Maintenance, collimation, flocking, baffling, cleaning
tips and tricks for your Newtonian or refractor telescope






Collimating Reflector telescopes
Collimating Refractors
Homemade collimating cap
Baffling your telescope
Flocking a Newtonian
Cleaning mirrors
Cleaning lenses


Collimating a Newtonian telescope

Collimation is the process of aligning the mirrors of your telescope so that they work in concert with each other to deliver properly focused light to your eyepiece.
Conclusion: collimation is a way of improving the performance of a telescope considerably. Often, no acceptable result can be achieved at high resolution without an irreproachable collimation; image processing is incapable of compensating for the damages caused by a misalignment. Collimation is not a superfluous technique destined for opticians and purists. The images given by a misaligned telescope can be as awful as a 30$ toy-store scope. It's why some people who would not want (or do not know) to collimate their reflector to turn to a refractor of moderate size.
Collimation is the stumbling block of reflectors; it is certainly the main cause of the mediocre reputation of SCTs. These telescopes are extremely sensitive to misalignment; their collimation can be destroyed by a fraction of turn of a collimation screw or just by moving them in the back of your car, a bump etc...


Collimating a refractor telescope
What do you see visually when your refractor telescope is out of alignment? Usually not too much other than continued good images if the misalignment is slight. Many refractor optical trains are permanently aligned and that alignment, while often not perfect, is usually pretty good. However when there is appreciable misalignment you may notice flaring to one side on stars across an entire field, this becomes more and more noticeable as magnification is increased. Images are just not as sharp, stars are not pinpoints. You may also notice additional colour faults.

1. Centre and square the focuser. This is not usually possible with commercial amateur instruments, and should anyway be unnecessary in a well-made instrument. If it is both necessary and possible, the simplest way is to remove the objective lens with its cell and place a pair of cross-hairs over the aperture of the telescope tube so that they cross in the centre. Centre the focuser and use a peephole sight tube to align it on the cross-hairs. You can make simple sighting tube for a 1.25" focuser with a 35mm film can with 1mm holes in the centre of the base and the cap.
2. Centre the objective lens. If this is possible, it is usually achieved by rotating an eccentric ring in the cell. This may require a special tool (e.g. a peg spanner) and you may have to slacken grub-screws before the ring will rotate. You can mark the centre of the lens with a small disc, such as is produced by a hole-punch, of acid-free tissue which is dampened with clean water to enable it to be stuck to the glass. The tissue disc should be aligned with the peephole sight tube.
3. Square on the objective lens. There are often either push-pull screw pairs or single screws with springs for this purpose. Fix a small light source (e.g. penlight or LED) such that it is a few centimetres outside the focuser and exactly along its axis. The light will be reflected off the surfaces of the lens elements. Introduce a thin piece of glass, such as a microscope slide cover slip, at 45 between the light and the focuser, so that you can see the reflections off the objective. When the objective is squared, the reflections will be coincident
4. Star test the telescope.

Collimating cap

If you do not know what collimation is then please read this first. In short: Collimating a telescope is lining up its optical components (lenses, mirrors, prisms, eyepieces) in their proper positions.
If you have a cheshire collimation piece then you can skip this...but this is a cheap alternative...not as good, but still...
"collimating cap":
- if your scope has 1,25" eyepieces: out of a plastic 35mm film canister (black with gray lid). Drill or punch a small pinhole (+/- 3mm) in the exact center of the lid and cut off the bottom of the canister. Replace the lid.
- if your scope has 0,96" eyepieces: use an protection lid that came with your scope (like one of your diagonal or the one used to protect the
eyepiece holder). This is of transparent material. Drill or punch a small pinhole (+/- 3mm) in the exact center of the lid. Draw a diagonal with a thin black permanent marker.
This device will keep your eye centered of the focuser tube.

Baffling a refractor telescope (or eyepieces)

How to Place Baffles
If you want to enhance your viewing further, you may want to consider adding baffles to the inside of your telescope tube. Baffles are washer-like rings that help to block stray light. This has the effect of increasing contrast and preventing stray light and reflections from distorting the image seen in the eyepiece. If your telescope already has baffles, you will want to make sure they are properly placed.

There are
web sites out there that will show you how to calculate precise hole diameters and distances from the end of the telescope for your baffles. But for all practical purposes, the inner diameter of the baffle (the diameter of the hole) should equal the diameter of the cone of light at that particular point inside the telescope tube.

