A mountaintop telescope with a great view but few users may become a classroom tool for students in the Pacific Northwest.
With the help of federal money, a group of scientists and teachers in central Washington want to use the Rattlesnake Mountain telescope as a key part of a statewide science network.
“A number of us who take groups up there a few times a month realized this was too good a piece of equipment not to use it for education,” said Roy Gephart, an amateur astronomer and geologist for Battelle’s Pacific Northwest Laboratory, which owns the telescope.
The 31-inch telescope sits atop 3,600-foot-high Rattlesnake Ridge, about 18 miles west of the Tri-Cities.
It was built in 1971 for Battelle researchers who were studying sun spots and distant galaxies.
Its use, however, declined in the 1980s as research money shifted to larger telescopes.
Battelle scientists occasionally take groups of interested observers to the site to demonstrate the telescope.
A visit last year launched the idea of linking area schools to the telescope by computers and phone lines, said Eric Leber, director of Battelle’s university programs.
A seventh grade class in Walla Walla, for instance, would arrange to aim the telescope on a given night at a deep-space object, such as the Andromeda galaxy.
While the students were sleeping, the Rattlesnake Mountain telescope would make digitally recorded images of the galaxy.
The next morning, the classroom students would download the images onto a computer and study them the way professional astronomers do.
If the money can be found, that scenario could start as soon as mid-1996, Leber said.
The first phase would be to link students in the Yakima and Tri-Cities to the telescope. Over time, use would expand to students across the state and ultimately throughout the country, said Kennewick School District Technology Manager Georgia Talbert.
About $50,000 is needed to modify the telescope’s gear system so that users can move and aim it from a remote distance.
The rest of the money would help design science courses that would reshape the options of teachers and students to make use of such equipment, Leber added.
After the telescope project is under way, the goal would be to let classes statewide and worldwide use other high-tech equipment that Battelle has in the Tri-Cities.
That would make available to students equipment such as Battelle’s magnetic resonance spectrometer and its high-speed powerful research computers, said Leber.
“The real focus of the project is more than giving access to this equipment. The real goal is helping retrain people so we give students a better idea of science education,” Leber added.
“This is part of the change from teachers standing in front of a class, announcing information that students need to take down and memorize,” he said.
Talbert said teachers in her district already know about the project and are eager to use the telescope.
“I’ve got them lined up and ready. Some of them can’t wait for this to start,” she said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of Rattlesnake Ridge telescope area