Star Search: Juniata Refurbishes Century-Old Telescope Physics professors are noted for thinking Big Ideas, like the origin of the universe, quarks, black holes. At Juniata, the physics faculty does ponder those questions but they also notice the little things—like an antique 100-year-old telescope gathering dust in a storage room. Currently, two professors are overseeing the restoration of a 1908 Brashear telescope, which was purchased that year by the College after its maker, James A. Brashear visited Juniata to give a lecture. The faculty decided to buy the instrument and Brashear himself delivered the 5-inch refractor telescope on a return lecture date. Flash-forward a century or so as Jim Borgardt, professor of physics, takes a group of students enrolled in the College’s Remote Field Course on a tour of Arizona’s Lowell Observatory. The guide takes pains to show the group a beautifully maintained old telescope. “I immediately recognized it,” Borgardt says. The college had used the Brashear telescope well into the 20th century. Over time, though, the faculty moved on to more modern equipment and the Brashear instrument was put into a closet. Borgardt’s first instinct was to buy a bottle of Brasso and shine the telescope to its former sheen. Luckily, he made a few phone calls first. Fans of the Antiques Roadshow know that it’s always a bad idea to clean an antique, because it often causes more damage to the object and lessens its value. Which is generally what Borgardt learned from Bart Fried, president of the Antique Telescope Society.
“He told us polishing the brass would cause deterioration,” Borgardt says. “Mr. Fried is working with us to find people who have parts and recommending lacquers to protect the finish.” Another faculty member, Matt Beaky, assistant professor of physics, now helps out with the restoration project, aided by a student Nick Stone-Weiss, a freshman from North Olmstead, Ohio. “This is still a very precise and effective instrument,” Beaky says. “If we set it up to look at the night sky you can still effectively see the planets, the moon and the sun.” In addition to the antique telescope, the physics faculty will also have another, older telescope to use as a resource shortly. This summer the Hickes Observatory will have a new 16-inch aperture telescope installed, replacing the college’s 12-inch instrument. “With the (new telescope) we will be able to see galaxies,” Beaky says. 9
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