The “Best” of 2020

Tele Vue Optics, Inc. started the year 2020 optimistically.

For Tele Vue, January 2020 began optimistically: our Apollo 11mm Commemorative eyepiece had started shipping in mid-December and we innocently opined on this blog that the year would be best remembered for “20/20 vision” puns. Our usual round of winter telescope shows and star parties began with David Nagler jetting off for the late-January European Astrofest in London and Al Nagler debuting a 67mm converter for our 55mm Plössl eyepiece at the Winter Star Party in February. David Nagler visited the studio at OPT Telescopes in Carlsbad, CA to discuss The Future of Visual Astronomy for an early-February Space Junk Podcast. In March we were looking forward to the “2020 Messier Marathon” and the arrival of Spring in the latter half of the month. Instead, COVID-19 precautions shut us down from March 20th — the first full day of spring — to May 26th. Thankfully, we all returned to work healthy, but the new concept of “social distancing” put an end to any chance of in-person appearances for the rest of the year.

With the strange year of 2020 behind us, we now choose to look back at the positive. In 2020 we managed to publish 34-postings covering a variety of topics. In this week’s blog we’ll examine our most popular stories for the year based on reader raw page views.

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Meet the Amateur Astronomers at Tele Vue #2

Tele Vue Optics was founded by an amateur astronomer, Al Nagler, and it is no surprise that amateur astronomers have been drawn to fill the ranks of Tele Vue employees. In this week’s blog, as part of an ongoing series, we meet one of the amateur astronomers at Tele Vue.  


Mahendra Mahadeo
Mechanical Engineer

Our newest employee is a telescope builder and avid astrophotographer who has been busy imaging the night sky with a Tele Vue-85 and Canon DSLR since he started at Tele Vue. “Satesh” as he goes by, graduated with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, from City College of NY. Al Nagler, who also graduated from City College with a Physics degree, but just a “few” years before Satesh, has enjoyed having a fellow alumnus on our team.

Al Nagler in his City College sweatshirt (left) with Mahendra Mahadeo (right) socially distant while standing with Al’s 12-inch, f/5.3 Newtonian that won first prize for Newtonians at the Stellafane Convention in 1972. The framed photograph on the ground nearest Al is of the Double Cluster. Al took it with this scope: 80-minutes, tracked by hand back in the film days was enough to end his pursuit of astrophotography! (Staff photo).

In his own words, Mahendra describes his journey into amateur telescope building.

Astronomy was not always a specific interest of mine, it was always space exploration in general. When I learned that there are amateurs that build their own telescopes, that all changed because I felt as if space had become a bit more accessible to me. Being an aspiring engineer at that time, the idea of building something as elegant as a telescope was more appealing than buying one. An extra challenge I had was that I had absolutely no experience with amateur astronomy or telescope making and when I say absolutely, I mean I had never looked through a telescope. Luckily there is a wealth of information online about telescopes and mirror making and I read so much that I became confident that I could do it.

Shown is the cover of Mahendra’s telescope building journal. Over the last six years, he’s filled this codex with draftsman-like sketches of mirror grinding machines, pitch laps, Dobsonian mounts, and telescope designs along with copious notes and data on his work in progress. (Staff photo)

I approached mirror making as smart as I could. To prevent astigmatism, I decided not to grind the mirror by hand. Instead, I made a fixed-post grinder that was driven by a hand crank and this ensured that the mirror’s surface was ground symmetric about its optical axis. I documented the process in a handwritten journal in case I encountered any problems during Ronchi testing. I could refer back to my notes and see what caused the problem. That paid off because I encountered almost every problem I read about; zones, under correction, over correction, turned down edge, etc. I fixed all of them and finally, I had a parabolized 6-inch F/6.5 mirror uncoated. I quickly assembled the mirror into the optical tube. In October 2014, I looked through a telescope for the first time when I finally tested my mirror on the sky by observing the moon and star testing on Sirius. The mirror was still uncoated and I hadn’t made the Dobsonian mount as yet. I pointed the scope by propping it up on a chair. By the end of 2014, the mirror was coated and the mount was complete. The entire process took almost a year, from building the mirror grinder to completing the scope.

Mahadeo’s design for a mirror grinder. (Staff photo)

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Amateur Astronomy in the Time of Pandemic

Christmas Tree Nebula at Amboy Crater by flickr user William Allen. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Astronomy in the time of Covid-19: Getting out in the desert for astrophotography is definitely sheltering in space. Taken at Amboy Crater on March 16, 2020.

