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Buffalo Science Museum plans to fix observatory dome

The green, copper-topped observatory dome of the Buffalo Museum of Science that pops into view along the Kensington Expressway is at the center of a new $1.5 million fundraising push announced Friday.

“We view the observatory as an icon of the community,” said Mark Mortenson, president and chief executive of the museum.

With $350,000 from the Margaret Wendt Foundation already in hand, the museum officially starts its public “See It Through” campaign to fix the 80-year-old observatory that closed to the public in 1999.

The restoration, complete with new solar lens, should be finished in June of 2016.

“We’re hoping to make the whole experience more accessible,” Mortenson said.

Plans include rebuilding the 1930s-era dome, which no longer rotates and opens as it should. A new, lighter one will look exactly the same and house the museum’s 1960s-era telescope along with a new companion solar telescope.

Its images of the sun will be projected down to the fourth floor below, which is also slated for renovation and an expanded exhibit about space, aerospace and flight, Mortenson said.

“That will complete the interior transformation of the Buffalo Museum of Science,” he said.

The observatory news was timed to sync with Saturday’s “Astronomy Day,” an international effort to promote the study of the heavens.

A local association of amateur astronomers, which has been collaborating on the plans, will be at the museum from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with astronomy crafts, an astrophotography exhibit and protected glimpses of the sun with a special telescope on the roof.

“We will be giving very meaningful peeks at the sun,” said Alan Friedman, director of the Buffalo Astronomical Association.

The museum’s original observatory, built for views of the night sky, was limited by city lights and the difficulties in arranging after-hours gatherings and staff supervision.

“Light pollution is a big problem for looking at faraway things,” Friedman said. People go to the country to look at galaxies and star clusters but, he said, planets still look great from the museum’s roof. “Saturn and Jupiter are not affected by ambient light,” he said.

Modern advances in telescopes allow for good daytime views of the sun. It is the new frontier that the museum’s rebuilt, re-equipped observatory can capitalize on and encourage student visits. “It makes great field trips,” he said.

Friedman uses his own telescope to take luminescent pictures of the sun’s fiery, splotched surface, which he posts on his “journal of a space cowboy” blog at alanfriedman.tumblr.com.

“There’s a whole new interest and possibility of solar observation – to see one of the most dynamic and thrilling things there is to see,” Friedman said. “The sun is a unique opportunity.”

email: mkearns@buffnews.com

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