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Cleaning and Collimating Your Telescope

There is very little to wear out eyepieces in their cases first.
on a telescope, and it should Then carry the protected optics
literally last a lifetime, but not inside, and allow them to warm
without some basic mainte- up gradually. This will prevent
nance. The constant jostling condensation from forming on
and exposure to the elements is them. Once the equipment has
bound to take its toll, requiring warmed close to room tem-
that you clean and collimate the perature, it can be uncovered.
optics from time to time. Do this even if dew or frost has
For a telescope to deliver formed on the optics outside.
the best image possible, pre- A little moisture on the optics
cise collimation of the optics now and then will do no harm,
is essential. This means all the but if it happens regularly, cor-
mirrors and lenses should be rector plates and lenses can col-
centered and angled properly so lect a filmy residue, sometimes
that light rays hitting the main on both the outside and inside
mirror or lens on-axis form an surfaces, forcing more frequent
image in the exact center of the cleaning, which is not good. If
eyepiece. If the optics are not the telescope is being used night
collimated, stars in the center of after night in cold weather, store
Happiness is a clean the field will look like distorted it in a cold but dry place, such as
and collimated tele- comets flared to one side, rather an unheated garage with a dry
scope. One reason than symmetrical pinpoints. In concrete floor. This will avoid
why owners report severe cases, nothing will come condensation, and shorten cool-
their Schmidt- to a sharp focus. down time.
Cassegrains perform To keep optics clean, fol- A word of caution: Clean
poorly is that even a low a few precautions: When optics only when absolutely
slight miscollimation bringing a telescope in from the necessary. Vigorous cleaning can
of an SCTs optics can cold, always cap the main optics do far more harm than some
degrade sharpness. and pack the telescope and dust and dew spots.
Cleaning Optics
Lens Cleaning Tips with the canned air: if you tilt the can, some
If cleaning is needed of the propellant may spew out spotting the
Do not use cleaning solu- optics with chemical gunk.)
tions or cloths sold for eye- The chief ingredient of care is the preven-
glasses. These can leave tion of dust in the first place, so keep the 2. Next, use a soft camel-hair brush and
filmy chemical smears. optics covered when not in use. When dust very light strokes to remove loose specks.
Camera lens cleaners does accumulate on the surface, you can de- Any that remain could scratch the surface
work fine for the small sur- fer a major cleaning job by whisking it off when you perform the following step.
face area of eyepieces but promptly while it is still dust, before a night
can smear larger areas of of heavy dew transforms it into mud. 3. For eyepieces, moisten a cotton swab
telescope optics. Instead, The best plan is to mix your own clean- (a Q-Tip) with a few drops of the cleaning 1. Remove mirror carefully 2. Wash gently with cotton balls
use the homebrew formula ing fluid: use distilled water and isopropyl fluid mentioned above. For a larger lens,
described in the text. (rubbing) alcohol of the cheapest and least moisten a cotton ball.
Do not apply fluid directly aromatic variety in a ratio of 50-50. Then
onto a lens; it can seep into add a few drops of dishwashing liquid (not 4. Gently wipe the lens. Do not press
lens cells and into the inte- dishwasher), just enough to undo the sur- hard. If the stain is stubborn, use new swabs
rior of eyepiece barrels. As face tension that causes beading of the wa- or cotton balls. Sometimes, gently breathing
below, clean eyepieces with ter-alcohol mixture on polished glass. The on the lens can help remove stains.
a moistened cotton swab. resultant brew is a potent cleaning agent
Never take an eyepiece that is safe for virtually any antireflection 5. Use a dry swab or cotton ball for a
apart, to remove eyepiece coating and dries clean with a minimum of final cleaning of moist areas, plus some
lenses from their mount- polishing. more air puffs to blow off the bits of tissue
ings. You may never get that inevitably remain. A few smears might
them back correctly. CLEANING EYEPIECES AND remain, but a final polish with a light con-
In some refractors, it LENSES densation from your own breath will restore
is possible to remove the Of all optical components, eyepieces re- the pristine appearance.
