In Search of Perfect Happiness

Jack Kramer

After awhile, the conversation among amateur astronomers often turns to the subject of what each envisions as his or her "perfect", "ideal", or "ultimate" telescope. This is the main instrument that you end up with - the one referred-to in your obituary: "At the time of his demise, Joe Blow was observing with a ..."

Our infamous LCAS Dictionary included the term "Two- Inchitis", which is the belief that if only your telescope optics were two inches larger in aperture, you'd be perfectly happy. But the search for happiness doesn't always involve significantly larger optics. For example, Gary Smith already owns a six-inch reflector with a very fine mirror, but his ultimate telescope is a five or six-inch Astrophysics apochromatic refractor. Here, aperture is subordinate to image quality and portability. Sometimes, it's a matter of just appreciating excellence of finish and design. This is borne out by the fact that the late Walter Scott Houston, the S&erT columnist and mentor of deep sky observers, did most of his work with a vintage five-inch Clark refractor, rather than some huge light bucket, as you might expect. Then there are those folks like our own Mike Cain who have such a hard time deciding what they really want and become so attached to what they have that they end up with several telescopes. In Mike's case, that's a different one for every night of the week.

Any one of us might well achieve happiness with any one of a number of different telescopes. Let's face it, if you really knew what you wanted, you might not be so reluctant to go into hock to buy that perfect scope, knowing it would be all you would need for the rest of your days...and nights. In effect, it would be like a piece of heirloom jewelry...a once-in- a-lifetime investment. As it is, few of us are able to immediately say that we know exactly what we want. This is driven by practicality. Darn few of us will ever be so fortunate as to live in an area with good skies conducive to having an observatory with a large and permanently-mounted telescope. So maybe that ideal scope won't be big, but it will be as perfect as we can get, with no compromises, other than the need for portability...and maybe to have a little money left over for things like food and shelter. Invariably, we reconcile ourselves to some degree of reality.

In a recent issue of this newsletter, there was an article about the quality of the different telescope optical designs. It touted the fact that the classic Newtonian, if properly made, will provide the best resolution. I've been watching the astronomy magazines to see what sorts of telescopes the quasi-professional amateur astronomers tend to use. These are the Jack Newtons, Robert Evans, Don Parkers, and Howard Brewingtons of the world. Most use large Newtonians on equatorial mounts. But they have the luxury of having their scopes permanently mounted. For the other 99% of us, portability has to be a consideration.

When the issue of an ultimate telescope was put to various LCAS members, a frequent response was ,"Boy, that's a tough question..." Then they'd tick off different telescopes that they'd like to own. The aim of this article is to be a lead- in to the survey report on the next page that shows what telescopes LCAS members presently own. Note that quite a few own more than one telescope. And some own three or more, but we only have two fields available for this in our club database. Not all the members are listed -- only those for whom we have telescope data. (If somehow you were missed in the survey, I apologize; please call me at 847-362-0959, so your instrument(s) can be added to the club database.) If you want to find out how the various members like what they've got, then you can get a first-hand report from them. Have any achieved perfect happiness? Ask them! But remember that in the final analysis it's not the telescope itself that's what you do with it.

Published in the February 1995 issue of the NightTimes