Jun 11, 2014
05:44 AM

Wesleyan University Begins Restoration of Antique Telescope

Wesleyan University Begins Restoration of Antique Telescope

Catherine Avalone — The Middletown Press

Professor Frederick Orthlieb, a mechanical engineer works on the declination axel which was added to the 20” Alvan Clark refracting telescope at the Van Vleck Observatory at Wesleyan University in the 1960’s. The restoration is expected to be completed September 1, 2015.

Under the iconic white dome on Foss Hill sits an antique refractor telescope that has allowed astronomists and students to glimpse the heavens for nearly 100 years.

Now, the Van Vleck Observatory 20-inch refractor telescope at Wesleyan University, built in 1916 by the Alvan Clark Co. of Boston, is getting a much-needed facelift after being closed to research purposes in 1993 and suffering gradual deterioration.

The telescope was installed in the observatory in the early 1920s, delayed slightly because of World War II. It has been used continuously since then, and has been a part of many important contributions to astronomy.

Used for many years as a research tool, most notably for Walter Scott Houston’s column, “Deep Sky Wonders” in 1950, the telescope fell out of operation.

“The operation of the telescope is difficult,” said William Herbst, chair of the astronomy department at Wesleyan. “Fewer and fewer people could operate the telescope.”

However the telescope’s fate changed on June 2 after the Astronomy Department launched a campaign to restore the telescope and update its inner workings to make it usable again for students and the public.

“We are upgrading it to be a much easier instrument to operate,” Herbst said. “It will be computerized.” The cost, borne entirely by the university, is $100,000.

Since the telescope was “retired” from research duties, the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford has led monthly trips to the Van Vleck for observation and teaching. It has been reopened for on-campus events about once a month at Wesleyan, Herbst said.

Retired professor Frederick Orthlieb of the Antique Telescope Society, along with two Wesleyan students Julian Dann and Rebecca Hanschell, are working to complete the restoration. The three have disassembled the telescope and are working to clean, lubricate, paint and design the new drive system.

“The students are learning as they go,” Herbst said. “It’s a huge process.”

To read the rest of this story, visit Middletown Press online.


Wesleyan University Begins Restoration of Antique Telescope

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