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Dave King, of Milltown, and his daughter, Abbigail, 4, look through Dave's telescope. (Photo by Chris Adams)

Curby observatory reaches for the sky

July 02, 2008
If you haven't driven by the Louisville Astronomical Society's observatory at Curby, just north of Leavenworth about 4-1/2 miles off of S.R. 62, in a while, you should.

In fact, you should plan to stop by, because the facility, named the James G. Baker Center for Astronomy after the world renown scientist, who with his wife, Elizabeth, founded the LAS in 1933, has grown quite a bit and is ideal for groups and others interested in learning about the night sky.

No longer does the site only house the large telescope in the 20-foot-by-30-foot roll-off roof observatory and plenty of space for spectators to set up their own telescopes, but the group just completed a 24-foot-by-40-foot state-of-the-art educational facility.

LAS president Ken Alderson said the new facility, which includes restrooms and a drop-down seven-foot-by-seven-foot video screen, is "designed to be a little bit of everything." Its amenities, including the 40 acres and Murphy beds and a fold-out couch, make it perfect for groups, like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to spend the night, as well as learn about the sky before heading out to get a first-hand view.

When used as a classroom (it can accommodate 36 people), the facility can switch to red lights as not to harm the visibility for those outside looking through their telescopes, Alderson said.

He said he has already talked to Tami Geltmaker, principal at Milltown Elementary School and a former science teacher, who was excited about the possibilities of integrating the facility into the school's curriculum.

"So, there's going to be a Milltown Elementary night in the fall," Alderson said, adding he also talked to Jim Ade, director of the Crawford County Purdue Extension Service, about bringing 4-H groups to the facility.

The cost, Alderson said, will be $5 per person for Scout troops or $50 for a group of private astronomers. (For more information about reserving the facility, visit www.louisville-astro.org or call Alderson at 1-502-939-0324.)

However, the LAS also offers several free public nights, with the next being Saturday, July 12. For a complete schedule, visit the group's Web site.

The group paid for the approximately $19,000 building itself, relying on donations. Local contractor Darrell Cunningham was the contractor, but LAS members also contributed.

"Club volunteers did the plumbing and electrical," Alderson said.

The LAS bought the 40 acres in 2000 and dedicated the observatory in 2004, also cleared the area for viewing and camping, Alderson said.

"This was all built with member donations," he said noting money from the sale of equipment no longer needed was used to get the project going.

Alderson said the LAS also plans on building an open-air observatory, with a deck surrounding the telescope in the field.

The LAS, which is based in Louisville and meets at the University of Louisville (see Web site for details), chose the Curby site because of its dark skies, and has tried to be a good neighbor. In addition to the free monthly public viewing nights (held on the Saturday closest to the first quarter moon), it hosts a River of Stars Weekend in cooperation with the Leavenworth Inn, where visitors can stay at the inn for two nights and get two hours of instruction at the observatory.

In addition, the group meets at the Urban Astronomy Center at the E.P. (Tom) Sawyer Park in eastern Louisville the evening before the public viewing night at Curby.

Currently, the LAS has about 160 members, from as far away as Evansville, and would like to host tri-state star parties.

"When there are star parties, people come from hundreds of miles," Alderson said. "This is some of the best skies around."

However, Alderson said, the LAS also wants more Crawford Countians to take advantage of the facility.

"What we want to do is get the local people … We want them to know about" everything available at the Curby site and to get involved, he said.

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