OUR TELESCOPE

Our 22-inch telescope utilizes the latest computer technology to operate; to find an object in space, one only needs to click on an object in space on the screen and the telescope will find it with pin-point accuracy. The telescope can also be controlled manually with a joystick.

HOW IT WORKS

The telescope is capable of switching between two different modes: photographic and visual. Roll your mouse over the images below to see how this function is enabled.




HISTORY

After the Stamford Museum & Nature Center moved to its current location in 1955, a group of astronomers formed the Fairfield County Astronomical Society and asked the Museum for land to build the Observatory. Construction began in 1959, resulting in the present Observatory.

Telescope Poster

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Intrigued by Dmitri Dmitrievich Maksutov's telescope design, John Gregory created a modified version of the Maksutov in order to improve the performance of the telescope visually over a wide field, and had the innovative idea of building in an extra secondary mirror to convert the telescope into a very wide-field camera. Perkin-Elmer Optical Corp. was up to the task, and eventually produced a set of optics of superb quality. The design and fabrication of many of the parts went forward simultaneously, with member Nils Mikelson designing the drives for the new telescope. These were eventually built by his brother who was a master toolmaker. Gregory's first design for the Stamford project was a 20-inch clear aperture model, since 20 inches was the largest clear glass to be found for the corrector. Later, the same company advised that they could cast a 22-inch clear aperture blank, and the telescope design was scaled up. It turned out that this corrector blank was flawed in that the glass was not homogeneous - it had been made from melted blocks of glass, not all of which were of exactly the same density.

At the dedication of the telescope, Mr. Perkin told us of the difficulty, and that his opticians had done their best to "zonally correct" for the problem. They had indeed done a very good job, but still the glass was flawed. Mr. Perkin promised that when it was demonstrated that the Society was doing research-grade work with the telescope, Perkin-Elmer Corp. would replace the lens free, which was later done in spite of the fact that he had passed away in the meanwhile. The glass was donated by Schott in Germany, and even though the project was for a non-profit educational institution we had to pay a duty of $700 on it, 10% of its nominal value.

Several dozen companies participated, making the needed parts. In order for donors to be able to make tax deductions of the cost of the work, the ownership of the telescope had to pass to the Museum. It took about five years to get all the parts made, and at the last the Museum hired retired engineer Bill Blackwood to coordinate the efforts, and the assembly of the telescope. First light was in May 1965, with formal dedication on June 13, 1965. Blackwood suffered from a wasting disease. He died a couple of years after the completion of the telescope. At his memorial service, his sister stated that his interest in the telescope project had extended his life at least two years. He left money to the Museum, part of which was used to purchase a commercial dome to replace the home-made one built by the Society, which was too heavy and was shaking the building apart. The Museum issued a special edition of their Quarterly Report for the occasion of the dedication, copies of which are still available. The back page lists all of the contributors to the telescope project.

Early in the design of the telescope, it became apparent that using our unique approach we would be able to build a telescope far larger than most amateur groups at the time. It would be one which could do real research, and the Museum had us make up a list of possible projects. This list was used to get new manufacturers interested in the project. There was a Museum Committee to oversee construction and use of the telescope. With the completion of the telescope we began to look into ways to implement some of the suggested observing programs. One of these was to look for lunar transient events: changes or gas eruptions on the moon. The best way to do that is to look at the moon alternately through blue and red filters, since most of the previously seen events had been pink gas clouds which would show up in one of the filters but not the other. This was tried with hand-held filters, but a mechanical filter arrangement was never built since interest in the whole idea was waning.

Since its earliest photos in 1967, the telescope has produced about 1300 photo plates, mostly of variable star fields, with a few of comets and deep-sky objects such as galaxies. In 1976-77 South African astronomer Christos Papadopoulos loaned the Observatory his 24" focal length f/6 Zeiss camera lens to complete the northern section or his "True Visual Magnitude Photographic Star Atlas", from +30 degrees to the north pole. While the camera was here we photographed as much of the rest of the sky as possible. This collection of plates, added to those taken with the 22-inch has been invaluable in the work of charting new fields for the AAVSO.