Monday, September 20, 2004

100 years of sky gazing

Observatory holds celebration for telescope

By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer

MOUNT LOOKOUT - What's 23 feet long, 16 inches across, weighs 1,500 pounds and has its 100th birthday celebration this weekend?

Why, the refractory telescope at the Cincinnati Observatory Center, of course.

The telescope at the Cincinnati Observatory Center is turning 100 years old.
(Photo provided)
"And it's the young one," said Chuck Strubbe, a trustee at the observatory. "I always compare it to having a Volkswagen Bug up there. And we can still see all the planets with it. Except for Earth."

This Saturday the Cincinnati Observatory Center, a national historic landmark that bills itself as "the birthplace of American astronomy," will hold a 100th birthday celebration for the youngest of the two telescopes there, built by the famous manufacturer Alvan Clark and Sons, that has been in the same metal dome for a century. The party during ScopeOut, the observatory's annual astronomy fair, will be complete with birthday cake.

The older telescope at the center - also the oldest working telescope in the United States - was built in 1843.

It's the same telescope used to discover the Mountains of Mitchell the polar ice caps on Mars, at the observatory decades ago.

"The 1904 telescope is very significant because it's one of the first American telescopes of that size and that caliber," said Dr. Juan Santamarina, a professor at University of Dayton and president of the observatory's board of trustees. "And the 1843 telescope is really something to behold, too, even beyond its optical qualities. It's really a work of art."

The 100-year-old telescope is just now being used for a new research project - looking for planets that orbit other stars - after about 70 years of solely recreational, amateur use.

About 20,000 people each year attend programs at the observatory, which has undergone $2 million in renovations since 1997.

Observatory trustee Strubbe remembers when, as a 6-year-old in Mount Lookout, he went to the observatory and saw Jupiter and Saturn for the first time, prompting a lifetime passion for astronomy.

He hopes that the ScopeOut celebration and 100th birthday party will have the same effect on another aspiring astronomer.

"Astronomy is one of the few sciences an amateur can participate in," Strubbe said.


ScopeOut, the Cincinnati Observatory Center's annual astronomy fair, will be held between noon and 10:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Cincinnati Observatory Center, 3489 Observatory Place, Mount Lookout. The telescope birthday party will be held at 4:30 p.m.


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