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Published: Wednesday, 5/5/2010

Sky's the limit as restored college observatory reopens


MONROE - The long dormant telescope observatory at Monroe County Community College has been reopened to the night sky thanks to the efforts of student volunteers.

The recently completed restoration of the wood deck surrounding the 8-foot-tall capsule that houses the telescope was undertaken by the college's Math and Science Society.

Lori Bean, associate professor of biology and chemistry and adviser to the student organization, said the students tackled the neglected observatory deck as a service project.

The old unstable deck was torn off and rebuilt. It now can support up to 35 people and is fitted with a ramp to allow access by the disabled.

Club members were assisted in the project by industrial technology students.

A ceremony recognizing the efforts of students and faculty was April 22 in conjunction with campus Earth Day festivities.

Responsibility for installing the observatory in the early 1980s can be traced to Roger Spalding, who arrived at the college in the late 1970s to teach astronomy and physics.

Mr. Spalding obtained a 10-inch Meade portable telescope to supplement the instruction in his astronomy classes.

However, taking it outside to observe the night sky was difficult because of its weight and bulkiness.

The professor obtained the observatory dome, which can accommodate up to four people, to allow the telescope to get more use.

The observatory fell out of use after night astronomy classes were discontinued, and the telescope was moved indoors.

In restoring the deck, school employees fitted the observatory with electricity, which Mr. Spalding called a great improvement over the portable electric generator that he used to power the telescope.

The math and science club received a $1,500 grant from the Foundation at MCCC in 2009 to assist in the purchase of materials.

Ms. Bean said an anonymous donor contributed an additional $500 for the project.

-Mark Reiter

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