FORT WAYNE, Indiana — The Fort Wayne Astronomical Society hopes the Star(asterisk)Quest fundraising campaign will help the group boldly go where it's never gone before — into a new observatory building that also will serve as a community resource center on space, the final frontier.
"The observatory is going to take us to the next level," Gene Stringer, a society member and its Star(asterisk)Quest project manager, told The News-Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1kMkHuP ).
Astronomical society members plan to discuss the Star(asterisk)Quest project and accompanying fund drive during a news conference at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Room C of the downtown Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza.
The group already has raised about $90,000 of the estimated $208,000 needed to construct the observatory and has pledges for an additional $20,000, Stringer said. If the group can raise an additional $90,000 within the next few months, construction can begin by late September and the observatory should be completed in time for star viewing beginning next April.
The approximately 800-square-foot observatory would stand on a 1/4-acre plot leased in Jefferson Township Park, off Webster Road east of New Haven.
Since 2012, astronomical society members have offered public star viewing on clear Saturday nights from a small shed adjacent to the proposed construction site.
Using the shed requires society members to roll out and set up a large, 16-inch, reflector telescope each time they offer public sky viewing, Stringer said. The site also is not easily accessible for people in wheelchairs.
The new observatory would allow the society to leave the 16-inch telescope in place and to accommodate people in wheelchairs, he said.
The roof over a portion of the building would roll open to allow viewing with the 16-inch telescope and others mounted inside. The observatory also would contain a library and have the ability to show photos or live video on display screens, or to send images or live video via the Internet to news media or other recipients, Stringer said.
The 16-inch telescope weighs 275 pounds, so members created their own "scope buggy" to move it to and from the shed, said Chris Highlen, society observatory director. The society began using the telescope in 2009 after buying it with a donation from member Richard Johnston.
It can compute where objects are in the sky and target them quickly, or take people on a visual tour of the night sky, Highlen said.
"It works great," he added. "It is so quick and easy to find objects."
The new observatory also would contain the society's old homemade telescope, which members used from 1963 through 2008, Stringer said.
The society, which was founded in 1959, first used the old telescope at an observatory opened in 1963 on Dupont Road, according to the society website, http://www.fortwayneastronomicalsociety.com. The society moved its observatory in 1978 to Fox Island County Park on Fort Wayne's southwest side because of light pollution at the original location.
Members moved their public star viewing events to Jefferson Township Park in 2012, Stringer said. Trees at Fox Island had reached a height that prevented members from seeing the horizon.
Information from: The News-Sentinel, http://www.news-sentinel.com/ns