History of the Observatory
In August, 1971 Professor Thomas Cupillari ’60 saw an advertisement in the magazine Sky & Telescope; Dave Garroway, a television personality best known for being the original host of the Today Show was selling the telescope and dome that he purchased from Beloit College in 1967. With the approval of then President Harry K. Miller Jr. and the support of Margaretta B. Chamberlin, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, he wrote a letter of inquiry to Mr. Garroway. A series of letters and telephone calls followed. Numerous individuals and organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution, indicated an interest in acquiring the telescope and dome. The Smithsonian Institution wanted to buy it to reunite the lens and finder telescope with the original Warner and Swasey mount. Ultimately, Mr. Garroway, assured that Keystone College would make the telescope available to students of all ages and the general public, rejected all other offers and sold his ‘baby’ to Keystone College. In the fall of 1971, the dome and telescope were dismantled and transported to Keystone College and placed in storage.
Installation of the Dome
Gifts to the 1972 Annual Fund, including a grant from the Scranton Area Foundation, and several supportive individuals helped to make possible the installation of the dome and telescope, as well as the construction of the main building. A grant from the National Science Foundation financed the purchase of a spectroscope, a Schmidt Camera, and a photometer. In the spring of 1973 the observatory was dedicated and public lectures and viewing sessions began in July of that year.
Observatory Opened to Public
The astronomy observatory at Keystone College was officially dedicated and opened to the public on Sunday, May 20, 1973, a rainy, cloudy day. There was a brief ceremony that included remarks by President Harry K. Miller Jr. and Thomas Cupillari ’60, observatory director. Professor Philip Riggs, a teacher and mentor to Professor Cupillari when he was a graduate student at Drake University, presented a short address. Among the guests were representatives of the Scranton Area Foundation that helped fund the founding of the observatory. This dedication initiated the status of the observatory as a facility for both the college and the public. The observing session for that evening was postponed and later held on Tuesday, May 22, 1973.
Public Programming Began
Regularly scheduled public programming began in July that year and has been a central part of the mission of the observatory ever since. Students in astronomy and physics courses began using the facility that September, and on occasion students in history and 19th century literature also made visits to the observatory. At the same time a cooperative effort with the Lackawanna Astronomical Society (LAS) was instituted, and a relationship was created that is still going strong after 36 years.
In addition to lectures and observing sessions, which grew rapidly in popularity, students from Keystone and other local schools, and the members of LAS began engaging in projects involving photography, photometry, and astrometry.
Re-Dedication as the Thomas G. Cupillari ’60 Astronomy Observatory
On September 22, 2000, President Boehm and the Board of Trustees rededicated the facility as the Thomas G. Cupillari ’60 Astronomy Observatory (TGCO) in honor of the founding and current director. In attendance with the college community was Keystone College former president, Harry K. Miller, Jr.
Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope Purchased
In 2002 the Observatory purchased and installed a ten-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope which was portable and later mounted permanently in the new building once it was completed. Funded by former student Frank Brown ’68, in memory of his mother, Marian L. Brown. Once a librarian at the US Naval Observatory, Mrs. Brown had been a supporter of the observatory at its inception in 1973. The family’s gift in her memory paid for the Meade LX 200 telescope, and there is currently a small plaque mounted on the telescope designating it as the Marian L. Brown telescope.
Three Phase Project Began
Also in 2002 a three-phase project was formulated and presented to President Boehm. With his help and support a plan was put into motion.
In 2003 a grant from the Margaret Briggs Foundation funded phase one, the building of a 10′ by 40′ addition to the observatory structure, as well as a total renovation of the interior space. The project was completed just in time for the approach of Mars to Earth. Less than 35 million miles away, it was the closest approach ever in recorded history. In four nights during August, 2008 people visited the observatory to view Mars through our telescopes. With a total 5700 people visiting the observatory that year, 2003 became a banner year.
Phase two was erecting a new building with a roll-off roof, capable of housing two telescopes, began in late 2005, and was completed in early 2006.
Purchasing and installing a Ritchey-Chretien type telescope that had a 20 inch diameter mirror, began the third phase of the project. This type telescope is a variation of the Cassegrain type telescope, and in August, 2007 an order was placed with RC Optical Systems, Flagstaff, Arizona. The telescope that took more thane one year to be fabricated was delivered in September, 2008 and was installed by October, 2008.
On May 9, 2009, the telescope was dedicated, marking the completion of phase three. The purchase of this telescope, an RC 20, was made possible only with the cooperation and support of individuals and organizations from then community such as: the Scranton Area Foundation, the Robert Moffat Foundation, the Schautz Foundation, and the Dave Garroway Fund of the Boston Foundation.
In 2011 the observatory added another fully computerized telescope, an eleven inch Cassegrain type built by Celestron.
In October 2012 the observatory entered into two research initiatives. One is a cooperative effort with The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. This work centers on making precise measurements of positions of small, dark, icy objects, beyond the orbit of Neptune.
The second initiative has TGCO becoming part of a large network of all-sky cameras around the country. This network is coordinated through New Mexico State University, (NMSU), with the support of Sandia National Laboratory. The all-sky camera monitors the night sky with a 360 degree view and records meteors and fireballs. The images are analyzed with an on-site computer; the images and data are then sent to NMSU where they are further analyzed, archived and made available to all members of the network.
To date the Thomas G. Cupillari ’60 – Astronomical Observatory has had nearly 90,000 visitors.