VINTON–Thanks to funding from the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society (RVAS), the Friends of the Library organization, and James O’Brien of Vinton, the Vinton Public Library now has a telescope available for library patrons to check out. The club has donated about 10 telescopes to libraries in the area since 2012.
The library telescope program is now nationwide but had its beginnings in New Hampshire, where every library now has a telescope to be loaned out. Botetourt County was the first county in this area to have a telescope in every library. Virtually every local library with a telescope to be checked out has a waiting list.
The portable “Library Loaner Telescope” may be checked out with just your library card for a period of two weeks. The instrument is an Orion 4.5 inch AstroBlast Dobsonian telescope which only weighs about 13 pounds and can be strapped into your car seat with a seatbelt for the ride home.
This is a telescope for beginners but will enable them to see craters, mountains, and plains on the moon, Jupiter and four of its moons, Saturn and its rings and larger moons, Venus, Mars, star clusters, and nebulae.
Local astronomers Dan Chrisman, president of the RVAS, and John Goss, also from the RVAS, president of the Astronomical League, and astronomy writer for the Roanoke Times, introduced the Vinton Library staff to the telescope and schooled them on its operations on November 28. There will be a binder of instructions, star maps, and locations to search for, to be checked out along with the telescope.
The new telescope is not mounted on a “wobbly tripod,” but needs a sturdy table top at the patron’s home. It is battery-powered.
The RVAS modified the telescope so that it has one zoom eyepiece which allows the viewer a field of view equal to about four or five full moons across the sky.
Chrisman and Goss say that telescopes bring people into libraries—some who might not otherwise be there. In addition, when one patron borrows a library telescope generally about six people—family or friends–end up using it. They also emphasize that the telescope rides the current wave of hands-on STEM emphasis in the schools and in the scientific community.
“O’Brien read a newspaper editorial and donated the money to RVAS, earmarking it for the Vinton Library telescope,” said Chrisman. “RVAS purchased everything, modified it to weather ‘Library Usage,’ then James joined us to hand over the telescope to Sarah Rodgers, the head librarian. The club has only funded about 25 percent of the local library telescopes. The remainder of them have come from funds external to RVAS.”
The men say that there are only two “no-no’s” with the loaner telescope—don’t look at the sun and don’t drop the telescope. They say the record is good for the loaner instruments as “most people treat them well.”
The telescope must be returned to the same library where it was checked out.
Currently there are telescopes available at South County, at Blue Ridge, Fincastle, Eagle Rock, and Buchanan libraries in Botetourt County, and at two Roanoke City branch libraries.
The RVAS has about 100 members and guests who attend their monthly meetings, and welcomes newcomers. More details on the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society and their newsletter may be found online at www.rvasclub.org/.
Goss writes a monthly column on the last Sunday of each month, for the Roanoke Times on astronomy and the current night sky. His annual “Heavenly Highlights” for the new year will be coming up soon as well.