Astronomical society celebrates 60th anniversary

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The Richard Johnston Meade 16-inch RCX400 telescope, here with Star Quest Project Manager Gene Stringer, will be one of the three professional-grade telescopes through which guests can view the southern sky. Members will also set up their telescopes outside the Jefferson Township observatory. (Rod King)

By ROD KING
For IN|FW Newspapers

NEW HAVEN — Members of the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of focusing their telescopes on stars, planets, comets, galaxies and nebula.

On July 20, they’ll hold a public open house at their Star Quest Observatory in Jefferson Township Park to mark the occasion.

The event will start at 7 p.m. with welcoming remarks from Star Quest project manager Gene Stringer who will point out that the celebration also commemorates the first Apollo moon landing July 20, 1969. Visitors, along with New Haven and Fort Wayne mayors, local government officials, Chamber of Commerce and media representatives, will be invited to raise a fruit-juice toast to the occasion.

Guests will be invited to enjoy refreshments and tour the facility until dark when stargazing will begin. The roof of the observatory will be open (weather permitting) to a 180-degree view of the southern sky where guests will be able to view Jupiter to the west and Saturn in the east on the organization’s three large professional-grade telescopes. Society members will also have their personal telescopes set up outside the observatory on concrete pads for viewing the heavenly display.

Star Quest Observatory operated by the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society will be open to the public to mark the society’s 60th anniversary July 20. The roof will be opened during the stargazing session. The observatory was opened in May 2017. (Rod King)

The unique Star Quest Observatory, which began operations in May 2017, is the only facility of its kind in northeastern Indiana and northwest Ohio. Half of the delta-wing roof slides open to the east and the other half to the west, exposing stargazers to the vast southern sky in an open-air room.

It was specifically designed to offer direct viewing by the public through multiple telescopes. On Saturday evenings April through November, the Society offers free stargazing sessions and invites individuals and groups to view the spectacular overhead display. The mission of FWAS is to promote the science of astronomy and allied sciences to people of all ages. Nearly 5,000 people have visited the observatory since its opening in 2017.

The three main telescopes (Richard Johnston Meade RCX400 16-inch-diameter mirror, Harnishfegger-Crow Newtonian 12.5-inch mirror and a Gene Stringer Meade LX600 Starlock 12-inch mirror) can swing 360 degrees to lock onto stars in deep space, locate nebula and find passing comets and satellites. They can capture 4,000 times more light than the human eye and magnify their target subject 60 to 300 times. The 16-inch telescope can be raised or lowered to accommodate a child or a person in a wheelchair.

The Society operated a domed observatory at Fox Island County Park for 30 years before moving to Jefferson Park in 2012. They kept their telescope in a small shed and brought it out to view the skies each Saturday until the Star Quest observatory was opened and their equipment could be permanently mounted and ready for viewing.

In addition to celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Society will officially kick off its “Securing the Dream” fundraising campaign. Donations and pledges of more than $23,000 from the FWAS membership have already been secured. They will be seeking grants from individuals, corporations and local and state foundations with a goal of establishing a $100,000 endowment that will support the observatory operations so it can continue to serve the community. As Stringer points out, “those funds will allow us the freedom to grow and keep up with the community’s interest in astronomy.”

The observatory is in Jefferson Township Park off of Webster Road east of New Haven. To get there, take Lincoln Highway through New Haven. It changes names to Dawkins Road. At Webster Road, turn left, cross over the railroad tracks and drive about 100 yards to the park entrance. Turn left and follow the road to the observatory at the back of the park. Signs will point the way.