We've seen some creative DIY projects over time, but this one could be moving to the top of the MacGyver leaderboard. Discovered by a Reddit exchange over some amazing space photos, it turns out the photos weren't taken by some mountaintop observatory, but rather by a regular guy, with a not-so-regular telescope worth $20,000 he built in his back yard.
Reddit is built on the backbone of conversation between users, and converse they did. Everyone who saw the photos and learned they were taken by a homemade telescope wanted to know how the guy did it. Fortunately for all of us the user, That Telescope Guy, was more than happy to do a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) and covered everything from the technical specs to how he works with the images.
It seems the talented telescope guy is a mechanical engineer and lifelong astronomy buff. The telescope is the work of 30 years of tinkering; whenever he had enough spare money he'd buy the critical parts. The most expensive part cost a cool $10,000; it is the mount that has two axes of rotation, including a polar axis that is parallel to the Earth's rotation. The mount contains a motor that slowly turns the parallel axis in the opposite direction of the Earth's spin.
What makes this piece so important? It's how long exposure images of deep space objects are stabilized and they are sharp, crisp and have no distortion.
As for the rest of the telescope, it starts with about $1,000 worth of lumber as the foundation and then gets decidedly more complicated. It uses a Newtonian reflector with a 16-in Aperture and 72-inch focal length. The mirror and other items that make up the actual telescope were about $5,000, and the astrophotography CCD imagers — needed to correct for gravity, alignment errors and refractions — ran about $5,000.
The images that come from the telescope are described by That Telescope Guy as, "a faint grey smudge by eye, i.e. colorless." To make the images come alive with the color we see, he enhances the saturation and uses other techniques to achieve the darker backgrounds and lighter, colorful objects, including layering multiple exposures.
There are just so many questions to ask about this incredible backyard project. Fortunately That Telescope Guy's Reddit AMA is still active so if you have your own question or want to see some before and after shots he's opened up the entire process for the world to see, and for that we thank him.