Imaging details: Tele Vue-85 APO refractor with Tele Vue TRF-2008 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (converts TV-85 to 480mm f/5.6) imaging into ZWO ASI071 MC Pro Camera. Accessories: Tele Vue Starbeam Finder with Apertura illuminator, ZWO 30F4 Guides Scope with Starlight XPress Lodestar X2 Guide Camera. Mount: Celestron CGX EQ. Software: Celestron PWI, PHD2 Guiding, Astro Photography Tool 3.82.


It was March 19th of this year when we published a blog post, Shelter in Space, inspired by an image posted to flickr by Los Angeles based amateur Bill Allen. At the time we wrote:

Getting out in the desert for astrophotography is definitely sheltering in space.

We encountered the above phrase, this week, in the caption of an image of the Christmas Tree Nebula, made with our Tele Vue-85 APO refractor. We felt it apropos for our hobby as it succinctly conjures the connection between amateur astronomy and our current moment in world history.

Toward the end of the blog we opined:

As a strategy to avoid “cabin fever,” one local New York City television station has urged people to get outside and connect with the natural world — while maintaining social distance. Not an easy task during the day, but an easy prescription to take for amateur astronomers doing their night-time viewing and imaging.

During the course of that week, New York State had been putting out proposals for limiting the number of employees working in non-essential businesses. The proposals first called to limiting staff to 75%, and as the week wore on it evolved to 50% and then a draconian sounding (for the time) 25%. 

The next day, Friday, March 20th, the first full day of Spring — exactly 7-months ago — we found out that social distancing under the stars was not enough: New York State had ordered 100% closure of non-essential businesses statewide for the foreseeable future.  So, we hastily announced on this blog that we would be Closed Due to Covid-19 Until Further Notice.  The news headlines at the time and the uncertainty of the duration of the closing was a jarring development for our staff and some wondered how this would impact the hobby when and even if we re-opened our doors.

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Meet the Amateur Astronomers at Tele Vue Optics #1

Tele Vue Optics was founded by an amateur astronomer, Al Nagler, and it is no surprise that amateur astronomers have been drawn to fill the ranks of Tele Vue employees. In this week’s blog, we meet one of the amateur astronomers at Tele Vue.


Jon Betancourt
Customer Care

Jon is a Chicago native born and raised. Before joining Tele Vue Optics, he worked for 8-years on the retail side of amateur astronomy, splitting his time between 20/20 Telescopes outside Chicago and Woodland Hills Camera & Telescopes in Los Angeles. In this blog post we interview Jon about the “many hats” he wears at Tele Vue headquarters. 

Jon at Cherry Springs Star Party (A. Martinez).

One role you’ll often find Jon fulfilling is quality control on Tele Vue eyepieces. Unlike other manufacturers, that may inspect a representative sample (or none at all), every single Tele Vue eyepiece is checked before going out the door. You might assume that inspecting and boxing dozens of eyepieces a day is tedious. But not for Jon. “I find it therapeutic,” he says while inspecting a 55mm Plössl for cosmetic defects under the glowing fluorescent ring of a magnifier lamp. He eschews the built-in magnifier on the lamp because he feels he sees more just holding the eyepiece close to his eye.

Tele Vue MPT telescope with iris adjustment.

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2020 Product Anniversaries

1977: Introducing Tele Vue!
Plössls – 40 years

The year 2020 holds some big product anniversaries for our company. Tele Vue was founded in 1977 by Al Nagler, originally to sell his television projection lenses (hence the name “Tele Vue” to match the abbreviation “TV” — read “Tele Vue: What’s in a Name?” blog post). In 1980 Al introduced Tele Vue to the amateur astronomy market with its inaugural range of four Plössl eyepieces (26mm, 17mm, 10.4mm, and 7.4mm). Additional models followed over the years until the final five focal lengths were released 25-years ago (1995).

Richard Berry published the first review of Tele Vue Plössls in the August 1981 issue of Astronomy magazine. Tele Vue printed the complete review in our ad in the October 1981 issue of Sky & Telescope!
The original Plossl line was expanded and Nagler eyepieces took top billing at the time this advert was published in the Feb. 1982 issue of Sky & Telescope.

Nagler – 40 years

With the positive reception of the Plössl eyepieces (hailed as “the sharpest I’ve ever used” by Astronomy editor Richard Berry) Al Nagler had the confidence to then bring to market his ground-breaking 82° Nagler eyepiece. This eyepiece used principles from Al’s work a decade earlier on an optical probe for an aircraft landing simulator. So began the era of “spacewalk” viewing forty years ago. (See slide show in “I Thank My Lucky Stars!” blog post.)

