Te­le­scope moves to NWA

Gi­ant de­vice to help fur­ther STEM re­cruit­ment goals

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - ASH­TON ELEY

BEN­TONVILLE — Mem­bers of Sup­port­ing STEM and Space Inc. sur­rounded a 36-foot-long an­tique te­le­scope in ex­cite­ment Sat­ur­day as the de­vice ar­rived by truck to a stor­age build­ing near the Eighth Street Mar­ket where it will be re­stored, up­graded and even­tu­ally used for pub­lic out­reach, they said.

Re­moval of the te­le­scope be­gan Mon­day from Swath­more Col­lege near Philadel­phia. The 106-year-old te­le­scope has an 8,000-pound op­ti­cal tube and sits on a 50,000-pound base. It’s tied with one other de­vice as the sixth-largest re­frac­tor in the United States.

“It is hard to de­scribe how big this te­le­scope is,” said Clint Bran­ham, board mem­ber of Sup­port­ing STEM and Space, af­ter in­spect­ing the te­le­scope at Swath­more. “How­ever big you think it is, it’s big­ger than that.”

Sup­port­ing STEM and Space, also called S-Cubed, is a non­profit group cre­ated to gen­er­ate in­ter­est in science, tech­nol­ogy and math and ul­ti­mately to see a science cen­ter built in North­west Arkansas. It be­gan on the com­mu­nity col­lege cam­pus a lit­tle more than two years ago.

With a clear vi­sion and mis­sion, the group sub­mit­ted a pro­posal to get the te­le­scope.

“To see some­thing come

to­gether so quickly is re­ally amaz­ing,” said Scott Roberts, founder and pres­i­dent of Ex­plore Sci­en­tific in Spring­dale and an S-Cubed board mem­ber. “This is right up there as a top-tier type of project, and to have such a young or­ga­ni­za­tion do this is tremen­dous. It shows you they have not only the pas­sion but the abil­ity to make this hap­pen.”

Mov­ing the dis­as­sem­bled te­le­scope re­quired two flatbed semi­trail­ers, plus a cargo van for the glass ob­jec­tive lenses, which are more than 2 feet in di­am­e­ter with curved sides.

“Lenses this large are no longer made, so the ob­jec­tive is ef­fec­tively price­less,” said Kather­ine Auld, S-Cubed board chair­woman and North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege ad­junct as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor.

Once im­prove­ments are made, the te­le­scope will be in­stalled in a North­west Arkansas ob­ser­va­tory, the ex­act lo­ca­tion of which re­mains un­de­ter­mined.

It serves as the foun­da­tion for the planned science cen­ter that mem­bers hope to build in the area.

“Our time­line orig­i­nally put con­struc­tion years in the fu­ture. How­ever, af­ter ac­quir­ing this fab­u­lous cor­ner­stone for the science cen­ter, we plan to ac­cel­er­ate the time­line,” Auld said. “The te­le­scope will of­fer spec­tac­u­lar views of the heav­ens to the pub­lic.”

Auld said she es­ti­mates restora­tion time to take from two to five years depend­ing on the fund­ing, which could cost roughly $100,000 and re­quire vol­un­teer work.

One of the up­dates Auld said the group hopes to add is a video-cap­ture sys­tem that will al­low the cen­ter to stream the view from the re­fract­ing te­le­scope’s eye­piece to an au­di­to­rium or lobby.

In ad­di­tion to the te­le­scope, the group plans to build a large plan­e­tar­ium to fur­ther ex­plore the night sky and to show movies on a va­ri­ety of sub­jects from science to en­ter­tain­ment.

A re­fract­ing te­le­scope uses a lens at the front of the te­le­scope tube to form an im­age that is fo­cused by an­other lens at the eye­piece end. The two lenses of this te­le­scope were pol­ished from solid blocks of “per­fect” glass, Auld said.

“As per­fect as they could cre­ate in 1911,” she said. “At that time, it was gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be the most per­fect ob­jec­tive ever built.”

While it’s not top-of-the­line by to­day’s stan­dards, the S-Cubed team seems con­fi­dent the de­vice will fur­ther the group’s mis­sion of in­spir­ing oth­ers to pur­sue ca­reers in STEM.

“It’s not a re­search-grade te­le­scope,” event chair Dustin Master­son said, “but this is our an­chor. This is the thing that is go­ing to light sparks on fire.”

Many or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­nity mem­bers made do­na­tions to fund this project, which cost about $15,000. The com­pany that trans­ported the te­le­scope, Air­ways Freight, do­nated a third of the ship­ping costs, and Ex­plore Sci­en­tific cov­ered bulk of the rest, Auld said.

“All the or­ga­ni­za­tions that have con­trib­uted so that it is be­ing de­liv­ered to NWA at al­most no cost to Sup­port­ing STEM and Space. We only had to pur­chase in­sur­ance for the ba­si­cally price­less ob­jec­tive,” she said.

“The te­le­scope will of­fer spec­tac­u­lar views of the heav­ens to the pub­lic.”

— Kather­ine Auld, S-Cubed board chair­woman and North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege ad­junct as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

Vol­un­teers un­load sec­tions of a gi­ant te­le­scope from a truck Sat­ur­day for tem­po­rary stor­age at 8th Street Mar­ket in Ben­tonville. Swarth­more Col­lege in Swarth­more, Pa., do­nated the 106-year-old te­le­scope to Sup­port­ing STEM & Space, a North­west Arkansas non­profit group, in April on the stip­u­la­tion the non­profit group would pay for trans­port. The non­profit group plans to re­store the 36-foot-long, 24-inch di­am­e­ter re­frac­tor te­le­scope and make it the cen­ter­piece of a science ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter with a plan­e­tar­ium and ob­ser­va­tory.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

Colt Long­necker (left) and Clint Bran­ham with Sup­port­ing STEM & Space rig a sec­tion of te­le­scope with lift­ing straps Sat­ur­day as vol­un­teers un­load the te­le­scope for tem­po­rary stor­age at Eighth Street Mar­ket in Ben­tonville.

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