Albion College has an extremely rare possession – an original Alvan Clark telescope. The telescope recently had its 130th anniversary, and the physics department arraigned to clean the telescope with money requested from the Provost.
Professor Nicolle Zellner stated in an email they realized it needed to be cleaned, “When Bart Fried (Antique Telescope Society) was here last fall (Sept. 2013), he suggested that it be cleaned. It hasn’t been cleaned since the 1990s.”
Telescopes need to be maintained frequently, especially if they’re as old as this one. This is to prevent corrosion of the lens and keep the telescope at peak functionality. Zellner said it should be cleaned about every five years.
The college scouted John Augustine, a professional telescope technician who cleans telescopes of all ages as well as binoculars and other scientific glasses.
“John is just one of a few people in the country who are experts in antique telescope cleaning and repair,” Zellner said in an email. “He came highly recommended by Bart and by my colleagues at other institutions that have old telescopes.”
While finishing the reassembling of the telescope, Augustine said, “I developed a method over the years so I can clean them and I won’t leave fine scratches.”
Augustine’s process is rather meticulous. He uses running water and a delicate brush dipped in dish soap. He only brushes the part of glass that is under the running water. He submerges it in still water to do a final rinse, and the lens is dried in an air compressor.
“My key is not touching the lens,” Augustine said.
It was important to fix the telescope, as well as paint the observatory because it is a historical landmark and attraction. The telescope is a point of pride for Albion College due to its age and legacy.
“The Alvan Clark telescope is both a historical marker and a showpiece for the college,” Zellner said. “Antique telescope aficionados from around the country have admired it and commented on how rare and special a telescope it is.”
Even Augustine said, “I’ve worked on other big Clarks, but this is the first complete Clark.” All parts of the scope are from Alvan Clark, not just the lens.
The telescope and the Observatory in which it resides have been cleaned and spruced up just in time for homecoming. Make sure to check them out.
Photo by: Hannah Litvan