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Tele Vue APO Design and Build “Secrets”

Over the years, we’ve seen conversational topics in online amateur circles that repeatedly crop up concerning the definition of apochromatic refractor, triplet vs. doublet design, and how glass designation might define performance.  We expect these questions to continue to appear as new amateurs discover the hobby. So bookmark this blog post because here you’ll find notes on Tele Vue’s philosophy and build practices concerning our telescope line of 100% APO refractors.

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50-Years After Apollo: One of Al Nagler’s Designs is Scheduled for Launch! – P.U.N.C.H.

Apollo 11 made a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean 50-years ago today after an 8-day mission.  Thus ended the mission that made the historic first manned landing on the Moon with the Lunar Module named Eagle
The iconic image of the Earth rising over the Moon was made 1968 when Apollo 8 became the first manned craft to orbit the Moon. The mission’s impact is explained in this New York Times article.
Over the past 8-days, we’ve been reminded of the audacious journey, made 50-years ago, to set foot on Earth’s nearest neighbor: the Moon. A constant in our sky, this orb has been gazed upon by countless generations of people who thought it beyond reach. The Apollo moon landings changed all that and left a mark on our human psych. The phrase “Moonshot project,” for a large-scale, ground-breaking endeavor has been in the public lexicon ever since. Images looking back at Earth from the Apollo missions put our planet in a new perspective and prompted American poet Archibald MacLeish to write: “To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”
 

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Clyde Bone and His Two Unusual Mersenne Telescopes!

In this guest blog post, Ted Hume describes two telescopes designed and built by Clyde Bone. At first they appear to be “big-Dobs.” However, look close and you’ll note they don’t require “shaky ladders” as the final focus is through Tele Vue telescopes near ground-level. They also serve as their own finders. Read on about these fascinating instruments and how they could be yours!

Blue 20-inch, f/5 Mersenne telescope uses a Tele Vue Genesis refractor for its “eyepiece” and red 30-inch, f/5 big-brother (image shown reversed) uses Tele Vue-140 refractor. No need to climb ladders to view through these! Both scopes built by Clyde Bone. Ted Hume is at the eyepiece. Images by the author with all rights reserved.

Clyde M. Bone, Jr. (1928 − 2012) of San Angelo, Texas designed and built two Mersenne telescopes, first a 20-inch and then a 30-inch.

His career included working for the Texas Border Commission in the Big Bend area of Texas, geologist for an oil company ─ who flew a light plane to drilling sites and landed on dirt roads, science teacher at a Texas high school and in the Texas prison system. When he decided to build a Mersenne telescope, he was retired and spent a year studying optics. Then he was ready.

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Downsizing to the Perfect Small Scope and Mount

Barry Kawa’s “big toys” archive photos from his years in Ohio. On the left is his 6″, f/10 achromatic refractor with equatorial mount on a tall, roll-out mount (looks like you can sleep on the tray!). The light bucket on the right (also on wheels) is a Coulter 17.5″ Dobsonian, nicknamed “The Other Woman.” Image © Barry Kawa with all rights reserved.
Barry Kawa,  a U.S. journalist now living in Japan, wrote a prior blog for us (Does it spark joy?) about the joy of collecting scopes and the task of paring down the collection to what gives him joy. You can read this post as a “part 2” for the phase of life when it’s time to go with just one scope and mount.

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“Lights All Askew in the Heavens”

Eclipse image from May 1919. Newspapers from the end of that year.

The May 29, 1919 eclipse, that happened 100-years ago this past week, will always be remembered as a key “turning point” in the history of physics.  “Lights All Askew in the Heavens” exclaimed a New York Times headline while The Pittsburgh Gazette Times declared that the “Elusive ‘Fourth Dimension’ Finally Proven to Exist == Newton Theory Refuted.” Newspaper editors in 1919 were grasping at straws to explain the result of an experiment that crazily proved that star light was bent by the gravity of the Sun. Their articles on the subject introduced the names of  English astronomer, Arthur Eddington, and the German scientist Albert Einstein to the public. It was Eddington that announced to the world the results of an  experiment he organized to test a theory put forth by the then obscure German physicist. What made Eddington’s announcement unusual was that he was an English scientist propping up a theory from a German scientist in the acrimonious aftermath of the First World War. This was just a few months after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. 

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