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In focus . . . Tekapo's starry skies are back in the spotlight as the public is asked for money to fund the Brashear telescope's installation in the lakeshore astronomy centre. PHOTO: GEORGE EMPSON

by Chris Tobin

A historic telescope is being restored for a new astronomy centre at Tekapo and the public are being asked to help.

Tomorrow’s Skies Charitable Trust is seeking $1.4million in funding to cover all costs of restoring a Brashear telescope as well as providing associated facilities for it at a centre being developed on the Lake Tekapo shore by Earth and Sky and Ngai Tahu Tourism.

Restoring the telescope alone will cost $500,000.

The Earth and Sky astronomy centre, pictured in November, is set to be completed by autumn 2019. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

In 2016, the then National government gave $3million to Earth and Sky and Ngai Tahu for its development.

“As it’s such a rare and valuable object, the telescope needs to be housed in a purpose-built observatory dome to protect it and ensure it can be used,” Graham Kennedy, the trust’s chairman said.

“This includes specialist foundations to account for seismic activity, as well as a dome that opens to allow the telescope to be used. The Tomorrow’s Skies Charitable Trust is seeking $1.4million in funding to cover all of these costs.

“We’re inviting those with an interest in the Brashear and the astronomy community to share in the support of this project to ensure its success.

“The trust will also be responsible for the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of the telescope and for ensuring 2000 school children each year have free access to the telescope to learn about this amazing instrument.”

“As it’s such a rare and valuable object, the telescope needs to be housed in a purpose-built observatory dome to protect it and ensure it can be used.”

Mr Kennedy said the dome and base of the telescope were expected to be installed in January, and the rest of the telescope would be assembled closer to the opening of the new astronomy centre.

Earth and Sky Tekapo Ltd is owned by two Tekapo couples, Graeme and Carolyn Murray, and Hideyuki and Yukari Ozawa.

In 2016, they entered into a joint venture with Ngai Tahu Tourism to share costs in developing the astronomy centre.

The Brashear telescope was given to Tomorrow’s Skies Charitable Trust in 2016 by the University of Canterbury, which had been given it by the University of Pennsylvania for installation at Mt John Observatory in 1963.

The university could not afford to build facilities for the telescope, which was kept in storage at Yaldhurst for 25 years.

The telescope is one of half a dozen giant refractors known to exist in the southern hemisphere and one of just two dating from the 19th century.

Standing at a maximum of 9m tall, with an 18-inch refracting lens, it was made by a Pennsylvanian optician, John Brashear (1840-1920), in the early 1890s and used by astronomer Percival Lowell for his studies of Mars.

Zara Tindall, a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, who has a personal connection to the Murray family, toured the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory with Earth and Sky 12 months ago and has become patron of the project to restore the telescope.