Astronomy and Optics

We have a few small optical instruments at Valkyrie, used mainly for sighting spacecraft like the ISS and Tiangong 1 in low earth orbit (LEO). We have also used our equipment to study the moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, and we have now begun searching for Messier objects. Though our region has light pollution and trees obscuring the skies, we have still seen much more with our instruments than with the naked eye, and we continue to explore. Our equipment is documented below:


Tasco 15X-45X50mm Spotting Scope


This scope’s approximately 2 inch aperture is relatively small as telescopes go, but it has proven to be quite powerful. The instrument’s 15x zoom is useful for closer study of the rings of Saturn, lunar craters, and terrestrial objects, but aberration becomes a problem when the observer is looking at stars.

Most spacecraft and space junk overhead still look like points of light, but we used the Tasco scope on a good seeing night to look at the structure of the ISS as it flew over – a very bright “H”. We have been using an old, heavy-duty video camera tripod for the telescope’s base, as we found it was difficult to see anything more than 15 degrees above the horizon with the eyepiece nearly touching the ground.


Tasco Pronghorn rifle scope


Useful for searching for terrestrial objects and projects a very sharp image. Like a pair of binoculars, the rifle scope is difficult to hold steady by hand.


Tasco 7 x 35 ZIP Binoculars


These binoculars are not as powerful as the spotting scope, but they are easier to move around and still reveal new stars to the observer. We have used them to inspect antennas in high places and search for model aircraft stuck in trees, and in the process we have gathered enough information to keep our radios running and recover our models without having to climb up to look.


Old spyglass


This instrument has a small aperture and a very narrow field a view, and the observer tends to need a substantial amount of light in order to see anything. The spyglass isn’t as useful as our other instruments, but it stills looks great as a prop (think pirate ship).


Sears 75-300-600 Power Microscope


We have one optical microscope at Valkyrie Aerospace. Although we have used it to study model airplane tools and materials, we primarily use it to study the natural world. We believe that the “bird’s eye view” of your local woodland from 2,500 ft and the image of a soil sample from the same at 75x magnification both lead to increased awareness of your surroundings.

We have prepared several microscope slides, a few of which are very interesting; these include plant cells and stomata from the underside of a privet leaf, tiny hollow tubes of polymerized thermosetting adhesive (also known as stringy hot glue), and DNA extracted from strawberries. It might not be obvious, but there seems to be a difference between looking at a picture of an object and looking at the object itself – at least in our experience.

This isn’t a particularly high quality telescope, but it seems to be vintage and its steel construction makes for more stability, as compared to the tendency of plastic to warp.


Camera adapters


Looking at objects directly is great, but it isn’t really possible to convey the view without photographing it. We don’t have any special adapters to mount a camera to our instruments, but we have been able to create mounts to take photos directly through the optics.

In designing these mounts, we performed an interesting experiment. We were going to use a short length of 2″ SCH 40 PVC pipe as a coupling between camera and telescope, but when we fitted the camera to a 4 ft length of pipe, we kept seeing this sort of image:


We aren’t sure as to why this happened, but we have a theory: the bright hole at the very center of both pictures is the actual view of a plant out of the pipe, while the blurred and distorted ring of color surrounding it has been reflected off of the lower half of the pipe – much like a mirage. There is then a tertiary aura of light from rays which hit the pipe at a very shallow angle and were refracted by the texture of the walls.

When we removed the camera and looked through the pipe again, however, the effect was not nearly as pronounced; again, things always look different in person. Feel free to try this yourself, as it appears that all you need is PVC pipe and a camera. Keep looking up!


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