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Showing Off the Heavens at the Eisenhower Observatory

An industrial arts teacher's idea is still helping locals learn about the sky.

It sounded like a crazy idea.

An industrial arts teacher named Lawrence Sauter suggested building a telescope on the roof of Hopkins High School. Even crazier: Sauter and a group of students planned to build the telescope themselves.

That idea turned out not to be so crazy, though. Sauter and his students completed the Volkswagen-sized telescope by 1955. For years, teachers and students used it for astronomy classes and clubs, and it still sits on the roof of the building—which has since become the Eisenhower Community Center.

The telescope and accompanying Eisenhower Observatory are now regularly open to the public. A half dozen volunteers who clearly relish gazing into the heavens show off the night sky a few times per month.

Volunteer Ron Schmit, whose day job is providing tech support for nuclear power plants, has introduced visitors to the observatory for about 15 years. On Feb. 11, he welcomed a group into the classroom below and began a brief, but animated, discussion about the history of the telescope and what everyone would see that night.

Then the group trundled up a steep flight of stairs into the dome.

“The moonlight tonight—perfect,” Schmit said, tisking his tongue like a chef tasting a perfect sauce.

 

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If you go …

Viewings are scheduled for the following times:

March 8, 10, 15 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 7, 8, 12 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. May 6 and 10 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

 

Reservations are required and can be made by calling 952-988-4074. If the weather is bad, call two hours beforehand to see whether the viewing has been cancelled. Volunteers will also do special presentations for groups of 10 to 20.

The dome is open to the outdoors, so dress for the weather. Children should be at least second grade.

A donation of $2 for adults, $1 for children and $35 for groups of 10 or more is requested. For more information, visit the observatory’s website.

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