A Planet

STANSBURY PARK, Tooele County — It was Saturday evening and only a few members of the public had driven here to celebrate the “100 Hours of Astronomy” event taking place around the world. It was easy to see why, as skies were overcast. But members of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society had vowed to conduct tours of their observatory complex and talk about the stars and planets — rain or good seeing.

Bruce Grim was telling a visitor, Jim Kearney, about the glossy white finish that made the 16-inch Ealing Cassegrain telescope gleam like polished ivory. “It’s actually an automotive spray-paint job,” he said. The paint was lovingly applied by Chuck Hards, a member of the club who builds kiosks by day and telescopes on his own time. “He’s a real professional and he did a beautiful job,” Grim added.

[Bruce Grim, left, discusses the 16-inch telescope with Jim Kearney]

Moving to the Donna Pease Wiggins Refractor House, he showed him the Andy Bogdan Refractor, a glorious red and gold telescope nearly 14 feet long and just under eight inches in diameter. “We consider this to be one of the better facilities in the country that are open to the public,” said Grim, director of the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex (SPOC).

The location is a fine one to serve residents of the Salt Lake vicinity. “If it’s clear out, the Milky Way’s pretty easy to see,” he said.

Kearney, who lives in Taylorsville, said he visited SPOC around the middle to late 1980s. “Last time we were out here, it was just like Bruce was talking about,” he said. “The dome was sitting on the ground and there was a small ‘scope in it.” The improvements that have happened since, with the dome becoming a slide-off cover for one of the telescope houses and the three impressive telescopes that have been installed, make the complex a great site, he said.

Back in the ’80s, he was quite interested in astronomy and now he is thinking about getting back into the hobby. He and his wife are retired, Kearney added, “so that makes us flexible” in scheduling participation in such things as star parties.

By then, Grim was explaining astronomy to a father and four children who had just shown up.

At the 32-inch Grim telescope – named in honor of Bruce Grim for his endless contributions to SPOC – other experts were watching Dave Bernson at the controls of the large instrument. They were making sure he correctly hit all the points in a checklist for operating it. That seemed odd, as Bernson is the president of the society and if anyone knows how to drive the gear, it should be the president.

[Nate Goodman, left, monitors Dave Bernson at 32-inch ‘scope.]

As it turned out, he knew perfectly well how the telescope works. But, Bernson said, “Everybody [allowed to operate it] does a spring review on that ‘scope.” Often, other members of the group will work the telescope at public star parties, “but I like to be able to help out, especially if I’m staying late and the operators leave a little early.”

The session was breaking up, with most of the amateur astronomers continuing to a Tooele restaurant for dinner. For a few minutes I walked around outside, visiting the pond that is adjacent to SPOC. The sun had set on this part of our planet, leaving a salmon glow in the west. Trees, a telephone pole and a barn were reflected in the still water.

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