3 Girl Scouts aim for Jupiter - and score big time
SR teens' hand-built telescope outshines 600 other entries in competition
Published: Friday, July 22, 2005 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 21, 2005 at 9:00 p.m.
Three Santa Rosa Girl Scouts using a cardboard tube and plywood built a telescope powerful enough to see the rings of Saturn and the lines on Jupiter.
"The first time we looked through it we looked at the moon, and it was like, oh my God, this is so cool, and we built it, it is ours," said Katie Barmazel, 15.
As part of the project, the three teenagers also hand-ground their own 8-inch mirror, a job that took 270 hours and propelled them to both Merit and Astronomers Choice awards at the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference, winning over 600 other entries.
Fortuitously, John Dobson, the monk-turned-San Francisco-sidewalk-astronomer whose design for homemade telescopes was used by the teens, was at the Memorial Day conference and autographed their entry tag.
"John Dobson ... is legendary for this innovation, which has brought fairly powerful telescope capabilities at costs that make them affordable to the masses," said J. Kelly Beatty, senior editor of Sky and Telescope magazine.
The telescope was built by Barmazel, Sarah Davis and Ivy White, all members of Girl Scout Troop 83 who will be Santa Rosa High School juniors next year.
Davis, 16, said the three were searching for a project that tied in with science, decided to try to build a telescope and attended a Dobsonian telescope-making workshop at Chabot Observatory in Oakland.
"We didn't really know how hard it was going to be, although we did see them in different stages of construction at Chabot," Davis said.
Dobson came up with the design for the telescope that bears his name more than five decades ago, when he was a monk in Sacramento, and he found an eager audience of amateur astronomers.
"Dobsonians probably number in the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands," Beatty said. "In the 1950s and 1960s, before mass market telescopes were available, a lot of people would make their own telescopes."
Designed to be built cheaply by amateurs, Dobsonians are reflective telescopes that use cardboard tubes for the telescope barrel and a boxy plywood base for the tripod.
No electronics are needed to track a planet across the sky - the user just gives the telescope a nudge to keep the planet in view.
The telescopes can be built as inexpensively as the builder's skill and resourcefulness allow.
Builders of Dobsonians often end up with ungainly-looking telescopes, but they can offer more power for the price than a store-bought telescope.
"A medium-range telescope for an amateur often has a 2- to 4-inch mirror, but by building it yourself, you can bring the mirror up to 8 to 10 inches," said John Loyer, president of the Ferguson Observatory near Kenwood. "If you are looking at a galaxy with a 4-inch mirror, it is a fuzzy blob. With an 8-inch mirror, you can see some of the spiraling arms."
The Ferguson Observatory has a Dobsonian telescope with a 24-inch mirror and is building another with a 40-inch mirror, and Sonoma County Astronomical Society members themselves make a dozen Dobsonians a year to give away to children.
For their Dobsonian, the three Santa Rosa teens used a 4-foot cardboard tube for the barrel, covering it with blue contact paper and using a shower cap as a dust cover.
The black-painted plywood base uses Teflon pads, Formica strips and an LP record as bearings.
The grinding of the lens was a laborious task that the girls squeezed in between homework and other demands.
They were able to get most of the materials donated, which otherwise would have cost about $1,000.
The Riverside award comes with a 10-inch mirror blank, a tour of the Palomar Observatory in San Diego and an invitation by Dobson to his 90th birthday party in San Francisco next month.
"I was speechless," Barmazel said. "I was half-expecting the award, because I had learned that no one else had ground their own lens. Still, to be announced as a winner, it is an amazing feeling - you are getting recognized."
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