How Many Scopes Do You Need ?


My organ teacher is a mine of amusing anecdotes about the King Of Instruments and those of you (i.e. most) with no interest in the organ might be surprised at just how amusing some of them are.


I particularly liked the one where someone had requested Monty Python’s “Always Look on The Bright Side of Life” for a church funeral. There came the inevitable moment when the choir master said “OK boys, now let’s take it from ‘Life’s a piece of shit...’”


The other one that struck a chord [sorry], was about a man who collects church organs. Now this would be ridiculous enough if we were talking about digital organs, but in fact he collects real pipe organs rescued from defunct churches. Apparently he has quite a few... all in working order. Now you might assume that this guy lives in a stately home, but no, in a terrace as it turns out. You might also assume that he’s as single as Mr Bean, but again no, he is married with kids. The mind boggles at how this would work. There must be pipes in some very uncomfortable places...


The thing is, Scope Views got a bit like that a year or two back: pipes everywhere. Not diapasons and koppelflutes, but OTAs. I had lost count of just how many telescopes I owned, but we are talking dozens and they were, like Well’s Martians, gradually taking over. My wife was losing it; guests were pitying; even my daughter was heard to quietly say “But you don’t need another telescope, Dad.” when another suspiciously long parcel arrived.


In the end I had a purge, but even today I’d need a moment to count them... Before telling you that I have (I think) about ten. Now clearly that’s still too many, so how many do I, does anyone, do you, actually need??


Apart from the obvious and singular wives’ answer, this depends to some extent on circumstance and interest. If you live on a hilltop somewhere with lots of clear nights and you have the space for an observatory, then just one really might do.


Unfortunately, I live in a valley in Cumbria. Surrounding houses and trees mean I can’t see any horizon and the nature of my observatory means I can’t get at the zenith either. I can never see Mercury; Venus rarely. The waxing crescent Moon (which I love) is always behind the trees. I suspect many European astronomers have this kind of situation.


Then there is the weather. As I write (in mid November) we’ve had a couple of properly clear nights in the last month, nights when I could open the dome. The rest of the time, it’s been peaking between clouds and rain with binos or a grab-n-go.


So here’s a list of “functional niches” my scope collection needs to fill, given the circumstances:

1)      Big, general-purpose observatory scope for visual and imaging, planets and DSOs.

2)      Small, highly portable, quick-cooling visual scope for quick-looks and occasional travel, or to carry up the local hill to catch Mercury.

3)      Portable scope for my south-facing balcony, mainly for the planets and Moon when low or in the east, or when I’m too tired to open the dome.

4)      A bigger portable scope I can use around the garden to make the most of the available sky, or for star parties.

5)      Objet d’art classic scope for my desk.

Try as I might, I struggle to combine these into less than five actual telescopes. Even so, it still seems like I need to shed a few!


If you are developing a rapidly growing collection, maybe a similar analysis would help. Or maybe what we scope collectors need is some psycho-analysis! Which brings me to my last thought: why do we collect things? Underlying the usual excuses, so I am told, is some anthropology about Man (and it usually is) the hunter-gatherer.


So, collection mania aside, how many scopes do you need... well in my case it’s really a minimum of three: big ‘un in the dome; small grab-n-go and travel scope downstairs; small scope for the balcony. But in reality I never seem to get to anywhere near that few. Every time I make headway in cutting the numbers they start breeding again. And let’s not even get started on the binos!


I suspect most astronomers in Europe need at least a bigger scope for maximum performance and a small, highly portable refractor for when they only have a few minutes spare, due to weather or commitments. As I’ve said elsewhere, owning only a big ‘scope, like an SCT, larger dob’, or big refractor, is often a quick route out of the hobby because you just won’t use it as much as you think.


Enough waffling, I’m off for my regular astro-therapy session to work on my scope collecting mania (actually I’m going for a beer with my mate Ian, who happens to be both an astro-collector and a psychotherapist!).