Adirondack Public Observatory looks to expand

The night's sky is seen above the Adirondack Public Observatory in Tupper Lake. (Photo provided — Marc Staves)

TUPPER LAKE — The Adirondack Public Observatory has its sights set on a large-scale expansion, adding an Astro-Science Center and a research-grade telescope to give everyone from children to astronomers access to some of the darkest skies on the East Coast.

Following in the steps of the Wild Center, the observatory is intended grow from a cabin with a roll-off roof into a sprawling, multi-use museum, complete with a planetarium, lecture hall and many telescopes.

This expansion has been the plan since construction of the Roll-Off Roof Observatory began in spring 2012. Observatory Vice President Seth McGowan, who is also superintendent of the Tupper Lake Central School District, says the new facility would not just be used by Tupper Lake residents; it is setting itself up as both a museum and a research center, to be a hub for anyone interested in outer space on the East Coast and to further teach younger generations about space.

Sitting near the center of the Adirondacks, anyone from Tupper Lake who looks up at night knows the area is a good place to study the stars. Light maps show a large dark spot in northern New York where the Adirondack Park cuts through city lights. The Tupper Lake village supports clear skies through its use of energy-efficient streetlights and down-facing hoods which reduce light pollution.

The observatory already has a reputation with astronomers, as researchers from Clarkson and St. Lawrence universities come to use its telescopes. At a July stargazing event, more than 200 people were counted on the clear Friday night.

The Adirondack Public Observatory in Tupper Lake will receive $200,000 to develop blueprints and engineer schematics for an Astro-Science Center as part of the state's economic development grants awarded Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

“We know that we are already too small,” observatory President Carol Levy said.

The Astro-Science Center would include a “makerspace” for classes to observe and experiment, as well as a two-story Foucault’s pendulum in the lobby, demonstrating the rotation of the earth.

Time and money

Envision Architechs rendered designs for the Astro-Science Center, funded through a $70,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Conservation through the town of Tupper Lake. The next step will be drawing up blueprints, followed by the construction of the center.

The open space next to the Adirondack Public Observatory’s Roll-Off Roof Observatory is planned to be the location for the Astro-Science Center. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Funded exclusively by grants and private donations, the observatory construction is income driven, and its timeline relies on a stream of funding and donations from external sources.

McGowan expects to be in construction or wrapping up the next building phase by 2020.

The last thing to be built will be the research telescope, which costs around $250,000 to construct. Currently there is an $11,000 grant through the village of Tupper Lake for the telescope, but unless there are large donations made specifically for the telescope, it would still be a long time until it is operational.

Giving perspective

Tupper Lake students look on as Joshua Thomas from Clarkson University demonstrates how to use a telescope at the Adirondack Public Observatory’s offices in Tupper Lake. The observatory plans to build an Astro-Science Center to better educate students about the stars. (Photo provided)

While the telescope would be mostly used for research purposes, it would also be opened to the public multiple times a month, and local schools would be able to bring students to see it. The telescope would give students visuals to help them understand their home.

“We live in the solar system on the planet Earth. We should know where we live. We should know who our neighbors are,” Levy said. “Astronomy tells us where we came from, where we are and where we are going.”

Levy explained that observing the universe is like observing the life cycle of a tree.

“You go into a forest. You can stand there, and you are not going to see a seed drop and become a tall tree,” Levy said. “But you can walk through the forest, and you’ll see seeds lying on the ground, and you’ll see young saplings, and you’ll see adult trees, and then you’ll see older trees and trees that fell down, and then you’ll see trees that rotted. So you kind of can see the life cycle of a tree by walking through the forest.”

The observatory aims to teach about life and history here in the Adirondacks as well as outer space. The Astro-Science Center’s displays and architecture are to be influenced by Iroquois sky lore, working the Native American legends and history into the atmosphere of the observatory.

“We want to make the education very unique to the Adirondacks,” Levy said. “We don’t want this to be a museum that we could pick up and put in Boston or San Francisco.”

Volunteer passion

With nearly everyone volunteering their time and efforts to produce stargazing events and push the observatory forward in its large-scale construction, the observatory staff has an astronomical task ahead of them. Levy and McGowan said they are fueled by their passion for the stars and their desire to teach others about outer space and the wondrous possibilities of that frontier.

“There is no standing still on this project,” McGowan said. “It’s not always visible to the public because a lot of it is grunt work. There is not a lot of fireworks around this at the moment, but things are happening every day.”