Telescope Gone — But History Survives

For over 100 years, residents of Christchurch, New Zealand were blessed to have access an operational, world-class telescope right in the heart of the city. The telescope was built in 1864 by Thomas Cooke and Sons of York, England, one of the best instrument designers of the time. It was then gifted to Canterbury College, as it was called back then, in 1891. The Townsend Observatory was constructed and opened in 1896. Since then, regular viewing was open to the public — until a 7.1 earthquake struck Canterbury on September 4, 2010.

The Townsend Observatory in 1896 (left). The telescope before the quakes (right). (Photos: University of Canterbury)

The Townsend Observatory in 1896 (left). The telescope before the quakes (right). (Photos: University of Canterbury)

In the September quake, the tower was badly damaged with cracking throughout the structure. Scaffolding was installed and plans were made to remove the telescope from the dome while repairs to the tower were undertaken. Then the 6.3 struck on February 22, 2011.

The tower of the Townsend Observatory, part of the Christchurch Art Centre, fell forward, taking the telescope with it. The telescope was buried in rubble. The news was heartbreaking on so many levels. What many do not realise is that a crane had been scheduled to lift the telescope out of the unstable tower structure only days after the quake had struck. If the quake had been two days later, the telescope could have been saved.

During the February quake, the tower fell forward, taking the telescope with it. (Photo taken by a member of the Civil Defence Rescue Team soon after the February quake.)

During the February quake, the tower fell forward, taking the telescope with it. (Photo taken by a member of the Civil Defence Rescue Team soon after the February quake.)

It looked to all that a portion of Christchurch's history was lost, but the recovery teams working at the Art Centre knew of the telescopes importance and did what they could. According to Graeme Kershaw of the University of Canterbuy, "The team of guys at the Art Centre were meticulous in their recovery and there's only three tiny pieces missing from the whole entire telescope."

But some divine source must have been looking out for the telescope as it and the tower fell. "The biggest surprise and delight came from the fact that we discovered the lens of the telescope ... was 100% intact," says Graeme. Because of it, there is a chance that the telescope can be restored.

The telescope remains was delivered to the Physics and Astronomy Dept at the University of Canterbury. To the delighted surprise of Graeme Kershaw (Senior Technician), the lens was 100% intact. (Photos: University of Canterbury)

The telescope remains were delivered to the Physics and Astronomy Dept at the University of Canterbury. To the delighted surprise of Graeme Kershaw (Senior Technician), the lens was 100% intact. (Photos: University of Canterbury)

The University of Canterbury immediately began taking steps to raise the funds for the restoration project. Staff and alumni worked to bring public awareness to what the telescope meant to Christchurch and why it should be returned to its home in the heart of the city. Thanks to their tireless efforts, the funds have been raised.

In late 2015, it was announced that the telescope, when it is restored, is to be named the Townsend Teece Telescope. Based in Berkeley, California, noted economist and UC Alumnus Professor David Teece, his wife Leigh Teece and their family donated funds to restore the historic telescope so that people will once again be able to view the stars above Christchurch city.

The appeal is still seeking funds to help fund the outreach and public education programmes. To get more information about the restoration project of the Townsend Teece Telescope, visit www.telescope.org.nz or their Facebook page.


 


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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Posted in Astronomy, Earthquakes, Personal Favourites, Remembrance, Science and tagged , , , , , .

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