Public Donations Fund Repair of Historic Lick Observatory Dome

April 21, 1997

Author: Robert Irion

Tim Stephens
UCSC Public Information Office

MT. HAMILTON, CA: Officials at the University of California, Santa Cruz, will soon repair the dome housing Lick Observatory’s historic 36-inch refracting telescope, thanks in part to an extraordinary public response to news reports on a portion of the dome that leaks in wet weather.

To date, the observatory has received about $38,500 in donations earmarked to restore the 109-year-old structure, more than twice the goal of $18,000 for materials to fix the leaks and repaint the dome. About 250 donors have contributed money, mainly from northern California but also from seven other states--the result of Internet and wire services running the story nationally.

“We were surprised and gratified by the public response to the articles,” said Joseph Miller, director of UC Observatories/Lick Observatory and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “The contributions will pay for materials and will allow the observatory to hire temporary help to repair the dome this summer,” Miller noted. If any funds remain, the observatory will direct them toward public-safety improvements inside the dome, including new fire exits and handrails.

Miller emphasized that the observatory did not intend to launch a public campaign. Rather, observatory staff solicited contributions from visitors via a sign in the lobby of the main building. A San Jose Mercury News reporter noticed the sign and wrote an article about the dome; other news organizations followed suit the next day.

“Unfortunately, these articles created the impression that the observatory has no funds for necessary repairs,” Miller said. “On the contrary, we do have funds for maintenance, but we devote them to higher priority repairs that affect the research mission of Lick Observatory. These leaks are in an area used almost entirely for public programs, rather than research.” The leaks do not threaten the structural integrity of the dome or the historic instruments inside, Miller added.

Although it is a popular tourist stop, the observatory serves primarily as a forefront research institution for University of California astronomers, Miller said. Its principal instrument, the 120-inch Shane Telescope, opened in 1959 and remains one of the world's most productive telescopes. For instance, astronomers used it and a sophisticated light-analyzing tool, the Hamilton Spectrograph, to find evidence of several new planets last year.

Public programs at Lick Observatory have grown increasingly popular since the observatory moved its headquarters to UC Santa Cruz in 1966. For two decades, a Summer Visitors Program attracted thousands of people each year to view the heavens and hear lectures. However, university budget shortfalls forced the observatory to cancel the free programs in 1991.

This year, the observatory will restore its Summer Visitors Program on five Friday nights in June, July, and August. “We recognize the growing interest in astronomy,” Miller said, “and we intend to continue expanding this visitors program with time.”

In addition, the observatory will continue its Music of the Spheres summer concert series, also on five nights. Space is limited; tickets for both events are available by mail only on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Summer Visitors Program will take place on June 27, July 11, July 25, August 8, and August 22. Ticket orders must indicate the number of tickets requested (up to a maximum of six) and rank each date in order of preference. Mail ticket requests with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Summer Visitors Program, P.O. Box 85, Mt. Hamilton, CA 95140.

Music of the Spheres concerts are scheduled for July 19, August 15 and 16, and September 12 and 13. Each evening includes an astronomy lecture and viewing through telescopes. Tickets are $30 each; special benefactor seats are available for contributions of $100 or more. Proceeds benefit the observatory’s public programs. A flyer listing the concerts and speakers is available by mail from: Concert, P.O. Box 85, Mt. Hamilton, CA 95140.

Editor’s Notes:

The visitors center at Lick Observatory is open to the public from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For recorded information, call 831-274-5061.

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