First Telescope

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It all started after my family took out a number of subscriptions for magazines that are offered from time-to-time by Publishers Clearinghouse. My dad got me a subscription to Popular Science. The August 1974 issue was particularly interesting with its article on the future of fusion power. But when I flipped the page I came across a 2-page spread of a 5 page article, "Sky watcher's guide to Telescopes", and looked with amazement that there are other scopes out there besides those disappointing department store instruments. My attention was immediately drawn to a photo of the Criterion Dynascope RV-6 for $220; a 6 inch (150 cm) reflecting telescope complete with 3 eyepieces and a clock drive.  And the article said it was a great buy!  The article also mentioned that this scope had many good features not found at this price.  How could I go wrong? After reading what I could expect to see in various scopes, I immediately began saving for the RV-6. On the same page was a photo of the Criterion Dynamax 8; an 8 inch (20 cm) schmidt-cassegrain telescope.  It also came with 3 eyepieces, a clock drive and a variable frequency drive corrector.  The article noted that these features made this a complete instrument. But at $795, it was beyond the budget of a 14 year old.  However, the Dynamax would also linger at the back of my mind for a few years.  More on that later.
By the spring of 1975, our family was preparing for its annual trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and I was anxious to stop in to Criterion Manufacturing's Hartford Connecticut facility to lay down the $220.  We arrived at Criterion just before lunch and were greeted by a receptionists peering out of a tiny frosted glass window. "Can I help you", she asked. My dad spoke up right off and said, "my son here wants to purchase a Criterion Dynascope RV-6".  The lady looked a little hesitant and then replied, "we have a six month back log of  orders".  At this point, my jaw was on the ground.  My dad quickly came back with, "But we came all the way from Canada".  Concerned, the women said, "Oh dear, just a minute, I'll be right back".  Within a minute a nice gentleman came out from the production area and recounted what we had said to the receptionist. "It's too bad you folks came all the way down here from Canada. We normally only ship telescopes to our customers."  My dad was not going to let this one go.  "This is disappointing. Is there anything that you can do?" "Well"...thought the man, "how about you folks go to lunch, and that will gives us some time to pull a scope off the line for you and get it prepared?"  My jaw came right up off the floor, and my grin must have been picture perfect. It was the fastest lunch our family ever had.  We were back at Criterion within the hour and I had a new Dynascope in the trunk of the car. Seeing as there really wasn't a good place to set up the scope at the motel we were stayng at in Myrtle Beach, I instead familiarized myself with the telescope parts and operations by thoroughly reading the manual.  It would not be until we got back to Sherbrooke, Quebec, that I was able to put the scope through its paces.  My first target was the ringed planet Saturn. At this point I still had no idea how a German equatorial mount worked.  I had the whole thing backwards.  The polar axis was pointing south.  I was using the declination axis for east-west movements, and loosening and tightening the latitude adjustment bolt to get the scope to pivot up and down. I thought to myself how awkward this was, and maybe I had made a mistake with this purchase. Nonetheless, the views of Saturn that night were nothing short of breathtaking. And it was only the next day that realized how to properly orientate the mount so that it functions as designed.  Now that makes sense, I thought, as I began using the declination and right ascension axis. That night, the views of Saturn were even more enjoyable, as the telescope tracked with its clock drive.
With sufficient funds saved up and a potential buyer for the Dynascope RV-6 lined up, it was time to move up to the Criterion Dynamax 8 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.  For the next four years this image of the Dynamax (and the original Popular Science Magazine that reviewed it) were prominently displayed in view on the shelving next to my bed.  Many a night I would stare at this image just before turning out the lights, and thinking some day I would have my own Dynamax. That day arrived in the summer of 1978.  Another trip to Criterion Manufacturing (this time prearranged for my pick-up order) was made.  That was the same year I visited my sister in rural Ohio. The dark skies that she had plus the added aperture of the Dynamax made for some very memorable evenings.  My first-light target with this scope was M13, a globular cluster in Hercules.  What a magnificent site!  Stars that were unresolvable in the 6 inch Dynascope, now peppered the field of view in the 8 inch Dynamax.  The Dynamax would serve me well for 18 years, 15 of them from the comforts of my home built observatory.
Beginning in 1984, Astronomy, and my Dynamax had to take a back seat as I immersed myself in graduate studies. Doing a M.Sc. is not to be taken lightly. It would not be until 1988 that I would own my first house, and reestablish a home for my observatory in Oshawa.  The most memorable event was viewing the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy on Jupiter. The Professional astronomers were saying that nothing could be seen with "amateur" equipment, but history speaks for itself.

By November 1993, yet another full page ad, this time in Sky & Telescope Magazine, would draw a stare similar to the one I had back in 1974 of the Dynascope in Popular Science Magazine. This time is was the Meade 12 inch (30 cm) LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain with "GOTO" capability.  GOTO telescopes had been out for a few years, but telescopes up to 10 inch aperture were being offered. Moving from an 8 inch to a 12 inch seemed irresistible.
It would take a couple years to save up for the Meade, but by June 1996, the Dynamax was sold and the Meade arrived. First-light with the 12 inch was of Jupiter. The added light gathering of this scope over the 8 inch was immediately evident as I could see so many more faint stars in the background. The 12 inch had a great  home in my observatory for eight years. With the GOTO capability, I was able to expand on many observing lists, and spend more time looking at rather than looking for objects.  At times the "hunt" can be satisfying, but when you work all week, its nice to throw open the observatory, and do some observing before having to get to bed for that Monday to Friday daily grind.  By November 2004, the 12 inch would find its new home at the Newcastle Observatory.