Perhaps the best way to determine this is to draw a rectangle on a sheet of paper that represents your telescope tube. It doesn't have to be actual size, but does need to be to scale. At the focuser end of the telescope, measure the diameter of the focuser hole and mark that diameter on one end of your drawing. Then draw a diagonal line from the top of the focuser opening (marked A on the diagram below) to the top of the objective lens. At any position along the length of the telescope tube, the baffle will have a width equal to the distance between the top of the telescope tube and that diagonal line.

an example to baffle my homemade telescope

Flocking a Newtonian reflector telescope

What is flocking paper?
In short: self-adhesive black velvet or felt that absorbs virtually 100% of light that strikes it and is so much more effective then black flat paint.
Many telescopes suffer needlessly from low contrast images caused by stray light reaching the focal plane. ProtoStar flocked paper is a very black, self adhesive, material
(Note: if you wish, you can opt to leave the thin paper backing on, and glue the material in place).
The flocked paper has a surface texture that is best described as "peach fuzz," and the fibers don't shed like some velvets and felts do. When looked at from low angles, it absorbs virtually 100% of light that strikes it.
Applications include:
-Lining the inside of telescope tubes (especially the inside wall opposite the focuser).
-Covering metal clips and hardware on the primary cell.
-Covering exposed edges of secondary mirrors.
-Lining the inside barrels of Barlow lenses and other eyepiece accessories.

Cleaning optics

Number One Rule: "The best way to clean a lens is not to get it dirty."
Number Two Rule: "Don't...unless you absolutely have to."
Number Three Rule: "Blow off first and then determine if cleaning is still necessary."

Cleaning reflector mirror

Brushing optics and carefully using compressed air to blow off particulates such as pollen and dust can usually get the mirror or optics back into top shape. Cleaning should only be done if there are stains or excessive spotting beginning to build up on the mirror's surface.

With commercial telescopes, cleaning the primary should be avoided at all costs....prevention is the best care you can give the optics of these telescopes: keep the back opening plugged at all times, even when briefly removing accessories... This keeps both dust and insects from floating in and it prevents humidity and damaging environmental pollutants from entering the inside of the telescope.
With some air pressure (produced by a compressor, a plastic bottle or a spray) most of the dust particles will disappear from the surface. Make sure that you do not though the mirrors! No brushes should be used for cleaning, because even the finest of them can produce tiny scratches.

If the removal of dust is not sufficient (their might be some spots and speckles on the surface) you should look for a small plastic bottle with a small hole at the top and fill it with distilled water. You should set the telescope frame some cm higher than the top of the table. Then you spray the water with some pressure entirely over the mirrors surface. The water will rinse down and the mirror will dry. Locate some clothes under the mirrors to remove the water.

Look at the mirrors surface after they had dried and if you see any color speckles which might be produced by fingerprints or some fat spots, you should repeat the cleaning procedure by using Alcohol or Propanol in a plastic bottle. Please do not use other chemicals because they might damage the coating.

You can also mix a cleaning solution composed of two parts of distilled water, one part of Propanol and some drops of a cleaning agent (not an agressive one).
The mirrors surfaces can be perfectly cleaned by this method, without touching the surface mechanically. You should always consider that the mirrors are the most valuable part of your telescope.

Do not remove the mirrors for cleaning purposes from their cells. A serious misalignment of the optics will result after reinstallation of the mirrors. A perfect alignment could only be managed by experienced amateurs or by an optical shop.

Some dust might also be present at the inner tube walls. This can be removed by using some wet cloth and by pressing it against the black rough coating.
You should not use oil in the interior of the tube, a thin film of Vaseline might protect screws from corrosion. Do not change the position of the adjustment screws and do not remove any screws for cleaning purposes.

Cleaning refractor lenses or optics

General tips
To try to obtain the best possible light transmission efficiency from our optics by cleaning them free of deposits, film and debris, do not ever forget that cleaning coated optical surfaces is the single-most damaging action that will be done to them, short of actual physical damage or breakage. No matter how careful, how delicate, nor what cleaning solution is used...every time cleaned will result in a microscopically-reduced optical performance than before cleaning. Note that the coatings themselves are nothing more than molecule-thick deposits of a very delicate film left on the optical surface from a vacuum process in which air is evacuated and the gases of the coating materials are gently and uniformly distributed across the glass surface after the vacuum container is void of air.

Never clean optical glass without gently dusting first!
To dust, use a square-cut very soft brush that is about 40mm wide with tapered bristles. Look for the very soft and flexible "touch up" and/or "delicate trim" brushes...most of these are short-handled and have the bristles as an angled radius cut. Make sure that the bristles are incredibly soft; I use the "cheek method" for testing softness: take the brush out of its package and push the tiny ends of the bristles hard against the cheek of your face...if they do not "prick" then they are fine for optical use. The more bristles on brushes the better and are usually the softer and better in quality.

Tips and tricks

The Lens Pen
Held like a regular pen, the Lens Pen uses an ingenious dry carbon-black cleaning compound on a small felt pad to clean lenses without liquids. Works great!

Eyepieces must also be kept clean, because even a slight amount of oil or grease on the lens will smear and degrade the view. The outermost eye lens is especially susceptible to grease from eye lashes. To clean a lens, use lens tissue dampened with lens-cleaning solution. Lightly wipe the lens surface with the tissue to remove the grease. Lens pens are also good for this purpose, but to prevent scratching the lens's soft optical coatings, never rub with any pressure.


How to setup an equatorial mount

Read all about it here

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Astrophotography, info about telescopes, tips & tricks, homemade scopes and lenses etc.

Astro photography, info about telescopes, tips & tricks, homemade scopes and lenses, how to collimate, online astronomical tools etc.