October 29, 2020

Eastern’s 1970 telescope

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This archived article was written by: Sam Czarnecki

A large metal dome sits on top of the McDonald Career Center on the north end of campus. If you’ve never seen it, walk to the second floor of the Central Instructional Building and look over the old SAC. That dome hides an observatory which contains a large and considerably powerful telescope. The observatory was built along with the building in the 1970s,
Astonomy is being taught as a distance education course. Getting distance students to the telescope is not feasible, so the telescope does not get used as much as it should. It’s a shame, since the observatory cost around $60,000 at the time, which translates to roughly $373,200 today. The telescope itself has an 16-inch mirror, which gives it the potential for serious astronomy considering the space within the observatory. The technology that runs it is severely outdated, though. The main electronic components inside the telescope are vacuum tubes, which don’t hold up well to 40 years of dormancy.
There is hope for the telescope. The Salt Lake Astronomy Society cleaned it up a couple of years back, somewhere in 2013, so it’s still in good condition to be repaired. According to Eastern’s Professor David Kardelis, the funds needed to refurbish the telescope are somewhat daunting; roughly $100,000 to $115,000. It would cost another $10,000 for the mount alone. This would be a serious upgrade which would allow us to use the telescope in the classroom.
Despite the cost, having a modernized, fully operational telescope on campus would be a huge asset to USU Eastern. Professor Kardelis stated that the telescope would be capable of extra-solar planetary searches (finding planets outside of our solar-system) and remote access to a classroom anywhere on campus.
The versatility and quality of new equipment would interest a variety of students as well. Astronomy majors would have hands-on experience working with an advanced telescope, and an independent-study course would enable serious students to advance and progress beyond the classroom. Medical students would also find modern telescope experience useful, as the imaging programs and skill-sets needed to operate the telescope are similar to technology used to track cancer cells in the human body.
USU Eastern’s telescope is a powerful tool, and should be maintained and utilized for the good of the campus and it’s students. The college would be more interesting to a wider variety of students, and a small part of the school’s history would be simultaneously preserved and modernized.

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