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March 8, 2017

CU home to rare, vintage Unitron telescope

CU home to rare, vintage Unitron telescope

CASTLETON—Tucked away on the backside of campus near the Observatory Lot is Castleton’s own nearly 700-pound hidden treasure. The Castleton Observatory has been home to a rare Unitron telescope, one of only three models open to the public in the entire world, since April 1960.

Originally built for studying the surface details of the moon, the vintage Unitron Model 620 refracting telescope is used on campus for studying space and stargazing, and features a weight-driven clock drive. Due to necessary upkeep the telescope was dismantled and taken out of use from 1967 to 2009 before being rebuilt.

“Being able to open the Castleton Observatory to the public is one of the most rewarding things in amateur astronomy I have been involved with,” said Green Mountain Alliance of Amateur Astronomers (GMAAA) member Cale Shipman.

Mathematics Professor Dr. Gillian Galle currently serves as the Castleton liaison to the GMAAA, who have been involved in the maintenance of the telescope over the years.

Galle, in partnership with the alliance, has spent her time as liaison working to create more buzz and activity around the telescope and campus community. Open viewings were held throughout the Castleton Summer Concert Series in 2016, along with special viewing events for the Vermont State Colleges board of trustees in July and at Castleton’s Homecoming and Family Weekend.

“I think it would be great if there was enough student interest to re-activate our astronomy club and host even more events,” said Galle, adding that students who have had the opportunity to visit the observatory have described the experience as exciting and eye opening.

“Apart from the refurbishing of the Unitron and outreach programs our club has run, I think the next big thing would be for us to train a number of faculty in the basic use of the telescope so that it can be utilized for classes in everything from elementary education, nursing, math, geology or to whatever any department thinks it would be of benefit to their curriculum,” added Shipman.

Submitted photo
Castleton University Observatory’s vintage Unitron Model 620 refracting telescope.

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