Here's a cautionary story about someone who was careful with his observing gear — and still got burned.
Some of you probably know (or know of) Mike Lynch, an avid amateur astronomer who hosts frequent star parties in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He's the author of several skywatching books, writes a column for the Twin Cities' Pioneer Press, and hosts an astronomy website. You might not know that he's been a meteorologist for radio station WCCO for nearly 30 years.
A week ago Lynch headed off to the radio station after observing the night before with his 14½-inch Starmaster Dobsonian. He'd set it up on his back porch and, too tired to drag it back inside, wrapped up the session by slewing the tube down to horizontal, covering it, and placing a towel over the eyepiece hole to prevent dew buildup. Pretty much standard operating procedure, right?
Well, later that morning, Lynch got a frantic call from his wife. "The telescope just blew up, and the deck's on fire," she exclaimed. Lynch rushed home in a panic, only to find the scope pointing skyward and nothing left of the secondary cage but a charred skeleton.
It didn't take him long to figure out what had happened.
"The wind blew the cover off," he explains. "The scope was locked horizontally but the wind blew it out of gear and lifted it skyward — toward the southeast, unfortunately! Later that the morning the Sun just happened to pass in front of the mirror. What are the chances of that! When that happened, all hell broke loose: the eyepiece mount cap caught fire, and soon the entire upper half of the scope exploded in flame. The hand controller, eyepiece mount, and Telrad finder totally disintegrated!"
Luckily, his wife caught sight of the fiercest fire she's ever seen, and her call to 911 kept the damage confined to the deck and, sadly, to the telescope. "Fortunately my insurance will cover the loss," Lynch says, "but I have to tell you I feel bad about it" — though not as bad, he admits, had the Sun taken out his 20-inch Starmaster instead!
You'll chuckle — and wince — when you watch WCCO's video segment about this freak accident.