Friday, February 22, 2013

A Binocular Kinda Weekend!

A few weeks ago, I posted about my ole' battleship binoculars.  Some friends told me about a meeting of binocular nuts right here in Tucson - the Binocular History Society, and they are meeting this weekend!  Festivities started today with a tour of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, which I skipped, since I work there, but I recognized a few folks on the afternoon tour from the machine I was operating.  I caught up to them later in the afternoon for the start of formal activities at the Optical Sciences Center a block or two away.

One of the main attractions there is the relatively new Museum of Optics, a historical collection of optical instruments collected mostly by faculty member Dr. John Greivenkamp with use of discretionary funds.  At the present time they have over 800 pieces, a large percentage of which is on display through the building, representing some prime examples of early telescopes, optical devices, and of most interest this weekend, binoculars and opera glasses.  And besides the historical stuff, they've got doodads and optical goodies of all sorts.  Above is the back end of a large view camera - the ground glass in the back shows the inverted image the photographer would use to compose and focus, in this case, of the Planetarium dome and adjacent Lunar and Planetary Lab.  At left here is a 20" sphere of glass that one of the graduate students ground and polished to a high level of accuracy.  At right, buddy Gene Lucas is shown transmitted through it, in this case, I inverted the image for your convenience.
Even though I frequently go through the building, I mostly go to the optics shop in the basement, and I've never actually examined any of the collection.  But it is quite extraordinary.  Certainly most colorful is a shelf of opera glasses, mostly of European origin.  There are many finished in baked enamel, some finished in mother of pearl, some of aluminum, which 150 years ago was the equivalent of platinum or gold today!  My friend Keith and I roamed the 7th floor display, at right he examines some brass Gregorian telescopes from the latter 1700s.
Dr. Greivenkamp at left poses with some of the oldest pieces in the collection - paper telescopes from the late 1600s before brass tubing was generally available for construction (lower shelves).  He talked to the group about these early telescope constructions and designs, and then the evolution into binoculars for use of both eyes.  In face, he showed the original 1608 exchange between inventor Hans Lipperhey and the patent office one week (!) after his application which asks effectively "yes, the telescope is nice, but how 'bout using both eyes?"  Of course, with a collection like this belonging to OSC, they are able to disassemble some of the instruments to see just how they were engineered in "olden days".  I'd seen nearly the same talk about 18 months ago, but with new items in the collection it was still great.
Of course, the weekend activities continue tomorrow with a swap meet and getting to try out some examples of these old instruments, as well as check out the binocular collections of the local members of this group - should be fun!
EDIT:  I meant to, but forgot to include this picture taken from the 8th floor conference room where we ate our box dinners and socialized after Dr. Greivenkamp's talk.  I can't imagine holding a meeting there - I'd be too distracted looking out the window.  It was less distracting at night, but the view here is to the North of OSC showing the Flandrau Science Center, Lunar and Planetary Labs to the right, National Optical Astronomy Observatories offices behind Flandrau, and Steward Observatory across Cherry avenue.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

haha, you like a gnome in the bubble!