|Yours truly at Kitt Peak in 2002 (I think).|
Many of these people are then quite disappointed to find out that I cannot help them much. Sure, I give them the standard (and excellent, IMHO) advice that they should avoid $49 specials at Walmart, start with binoculars and then, if still interested, progress to something like an Astroscan. (Full disclosure - I own an Astroscan and love it, but I don't get any compensation whatsoever to talk them up).
But if you ask me which is better: a Celestron NexStar or an Orion StarMax, and I will give you a blank star. I have no clue. Or if you ask me why your iOptron SmartStar Maksutov has this weird coma when you put a certain filter in but not with a different filter by the same manufacturer, and I'll only be able to blurt out the obvious "maybe there is something wrong with the filter?"
Most professional astronomers probably know less about telescopes and the nitty-gritty details about how they work than many amateur and semi-pro astronomers. Certainly I understand optics, and I know the basics of telescope design and operation. When I am observing, I can tell if something is wrong and have helped diagnose the problem through testing. But if I'm using the Keck Telescope and determine that a metal plate in the spectrograph is blocking most of our image, I don't go out into the dome and start banging on things with a wrench. In fact, I wouldn't even know where the metal plates in the spectrograph are. I call the engineers who come and fix everything.
|It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that something is blocking this picture of the sky. Fixing it is altogether different. (Keck I Telescope, August 2001)|
This week, Dr. Montgomery started a two week vacation. We have two undergraduate students here as part of our Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and they are using our observatory almost nightly to study asteroids and extrasolar planets. And weird things have started happening in their images - instead of nice round dots for stars, sometimes they are little trails. That's not supposed to happen.
So, Monday night I went with our assistant planetarium director, her staff, and the students to troubleshoot. We checked wire connections, telescope balance, camera connections, and everything we could think of. Yet at certain parts of the sky, the images were still wonky (a scientific term). I ran some tests that convinced me the problem was mechanical - something in our telescope was moving when it shouldn't - and I was even able to narrow it down to a list of three most likely things: the mirror was moving (but it seemed tight), our guide telescope was moving (but it seemed tight, too), or our camera was bending slightly (it seemed tight, but this was my personal guess). But at this point, I didn't know what to do.
Since our summer students are here only 10 weeks, I didn't want to wait for Dr. Montgomery to return to fix the telescope, but I don't trust myself to go mucking about in the telescope's guts. A quick Google search did not help, and my schedule doesn't have a lot of time for deep searches on Internet forums.
So I put out a call for help. Rather than contacting my colleagues at other PhD institutions (most of whom would not know any better than I, and those with the requisite knowledge are busy working on 2 to 30 meter telescopes and probably not likely to know much about modern 0.4-meter commercial telescopes), I emailed some contacts at the AAVSO and at the Central Texas Astronomical Society. Within a couple of hours, I had a very detailed and extraordinarily diagnosis and likely resolution from an expert citizen scientist named Tom Krajci. I still don't trust myself with the repairs, but at least we know what is going on and have some ideas how to minimize the problem until Dr. Montgomery returns.
I am very grateful to Tom and Mike Simonsen at the AAVSO as well as Brad, Willie, and Dean at the Central Texas Astronomical Society for their help, quick responses, and kindness not to roll their eyes when a bumbling novice like me comes along with a question.
Now, hopefully, you see why I can't give you detailed answers to your questions on commercial telescopes. If you need help, your best bet is to find a nearby amateur astronomy club and ask - you'll get a better and more accurate answer than I would be able to help you with! Now if you ever need help diagnosing problems with your 10 meter telescope, I may be able to help...