Pasadena couple donates $25,000 to Md. observatory

December 05, 1997|By Kristi E. Swartz | Kristi E. Swartz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Monica and Richard Coleman are helping Maryland Science Center visitors get a closer look at deep space.

The Pasadena couple has donated $25,000 to renovate the center's rooftop observatory, which has been closed for almost 10 years.

"I've had a long-standing interest in astronomy, and I'm trying to get my son [Alan, 8] interested," said Richard Coleman, a research scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. "This is a very specific type of project, and it won't be changing like exhibits do."

The Colemans had planned to donate money to the Science Center, but had not designated its use until the center's directors asked the couple to designate the money for the observatory, Richard Coleman said.

Alan has been a Science Center fan for a long time, going there at every opportunity, said Monica Coleman, an investment counselor for Legg Mason.

The Colemans are science center and natural history museum buffs who say the Maryland Science Center is unique among such institutions because it has exhibits for children and adults, instead of playing to just one age group.

"Some places are very hands-on and are boring for adults, but the children are fascinated, and others have a lot of reading material, and the children are bored," Monica Coleman said.

The observatory has been a part of Baltimore since it opened atop the Enoch Pratt Library in the late 1920s. It was moved to the Inner Harbor when the science center opened in 1976. The observatory houses a telescope built in 1927 by Alvan Clark and Sons, internationally known telescope makers.

"It's sort of like having a Mercedes antique," said Jim O'Leary, Davis Planetarium director who is helping to oversee the observatory renovation. The work will bring "the '20s telescope into the '90s."

The telescope will be equipped to project images into the planetarium below.

The telescope, fitted with a lens that will filter out most of the downtown light, also will allow people to see the planets, comets and space phenomena such as eclipses of the sun and the moon, according to development director Ann Peebles.

During the day, the telescope will be focused on the sun and bring in images people cannot see with the naked eye because of the star's brightness.

"We want to bring the sun down to Earth and show people a view that they've never had," O'Leary said. "We can show it at certain wavelengths that will reveal details that you'll never be able to see."

Other features will include several smaller telescopes to be set up around the larger one for other space viewing opportunities.

"This is very much a 'public telescope,' not a 'research' telescope," O'Leary said.

The telescope has been removed for cleaning, and O'Leary anticipates it will open to the public in the summer. He and others are pulling observatory design ideas from places such as the Boston Museum of Science and the University of Maryland, College Park.

"Baltimore is so lucky to have an institution that helps you so much," Monica Coleman said.

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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