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MAKE A BEGINNER'S TELESCOPEA telescope with a tube is nice, but it's more complicated than necessary. A telescope with adjustable focus is useful, but it's hard to build. A project that's too complex and difficult will drive people away, when the goal is to tempt them into building it.
Here is an extremely easy version of a Telescope Build-it
project. No cardboard tube or adjustable focus mechanism is required. All that
you need is a pair of lenses. Tempting?
THE LENSESTwo lenses are needed to build a telescope. We call these the "objective" lens and the "eyepiece" lens.
/\ | | | | /\ (( ( | | | | /\\ .............| |...............| |...0 \\ | | | | \// | | \/ | | | / \/ OBJECTIVE EYEPIECE LENS: LENS: * large * small * weak * powerful * convex only * convex OR concaveThe "Objective" lens should always be a convex lens. Convex lenses are thicker in the middle, and can be used as magnifying glasses or for concentrating sunlight. Try to find one which is large and weak. The weaker it is, the more powerful your telescope will be. The thinner it is in the center, the weaker it is.
_______ _-- --_ <_ _> Side view of convex lens --_______-- ___----___ _/ \_ /______________\ This type of convex lens also will workThe "eyepiece" lens can be either a convex or concave lens. If you use a convex eyepiece, your telescope will turn everything upside-down. This kind of telescope is called a "Newtonian." And if you use a concave lens as your eyepiece, your telescope will not turn things upside-down. This type of scope is called a "Galilean."
For your eyepiece, try to find a lens which is small and powerful. A small, powerful magnifying loupe makes a good telescope eyepiece.
|\_ _/| | ----_____---- | Concave: | _____ | Powerful | _---- ----_ | |/ \| _ _ | ---_________--- | Concave: | _________ | Weak |_--- ---_|You can buy cheap lenses from the suppliers below.
USING YOUR TELESCOPEFace a distant, well-lighted object such as a lamp, or distant trees outdoors.
Hold your Eyepiece Lens right on your eye and look through it. It's
OK to close your other eye.
Hold your Objective lens right in front of your eyepiece.
Slowly move your Objective lens forward until the scene comes into
focus. Sometimes it's hard to find the right distance, so try
many different places. Look through your lenses and find the blurry
edge of trees or lightbulb, then move the objective lens in or out
so that the blurry edge looks sharper.
Your lenses are now a telescope!
Now that you know the trick, you can make a telescope whenever you
find two different lenses lying around. If a friend happens to
have two magnifying glasses, grab them, put the more powerful one
right on your eye, move the other in and out, and you'll have an
HOW TELESCOPES WORKI've read many different explanations of telescopes. Most of them are confusing and complicated. Some are even wrong. So, if you read an explanation and don't understand it, don't blame yourself. Blame the author of the book or encyclopedia for not being a good explainer!
Having said this, do I think I can do better? I don't know. A good
explanation of a telescope should be easy to understand. I've never
seen a really good one, so all I can do is try to explain things in a
different way than books usually do, and see how well it works.
MY SIMPLE EXPLANATION:If you put a lens right on your eye, it makes things blurry, but it does not magnify distant scenes. This is how eyeglasses work. They change the blurry-ness or sharpness of what you see, but they don't act as magnifiers when used normally.
Now if you move a lens away from your eye, and keep looking through
it, everything WILL change size. If the lens is concave (thinner in
the center,) everything you see in the lens will get smaller and
smaller as you move the lens farther away from your eye. If you use a
convex lens instead, everything will get bigger and bigger as you
move it away.
By moving the convex lens in and out, we can change the size of
everything, or make it all go upside-down or rightside-up.
Unfortunately everything is very blurry when you're looking through
the lens. If only there was some way to remove the blurryness, we
could hold a convex lens in front of our eye and use it to magnify
There is a way to remove the blur: wear glasses! Glasses are used to
correct blurry vision, and they can fix this blur too. Put another
lens right upon your eye. It acts like eyeglasses and makes the image
sharp. If you do this, you have constructed a telescope. The
objective lens creates a magnified view of distant objects, while the
eyepiece lens removes the blur. That's how telescopes work.
MAKE A TELESCOPE USING JUST ONE LENSHere's an interesting question. If human beings could focus their eyes better, could we build telescopes with only one lens? Suppose you were able to focus your eyes on an object that was 1/10 inch away from your eye. Couldn't you hold an "objective" lens a few inches away, look through it, then focus really hard with your eyes and create a telescope? The answer is yes!
Even if you don't have a superhuman ability to overfocus your eyes,
you can still make a simple one-lens telescope. Here's how. Hold a
weak convex lens in front of your eye. Close your other eye. Move
the lens far away so that everything turns upside-down. Move the
lens a bit closer so that everything stays upside-down, but gets
bigger and blurry. Now focus your eyes really hard by crossing them.
(This might take a bit of practice! Crossing your eyes while one eye
is closed is not that easy to do.)
The image you see in the lens will become sharper. If it doesn't
become completely sharp, then move the lens farther away. Also try
moving the lens closer while focusing really, REALLY hard. Everything
you see in the lens will be clear, sharp, and magnified!
You have made a telescope with nothing but a single lens! Tell your
friends about it and they won't believe you. Then show them the
trick and they'll be amazed.
MAKE A TELESCOPE WITH A LENS AND SOME FOILIt is also possible to make a telescope using aluminum foil and one lens. The lens will act as the telescope's objective lens. To make an eyepiece, we just poke a tiny hole in the foil, and use this pinhole as the telescope eyepiece lens. The tiny hole in the foil removes the blur. But it also makes the image very dim. That's alright, just use this telescope to watch a bright outdoor scene.
To make a good pinhole, stack up several layers of aluminum foil, poke
the stack with a pin, then separate the layers and choose whichever
one has a very round, very small hole. Experiment with different
holes; put one on your eye, look through it a brightly-lit scene,
and see how sharp
everything looks. Smaller holes generally give sharper, dimmer images,
but VERY small holes cause blur because of "optical diffraction"
effects. You want your pinhole to be very small, but not so small
that things become blurry.
To make a telescope, hold the best pinhole against your eye and look
through it. Look at a brightly lit scene, such as the sunny outdoors
outside a classroom window. Now place your objective lens against the
pinhole, then move it slowly outwards. When you see a magnified
scene, your telescope is working! You can hold your lens in different
spots so the scene is either upside down or right side up.
An aluminum foil pinhole can be made sturdier by using rubber cement
to glue it to a piece of cardboard which has a 1cm hole punched in the
center (don't get cement in the tiny pinhole though!)
You can use your pinhole-telescope to create a "zoom lens" effect by
moving the objective lens towards the pinhole or away. And depending
on the distance between the pinhole and the lens, the scene you see
can either be upside-down or right-side-up. It's very complicated to
build a zoom-lens telescope with real eyepiece lenses, but if you use
a pinhole it becomes simple.
Get yourself some lenses:American Science and Surplus sells inexpensive kits of miscellaneous lenses. Contact them at http://sciplus.com. Get a "large" kit for objectives, and a "small" kit for eyepieces:
#3707 Kit, small lenses, ten for $2.00
Another supplier is Surplus Shed, with
"educational" lenses costing about two dollars each.
Edmund Scientific sells lenses too. Check out their website at
and request a mail-order catalog.
Get two convex lenses, one with 200mm focal length or more, and one with
75mm or less.