Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU’s observatory ready to shine like a star

Just in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the telescope, DU’s own window to the stars is wrapping up a renovation more than 100 years in the making.

Crews have been banging, digging, patching and painting at DU’s historic Chamberlin Observatory since spring, cleaning up after decades of heat waves, rainstorms and blizzards.

Astronomy Professor Robert Stencel says the work is long overdue. Contractors spent months addressing everything from the basic stability of the giant sandstone steps to restoring every inch of mortar in a building that opened in 1894. Floors have been refinished, windows refurbished, walls painted and water-damaged plaster replaced.

The massive project included a state grant and contributions from the Denver Astronomical Society and the Observatory Park community in addition to University of Denver funding.

Work included repainting the interior, rebuilding and restoring the old windows while maintaining historical accuracy, sanding and sealing the hardwood floors and patching walls damaged by leaks and time. Crews even updated electrical infrastructure and updated fire detection equipment.

The result is a building that looks years younger and will last into the future.

“Students at the University of Denver should now share our pride of place in a building that’s begun its restoration and long comeback from 118 years of wear and tear,” Stencel says. “This contributes toward our ongoing efforts to revitalize and reinvigorate our astronomy offerings at the University.”

The work wrapped up in time for Stencel and astronomers to join the Denver Astronomical Society and S&S Optika to host an Oct. 4 celebration in recognition of the invention of the telescope.

In early October 1608, Hans Lipperhey filed a patent in Holland for the invention of a “tele-magnifying optikal device” which has become known as the telescope. Within six months, word of the invention spread to Italy, where Galileo Galilei was first to turn it heavenward and discover the craters on the moon, spots on the sun, the moons of Jupiter and other wonders.

Stencel says restoration was a team effort involving everyone from DU facilities management to Chamberlin coordinator Aaron Reid, who took on some of the dirty jobs in person and was on site daily monitoring the work.

The first phase of the work — boosted by the $187,670 state grant — cost about $250,000, then DU facilities management poured in an additional $195,000 for extra work focusing on incorporating historically appropriate materials.

The Chamberlin Observatory was designed by DU’s first astronomy professor, Herbert Howe. The original construction drawings by noted Denver architect Robert Roeschlaub are still held in the University Archives in Penrose Library. The dome houses a 20 inch aperture Clark-Saegmuller refractor, which saw first light in July 1894.

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