A Tale of Two Telescopes

Joe Shuster

In February, I visited two telescopes in very different states of readiness. Still, the visits were very inspiring and it's curious that these two visits occurred within a week.

The second event was my promised visit to the Racine Astronomical Society (RAS) on February 16th. The had their regular meeting at JI Case High School on Rt. 20, not too far from I-94 in Racine. The crowd was a little less than the typical LCAS meeting and the business meeting was much shorter than ours. Coincidentally, the program that night included John Sprindler's visit to the Community Solar System in Peoria.

My main goal in visiting the RAS was to learn a little about the club and a lot about how they operate their observatory. Someday, LCAS will finish the process of building a telescope and observatory and I wanted to get some practical advice from the veteran observatory operations at RAS. Their observatory, Modine Benstead Observatory, was built in 1956, so they've learned the tricks of operating the system. This particular facility was originally sponsored by grants from executives of Western Publishing Company. Bonds support funding for on-going maintenance as part of the grant.

I met with Dave Finch, the president of the RAS before the meeting and we discussed some of the issues they're encountered and the approaches they use to solve the issues. We discussed different levels of access to members and the public.

Given the cloudy sky, I figured we'd all head home after the meeting, but Dave invited me to visit the observatory and I jumped at the chance. I followed him on the short drive west of I-94. The observatory is set into a mostly residential neighborhood on a hill. There are some commercial radio antennas with safety lights nearby, but otherwise, there's almost no direct lighting shining on the grounds. They have two domes: the original with a 16" Newt/Cass telescope on a massive pier and a 14" Celestron SCT mounted in a smaller dome. The main dome is attached to a warming room with access to a computer, rest rooms, a kitchenette and a photo gallery. It's very plush by observatory standards. The area surrounding the domes is laced with piers to allow members to install telescopes - no tripods needed.

Dave mentioned that the club often has 200 members of the public during their monthly viewing sessions during the warm months. During the Mars approach in 2003, they had over 1500 visitors during one session.

All in all, the visit was very inspiring: It shows where LCAS can be when we complete the 20" telescope project.

My first inspiring visit was a trip to Leon Fasano's garage to visit the Nishimura mount (no fine: it's a mount mention). I've seen pictures of the mount before - in pieces and assembled - but until I stood next to it, I never sensed its massiveness or its sense of personality. You can just feel that this thing is solid, and well grounded. It doesn't just sit on the floor - it embraces it. The motion of its motors has the sound of "concentration" as if it's really dedicated to the motion instructions you're giving it. Sitting there without a telescope on it, I sensed that the mount is really hungry for a telescope and the bigger, the better.

Then, Leon showed me something even MORE spectacular than the refurbished mount. He opened a large box (think "extra, extra large pizza") and inside I glimpsed a 20" gem: The objective mirror for the telescope. Wow! This is a piece of optics that really deserves to be exposed to the sky. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss's comment, "Oh, the things you'll see!"

So within a week, I saw "our" pieces and "someone else's" observatory. It doesn't take much imagination to merge the two in your mind and dream about using the LCAS 20" scope under a dome!

I wonder how many LCAS members are approaching the telescope project like I was when I first joined the club: It's a good idea; It will be nice when it's done; I hope "they" finish it; etc. Now I'm changed by what I saw: It's a GREAT idea. I want it to be done SOONER. And WE need to make sure we do a good job.

I think other members can experience the same inspiration as I did. We need support (emotional, financial, planning, construction) to complete the project and you might have just the stuff we need. I invite you to come with me to visit the pieces of our telescope project and find out if they have the same effect on you and your interest in the project. Contact me at jshuster42@comcast.net and we can arrange a visit to the Telescope Assembly Room (aka Leon's garage). You won't forget it.