More progress with the 22-inch wide, 4-inch thick mystery glass.
It took four of us old farts- Jim Kaiser, Alan Tarica, Tom Crone, and me – to extract the mirror from its case (which was located under a very heavy Draper-style grinding and polishing machine) roll it onto a little stand we fabricated on a decent gym scale I borrowed from my gym ( http://www.True180.fitness ) and weigh it.
We were very careful when moving that heavy mirror. Nobody got hurt in any way. When putting the mirror back into its sturdy wood carrying box, we used ancient Egyptian technology of little rollers, and it worked like a charm.
The bathroom scale we had used earlier, up at Hopewell was very, very wrong. We found that the weight of the glass was really 212 pounds (about 96 kilograms, or 96,000 grams), not 130 pounds. Its volume was 20,722 cc, so its density is roughly 4.6. Will have to see what types of glass have roughly that density and an index of refraction of about 1.72 to 1.76.
I heard from one veteran telescope maker:
“I’ve been in the Tucson astronomy club for many decades and also in the optics industry there. Most all institutions that had connections to astronomy or optics in the 60s got portions of several semi loads of “glass bank glass”, glasses that at one point in the past were considered strategic materials for certain optical designs/systems. There was a wide variety of materials, but almost all was identified in some way. We’re there any markings ar data scribed in the glass? The largest I saw was about 15”, so yours might be a different source.
“A co-worker of mine has identified several mystery glasses from an accurate determination of density. Seems like you should be able to get better results w/a more accurate scale. Also many glass types made decades ago are obsolete – my friend has some older glass catalogs that might help you determine what it might be with more accurate numbers.”
So these were cast-offs from the Military Industrial Complex, basically: pieces of glass that the military decided it no longer needed for projects that had either been completed or abandoned, and that they didn’t feel like storing any more. So they gave them away to groups like National Capital Astronomers and Hopewell Observatory.
The only markings on the glass are the following: a heavily inscribed (by hand) apparent date of 2-8-56, which probably means either February 8 of 1956 or the 2nd of August 1956. Judging by the handwriting style of the numerals, it was probably Feb. 8 of 1956 (US style). Under that are the numerals 0225, which we have no idea about. In pencil, someone with US-style handwriting wrote what looks like “Low #” in cursive. Again, we have no idea what that means.
Many years ago, the late Bob Bolster, a founding member of Hopewell Observatory and an amazing amateur telescope maker, got hold of a large piece of glass, perhaps World War Two military surplus left over from the old Bureau of Standards.
I have no idea what it is made out of. If Bob had any clue about its composition, he didn’t tell anyone.
Its diameter is 22 inches, and its thickness is about 3.25″. It has a yellowish tint, and it is very, very heavy.
If you didn’t know, telescope lenses (just like binocular or camera lenses) are made from a wide variety of ingredients, carefully selected to refract the various colors of light just so. Almost all glass contains quartz (SiO2), but they can also contain limestone (CaCO3), Boric oxide (B2O3), phosphates, fluorides, lead oxide, and even rare earth elements like lanthanum or thorium. This linkwill tell you more than you need to know.
If you are making lenses for a large refracting telescope, you need to have two very different types of glass, and you need to know their indices of refraction very precisely, so that you can calculate the the exact curvatures needed so that the color distortions produced by one lens will be mostly canceled out by the other piece(s) of glass. This is not simple! The largest working refractor today is the Yerkes, with a diameter of 40 inches (~1 meter). By comparison, the largest reflecting telescope made with a single piece of glass today is the Subaru on Mauna Kea, with a diameter of 8.2 meters (323 inches).
For a reflecting telescope, one generally doesn’t care very much what the exact composition of the glass might be, as long as it doesn’t expand and contract too much when the temperature rises or falls.
We weren’t quite sure what to do with this heavy disk, but we figured that before either grinding it into a mirror or selling it, we should try to figure out what type of glass it might be.
Several companies that produce optical glass publish catalogs that list all sorts of data, including density and indices of refraction and dispersion.
Some of us Hopewell members used a bathroom scale and tape measures to measure the density. We found that it weighed about 130 pounds. The diameter is 22 inches (55.9 cm) and the thickness is 3 and a quarter inches (8.26 cm). Using the formula for a cylinder, namely V = pi*r2*h, the volume is about 1235 cubic inches or 20,722 cubic centimeters. Using a bathroom scale, we got its weight to be about 130 lbs, or 59 kg (both +/- 1 or 2). It is possible that the scale got confused, since it expects two feet to be placed on it, rather than one large disk of glass.
However, if our measurements are correct, its density is about 2.91 grams per cc, or 1.68 ounces per cubic inches. (We figured that the density might be as low as 2.80 or as high as 3.00 if the scale was a bit off.)
It turns out that there are lots of different types of glass in that range.
Looking through the Schott catalog I saw the following types of glass with densities in that range, but I may have missed a few.
By comparison, some of the commonest and cheapest optical glasses are BAK-4 with density 3.05 and BK-7 with density 2.5.
Someone suggested that the glass might contain radioactive thorium. I don’t have a working Geiger counter, but used an iPhone app called GammaPix and it reported no gamma-ray radioactivity at all, and I also found that none of the glasses listed above (as manufactured today by Schott) contain any Uranium, Thorium or Lanthanum (which is used to replace thorium).
So I then rigged up a fixed laser pointer to measure its index of refraction usingSnell’s Law, which says
Here is a schematic of my setup:
And here is what it looked like in practice:
I slid the jig back and forth until I could make it so that the refracted laser beam just barely hit the bottom edge of the glass blank.
I marked where the laser is impinging upon the glass, and I measured the distance d from that spot to the top edge of the glass.
I divided d by the thickness of the glass, in the same units, and found the arc-tangent of that ratio; that is the measure, b, of the angle of refraction.
One generally uses 1.00 for the index of refraction of air (n1). I am calling n2 the index of refraction of the glass. I had never actually done this experiment before; I had only read about doing it.
As you might expect, with such a crude setup, I got a range of answers for the thickness of the glass, and for the distance d. Even angle a was uncertain: somewhere around 49 or 50 degrees. For the angle of refraction, I got answers somewhere between 25.7 and 26.5 degrees.
All of this gave me an index of refraction for this class as being between 1.723 and 1.760.
This gave me a list of quite a few different glasses in several catalogs (two from Schott and one from Bausch & Lomb).
Unfortunately, there is no glass with a density between 2.80 and 3.00 g/cc that has an index of refraction in that range.
So, either we have a disk of unobtanium, or else we did some measurements incorrectly.
I’m guessing it’s not unobtanium.
I’m also guessing the error is probably in our weighing procedure. The bathroom scale we used is not very accurate and probably got confused because the glass doesn’t have two feet.
A suggestion was made that this might be what Bausch and Lomb called Barium Flint, but that has an index of refraction that’s too low, only 1.605.