First Light for Makaʻiki

First light is complete… It works very nicely, the images of rich star fields and sweeping nebulae are worth the hours of work it takes to complete the fabrication of a telescope.

First Light for Makaʻiki
Makaʻiki under the stars for the first time at Hale Pōhaku on the side of Mauna Kea
The telescope is Makaʻiki, a new 6″ travel scope. Hours of design, cutting and drilling, sanding and spraying paint. There is nothing particularly hard about building a telescope, but it always takes more work that you remember from the last.

As usual the most difficult part of assembly is the last. Installing and aligning the optics. Adjustment of the secondary mirror for the correct position takes an hour of mucking about with allen keys, a Cheshire eyepiece, and a laser collimator. Get it centered, get the tilt right, correct placement of the secondary is critical for good performance of the telescope.

The final step is first light, the traditional ceremony when a new telescope is aimed at the sky for the first time. My traditional first light target is M42, the Great Orion Nebula. An old friend and telescope maker, Bob Goff, often stated he would like to tour this nebula in spirit after he died. I do not know if he made it, but I remember him each time I commission a new telescope and peer at the beauty of this nebula.

Given the time of year I had to get up before dawn for a view of this nebula. Driving uphill from the village I could see Orion rising above the dark shadow of Mauna Kea. In the predawn darkness I set up near Hale Pohaku for my first light checks. Set up is a bit grandiose for this telescope, there is not much to it. Open the tripod, set the scope on top, take the covers off and aim at the sky.

The first object to focus in the telescope was M42, the nebula appearing quite nice at low power. The 40mm eyepiece gives a 3.3° field at about 19x, wide enough to comfortably fit the entire nebula region in the field, from NGC1980 to NGC1981. From there I wandered about the sky… M1, M78, M79, M41, M35 made for a nice sampling of objects.

Higher powers shows that collimation can be a bit touchy in the ‘scope, not a surprise given the single strut design.

There were also three bright planets in the dawn. The brilliant Venus is shining near its maximum brightness right now, showing a nice crescent in the telescope. Mars is still too far away to show much of anything and Jupiter was still quite low in the brightening dawn, the moons barely visible.

First Light complete I knew that the effort to create a new telescope was worth it. Makaʻiki performs as designed. With a sense of satisfaction I headed uphill for breakfast and to join the crew for a day on the summit.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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