by Sergey Maslikov
Fragment from article "Amateur astronomy in Russia:
Past, Present, and Future". Sky
& Telescope Vol.102, No.3, pp.66-73 (September
first Russian-made astronomical optic was probably crafted by
Jacob Bryus, a member of Peter the Great's inner circle,
who fashioned a concave mirror for a reflecting telescope in 1733.
But our country's first true amateur telescope maker was Ivan
Kulibin. A self-educated mechanic from Nizhny Novgorod, Kulibin
managed to get his hands on a Gregorian reflector in 1767. He
was able to determine the formula of its speculum-metal mirror
- a hard, brittle alloy of copper and tin - and he proceeded to
build a machine for grinding and polishing mirrors and lenses.
Kulibin also crafted flint glass for making achromatic objective
Despite the talent of men like Kubilin, Russia lagged many
decades behind Europe and the United States in the manufacture
of telescopes. Well into the 20th century, the domes of
our great observatories housed instruments made by Germans
like Fraunhofer, Merz, and Zeiss or Americans like Alvan
Clark. It was only in 1904 that the first Russian telescope-making
enterprise, "Russian Urania," was founded by Yuri
Mirkalov. Before the firm's demise in 1917, its workshops
produced more than a hundred telescopes and scores of observatory
domes, though Mirkalov obtained all of the objective lenses
Newtonian reflectors were popularized in Russia by Aleksander
Chikin. Four years after he ground his first mirror in 1911,
Chikin published Reflecting Telescopes: Making Reflectors
by Means Available to Amateurs. For decades this book
served as the standard reference not only for amateurs but for
professionals as well. The famous optical designer Dmitriy
Maksutov, the inventor of the catadioptric (mirror-lens) telescope
now used worldwide, was only one of many who found inspiration
and direction in the pages of Chikin's little "bible."
During the 1930s amateur telescope making became popular in Russia,
paralleling developments in the United States. A leading proponent
of this effort was Mikhail Navashin, a geneticist and professor
of cytology. His book The Amateur Astronomer's Telescope
went through several editions. The Moscow artist Mikhail Shemyakin
also played a prominent role, and under his direction VAGO published
the digest Amateur Telescopes.
In Soviet times amateurs could construct a telescope at
no cost simply by joining a local club of telescope makers,
which existed in every large city. The better-equipped groups
had machine tools for fabricating mirrors and accessories.
Club members routinely produced 4-and 6-inch reflectors,
and a few pursued larger apertures of up to 16 inches. Notable
among these groups was "Dmitriy Maksutov," a telescope-making
club started in 1973 by Leonid Sikoruk, a film director
from Novosibirsk. Its members took on challenging telescope
designs including Schmidt and Wright cameras, Dall-Kirkham
and Ritchey-Chretien Cassegrains, and even a spectroheliograph.
Sikoruk's 1982 book Telescopes for Amateur Astronomers
remains popular to this day, and his documentary "Telescopes"
was broadcast on television throughout the Soviet Union.
In 1980 Sikoruk persuaded the managers of a factory in Novosibirsk
that produced artillery sights and rifle scopes to manufacture
telescopes for amateur astronomers, an event that marked an important
milestone for the Russian telescope-making movement. Bearing the
brand name TAL, thousands of these instruments soon became widely
available in shops. One or more of these found (heir way to every
Russian school, astronomical club, and planetarium. Exports of
the TAL series began in 1993, and a 6-inch Newtonian model was
in this magazine (S&T: December 1997, page 57).
Anatoliy Sankovich is another enthusiast who has turned
his passion for telescopes into a commercial enterprise. Having
fabricated numerous complex optical systems such as Wright-Schmidt
cameras, Sankovich joined with other Moscow-area telescope builders
to launch Svema-Luxe (www.telescope.newmail.ru/eng/eng.html).
The company now supplied the INTES manufacturing cooperative with
paraboloidal primary mirrors having apertures up to 20 inches.
might have imagined that as the 20th century drew to a close,
so had the possibilities for new optical configurations for telescopes.
But in recent years P.P. Argunov of Odessa and Yuri
Klevtsov of Novosibirsk have devised all-spherical catadioptric
designs that promise to be more economical to produce than Maksutov-Cassegrains
yet provide comparable performance. The Novosibirsk Instrument-Making
has recently added an 8-inch aperture "Klevtsov" to
its TAL line of amateur telescopes, an encouraging marriage of
individual ingenuity and state enterprise in the emerging new
Last year amateurs in the Siberian
city of Krasnoyarsk constructed a 21-inch Dobsonian telescope
(left of center) under the direction of Sergey Karpov.
The rocker and ground board are made from steel framing, and
the tube assembly folds in two for ease of transport.
Contact information for
many clubs and societies in Russia