Amateur Telescope Making in India
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On these pages I am primarily describing making of a Newtonian telescope with 100mm (4 inch) primary mirror. For the further discussion I have considered here that the reader is acquainted with his or her 10th standard science in general and optics in particular. No you don't have to rush and buy 10th standard science text book, it will come back to you as you read these pages.
What follows below is my personal experience regarding amateur telescope making.
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And if you are keen about making your own telescope please check this 17 min video.
Or cut and paste this in your web browser >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_u9zjamBvs <<<.
Around 1985 Dr P N Shankar authored three books - A Guide to Night Sky (Dec 1984) , Clusters, nebulae & galaxies: A notice observer's handbook (1985) and How to Build a Telescope (1985). The books were published by Karnataka Rajya Vijnana Parishat (KRVP).
The singularly important aspect of the book, apart from its usefulness, was that there was no copyright. Shankar would allow anyone to make as many copies as they like. Soon photocopying was becoming simpler and cheaper and many made copies of HBT for their own use or distributed the copies if they conducted a telescope making workshop. Some even translated the book in other languages and created themselves authorship.
The first web version HBT was put by the Public Outreach Programme of IUCAA of Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune by Vinaya Kulkarni. Since then its pdf version is available at other sites too.
Genesis of the book (as I see it):
It was, I suppose, month of March of year 1980. Some members of Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers (ABAA) had returned back to Bangalore after a successful observations of the Total Solar Eclipse of Feb 16, 1980. Arun Gurjale one of the key members of ABAA was telling Dr P N Shankar how expensive it is for an amateur astronomers association, let alone an amateur astronomer, to own a telescope. Both of them were returning home from National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL) where they worked. Arun had talked about the eclipse expedition and talked about ABAA and Shankar had asked him if ABAA own a telescope. At that point Shankar offered some money to ABAA to buy or build a telescope it as thought best to make a telescope and the saved money can be used for buying books. That is what happened.
After some period of time a Newtonian telescope with 9 inch primary mirror was built. Soon Shankar was invited to see the outcome of his generous donation. At this time he was astronomical distances away from astronomy but soon got keenly interested
in astronomy and telescope making and eventually wrote his books.
So far HBT has been, to the best of my knowledge, the only book on
making a reflecting telescope by any Indian author. There had been a few
attempts to revive this book but without much
However, between the last
printed edition of HBT in (1990) and today many changes have taken place.
The situation now is not as bad as it was in 1980s.
It has become possible for one to buy a telescope off the shelf in the market at relatively reasonable price. But there are people who would like to make their own telescopes and publishing or reaching out to people has become simpler. This attempt is in that direction only.
I will write about this later and I request the reader if he or she has any information to contribute. But for this page let me say that where were many players before Shankar. B S C Rao and his father B V S Rao were good telescope maker. P Devedas contributed to telescope making in Chennai (Madras then) a lot by teaching and manufacturing telescope - his telescopes were sold across the country. There was company in Kolhapur that sold number of telescopes. A friend gave me one of the mount. It is a master piece. Raju Patel in Mumbai manufactured telescopes at very low cost. All these player as prior to or around Shankar's time.
I as telescope maker:
Just as I was going through this training at IIA the offer from Shankar had come. At this point task of making of 9 inch mirror, for ABAA, was given to me. The mount etc was
made by Arun Gurjale and B S C Rao. And when Shankar started showing
interest in astronomy I helped Shankar start on grinding his first
mirror at his house in Bangalore. I was not a good teacher for a brilliant 'student' Shankar was. Most of the time I had no answers to his questions. Second best thing that I did was - I borrowed a book 'How to make a Telescope by Jean Texereau from IIA library. It was not easy for me to do so as at IIA, though there was no restriction on borrowing the books but we were not allowed to take the book out and I was not even at the beginning of hierarchical ladder.
Shankar not only went on to make his telescope too deep interest in astronomy. He with Ashok Day (about whom I will write later) brought fresh air to ABAA. First a lecture series was conducted at VITM. Shankar took this extremely seriously. No one was allowed to give a talk before it was done twice with Shankar himself as main audience. Later he wrote those three books. Later with him guiding we conducted telescope making
workshops in Bangalore under ABAA banner at VITM. More importantly Shankar and Arun with Ashok brought in a different culture at ABAA. First we learned to address each other by first name. We debated science and here there was no one was 'big' - Shankar taught us to say 'yes I am (or I was) wrong' to some one much younger. Well I can go on, but end by saying I have lasting memories of the time I spent with Arun, Ashok and Shankar (well I must say that initials abbreviates to me).
Dilip Kumar who was one of the participants of the
first workshop is now a great telescope maker himself. We conducted more workshops. Some workshop were only for the school teacher of Karnataka. A month after these workshop were conducted we would go to schools away from Bangalore to see if they are making good use of the telescope and sort out problems if they have any. Dilip had a good mobike and I fondly remember going on long riding expeditions with him to the school near Bangalore.
Later for various reason I had moved away from ATM in Bangalore.
After I shifted to Pune (in 1991) I initiated the ATM activity, first at a local amateur astronomers association and then at IUCAA. We at IUCAA stated
supporting telescope making for amateur astronomers. Vinaya Kulkarni, who had
just completed her Bachelor's degree joined us. Over a period of time she was an expert of her own right. She mastered the technique of silvering the mirrors. The single most advantage of silvering (when it was not so expensive to buy silver salt) was that after the mirror was made one could take the first light of a star.