Perkins Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Delaware, Ohio. It is owned and operated by Ohio Wesleyan University.
Rebirth And Reinvention
In the 1990s, Tom Burns, a member of the Columbus Astronomical Society and professor of English at the Ohio Wesleyan University, became Director of Perkins Observatory. He greatly expanded the Observatory’s public programs and visibility in the central Ohio area.A collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship was also established with the Columbus Astronomical Society. (In exchange for monthly meeting space and observatory access the CAS provides volunteer assistance with the many public programs.)
Major repairs to the observatory dome were undertaken, thanks to the profits made from the sale of eclipse viewing glasses for the 1994 solar eclipse. Unused office and storage space was converted into exhibit rooms, a children’s play area and a small gift shop. In September 1999 the original 69-inch (1.8 m) telescope mirror was retrieved from COSI (where it had been sitting in a closet for over a decade) and placed on display.
In 1998 the Ohio State University formally ended its relationship with Ohio Wesleyan University and Perkins Observatory. OSU withdrew from the 1935 agreement so it could apply its financial resources to purchasing time on the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham. The 72-inch (1.8 m) telescope was sold outright to Lowell Observatory by Ohio Wesleyan. (The proceeds of this sale went into the Perkins Observatory Endowment Fund.) Staff members who were technically Ohio State University employees started receiving their paychecks from OWU.
Currently, regular observing programs are held almost every Friday and Saturday night throughout the year. Programs are held on other evenings and during the day by special appointment. A monthly lecture series detailing various current topics in astronomy is ongoing. Occasional special events (like telescope fairs, celebrity guest lecturers, and viewings of unusual astronomical events) are also sponsored and organized by Perkins. (Thousands of people visited the observatory to see comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. Each time a notable solar eclipse is visible from Central Ohio, several thousand pairs of eclipse glasses are distributed and educational school programs scheduled. E. C. Krupp, Director of Griffith Observatory and John Dobson, inventor of the Dobsonian telescope, have both visited and lectured at Ohio Wesleyan thanks to Perkins sponsorship.)
Perkins Observatory is now the most visible and most reliable source of information related to astronomy and space exploration in central Ohio. Television stations, newspapers, other local science museums, and members of the general public rely on Professor Burns and his staff to answer questions, provide perspective, make media appearances and dispel astronomical misconceptions.
Perkins Observatory faces many challenges as it begins the 21st Century.
Like many public institutions without government support, Perkins faces funding limitations. Although the Ohio Wesleyan University is very supportive, it cannot by itself provide adequate monies for staff, program expansion, or maintenance on the historic building. (An endowment fund has been established, and donations are accepted.)
Since the observatory was constructed 1923–1931, it experiences many maintenance challenges typical of older, historic buildings. Costly repairs and heating & cooling expenses eat into the limited budget. Also, handicapped accessibility was not a concern in the 1920s. Retrofitting the building for public use while keeping its unique architectural identity has proved to be difficult, costly, and time-consuming.
The most troublesome challenge that Perkins Observatory must now deal with is the increasing effect of light pollution. The city of Delaware is expanding from the north while Columbus expands from the south. Although lighting ordinances do exist which cover the surrounding area, enforcing compliance is a constant struggle. Observatory staff recognizes that the day is coming when observation of deep sky objects will no longer be possible from the site.
The observatory now faces new challenges in October 2009 as part of the neighboring golf course plans to develop box stores and apartments next to the observatory. This light pollution will certainly disable the observatory. Volunteers and staff are looking to the Delaware and Columbus residents to voice their opinion to the Delaware zoning commission to keep this from happening and to preserve what view of the heavens the observatory has now.