front lens assembly (shown quire the most cleaning. The eye lenses pick With Schmidt-Cassegrains, the front 3. Rinse with distilled water, let drip dry 4. Do not overtighten mirror clips
at bottom right). This may up grease and oil from eyelashes and from corrector plate, complete with the second-
be necessary to get at the misplaced fingers fumbling in the dark. In ary mirror attached, can be removed from
rear lens surface where refractors and catadioptrics, the front lens the front of the tube. But use extreme care;
stains can appear. But or corrector plate can gather dust. If dew is corrector plates are very thin. Getting at the CLEANING MIRRORS 4. Run cold water over the front of the Washing a Mirror
never take doublet or trip- allowed to form on these surfaces often, a inside surface of the corrector may be re- For most of the lifetime of a Newtonian, mirror to wash off more dirt. Do not worry; STEP 1: Removing this mir-
let refractor lenses apart filmy residue can accumulate. quired if the interior of the telescope has be- the primary and secondary mirrors should this will not remove the reflective aluminum ror from its cell required
or remove the lenses from come contaminated with dust or moisture. require only the occasional blast of canned coating. pulling it free from dobs of
their cell. Replace the cell 1. First, blow loose dust and dirt off the Important: The corrector plate/secondary air and a few strokes of a camel-hair brush. silicone glue.
in the same orientation on exterior lens surfaces with a bulb-blower mirror assembly must be put back in the Aluminized surfaces can scratch easily, and 5. Then fill the sink with warm water STEP 2: Place the mirror
the tube as you found it. brush or a can of compressed air. (Be careful exactly same orientation as you found it. a mirror full of microscopic scratches is far and a few drips of a gentle liquid soap. on a towel in a sink. Clean
worse than a mirror with a few isolated using the weight of the
specks of dust on it. Wash a mirror only if it 6. Lay the mirror flat in the sink sub- wet cotton ball as the sole
develops a thick film of dust or grime. Fol- merged under about half an inch of water. source of pressure. Remove
low these steps: Use sterile cotton balls to swab the mirror rings from your fingers so
gently. Always brush in straight lines across the mirror does not get
1. Remove the cell from the end of the the surface. Never rub or use circular mo- scratched.
tube, a task that might require some prying. tions. Repeat with fresh cotton balls, moving STEP 3: Rinse a mirror
Then loosen the three clips to remove the perpendicular to the first swipes. with distilled water. Dry it
mirror from its cell. In some cases, dobs of by standing the mirror on
glue also hold the mirror in place. 7. Drain the sink, then rinse the mirror edge so water drops run off
with cool water. without staining.
2. Once the mirror is free from the cell STEP 4: When replacing a
and safely on a table, use a blower and 8. Perform a final rinse with bottled dis- mirror tighten the clips so
brush to remove as much dust as possible. tilled water. Tap water can leave stains. they just touch the mirror.
Overtightening will pinch
3. Now, place the mirror on edge in a 9. Let the mirror dry by standing it on the mirror, introducing
sink on top of a folded towel to prevent it edge. The mirror should not have to be sub- astigmatism. Recollimation
from slipping around. jected to this treatment for many years. will now be necessary.

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Astronomers Guide 2003 Astronomers Guide 2003
COLLIMATING SCHMIDT- 2. Aim the telescope at a second-mag-
Collimating the CASSEGRAINS
These are the simplest telescopes
nitude star high above the horizon. Polaris
makes a good choice as it wont move much
Optics to collimate. The adjustments are done
strictly with the three small screws on the
during the process. Use a medium-power
eyepiece, but if possible do not use a star
The test for poor collimation is simple: secondary mirror cell. (On some models, diagonal, because it can introduce collima-
slowly rack a bright star out of focus. If the the screws are hidden behind a protective tion problems of its own.
