Moon Raker 80mm F15 (Towa/Meade 339)
On a recent visit to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, home of Lowell’s historic 24” Alvan Clark refractor, I was astonished to find that they’d opened a whole new observing complex for public outreach – the Giovale Open Deck Observatory.
I was even more surprised to find among its array of delicious instruments a giant long-focus 8” achromat, a real Steam Punk refractor – all glossy candy red (burgundy at night) and polished alloy, set about with various finders and guidescopes. Chosen in the spirit of the Clark, it looked great but gave good views too.
That beautiful refractor looks Edwardian, but in fact it was made recently by Moon Raker, famous for their polished achromatic beauties in smaller sizes. Then, as pure coincidence, I was offered an early pre-production sample to try with a classic Meade 339 80mm lens.
Magnificent 8” Moon Raker at Lowell Observatory.
At A Glance
Moon Raker 80mm (Meade 339 lens)
Data from Me.
Design and Build
Moon Raker have developed a signature aesthetic: all cast and polished metal and glorying in exposed thumbscrews, elaborately drilled and turned parts and even capstan wheels. In a sense Moon Raker is a reaction, a counterpoint, to the way astronomy is being taken over by imaging.
This is how Victorian/Edwardian refractors should have looked. Or perhaps, the way all telescopes would look in an alternative Steam Punk world with airships and ocean liners instead of planes and where everything is still powered by great beam engines. If Jules Verne’s Baltimore Gun Club had built a tracking scope for their lunar projectile, this is how it would have looked.
Appropriately, Moon Rakers have turned up in films, including the Netflix blockbuster “Altered Carbon” and featured in numerous magazine articles. This is a look that taps into how people imagine astronomy should be, without a computer or a CCD in sight.
This early Moon Raker is perhaps a little less baroque than some of their later designs, but still looks fabulous.
Moon Rakers are typically bespoke and have been made with a range of lenses. Often people choose classic long focus achromats, but Moon Rakers with apochromatic objectives have been made too.
In this case, the choice is a true classic – Towa’s (Meade’s) 339 80mm F15 achromatic doublet. It’s a lens with a strong reputation for the Moon and double stars, produced by the famous Japanese Circle-T brand found engraved on many of the best optics from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The original doner scope would have been a long white tube with a black dew-shield, on a spindly crinkle-black equatorial mount with a tall hardwood tripod – just like my 3” refractor from 1978.
Classic Towa 80mm F15 objective.
The tube is the Moon Raker’s glory and its Achilles heel. It’s a beautiful thing, made from highly polished, thick-walled alloy tube that is part of the Moon Raker signature look. Trouble is, it does make this quite a heavy scope for an 80mm, especially is you attach the matching dew-shield.
Everything is held on by knurled screws or prominent polished screws. It all contributes to the Edwardian look, but is functional too.
Functional the long dew-shield may be (dew is never going to reach that far!), but it adds so much length and bulk that I often used the scope without it.
The focuser matches the tube, with the same classic polished alloy look with elaborate knobs, knurled thumbscrews. But in fact, it’s entirely modern – a crayford with roller bearings and even a micro-focuser, with a wide drawtube and a 2” visual back, even a rotator.
The Moon Raker came with a pair of matching, highly polished split tube rings. Neither cast nor CNC, they appear to have been milled and polished by hand and match the tube perfectly. With ¼-20 threads they’ll fit most Vixen plates.
The only problem is that this is a truly long telescope. It’s not actually that heavy, but it’s heavy enough. You need at least a medium sized mount, or any vibes will carry on forever.
This one came with a matching finder and drilled alloy mount, but Moon Rakers are often seen surmounted with a matching guide scope, maybe several.
Planetary achromats suit eyepiece classics like Orthoscopic, Kelners and Huygenians: Circle-T or Circle-V, Zeiss if you can get them. For period-appropriate wide field eyepieces, Erfles are a good choice.
In Use – Astrophotography
Moon Raker’s aesthetic suggests visual use first and foremost, especially when built around a long-focal-length achromat. But this one takes a very nice snap of the Moon, typical of high-quality traditional achromat, with plenty of image scale and excellent sharpness and detail.
In Use – The Night Sky
General Observing Notes
The Crayford focuser allowed fine adjustments and I appreciated the rotator. The long focal length gives a broad focus sweet spot anyway.
Mounted on the SX2, it is quite stable, even at higher powers, but vibes can still take a while to settle. The long tube means that, like most long refractors, the eyepiece can end up in some tricky positions when used near the zenith.
All that polished alloy means that cool-down takes a while. But this is a scope with a vibe from a slower age anyway, a scope to take time over.
The star test was very good, so much better than some other small Japanese lenses I’ve seen from this era: the same either side of focus, round evenly illuminated rings and a perfect Airy disk in focus.
The clue is surely in the name. The Moon Raker gave excellent views of a day-15 Moon with a 9mm T6 Nagler giving 133x: absolutely crisp, with the promontories, craterlets and rays (from Proclus) around Mare Criseum picked out in sharp perfection.
I enjoyed the nearby twin Messier craters with their elongated shapes and tuning-fork twin rays. Actually formed by a glancing comet or asteroid impact, I imagined them gouged out by Jules Verne’s giant canon shell.
The Red Planet is an obvious Steam Punk target, given the associations with Edwardian sci-fi like Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Princess of Mars” series. If protagonist John Carter (or indeed a prince of Barsoom) had owned a telescope it would surely have been a Moon Raker. This is how Percival Lowell’s first scope would look in a Hollywood biopic.
On a freezingly frosty night of mediocre seeing, the Moon Raker made the best of a small Barsoom and surprised me. The view was razor sharp at 120x with a ZAO 10mm and even 200x with a ZAO 6mm still gave a crisp view, much like a TV-85 with similar levels of contrast and false colour (a trace of dark red inside focus). I managed to see some albedo markings (Mare Sirenum), despite Mars being only ~10.5” apparent diameter.
Long focal length achromats are planetary scopes! Who knew? Seriously, the point is that the donor Meade lens is clearly a good ’un.
A long focus achromat like this is great for doubles, so I tried it on one that can challenge objectives of this size – Rigel. True to expectation it was very easy to pick out the faint companion from Rigel’s blue-white glare at 133x. Both components of Epsilon Lyrae were also very easy.
The Moon Raker gave very creditable views of bright DSO favourites like the Great Orion nebula, the Pleiades, the Double Cluster and Praesepe too.
If you love the look (and to be clear I really do), then you’re probably already sold and waiting for yours.
The Moon Raker is a completely functional telescope with a quality objective and focuser. Yes, it’s a bit (alright a lot) bigger and heavier than the original Towa 339 would have been, but that hardly matters.
A stunning take on a classic refractor, both to look at and look through, with a unique artisanal build and well-chosen components.