From the August 2015 issue

Web Extra: Rebirth of a legendary telescope

At many observatories, the mantra seems to be: “Out with the old, and in with the new.” But at Wesleyan University’s Van Vleck Observatory, restorers are breathing new life into a century-old refractor.
By | Published: August 24, 2015 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Van Vleck Observatory sits on Foss Hill on the campus of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Olivia Drake/Wesleyan University
In June 2014, Chris Ray and Fred Orthlieb began the arduous task of restoring the 20-inch refracting telescope at Wesleyan University’s Van Vleck Observatory in Middletown, Connecticut. The team retained the scope’s major components — including the classic 20-inch lens crafted by Alvan Clark & Sons, the optical tube assembly, and the pier — while updating the operating system to the 21st century. Now, in August 2015, the restoration is nearing completion and should be finalized in time for the observatory’s centennial in 2016.

Wesleyan University has recorded the process in a series of videos. The first, shot at a rate of one frame per 30 seconds, shows the third day of the restoration process in June 2014. In it, workers disassemble the back half of the telescope’s optical tube assembly.

The second video, from July 28, 2015, and also shot at one frame per 30 seconds, shows technicians from the Otis Elevator Company fixing the dome’s floor and the return to the dome of the front half of the telescope optical tube assembly (the rear half had been back for more than a month).
The final video, from August 14, 2015, and shot in real time, shows team members positioning the front half of the optical tube assembly so it can be installed (the back half is already in place).