From the July 2006 issue

Glenn Chaple’s observing basics: Off to Vermont

July 2006: Stellafane's rich history sets it apart from other astronomy conventions.
By | Published: July 1, 2006 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Eighty years ago, astronomy enthusiasts gathered at Stellafane to swap telescope-making ideas and show off their inventions.
Archives, Springfield Telescope Makers
Each year, more than 1,000 amateur astronomers converge on this hallowed ground for a weekend of astronomy and telescope-making. Many, myself included, will camp in the fields and clearings near the pink Stellafane clubhouse and observe under a cloudless (we hope!) Green Mountain sky. Whether or not the weather cooperates, there’s always the pleasure of being in the company of so many astronomy enthusiasts.

Stellafane’s rich history sets it apart from other astronomy conventions. In the 1920s, telescope-making got started in this area of the United States. In those days, commercially made telescopes often were beyond the financial grasp of astronomy enthusiasts. Making a reflecting telescope — by grinding and polishing the main mirror, then assembling the scope from locally available parts — was often the would-be telescope owner’s only option.

In 1920, sixteen people from Springfield, Vermont, attended a telescope-making class under the tutelage of Russell Porter. That class evolved into an astronomy club (Springfield Telescope Makers), and then into a convention — Stellafane. Scientific American reported on their telescope-making innovations, and the rest is history.

The Dobsonian mount’s debut in the late 1970s made telescopes more affordable. Still, the telescope-making bug lives on. Perhaps it’s the allure of unlocking the universe’s wonders with a tool made from your own hands. Every amateur astronomer should at least try to construct a homebuilt telescope during her or his life, whether from “scratch” or from a kit.

Making a telescope from the ground up can be a daunting task. I know, because in my cellar is an incomplete 6-inch mirror I began grinding back in 1970! I started out alone, immediately ran into problems, and gave up. I’ve recently returned to the task, this time with some assistance.

Fellow Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston (ATMoB) members John Reed and Phil Rounseville inspired me to get going again, and I hope to have my homebuilt 6-inch Dob in operation by year’s end. The lesson I’ve learned: Unless you’re a do-it-yourself whiz, don’t tackle mirror-grinding without the guidance of an experienced telescope-maker.

If pushing glass isn’t your cup of tea or you lack the necessary time, you can purchase completed optics and then assemble your own scope. Build Your Own Telescope, written by former Astronomy editor Richard Berry, and Making & Enjoying Telescopes, by Robert Miller and Kenneth Wilson, showcase several nice designs that can be made with a minimal amount of materials and effort. An older, but still useful, telescope-making guide is Sam Brown’s All About Telescopes, available from Edmund Scientific.

Want to learn more about telescope-making? Go to the official Stellafane web site at web site. In addition to telescope-making tips and a list of resources, you’ll find information about the Stellafane Convention. If you live in the northeast United States or southeast Canada, why not join me at this year’s Stellafane? It runs July 28–30. Just don’t tease me about my teddy bear!