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Lowell Observatory's Clark Telescope to get update

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Lowell Observatory's iconic Clark Telescope is set to experience a much-needed facelift.

After Monday, the telescope will be removed and will undergo a restoration for more than a year as engineers and technicians carefully remove telescope components and repair or replace poorly operating parts, the Arizona Daily Sun reports.

The body will have to be removed by crane and each piece meticulously catalogued then refurbished. New pieces must be hand-fabricated.

To restore the Clark, Lowell launched an online fundraising campaign this year.

"We will continue to do tours in (the Clark dome) while we work," said Lowell Observatory spokesman Kevin Schindler. However, he said nighttime viewing will happen elsewhere on site.

And while Lowell's substitute public telescope -- the 16-inch McAllister -- provides about the same quality views, its ambiance and history can't compare.

The Clark's great white dome has been a hallmark of the Flagstaff skyline since 1896, two years after Percival Lowell decided to have his observatory built atop Mars Hill.

The telescope was protected with a massive wooden dome that was eventually perched on old truck tires for easy rotation.

The telescope is named for its maker, Alvan Clark, whose work defined state-of-the-art telescopes in his day. His masterpieces also include telescopes at the famous Yerkes, Lick and Dearborn observatories.

By the 1970s, technological advances and new telescopes meant the Clark had stopped being a primarily scientific instrument. Since then, the telescope has hosted mostly schoolchildren, local sky-watchers and tourists. Lowell Observatory estimates that about 1 million people have looked through the telescope in that time. That heavy use has taken its toll, officials said.

As part of the restoration, the telescope's century-old wiring will be replaced to prevent sparking wires from burning down the wooden dome. The dome's shutters, nearly impossible to open as they are now, will also be repaired along with the telescope's broken tracking system.

"The Clark Telescope is a national treasure and is Lowell Observatory's first research telescope," said Lowell director Jeff Hall. "Last year, we celebrated first light of our newest eye on the sky, the Discovery Channel Telescope, which will carry us through several more decades of astronomical discoveries, as the Clark did in the early days of Lowell."

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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