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posted: 8/1/2013 4:29 PM

117-year-old telescope returns to U of I

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  • Restoration work on the telescope in the University of Illinois observatory has been completed.

      Restoration work on the telescope in the University of Illinois observatory has been completed.
    Robin Scholz/The News Gazette, May 2013

 
Associated Press

URBANA -- The University of Illinois' 117-year-old observatory telescope is being reinstalled this week after a summer of restoration and a close call on its cross-country journey back home.

Work on the old telescope at a business in Pennsylvania wrapped up two weeks early, Professor Bryan Dunne told The News-Gazette in Champaign on Wednesday. Dunne is the assistant chairman of the university's astronomy department.

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But one of the two cargo vans carting the 1,465-pound telescope home from was in a traffic accident in Ohio, he said.

"Fortunately nobody was (seriously) hurt," Dunne said, though he noted two of the people in the van suffered bruises and were checked out at a hospital.

The van, though, was damaged and a few tools and other pieces had to stay behind.

Reinstallation of the telescope, though, started Wednesday. It has to be lowered through the old building's roof.

The restoration work was the first done on the telescope since 1954. The exterior was stripped to remove decades of grime and given a new high-gloss finish, while the scope's ball bearings were replaced and its gears re-machined. All in all, it's easier to move around on its mount and use now, Dunne said.

"It used to be kind of hard to push at first," Dunne said. "Now it's smooth. It's a 1,400-pound mount, and you can push it with one finger. It's so well-balanced and so well-lubricated. It's wonderful."

The small observatory, inconspicuously tucked into the center of the Champaign-Urbana campus, is a National Historic Landmark because of pioneering work done there in the early 1900s by astronomer Joel Stebbins to record the brightness of distant stars. The telescope itself hasn't been used for research since the 1960s but is still used by students.

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