Morgan County Observatory to Host Open House and All-Star Party on September 4 – The Morgan Messenger
by Kate Evans
The Morgan County Observatory Foundation plans to reopen the observatory on Sunday, September 4 over Labor Day weekend. An open house will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. with a variety of activities. A star party with telescope viewing will take place that night starting around 9:30 p.m., weather permitting, said observatory foundation secretary Kathryn Krenn.
Activities for the afternoon open house include a planisphere — a circular map of stars to identify constellations and stars, astronomical quizzes on the moon and planets, and a telescope simulation, Krenn said. They will also draw lots for telescopes. They hope people will come back that night for the star party and a peek through the telescope.
New astronomical posters and a new looping slideshow are coming for people to see at the open house or to watch while waiting for their turn at the telescope, she said.
If necessary, rain dates for opening could be either Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 5, or the following Saturday, Sept. 10, Krenn said.
Repairs and cleaning
An Aug. 15 Morgan County Observatory Foundation Facebook post said they were working hard to get the telescope up and running.
“The declination motors were slipping and we couldn’t reliably move the telescope up and down. Everything is fixed, but we still have some maintenance to do. Our goal is to reopen Labor Day weekend – stay tuned,” the message said.
Morgan County Observatory Foundation President Kevin Boles said their board knew some repairs were needed and noticed more in late April.
Mold and mildew mitigation was needed and they had to replace the telescope fittings. Additionally, there was a small roof leak and a lot of cleaning to do, Boles said. Some new board members had the engineering skills to work on the telescope.
Krenn said her husband had skills in electricity, mechanics and machinery, as well as expertise in optics that they needed for the telescope.
The council emptied the observatory’s books and magazines and did a lot of cleaning this summer, he said. They also installed dehumidifiers and cleaned half of the dome.
Recent work has included painting some of the interior walls, finishing the exterior panels at the north end of the observatory and painting the front door blue, Krenn said.
Boles said the observatory had not been used for two and a half to three years with the COVID pandemic. The stars’ last private party was in March 2019. Boles felt there had been more rain and humidity in recent years, which contributed to mold and mildew.
Krenn said they had a little water damage from the leaking roof and the building was closed for COVID.
“It needed a little TLC,” she said.
While the observatory was closed for COVID, Boles continued to host several star parties a year at Cacapon State Park and also at Wind Dance Farm and Education Center with his personal telescope while lecturing.
The Morgan County Observatory has been in operation for 20 years. Boles began meeting with interested people in December 1998 to plan the construction of an observatory to house the 16-inch Cassegrain Telescope which was originally donated by the United States Naval Academy to schools in Morgan County.
“First Light” or the first look through the telescope was in February 2002, Boles said.
The former US Navy telescope is a third the size of the Hubble Space Telescope and is capable of exploring deep space and planets. Visitors can see celestial objects such as comets, asteroids, nebulae, double stars, and quasars through first-hand viewing.
New board members
The Morgan County Observatory Foundation held elections in April. Boles remains the president. The vice-president is Alan Moeck and the treasurer is Randal Stewart. Kathryn Krenn is the secretary and her husband John Hrubec is also a board member. Both are engineers. Hrubec has the qualifications to work on the telescope, Boles said.
Other members of the observatory’s foundation are Rick Watson, Roger Skidmore, and former county hygienist Rob Campbell. Campbell was active on the board a few years ago and is back, Boles said. The observatory has issues with bathrooms, water, and sewers, so Campbell’s expertise as a sanitary technician is invaluable.
Boles said he trained three new telescope operators. Boles, Moeck and one other person are also trained telescope operators.
Krenn said they have many big future plans for the observatory that include computer controls on the telescope for classroom viewing and eventual public access as well as a mounted camera for taking pictures. Photos taken at night must have very long exposures, she noted.
Programs will include star parties, classroom activities, possibly public access to telescope images, and even public lectures on astronomy.
“We hope to take it to a new level,” Krenn said.
Their three main projects are the cameras, the automatic computer targeting of the telescope and the construction of a bathroom on the observatory. The observatory does not have a bathroom. The observatory board currently rents a porta-potty.
“We are really excited to open it this Labor Day weekend. People in the community are very excited. We want it to be a centerpiece of Morgan County,” Krenn said of the observatory.
Donations are welcome, Krenn said. Send checks to the Morgan County Observatory Foundation, PO Box 149, Berkeley Springs, WV, 25422. If there is a specific project you would like to donate to, indicate it on the check memo line.