August 8, 2008 #022 - West Lafayette Observatory

In the spring of 1967 I was taking some classes at Purdue University on Astronomy. A new friend in the class and I discovered that we had a common hobby (obsession) telescopes and gluing our eyeball to an eyepiece. He suggested that I might like to spend a night using a 12.5 inch telescope. Now you have to understand that this was like hitting the jackpot at the casino.

Then he said meet me at the observatory. My heart stopped - observatory! Long before nightfall I was on the doorstep. I had only read about observatories. When the door opened I was in heaven. The West Lafayette Observatory was situated in a large empty field north of the city. It had a work room below and a carpeted stairway up to the telescope. There were controls for the dome, a drive with slow motion controls, and a beautiful white scope on a massive mount. This setup was less than a year old. The building had that wonderful smell of new pine lumber.

We spent the entire night looking at various objects, but what I remember most was Saturn. Never had I seen such detail in the rings. I know that today, I look at the pictures from Cassini with awe but that was a night I will never forget. I was Percival Lowell for one night.

Not long ago I was in West Lafayette and decided to see if the observatory was still there. I had a hard time finding it. Over the years the city grew and the field is gone. Hundreds of houses surround the observatory, the sky is bright red from the glow of thousands of lights. I wonder does the scope still thrill some young wide eyed observers?

Clear Sky - Rich

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