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Luna-tic

Our Observatory telescope

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Our club meets at (and maintains)  a small observatory at what was once one of the county's high schools, and is now a middle school. The basis for the observatory was a science teacher's dream back in the 1960's, that became a reality through constant pressure on the local school board, lots of public support, and the diligent efforts of many volunteers who helped raise funds and actually build the observatory.

The centerpiece of this facility is a hand-built (including grinding the primary mirror) 10" f/9.2 Newtonian reflector on a custom made, powered, split horseshoe ring mount. It is mounted under a rotating dome on top of the observatory building. This telescope is referred to as the O.N. Rich telescope, that being the name of the gentleman who built and donated it to the observatory. His stipulations were that it be used to further astronomic education and be fully maintained in working order for the duration of the observatory's existence. The observatory was built over two years by volunteer contractors and a high school masonry class. The dome was constructed under direction and assistance of the telescope builder; the completed observatory was dedicated in October 1976.

I've lived within 5 miles of this observatory for 23 years, (both my daughters graduated from the high school where the observatory is located), and visited several times during the club's twice-monthly public viewings, but had never seen the Rich Telescope until last night. I'm a fairly new member of the club; last night was an especially nice viewing night, and we had a very large crowd (around 70 people) for the public viewing. It was decided to open the dome and utilize this scope for the occasion, and we used a 9mm Nagler EP to achieve 260x for viewing Saturn. The image is incredible; not only was Titan visible, but Rhea and Dione also, The Cassini division was clear, and if you had well-adjusted dark eyes, the Encke gap was barely visible; this was with a full Moon rising from behind the dome relative to our viewing direction . This telescope does not get a lot of use, but it stays in immaculate condition for a telescope built in the 1950's. I was shown how to open the dome doors, which use a worm drive from an electric garage door opener at the bottom and top of the arched doors, which open from the base to the zenith of the dome. The telescope's drive is rather unique; there is a movable plate that clamps to the outer azimuth ring; this plate has a toothed rack along its bottom, that engages a worm gear driven by an electric motor through a reduction system. This provides very accurate tracking on the azimuth axis; the geared plate must, however, be manually repositioned on the arch every hour, as the rack reaches the end of its travel length, in order to continue tracking for long periods. It takes about fifteen seconds to reposition this plate. Altitude axis is manual; the telescope is very finely balanced on this axis, and there is a friction control to help keep the set altitude. This alt-az mount operates like an EQ mount, as it is wedged so the azimuth can track in R.A.. To compensate for the rotation of the image over time, the tube can rotate in the mount along its long axis. A very elegant design for a home-built telescope.

Here are a few pictures from inside the (rather cramped) dome. Sorry one is slightly out of focus, the light was dimmer than it looks and my autofocus couldn't quite adapt:

DSC_0749.JPG

DSC_0754.JPG

DSC_0756.JPG

LMO telescope drive.jpg

Edited by Luna-tic
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What an interesting looking instrument ! :icon_biggrin:

My astro socierty has a 12" newtonian of a similar vintage. The primary mirror on our scope started life in one of the lenses on the long range cameras that were used to film Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953.

Our dome is a little cramped as well - especially when we have a visiting party of school children with us :icon_biggrin:

We could have an interesting thread on the various club, society and community telescopes that are still in operation :icon_biggrin:

Edited by John

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As I recall the split-ring mount was developed by Russel W Porter who also designed the horseshoe mount for the 200" on Mt Palomar.

BTW it's a true equatorial, not an Alt-Az on a wedge.

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31 minutes ago, John said:

What an interesting looking instrument ! :icon_biggrin:

My astro socierty has a 12" newtonian of a similar vintage. The primary mirror on our scope started life in one of the lenses on the long range cameras that were used to film Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953.

Our dome is a little cramped as well - especially when we have a visiting party of school children with us :icon_biggrin:

We could have an interesting thread on the various club, society and community telescopes that are still in operation :icon_biggrin:

It is interesting, not only the telescope, but much more about the construction techniques. As I mentioned, the entire facility was built with volunteer and student labor, and many things were done with budgetary considerations in mind. For instance, the track that the dome revolves on is wood framed, with  a steel runner hand-constructed; the dome rides on ball-bearing roller skate wheels along this track. They have never been replaced, only lubricated occasionally. I can easily push the dome with one hand and a part of my weight behind it. The telescope builder, Mr. Rich, was a carpenter and woodworker by trade, which at least partly explains the arches of the telescope mount being made from wood. The joinery is very beautiful and extremely solid. It's obvious he intended it to last. This observatory is the only free-standing high school observatory in the state.

Of note also, is the first "volunteer resident astronomer" for the observatory. His name was R.V Whitney, an acquaintance of Mr. Rich and a retired astronomer/lecturer from the Charles Hayden Planetarium, in Boston, Mass.

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13 minutes ago, DaveS said:

As I recall the split-ring mount was developed by Russel W Porter who also designed the horseshoe mount for the 200" on Mt Palomar.

BTW it's a true equatorial, not an Alt-Az on a wedge.

My mistake. I initially started describing it as an EQ, but after looking at the pictures decided it must be a wedged alt-az, because it wasn't oriented to North. After reading your post, I looked again; it most definitely is aligned to North, the position of the tube just threw me. The storage position for the tube is facing South, with the tube cradled in the horseshoe's "notch". Now that you mention it, one of our oldest members mentioned last night that the design was similar to Mt. Palomar. Maybe Mr. Rich copied it on purpose, don't know.

Thanks for the correction.

 

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Very interesting scope thanks for posting. From some angles it looks like an artillery piece!

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In any event it's a beautiful (In the way that only supremely functional equipment can be) telescope, and the high school are enviably fortunate to have it. I note the beautifully engraved RA setting circle on the split ring.

Edited by DaveS
Gramatical correction.

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Nice obsy... I wish we had something like this closer to home... 

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Great to see these old scopes still in use, and performing well. A lovely piece of craftsmanship 

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6 hours ago, Paz said:

Very interesting scope thanks for posting. From some angles it looks like an artillery piece!

It does have a sort of cannon look to it,  like a coastal gun. We have another telescope in the club's "arsenal" that definitely looks like it could lob a big shell. It's a 25" f/5 Dob; it's supposedly the 4th largest privately owned telescope in the state. I'd love to see what 1st, 2nd, and 3rd look like. Below is a part of the club-owned scopes, including the Big Dob.

LMO 'scopes.jpg

Edited by Luna-tic
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