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I have been wrestling with this mirror for YEARS. It’s not been easy at all. The blank is only about twice the diameter of an 8″ mirror, but the project is easily 10 times as hard as doing an 8-incher. (Yes, it’s the one in the photo heading this blog!)

Recently I’ve been trying to figure it using a polishing/grinding machine fabricated by the late Bob Bolster (who modeled his after the machine that George Ritchey invented for the celebrated 60″ mirror at Mount Wilson over a century ago). That’s been a learning exercise, as I had to learn by trial and error what the machine can and cannot do, and what strokes produce what effects. The texts and videos I have seen on figuring such a large mirror with a machine have not really been very helpful, so it’s mostly been trial and error.

My best results right now seem to come from using an 8″ pitch tool on a metal backing, with a 15 pound lead weight, employing long, somewhat-oval strokes approximately tangential to the 50% zone. The edge of the tool goes about 5 cm over the edge of the blank.

This little movie shows the best ronchigrams I have ever produced with this mirror, after nearly 6 hours of near-continuous work and testing. Take a look:

And compare that to how it used to look back in September:


Also compare that to the theoretically perfect computed ronchigrams from Mel Bartels’ website:

perfect theoretical ronchigrams for guy's 42 cm mirror

Part of the reason this mirror has taken so long is that after grinding and polishing by hand some years ago, I finally did a proper check for strain, and discovered that it had some pretty serious strain. I ended up shipping it out to someone in Taos, New Mexico who annealed it – but that changed the figure of the mirror so much that I had to go back to fine grinding (all the way back to 120 or 220 grit, I think), and then re-polishing, all by hand. I tried to do all of that, and figuring of the mirror, at one of the Delmarva Mirror Making Marathons. It was just too much for my back — along with digging drainage ditches at Hopewell Observatory, I ended up in a serious amount of pain and required serious physical therapy (but fortunately, no crutches), so this project went back into storage for a long, long time.

Recently I’ve tried more work by hand and by machine. Unfortunately, when I do work by hand, it seems that almost no matter how carefully I polish, I cause astigmatism (which I am defining as the mirror simply not being a figure of rotation) which I can see at the testing stand as Ronchi lines that are not symmetrical around a horizontal line of reflection. (If a Ronchi grating produces lines that look a bit line the capital letters N, S, o Z, you have astigmatism quite badly. If astigmatism is there, those dreaded curves show up best when your grating is very close to the center of curvature (or center of confusion) of the central zone.

Using this machine means controlling or guessing at a LOT of variables:

  1. length of the first crank;
  2. length (positive or negative) of the second crank;
  3. position of the slide;
  4. diameter of the pitch lap;
  5. composition of the pitch;
  6. shape into which the pitch lap has been carved;
  7. amount of time that the lap was pressed against the lap;
  8. whether that was a hot press or a warm press or a cold press;
  9. amount of weight pushing down on the lap;
  10. type of polishing agent being used;
  11. thickness or dilution of polishing agent;
  12. temperature and humidity of the room;
  13. whether the settings are all kept the same or are allowed to blend into one another (eg by moving the slide);
  14. time spent on any one setup with the previous eleven or more variables;

Here is a sketch of how this works

bolster's ritchey-like machine