Garden Spot Observatory
Astronomers are frequently asked "what telescope should
I buy?" by people just getting started in astronomy. Inexpensive and department
store telescopes sold with claims of "750x Power!" are almost always
a disappointment even if you're able to find something with them.
A more practical and rewarding way to start is with binoculars. A good quality pair is often less than that department store telescope and many people already have a pair sitting on the closet shelf. They're easier to transport and use and take no time to set up. They show you a much wider view of the sky and don't (usually) need batteries! Magnification is generally lower, but for these purposes often less really is more.
There is a big problem with binoculars though, holding them steady while arching your back and neck to look up. A new style of mount has recently come out to relieve this, but they typically cost as much as $200! That can be more than the binoculars cost! The mount I've built below solves the comfort problem and does it for less than $15. It's a composite of several designs that I "borrowed" from others.
The mount is made from scraps of wood I had left over from other projects. The bottom is 3/4" pine and the uprights and cross piece are 2x4's. I hammered a standard 1/4" x 20 insert nut ($.79) into the bottom so it would screw onto a standard photo tripod, but as you see below it's happy to sit on a table, railing or car hood.
In the image above you can see the L-bracket that holds the binoculars. I purchased this when I bought the binoculars, but one could easily be fashioned from wood or inexpensive hardware if necessary.
The mirror mount is made from a replacement
rearview mirror. I wanted the ball joint. At $7 it was the most expensive piece
of the mount. This way you can move the mirror or tripod head and save your
neck! I discarded the mirror that came with it and replaced it with some plywood
to hold the new mirror. You must use a first surface mirror so the image isn't
distorted. You'll know it's first surface if you can hold a credit card to it
and have the real card edge appear to touch the reflected edge. If you see a
space between the edges it's not a first surface mirror.
My mirror happens to be Army surplus from an M1 tank periscope ($5). But before you start sending emails, many of the rectangular truck replacement mirrors in auto supply stores are perfect and about the same price.
An Alternative Mount
This variation on the mount replaces the
truck mirror housing with a flat piece of plywood.
The mirror is glue to the wood with silicone adhesive.
Nails, laid flat, were used to create a space between the wood and mirror back while
the adhesive dried. This reduces distortion of the mirror due to
The wood platform is attached to two "L" brackets which limit movement to forward and back.
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