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T. E. Bell (Managing Editor, Journal of the Antique Telescope Society)
“What good is this century-old monster refractor? Sell it and use the money to buy a brand new go-to reflector useful for teaching students and advancing astronomy.” So argues logic that is endangering an increasing number of university observatories around the U.S. (if not the rest of the world), even up to the Yerkes Observatory and its 40-inch Clark, world’s largest refractor by the acknowledged world’s best lens-makers.
While most non-historians readily accept the value of preserving our cultural heritage in rare and precious documents (such as the Declaration of Independence), artifacts (such as Stradivarius violins), and institutions (such as the birthplaces of U.S. Presidents), they tend not to think of astronomical observatories as part of cultural heritage—with a result that history is crumbling apace to the wrecking ball.
In early October, the Antique Telescope Society convened a special 60-minute session discussing philosophical why’s and practical how’s of preserving astronomical assets (including historically significant telescopes, observatory buildings, auxiliary equipment used to make observations or calculate results, and libraries of books and papers). This paper will summarize the discussion’s key insights—including the assessing and assigning of value to old vs. new telescopes, and the roles of politics, funding and fund-raising, publicity (positive and negative), education, use as a form of preservation, innovative solutions by private collectors (including “half-way houses” for homeless instruments), restoration vs. renovation, special problems facing very large telescopes, and lessons learned from both failures and success.
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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #4
© 2005. The American Astronomical Soceity.