A Telescope-Making Tradition in Russia

by Sergey Maslikov

Fragment from article "Amateur astronomy in Russia: Past, Present, and Future". Sky & Telescope Vol.102, No.3, pp.66-73 (September 2001)

Ivan KulibinThe 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 lenses.

Yuri Mirkalov

ATM russian amateur telescope making tradition school astronomical club planetarium paraboloidal spherical primary mirror mirrors objective lens observatory dome Klevtsov Argunov Bryus Kulibin optical designer Maksutov Navashin Shemyakin Sikoruk Karpov

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 abroad.

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.

Novosibirsk Instruments: the article about novel catadioptric telescope design by Klevtsov

Leonid Sikoruk

This tubeless 10.2" f/6 Ritchey-Chretien telescope is one of Sikoruk's creations. It features a Nasmyth focus, in which the eyepiece is incorporated into the declination bearing.

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 favorably reviewed 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.

Yuri KlevtsovOne 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 Plant (www.telescopes.ru) 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 Russia.

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.

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