resulting expanding round disk is not sym- plastic cover that must be pried off or turned
metrical, there is a problem. On reflectors, to reveal the collimation screws.) The idea 3. Place the star dead center, then rack
the test is especially easy because the central is to use these screws to adjust the tilt of it out of focus until it is a sizable blob. If the
dark shadow cast by the secondary mirror the secondary mirror so that it projects the telescope is out of collimation, the second-
should be dead center in the out-of-focus light beam straight down the center of the ary mirror shadow will appear off-center.
blur circle. telescope. On most Schmidt-Cassegrains,
Commercially made refractors or the secondary mirror magnifies the focal 4. Now use the slow motions to move
Maksutovs are collimated at the factory and length by a factor of five; its collimation is the telescope so that the star image is dis-
generally offer no user-adjustable settings. therefore extremely critical. Even a slight placed from the center of the field. Move the
In the event that their optics do require col- maladjustment can degrade performance. telescope in the direction that makes the
limation, it usually means a trip back to the Always approach collimation with a light central shadow appear better-centered.
manufacturer. handa mere fraction of a turn may be all
However, if you have a Newtonian or a that is required. 5. Now turn the collimation screw that
Schmidt-Cassegrain, collimation is some- makes the out-of-focus star image move
thing you should be aware of. Telescopes can COLLIMATION PROCEDURE back toward the center of the field. This
arrive out of collimation from the factory. Or 1. On a night with steady star images, takes trial and error. Remember to make
the accumulation of small shocks from road set up the telescope, and let it cool to out- very small adjustments.
trips and from nightly temperature changes side air temperature. This may take an hour
over time can eventually degrade the align- but is important as the effects of thermal 6. If the image is still asymmetrical, then
ment of mirrors. plumes can mimic poor collimation. repeat Steps 4 and 5. Turning one screw may
not be sufficient. A combination of two may
be required. If one screw gets too tight,
loosen the other two to perform the same
OK, Bad, and Awful move. At the end of the whole procedure, all
From top to bottom, these three screws should be finger-tight.
simulations depict a star
at high power as seen in a 7. Once you have done this at medium
Schmidt-Cassegrain with: power, switch to high power (200x to 300x).
1/4-wave of coma from Any residual collimation error that remains
slight miscollimation, after Step 6 will show up now, especially if
1/2-wave of coma from you rack the star just slightly out of focus.
poor collimation, Perform Steps 4 and 5 again, making even
and 1-wave of coma from finer adjustments.
severe miscollimation. The You can do this procedure to a fair degree
bottom two scopes would of accuracy during the day. Sight a distant make a collimating eyepiece. Cut off the Collimation Eyepiece
produce blurry images. power-pole insulator, or piece of polished bottom of a plastic 35mm film canister, then Cheshire eyepieces contain
chrome trim. Look for a specular glint of drill or punch a small pinhole in the exact a small peephole (top) and
Collimating Cassegrains sunlightit can serve as an artificial star. For center of the lid (where the molding dimple an angled reflector for
When collimating SCTs, the final adjustment, use a star at night. is). This makeshift device keeps your eye in lighting up the secondary
take two precautions: the center of the focuser tube. mirror. This model also
Some cells (not this one) COLLIMATING NEWTONIANS An alternative is a collimation tool such contains crosshairs (shown
have a central screw. Dont Both mirrors in a Newtonian are subject as a Cheshire eyepiece, as shown above. at bottom) to aid in center-
loosen thisit holds the to adjustment, which complicates the pro- Though more costly, laser collimators also ing the optics. Suppliers
secondary mirror in place. cess. But you can bring Newtonian mirrors work well and are worthwhile aids for keep- such as Orion sell these
Do not overtighten the into close collimation in the comfort of your ing fast f-ratio Dobs in line. You adjust the tools. For more information
three screws. If they warp home simply by examining the appearance mirrors so the lasers dot falls in the mirrors on collimating Newtonians,
the secondary, youll see of the various reflections while looking centers and then reflects back on itself, hit- see the June 2002 issue of
astigmatic star images. down the focuser. To do this, you need to ting the bottom of the collimator. Sky & Telescope magazine.

