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I grew up with long cold winters, and saw a lot of remarkably transparent ice formed by refreezing meltwater, both in puddles and ponds, and in large icicles. I'd always thought about making optical elements but never tried, as I knew getting a good surface figure would be quite a lot of work.

After clicking through links in this answer to the question Are there any natural materials that can be used as a magnifying lens (or to craft one)? I came upon the images below, which have rekindled my interest.

However I'm currently near the Tropic of Cancer and far from any "Winter Wondernalds".

So I'd like to ask if anyone has ever tried to build a simple, low magnification telescope from ice or if there are any references to such an attempt.

I don't care if it's a front-surface reflector for the Sun or a refractor for astronomical or terrestrial viewing. I'd just enjoy seeing any, even slightly successful attempt at getting some optical magnification from surfaces produced in ice. Conventional eyepieces would be fine, as would projection on a piece of paper.


Some related imagery to "get the ball rolling":

From http://wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/fire/ice/ist.html also see Fire from Ice

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From http://wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/fire/ice/istmake.html

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

From http://www.primitiveways.com/fire_from_ice.html

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ I think this a worthwhile experiment. The usual secret to making clear glass is to agitate the water while it freezes so impurities and gasses are pushed out of the crystal matrix. Using boiled distilled water is also an aid to clear glass. Nice pictures. Using a mirror to steer your telescope may make supporting heavy lenses easier. Working in a very cold environment with dry air will keep the frost and condensation away. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Sep 25 '18 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @KalleMP thanks for your interest. Here's an example of a horizontal telescope with a mirror as you've described: What is the large astronomical instrument shown in this 1918 eclipse expedition photo? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 25 '18 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ You know the spinning "cement mixer" (for lack of a better term) style lenses that are created using molten glass slowly sloshed in a circular pattern? I wonder if something similar could be applied to boiling water to get the desired result of a lens using flash freezing while the boiling water is rotated in the shape of a lens. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Sep 26 '18 at 2:29
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    $\begingroup$ Brashear 1886 describes his method for making optics from rock salt, a material also sensitive to humidity but more transparent than glass in the infrared. $\endgroup$ – Mike G Sep 27 '18 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeG excellent! It turns out that salt was just recently mentioned there as well (I've fixed the link in the question above as well) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 27 '18 at 20:12
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I'm not sure it counts as "simple" but there is the ice cube neutrino observatory whose detector consists of a cubic kilometer of very clear ice a mile or so down in the antarctic icecap.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ha good one! Indeed it is a telescope in the broader sense (particle detectors are certainly referred to as telescopes in physics, from time to time) and it certainly uses ice. While it's not the answer I am hoping for, I think this is an informative supplementary answer. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 25 '18 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder what the elevator in that thing looks like, a mile? Does it even have one? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Sep 25 '18 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn there isn't one. The "telescope" consists of strings of photodetectors which have been lowered down holes drilled in the ice, which were then refilled with water and allowed to refreeze. All the operators are based on the surface. $\endgroup$ – Steve Linton Sep 26 '18 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveLinton interesting, so you're SOL if anything down there breaks? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Sep 26 '18 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ I would guess they can live without a certain proportion of the detectors. Not sure. Or they could drill a new hole nearby and lower another string. $\endgroup$ – Steve Linton Sep 26 '18 at 13:29
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Has anyone ever tried to make a simple telescope using ice?

I have done some research and not found any evidence of an attempt to build one. Another poster has added information on a neutrino telescope that relies on ice. If that's the kind of telescope you're looking for, then there's an example.

Is it theoretically possible to build an optical one? Yes, but I'm not sure what kind of optics you'd get even in the best of (non-melting) cases. Try and see what happens.

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    $\begingroup$ Because you feel it isn't a good idea is not evidence that no-one has ever tried. It could be as a fun project, a crazy challenge, or for reasons you can't guess. For example, links in my question and in the linked answer show many people have tried to make fire-starters out of ice at home where they clearly have better ways to start fire! I have not asked if it would be a good idea because I agree a telescope made from ice would not likely be so useful. Have another look at the question as worded. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 25 '18 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ Bubbles in lenses are not automatically going render the lens useless. Even professional larger camera lenses have a allowable number of bubbles they can accept as the special glasses they use are cut from bulk annealed glass that may contain voids. They just reduce the light and cause some scatter. Galileo had the same in his lenses. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Sep 25 '18 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ "Has anyone ever tried to make a simple telescope using ice?" - "No." Really? I'd be impressed if nobody ever tried, and more impressed if we could know that for a fact. That's a pretty definitive "No". (Also, there have been an incredible number of things people have done that have no clear benefit...) $\endgroup$ – BruceWayne Sep 25 '18 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ You all are correct in this case. I didn't answer the question. I don't have any evidence that no one has made one. I've corrected my answer. I want to be a helpful member of this site. $\endgroup$ – Alphecca Sep 25 '18 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ I'd already up voted to cancel the down vote when I left my comment. Don't worry about the occasional down vote, it's an open forum. I wish I could try it, but unfortunately, as I say in the question "However I'm currently near the Tropic of Cancer and far from any 'Winter Wondernalds'." which I've just noticed is mipselled. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 26 '18 at 2:52
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This is a coincidence, but it seems that the photographer Mathieu Stern has been thinking about making and using an ice lens for photography for years. The video linked below was just recently released.

See his blogpost and his YouTube video I made a CAMERA LENS with an ICEBERG.

I'm going to call this an "almost" telescope in that a large refracting telescope exposing directly on to a photographic plate, certainly called a telescope by astronomers, is no different than a camera except that it tends to be much larger. (e.g. What (actually) is the " deprojected half-light radius" of this almost-all-dark-matter Galaxy?)

Here are some of the points listed in the description of the YouTube video

  • First of all the life-span of a lens made of ice is very short, so you can't move very far from where you create the lens.
  • Focusing is extremely hard because of the water melting on the lens itslef.
  • Shaping one " lens" takes 45 min because of the ambiant cold.
  • If your lens breaks in the mold, you have to start all over again
  • I hacked a Japanese cocktail ice ball maker to create half spheres.
  • The housing of the lens was made using a home made 3D print model.
  • All photos where shot during the 1 minute of the last ice lens.
  • The video at the beginning of the video was shot in the last usable seconds of the last ice lens.
  • No I didn't ruined my camera with water damages, even if it was pretty dangerous, I managed to keep the inside dry.

I made a CAMERA LENS with an ICEBERG, Mathieu Stern

I made a CAMERA LENS with an ICEBERG, Mathieu Stern

I made a CAMERA LENS with an ICEBERG, Mathieu Stern I made a CAMERA LENS with an ICEBERG, Mathieu Stern

Source: Mathieu Stern

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