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Crowdfunding campaign launched to restore classic telescope

Lowell Observatory file photo

The moon shines above the Clark Telescope at the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Ariz.

By Miriam Kramer
Space.com

A historic telescope could be on its way to an upgrade.

The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., launched a two-month-long "crowdfunding" campaign Wednesday to help raise money to restore its vintage Clark Telescope.

Now designated a National Historic Landmark, the 24-inch refracting telescope was once used to map the moon, study Mars and observe the expanding cosmos .

"The telescope was built in 1896 and it hasn't been completely taken apart since 1897," Kevin Schindler, the outreach manager for Lowell said.

Officials with the observatory are hoping to raise at least $256,718 to help keep the telescope in working order.

For the past 20 years, the Clark Telescope has been used as a tool for public outreach, not research, Schindler said. More than 1 million people have looked through the eyepiece of the telescope to observe various celestial bodies in the night sky, he added.

All that wear and tear, however, has left the telescope in bad health.

"It's really getting to the critical point," Schindler said. "We don't want it to get any worse. If we're going to close it, we want to have a plan in place."

Lowell Observatory

In this undated historical file photo, Percival Lowell looks through the Clark Telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff

Today, when the telescope is pointed at one particular object in the sky, it does not stay in place, Schindler added. Although officials at the observatory are hoping to restore the telescope back to working order, they are not interesting in modernizing it.

Both the dome and the telescope need work, Shindler said, but they do not want to change its "historic flavor." The kitchen chair on the observing ladder used by the observatory's namesake, astronomer Percival Lowell, and other quirky objects that were added to the telescope throughout the years will remain in place.

In all, the renovation is expected to take about nine months from start to finish.

Officials at Lowell picked Wednesday as the kickoff date for a variety of reasons, Schindler said. March 13 would have been Lowell's 158th birthday, and it was also the anniversary of the announcement that marked the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Uranus was found on the same day in 1781 as well.

As of the writing of this story, the campaign has raised more than $5,870. For more information on the Clark Telescope project, visit the Restore the Clark IndieGoGo website.

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