by Kate Evans
The Morgan County Observatory Foundation plans to reopen the observatory on Sunday, September 4 during Labor Day weekend. An open house will be held from 3-5 p.m. with a variety of activities. A star party with telescope viewing will take place that night starting around 9:30 p.m., weather permitting, said observatory foundation secretary Kathryn Krenn.
Activities at the afternoon open house include a planisphere-a circular star map to identify the constellations and stars, astronomical quizzes about the moon and planets and a telescope simulation, Krenn said. They’ll also be raffling off some telescopes. They’re hoping that people will come back that evening for the star party and a look through the telescope.
New astronomical posters and a new looped slide show are coming for people to see at the open house or to watch while waiting in line for their turn at the telescope, she said.
Rain dates for the opening if needed could be either Labor Day Monday, September 5 or the following Saturday, September 10, Krenn said.
Repairs and clean-up
An August 15 Morgan County Observatory Foundation Facebook post said that they were hard at work getting the telescope in working order.
“The declination motors were slipping and we could not reliably move the telescope up and down. That is all fixed but we have a few more maintenance chores to complete. Our goal is to reopen Labor Day weekend – stay tuned,” said the post.
Morgan County Observatory Foundation president Kevin Boles said that their board had known that some repairs were needed and noticed more at the end of April.
Mold and mildew mitigation was required and they had to replace the couplings on the telescope. Plus there was a small roof leak and a lot of cleaning that needed done, Boles said. Some new board members had the engineering skills to work on the telescope.
Krenn said that her husband has electrical, mechanical and machinery skills plus expertise in optics which they needed for the telescope.
The board emptied out the observatory books and magazines and did a lot of cleaning this summer, he said. They also put in dehumidifiers and cleaned half the dome.
Recent work included repainting some of the walls inside, refinishing the outside paneling on the north end of the observatory and painting the front door blue, Krenn said.
Boles said that the observatory hadn’t been used in two and a half to three years with the COVID pandemic. The last private star party was held in March 2019. Boles felt there had been more rain and humidity the past few years that contributed to the mold and mildew.
Krenn said they had a little water damage from the roof leak plus the building had been closed for COVID.
“It needed some T.L.C.,” she said.
While the observatory was closed for COVID, Boles continued doing several star parties a year at Cacapon State Park and also at Wind Dance Farm and Education Center with his personal telescope along with doing lectures.
The Morgan County Observatory has been in operation for 20 years. Boles began meeting with interested individuals in December 1998 to plan building an observatory to host the 16-inch Cassegrain telescope that was originally donated by the U. S. Naval Academy to Morgan County Schools.
“First Light” or the first look through the telescope was in February, 2002, Boles said.
The former U.S. Naval telescope is one-third the size of the Hubble Space Telescope and is capable of deep space and planetary exploration. Visitors can see celestial objects such as comets, asteroids, nebula, double stars and quasars through first-hand viewing.
New board members
The Morgan County Observatory Foundation held elections in April. Boles remains the president. The vice president is Alan Moeck and the treasurer is Randal Stewart. Kathryn Krenn is the secretary and her husband John Hrubec is also a board member. Both are engineers. Hrubec has the qualifications to work on the telescope, Boles said.
Other observatory foundation members are Rick Watson, Roger Skidmore and former county sanitarian Rob Campbell. Campbell was active on the board some years back and has returned, Boles said. The observatory has issues with bathrooms, water and sewer so Campbell’s expertise as a sanitarian is invaluable.
Boles said they’ve trained three new telescope operators. Boles, Moeck and another person are also trained telescope operators.
Krenn said that they have a lot of big future plans for the observatory that include computer controls on the telescope for classroom viewing and possible public access along with a mounted camera for taking photos. Photos taken at night have to have very long exposures, she noted.
Programs will feature star parties, classroom activities, possibly public access to telescope images and even public astronomy lectures.
“We’re hoping to take it to a new level,” Krenn said.
Their three top projects are cameras, computer automatic targeting of the telescope and building a bathroom onto the observatory. The observatory doesn’t have a bathroom. The observatory board is renting a porta-potty at present.
“We are really excited to get it opening this Labor Day weekend. People in the community are very excited. We want it to be a centerpiece of Morgan County,” Krenn said of the observatory.
Donations are welcome, Krenn said. Send checks to the Morgan County Observatory Foundation, P. O. Box 149, Berkeley Springs, WV, 25422. If there is a specific project you’d like to donate toward, indicate that on the check memo line.