George Observatory's Telescope Needs Restoration
by: Laurie Johnson, December 26, 2013 2:12:00 pm
In the middle of swampy Brazos Bend State Park, there's a little glen long known as Buzzard Hollow.
The buzzards are still there, technically vultures, that migrate down from Ohio for the winter.
But they now have to share the space with the George Observatory. The observatory is home to the largest telescope in the country that's for public use.
"There are bigger telescopes in the United States, but they're only dedicated for scientists."
Peggy Halford is director of the George Observatory, an education arm of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Halford says there are a lot of things that make this 36-inch telescope special.
"Most telescopes are designed to have one astronomer, studying the stars by himself, out in the middle of nowhere, on top of a mountain out in a desert. We want lots of people to look through. So we have a hydraulic lift floor that literally picks everybody up. The telescope and all the balance and the arms weigh about ten tons, it's like ten elephants. We're not moving it. So what I'm going to do is move you up."
It's about 50 years old and was built by the same company that made the Hubble telescope. Its controls look like something straight out of an old 1960s NASA Apollo mission.
"This large telescope is designed to see deep space objects, things very far away outside of our galaxy. So it's nebulas, galaxies, things that are not as good with the other types of telescopes."
But age is getting to it and the 500-pound mirror inside the scope has been getting more and more cloudy over the past few years. So the museum has launched an S.O.S., or Save Our 'Scope, effort to raise $80,000 to repair the mirror and spruce up the dome that protects it.
"So what we're going to do is mail this 500-pound mirror to the expert, and he will regrind the surface, make sure that it all focuses correctly and then he'll put another shiny coating so it looks like a mirror and you can see things."
When no one is around, Halford has her own favorite view.
"Well this is kind of a guilty pleasure, but when it's cloudy and we can't see other stars, sometimes they'll put it on the moon. And it is way overkill to look at the moon. But you look in there at the moon and it feels like you're walking around on it."
The museum hopes to raise enough money by April to start the repairs and have everything finished in time for next October when the George Observatory celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Right now visitors to the Observatory make do with a view through the 11-inch telescope mounted alongside the big guy.