Stargazing student builds his own telescope

Allison Remcheck

With a little wood, aluminum and a mirror, it’s possible to see the moon up close.

That’s all it takes to build a telescope — along with some brains for science, of course.

Senior physics major Jeffrey Gritton, in a little less than a year, built a telescope that can magnify objects in outer space 300 times their actual size as part of his independent physics project.

Gritton, who said he has always seen himself as an amateur astronomer, has been stargazing for the better part of his life.

“I probably started when I was 10 with a pair of binoculars, and slowly built up to a telescope,” he said.

Jupiter was the first planet Gritton saw with his first telescope.

“It was rotated just right so I could see the big red spot (a constant storm on the planet),” Gritton said. “I basically saw the same thing Galileo saw.”

As a teenager, Gritton said he tried to replicate Galileo’s experiments. When he was 16 he built his first telescope using a mirror and a cardboard tube.

Soon, Gritton said he will take his latest telescope to the Summit County Fairground, where there is less light pollution than in Kent. This season, he’s looking for Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, the moon, Crab Nebula and Horsehead Nebula, which is a gaseous cloud thrown off by a star, he said.

Nebulas, one of Gritton’s particular interests, are remnants of a super nova.

“When a star finally dies, large enough ones go super nova, which basically means it explodes,” Gritton said.

In the case of the Horsehead Nebula, there is a bright surface and a dark surface. Another star reflects to create the bright surface, and on that side is the formation of a horse’s head, Gritton said. Although the planets are only visible depending on the side of the Earth one is viewing from, Gritton said nebulas are always visible.

Gritton said it’s easy for an amateur stargazer to use directions found on the Internet to make a telescope. He suggests finding the Orion formation at sunset, and from there, finding Mars, which is right above Orion’s head. Jupiter is to the east and looks like a very bright star, he said.

Last week, Gritton tested his telescope for the first time – he was looking for the moon. He said his telescope lens is so strong, he could see the shadows of the craters.

“It’s an age-old tradition to make your own telescope,” said Brett Ellman, professor of physics and Gritton’s project adviser.

Ellman said he will work with other students to make improvements on the telescope after Gritton graduates. He is configuring a computer to work with the telescope, so an object in the night sky can be registered into the computer and the telescope will find it.

Ellman said Gritton is also adapting a digital camera to take pictures of objects in the sky from the telescope.

Gritton is graduating this semester, and will pursue a doctorate degree in astrophysics. He will donate his telescope to the Amateur Astronomer’s Club, of which he is the president and founder. On clear Tuesday nights, the club meets behind the campus radio station to observe the night skies.

All amateur astronomers, regardless of their major, are welcome, Gritton said. To join, contact Jeffrey Gritton at [email protected], using AAC as the subject in the e-mail.

Contact features correspondent Allison Remcheck at [email protected]