Charlotte's Quest Nature Center, in Manchester, is home to hiking trails, outdoor activities, and numerous events each year. On Sept. 20, the center will unveil two donated telescopes, opening up new opportunities for outdoor exploration to the community.
Earlier this year, members of the Westminster Astronomical Society attended a board meeting at the nature center, where they introduced the idea of donating a telescope to the grounds. Within six months of that first meeting, Charlotte's Quest Nature Center and Westminster Astronomical Society were able to come together to retrieve a Discovery telescope from an area family, who had housed the telescope unused for several years in their basement. Lisa Pellak, of Manchester, donated the telescope to the Astronomical Society after inheriting it from the estate of her father, Michael J. Pine.
"It was just sitting there doing nothing and we wanted to put it to good use," said Bob Clark from the Astronomical Society. "This seemed like the perfect place for it. The Astronomical Society had been wanting to donate something to the nature center for a while."
The Discovery telescope — a Dobsonian Reflector model with a 15-inch diameter mirror at its core — was donated to the nature center for free. Dobsonian telescopes, as described on the website www.optcorp.com, operate on a simple, low-mechanic design, making them easily portable and great for beginners. They are composed of a main reflector mirror at the base, and a secondary mirror to focus and reflect back the images into the eye piece.
New, the telescope sells on average for $2,500 as a base model, with no rotating or portable base to stand it on, or interchangeable eye pieces.
The telescope donated to the center features a sturdy, rotating base and several interchangeable eye pieces that came with it from the original owners. These additions allow for easy portability to reach all views of the sky, and different perspectives and zooms for viewing.
In addition to the donated Discovery telescope, the center also received a secondary, smaller Galileo telescope, courtesy of John and Ginny Piper and their family, of Manchester.
Although the telescopes were given with no fee, the center had to make some renovations on the grounds to find a suitable place with a clear view for the telescopes to be set up. Bill Skinner, project coordinator, along with members of the community, worked together to build a wooden shed to house the telescopes when not in use, and built a concrete platform partially encircled by low wooden walls to protect the area from water damage or loose dirt and grass that could become dislodged over time. The concrete platform is placed at the back edge of an open expanse of grounds on the nature center that looks up onto a wide arc of unblocked sky, allowing a large, unobstructed view.
"The construction part is just the beginning part of it," Skinner said. "Hopefully it will a big success."
The size of the platform was built to accommodate not only the Discovery and Galileo telescopes, but also any other telescopes visitors may wish to bring. Skinner and Clark said they hope to host star parties at the center, during which members of the community can use both their own telescopes and those at the center to view the night sky.
Overall, the cost of the shed, platform and grounds upkeep total about $6,000.
Funding for renovations for this project were provided via bocce ball tournaments hosted by Vince DePalmer and wife Pat Griffith, of Manchester. DePalmer and Griffith have been hosting tournaments with the proceeds going towards the center since 2009, and were eager to fundraise for the telescope project when Skinner brought it to their attention.
"We were real excited to put the money into this and to be able to tell the community where their funds were going," DePalmer said. "It helps generate interest when they know the specific project they are helping fund."
The telescopes will be an educational tool for boyscouts, day care centers, schools and adults as well, Skinner said.
Every astronomer or astronaut's passion had to begin from a spark, Skinner said, and maybe when people look up at the sky through the telescopes they will realize "how big and vast our universe is ... and what a small part of it we are."
"This is an opportunity to give that spark to young people to go into that career," Skinner said.
Clark said sometimes people are told that they are not smart enough to learn science-based topics, but he said he hopes the telescopes will help people gain confidence in their abilities.
"I'm very interested in propogating the idea that yes, you can learn some science," Clark said.
From idea to completion, the project has taken just under a year to reach its debut. Clark said that initially after the telescopes are unveiled next month, he will help host and plan the events centered around their use until the staff at the center becomes more familiar with the Discovery and Galileo telescopes on their own. Skinner said he hopes the nature center's part-time naturalist, Sherry Fisher-Cole, will also take an interest in learning the use of the telescopes, so she can use them as part of some of her educational programs.
"The possibilities when it comes to the benefit of the telescope are endless," Skinner said.
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Charlotte's Quest Nature Center is at 3400 Wilhelm Lane, Manchester. For more information about the center, visit charlottesquestnaturecenter.com.