Friday, November 6, 2009

An Amazing Model of the 200-inch Telescope

I recently picked up some old Sky & Telescope magazines off of eBay with Palomar Observatory on the cover.

Shown below is the November 1947 issue.

That's not the 200-inch telescope on the cover. It is a model of the telescope - a very impressive model that was built by Clifford E. Raible.

The finished 1/16 scale model was really quite huge. With the model pointed at the zenith it stood nearly six feet high and the telescope's "tube" weighed 95 pounds. The north pier, made of steel, weighed over 300 pounds. It had 12.5-inch primary mirror with a 22.5-inch focal length and a 4-inch secondary mirror. Like the real telescope, all of the mirrors were made of Pyrex glass. The model also contained auxiliary flats mirrors (like our coude flat) that would allow for the light passing through the telescope to be focused at the lower end of the south polar axis, just like the real thing. The model could also have an eyepiece attached midway up the declination arms, making it a working 12.5 inch telescope.

Like the real 200-inch telescope this telescope was motorized and had it's own oil bearings.

Except for a few nuts, bolts & motors, Raible made all of the parts himself, actually casting aluminum parts in his basement on weekends "often working from breakfast to midnight, quitting only at his wife insistence" .

As the parts for the real telescope were being fabricated at Westinghouse, Cliff "was a frequent visitor, spending many hours watching the operation and talking with the workers." This was especially useful for him as he made his own horseshoe bearing for the model.

Here is a photo of the model that ran in the article:

Notice the scaled person in the lower right.

The more I read about this model, the more impressed I got about the amazing work done by Cliff Raible. All of this made me wonder what has happened to the model in the 62 years since the article was published. Does it still exist today? I am not really sure if it does or not.

There were a few clues in the article that sent me scurrying to Google to try to find some answers. Apparently the model was exhibited at the Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh and Raible was a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh. Thankfully, the AAAP (founded in 1929) is still around and a few of its members had some clues for me.

It seems that 20 or 30 years ago the model telescope was given up by Buhl Planetarium and in the early 90s sold at an auction held at VernonScope. Don Yeier from Vernon Scope confirmed this for me, but I do not know who bought the model or where it resides.

If anyone out there knows of the current whereabouts of the model, please comment or drop me an email to I would love to see a modern photo of this. Of course if the current owner does not want it, I am sure that we can find a good home for it here on Palomar.

Thanks to Don Yeier and for the good folks over at Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh for helping me with some of the pieces on this mystery.

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