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Hobbs Observatory to Dedicate
New Telescope

 MAILED:  Oct. 6, 2003

EAU CLAIRE — Hobbs Observatory ’s new telescope will be dedicated during a “first-light” celebration at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, at the observatory at Beaver Creek Reserve.

“When a telescope is christened, the event is called a ‘first-light’ ceremony,” said George Stecher, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Stecher and other physics and astronomy faculty members take students out to Hobbs for research projects.

“Members of the local astronomy club were the impetus for getting the new telescope. They started about a year ago, researching the equipment and figuring out how to get the money to pay for it,” Stecher said.

The dedication ceremony will honor those who worked “behind the scenes,” as well as the groups that funded the project, said Bert Moritz, president of the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society. The program will feature several short talks about the telescope and future research that can be done with it. “Then we will observe through the main telescopes,” Moritz said.

The new telescope replaces a 25-year-old Celestron telescope, first used in the Casey Observatory on top of Phillips Science Hall at UW-Eau Claire for 15 years and then in the east dome at Hobbs Observatory for the past 10 years.

“It received heavy use and its mount was worn out,” said William Smethells, a retired UW-Eau Claire physics and astronomy professor who did much of the leg work to acquire the replacement.

The new telescope is a 14-inch Meade telescope of the Schmidt-Cassegrain type. It is more sophisticated than its predecessor and has an internal computer for setting on objects. It’s about 3 feet tall, sits on a cement pedestal and is permanently mounted to match the local latitude.

“Interestingly enough, the price of the new Meade today is only about $1,000 more than the price of the Celestron in the 1970s,” Smethells said.

Smethells said the computer interfacing opens new possibilities for research. CVAS member Ed Henry has donated a computer and loaned his electronic camera and filter selector to make possible the full use of the new instrument. Software programs on the computer will control the telescope, filter selector and CCD camera.

“This will allow substantially more sophisticated observing possibilities, including research work,” Smethells said. “Until now, research work by students and faculty was necessarily restricted to the 24-inch telescope, which has been equipped for such work. Now community members working through the new Citizens Science Center at Beaver Creek, the CVAS and the university may also have an opportunity to be engaged in ongoing programs.”

According to Moritz, members of the astronomical society will use the new telescope to show interesting astronomical objects at the public observing nights at Hobbs every clear Saturday. They will be able to create images of deep sky objects such as galaxies and nebula, track asteroids and view various objects for fun.

The acquisition of the new telescope was a joint project of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, Beaver Creek Reserve Citizens Science Center and the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society. It cost $5,500, which was covered by $1,500 from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s Schnack Fund, $2,000 from the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society and a $2,000 grant obtained through Beaver Creek Reserve. Like its predecessor, the telescope is owned and maintained by UW-Eau Claire.

Moritz said the old telescope will be mounted on a large tripod purchased by the astronomy club and will be kept at Hobbs. “We will wheel it outside and allow the public to continue to use it for viewing solar system objects such as the moon or planets.”

Hobbs Observatory is located at Beaver Creek Reserve, four miles north of Fall Creek on Highway K.


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Updated: October 3, 2003