30-inch mirror, 12-foot focal length, 10-year old operator


The Challenger Telescope at Fremont Peak is (as amateur telescopes go) a monster.  It weighs in right around 2000 lbs, but is so finely balanced that you can move it with a fingertip.  It’s on a fixed ‘English Cross’ mount, and can hit any point in the sky (with the exception of near-horizon objects due to the observatory walls).

With a 30-inch mirror it can pull in objects as faint as Pluto and can gather enough light to make potography of faint diffuse nebula a reality.  Planned upgrades include additional automation for imaging.  This is a serious telescope.

With a serious piece of equipment, operators must be trained by the Association before they are allowed to run the telescope.  This involves several pages of written materials on procedures and rules, as well as a hands-on training session in moving the telescope.   While the telescope is fitted with digital setting circles, it is moved by hand.  My oldest daughter was trained and certified to run it two years ago, at the age of ten.   At the time, she was the youngest person ever trained to run the telescope.   Now that record has been broken.

When Hannah was trained, she was 2 months away from her 11th birthday.  Now her younger sister Rosie has also been trained.  Rosie is a bit over three months away from her 11th birthday.

I’m looking forward to bringing Rosie up to the peak and letting her point the scope during a public session. That’s always a blast, to see young people, especially kids her age, really getting into astronomy.    One of these days I’ll post some scans of her sketches.

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