The white light Solar observing we have done shows spot groups on the Limb with a depression effect, called the Wilson effect. The views of the moon show the mountains in 3D. You actually are looking down both sides of the mountains.

Hopefully I can bring this binoscope to Stellafane 2001 for all of you to look through who are planning to attend. (Photos 3, 4, 6 & 7)

Here are more PICS of other scopes I have built including 18" and 20" dobs, 4" f/15 brass refractor, 4" f/10 brass refractors ( 4 of them ), 12.5" F/5 dob, altaz bino mount for the Miyauchi 100mm Florites. (Photos 8 to 16)

Anyone who wishes to contact me please do so. Joe Castoro

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