Old stargazer gets place of honour

2019-02-13 06:01
The Lamont-Hussey telescope is now a static outdoor exhibition in front of the planetarium on Naval Hill in Bloemfontein. Photo: Lientjie Mentz

The Lamont-Hussey telescope is now a static outdoor exhibition in front of the planetarium on Naval Hill in Bloemfontein. Photo: Lientjie Mentz

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The re-installation of the Lamont-Hussey telescope as a static outdoor exhibition at the Naval Hill Planetarium in Bloemfontein is now completed.

The project started several years ago after the recovery of abandoned parts of the old telescope.

What followed was a story of trial, patience, careful planning and a lot of hard work.

The telescope was taken apart after the observatory was closed in 1974.

Following this, the telescope was dismantled, and the optics were sent back to the University of Michigan in the United States with the largest pieces “left for dead in the veld” on the grounds of the Ehrlichpark Fire Station.

The Lamont-Hussey telescope had 47 years of service and years of abandonment in the veld after it was taken apart in 1975.

Its former telescope dome now hosts the Naval Hill Planetarium, the first digital planetarium in Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Dr Hendrik van Heerden from the UFS Department of Physics, who assisted in the technical side of re-installing the telescope, the larger pieces were recovered by Braam van Zyl and were subsequently moved to the museum hanger of the Bloemfontein Fire Brigade where it stayed for many years.

Van Heerden said in early 2017 the components of the telescope were relocated to Dukoc Manufacturing in Bloemfontein for cleaning, treatment and painting.

It took a while, as the missing components had to be manufactured before the final painting could be completed.

The missing pieces were made with the help of the original blueprints of the telescope, provided by Prof Patrick Seitzer of the University of Michigan.

These blueprints, along with measurements taken from the cleaned parts at Dukoc Manufacturing were used by Barend Crous, UFS head of Instrumentation, to develop and manufacture the missing parts.

These include the polar axis (a solid steel axle over 3 m long and weighing more than one ton), axis-bearing caps (cast-iron pieces weighing more than 100 kg and 200 kg respectively), as well as telescope position wheels and gear works.

After the required components were manufactured and refurbished, it was relocated to the Naval Hill Planetarium for the launch ceremony last year.

  • The UFS launched this historic 27-inch Lamont-Hussey refractor telescope with the comple­ted observation platform and a garden in front of the planetarium. The University of Michigan built the Lamont-Hussey Observatory between 1926 and 1928 in Bloemfontein for the study of double stars.

The telescope had great historic significance and was used by professional astronomer RA Rossiter from Michigan, who set the record for discovering and measuring more than 5 000 double stars.

The Naval Hill Planetarium also measured the most double stars in the world, more than 7 000.

Dawid van Jaarsveld from the UFS Department of Physics describes a double star – also known as a binary star system – as two stars orbiting around one another. Studies of double stars enable researchers to determine the mass of stars.

Earl Slipher used the telescope to take one of the very first colour photographs of Mars in 1939.

Slipher took 60 000 photos of Mars in 1939, 1954 and 1956 with the telescope.

He was the world expert on the planet at the time.

The camera Slipher used is displayed in the Boyden Observatory museum just outside Bloemfontein.

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