Study of Jarvis Christian College Astronomy Resources
by D. Carson Fuls
October 29, 2013
The planetarium dome itself is already constructed, and appears to be well maintained. The star machine (Nova III Planetarium Projector) is partially operational. It currently displays stars and altitude measurements. It also has working drive motors for latitude and diurnal (daily) motion.
Lights for the sun, moon, and visible planets are not working. Cardinal direction indicator lights and red dome lights are also not functional (though possibly only burned out). The star machine needs several switches and knobs replaced, and new wiring to replace wire with corroded insulation. The wooden case of the machine could also be nailed more securely and panted/stained. The largest issue with the planetarium is that the drive motor for the sun, moon, and planets does not appear to be working. This could be simple wiring, or a burned out motor. I believe that these hardware issues can be fixed, and have sent an inquiry to the manufacturer (Spitz Incorporated) for technical documentation.
Besides the hardware, to have the planetarium ready for use would require an instruction manual detailing operation of the machine for an audience. This would provide details about the function of the star machine, how to set it for a particular date, time, and location, and a list of topics that the planetarium can illustrate for an audience. Instruction on these topics would be assisted with a classroom laser pointer with arrow aperture, used to direct the audience to points of interest. Finally, some type of seating, comfortable for a reclined position for the audience, would be required.
Jarvis Christian College already has two research quality telescopes. However, to fully utilize this equipment for educational and research work, an observatory would be required to house these telescopes and supporting resources.
First, a site should be selected for an observatory. Two locations were discussed during my visit. The first is on the roof of the Meyer Science Building, and the second is a spot to be determined on the college’s land away from the lights of campus. Both sites have positive and negative characteristics.
The roof of the science building already houses the 6” refracting telescope on a polar mount with a permanent dome. It is also upstairs from the planetarium, providing a central location for all astronomy activities. Power and internet are easily accessed from this location. Access can also be easily controlled to prevent theft and damage.
Issues with the rooftop location are: structural support of people and equipment, light pollution from the campus, and accessibility for individuals with reduced mobility. Structural support could be addressed by consulting with an engineer on the roofs ability to support all equipment, structures, and people using the equipment. A viewing deck could be constructed at either location, and on the roof, its load-bearing supports could be placed on corresponding structures of the science building. Light pollution could be reduced in the area by repositioning and shielding outdoor lights. This not only would reduce light pollution, but also make campus lighting more environmentally friendly by not wasting energy illuminating the sky. Accessibility issues may not have an easy solution. Finally, the safety of visitors must be considered especially for small children on the rooftop since at this time, there is no railing along the side. This structure could be constructed.
A location slightly removed from the main campus would have the benefits of low levels of light pollution, along with easy access for all visitors and much less restriction on size, weight and configuration of structures and resources.
Possible problems with this site involve its isolation from other astronomy equipment, power, and internet. These issues can be overcome, and it may be possible to relocate the 6” telescope to a new location.
At either site, the requirements for storage and usability of equipment are the same. Two telescopes, the 6” reflector and the 12” Meade LX200 both require permanent mounting and the protection provided by a dome. Both domes require power, and eventually internet access. An observing area for guided tours of the night’s sky with ample space for visitors and potentially guest telescope setups would also help the observatory with educational tasks. Finally, a reasonably powerful laser (5-10 mW) would be needed for pointing out objects in the sky to visitors and to help with telescope alignment.
Possible future expansion of resources and capabilities should always be kept in mind when setting up and observatory site and layout.
6” Refracting Telescope
This telescope itself is almost ready for use. It requires a cleaning of its primary lens and 90° star diagonal. The tracking motor does not appear to be functioning. Cleaning its rusted gears and replacement of its wiring may fix this problem. If not, the Autotrol Model 700 A/C motor could be replaced. A finder scope attached to the main telescope would improve its operation and alignment.
Dome rotation is not smooth and becomes jammed in some locations. The support roller’s bearings need to be greased, and the friction wheel on the dome rotation motor must be cleaned and re-inflated. Grease should be kept off of the friction wheel itself and the strip it is in contact with.
The most significant issue with the dome for the 6” is its shutter which is stuck open. The left shutters lower steel cable attachment is broken. This must be repaired for dome operation. A possible solution involves welding the cable attachment back onto the shutter and re-attaching the steel cable. The rest of the cable system for the shutter needs to be greased for protection and easier operation.
Meade LX200 EMC 12” Telescope
The Meade 12” telescope appears to never have been used. It has a full set of optics, and a tripod for mounting. This telescope needs to be setup, calibrated, and tested for functionality. Setup and takedown of the telescope contributes to its wear and tear, and increases the potential for damage to its fragile components so a permanent mounting for it should be found as soon as possible. The college is also in possession of a dome that could house this telescope permanently. Operation of the dome needs to be tested for smooth movement, and the dome needs to be moved to its permanent location. A document detailing operation and troubleshooting of the telescope would also need to be produced for future reference.
With minor maintenance, both telescopes and the planetarium could be operational and used for
educational purposes. The range of capability of the telescopes along with the planetarium would be ideal for use with students from elementary school all the way through college to demonstrate all key ideas in astronomy along with additional topics in planetary science and physics.
The addition of a few more instruments could greatly increase the utility of these devices to being tools for original scientific research. Astronomy research primarily requires a specialized charged coupled device (CCD) camera, a computer on site with the telescope, and the software to operate the camera and analyze images. This would allow an operator of the 12” telescope to conduct searches for unknown asteroids, comets, and extra-galactic supernova. A permanent polar mount for the telescope would also increase its accuracy and ease of use over the tripod it currently uses. Further work could be done to automate functions of the telescopes and domes to allow remote or fully autonomous use of the telescopes. This greatly increases their utility and accessibility.
Welcome Carson -- and thank you for a tantalizing glimpse at things to come!
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