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Astronomers Guide 2003 Astronomers Guide 2003
2A. To get the mirror directly under Collimating a Newtonian
the focuser, turn the threaded rod that the The diagrams depict the
secondary-mirror holder sits on. This moves view down the open focuser
the secondary up and down the length of of a typical Newtonian.
the tube. Look into the focuser through
your collimation eyepiece to see whether STEP 1: Assess the situa-
the secondary mirror is centered on the tion. In this extreme case
focuser hole. Do not worry about any off- not only are the mirrors out
center reflections in the diagonal mirror; just of collimation but the sec-
get the mirror itself positioned. ondary mirror is not even
centered in the focuser.
2B. Rotate the diagonal holder until
the top of the holder is directly under the STEP 2: Physically position
focuser (so that the diagonal is not turned the secondary. Adjust the
away from the focuser tube). It is fairly easy length of the spider vanes
to eyeball this. (On most new commercial and turn the diagonal mir-
telescopes, Steps 1 and 2 should rarely be 1. Optics out of collimation 2. Secondary positioned ror so it is centered directly
necessary. However, homemade or used under the focuser.
telescopes can have many collimation ills.)
STEP 3: Adjust the second-
3. Adjust the tilt of the secondary mir- ary mirrors 3 tilt screws
ror. This is where most Newtonian owners (bottom left). This may
will need to start. To do this, adjust the three take a small Allen or hex
collimation screws on the diagonal holder wrench, perhaps in a
so that the reflection of the main mirror is metric size. The goal is to
precisely centered in the diagonal mirror. center the reflection of the
For this step, ignore the reflection of the main primary mirror so the
spider and secondary mirrors; just concen- final view looks like Step 3.
trate on getting the perimeter of the main
mirror nicely lined up with the outline of the STEP 4: Adjust the primary
secondary mirror. Up to now, you have not mirrors 3 tilt screws. Loos-
touched the main mirror at all. ening two may be needed
3. Adjust secondary to center 4. Adjust primary to center so that the third can be
4. At this point, the main mirrors re- image of the primary image of the secondary tightened to provide suf-
flection of the spider and diagonal holder ficient tilt. The goal is to
probably looks off-center. To bring them center the reflection of the
in line, adjust the three collimation screws secondary in the primarys
on the main (primary) mirror cell. The dark reflection so the final view
diagonal-mirror silhouette should end up looks like Step 4. In this
Circles Within Circles in the center of the reflection of the primary telescope, the collimation
When viewing through mirror, which itself is centered in the sec- screws are behind a plate
a Cheshire eyepiece the ondary mirror. that must be removed first.
secondarys spider vanes
and the eyepieces cross- 6. Once the coarse mechanical adjust-
hairs should intersect at ments are made, take the telescope out at
the center of the various night and check the out-of-focus star im-
reflections. In this case, ages to see whether they are symmetrical.
the scope needs work, as COLLIMATION PROCEDURE Wait for the telescope to cool down, then
revealed on a defocused 1. The first step is to center the second- follow the same procedure outlined under
star [inset] showing an off- ary or diagonal mirror. It should be in the Schmidt-Cassegrains but with a difference:
center secondary shadow. center of the tube and directly underneath use the three collimation screws on the pri-
A great help for centering the focuser. This should rarely be necessary mary mirror cell to do the final fine-tuning
optics is a black ink dot at with new commercial scopes. To get it in the with a magnified star image. Do not adjust
the precise center of the center of the tube, adjust the spider vanes so the secondary mirror. In future, it is the pri-
primary mirror (bottom). that they are of equal lengthsimple! mary that youll usually need to adjust.
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Astronomers Guide 2003 Astronomers Guide 2003