Observatory will enhance teaching and outreach

7/23/2008 - By: Jane Tors

An observatory – which includes a 22-inch, research-quality telescope and dome – was removed by crane from its long-term home at Incline Lake, near the Mt. Rose summit. It is being donated by the MacLean family to the University of Nevada, Reno, and will eventually be installed at the Redfield Campus as the MacLean Observatory where it will support research and allow teaching and viewing opportunities for students of the University, Sierra Nevada College, Truckee Meadows Community College and K-12, as well as the general public.

“The MacLean Observatory will be a centerpiece for outreach,” said Jeff Thompson, interim dean of the University’s College of Science. “There is an amazing diversity of physics, chemistry and biology lessons that are not of this planet. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to introduce more students at all levels to what space and the stars can teach us. The MacLean family is making an important gift to our region.”

An additional gift from the MacLean family will fund installation, operation and maintenance of the observatory.

Before being installed, the telescope will travel to Utah where it will be refurbished over a period of six to eight months. The result will be a fully restored, state-of-the-art telescope with updated instrumentation and computer compatibility to allow viewing via the Internet.

Removal of the observatory was a bittersweet event for Hawley, Steven and Lynne MacLean, three of the six MacLean siblings who watched as a large crane first removed the observatory dome and then removed the telescope. Their father, Gordon MacLean, was an avid amateur astronomer and installed the observatory on top of the three-story family home in the 1970s.

The MacLeans are one of 19 families that comprise the Incline Lake Corporation, which owns the lake and surrounding property. The area, including the lake, is being purchased by the U.S. Forest Service, and the service has begun the process of taking down many of the structures around the lake. The MacLean family home is next.

The MacLeans were the only family that lived at Incline Lake year round. Originally built in the 1940s, their log-cabin style home was completely rebuilt after a fire in the 1960s.

Over the years, students from Incline Village schools and Sierra Nevada College have used the observatory, as have visitors from around the country. With a 22-inch diameter, the MacLean family telescope allows deep-space viewing of a caliber that will support research and university-level teaching.

Several members of the University’s Department of Physics were on hand Tuesday to assist. Helping to dismantle the telescope will prepare them to help with its eventual installation at the Redfield Campus.

“Only four of this particular telescope were ever made,” said Hawley. “It is definitely one of the largest around.”

The diameter of a telescope determines its rating and the size of its internal mirror, and, according to Hawley, “The bigger the mirror the more light you can collect from deep space.”

At Incline Lake, the clear skies, high altitude, cool temperatures and lack of other light sources created ideal conditions for viewing into deep space. The Redfield Campus was chosen as the observatory’s new home since light conditions there will contribute to the observatory’s performance. On the University's main campus in Reno, the performance would have been impeded by what is known as “light pollution.”


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