Sunday, October 08, 2000

Clouds don't dim astronomy lesson

Society shows off old telescopes

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Up on Mount Lookout, under a heavy blanket of gray clouds, the big 'scopes trained brass sights on passing holes of sunshine.

        Though volunteer organizers of the Cincinnati Observatory Center's second telescope fair didn't find the sun too often on Saturday afternoon, they didn't run out of enthusiasm.

        “Our goal is to put an American astronomy museum in this building,” Tricia Bevan of Mount Lookout said in front of the crusty brick observatory built in 1873. “We've got a lot of work ahead of us.”

[photo] Emily Webb, 7, of Mount Lookout, looks through a telescope as Dave Bosse watches.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mount Lookout's two observatories — the other was built in 1843 — are forgotten architectural jewels with weather-beaten silver domes.

        “These buildings were unused for 20 years,” Ms. Bevan said. “In 1998, we began to get some programs going in here. At the time, there were about 1,200 visitors a year. Now, there are 1,200 a month. The volunteer groups want to make this place special again, but we've had to contend with everything from a leaky roof to holes in the dome.”

        “Scope Out 2000” included tours of the buildings, a display of tiny moon rocks, solar viewing, lectures, a telescope swap meet and mirror-making demonstrations.

        Fittingly, the dinner speaker was Karla Clark, a 1979 graduate of Finneytown High School who works at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. She is flight system manager for the Europa Orbiter and Pluto Kuiper Express missions, scheduled from 2007 to 2010 to study a moon of Jupiter and the sun.

        “No matter what we predict that we'll find out, I'm sure we'll end up learning more about something else — something we had no idea about,” she said.

        Perhaps Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, a professor at Cincinnati College, felt the same in 1842, when he founded the Cincinnati Astronomical Society and ordered a $9,000 12-inch lens in Munich, Germany. Cincinnati businessman Nicholas Longworth donated a 4-acre site on what was then known as Mount Ida.

        After former President John Quincy Adams dedicated the observatory in 1843, Mount Ida was renamed Mount Adams.

        In those days, Cincinnati was an astronomical focal point of the nation.

        “The original telescope was the second-largest refractor in the world at the time,” said volunteer Dave Bosse of Clifton. “It's still considered very fine optics. Unfortunately, Cincinnati has too much light pollution.”

        Light pollution is a byproduct of Cincinnati's skyline — the artificial bulbs obscure the brilliance of the stars' light, making night observation more difficult.

        By 1868, dust and smoke forced the Cincinnati Observatory's new owner, the University of Cincinnati, to move the original telescope to Mount Lookout, where a 16-inch refractor was added in 1904.

        “What we're trying to do now,” said Greg Huber of Fairfield, “is educate people about astronomy and telescopes.”

        Want to help preserve Cincinnati's old observatories? See the Internet site at, or call the Observatory Center at 321-5186.



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