I just finished writing an article about the telescope’s history (you know, with the International Year of Astronomy coming up in 2009). I know that in the astronomy world aperture fever runs wild, but wow, some of these telescopes are just ginormous!! It must have been quite an experience just to operate something like the 72-inch “Leviathan of Parsonstown” — even though telescopes like the Yerkes 40-inch (pictured at right) and Lick 36-inch refractors were much better balanced, which made positioning these scopes much easier.
The largest scope I’ve ever used was the 1.3-meter (51 inches) McGraw-Hill telescope at the MDM observatory on Kitt Peak in Arizona. And during those 5 hours, we chased holes in clouds. It was frustrating more than anything else. The largest scope I’ve continually observed with (well, for a few months) was the 24-inch at the Biosphere 2 center out in Oracle, Arizona. I wonder what it would be like to have constant access to one of those large telescopes. What’s the largest scope you’ve had the opportunity to use?
That would be the 82" Struve telescope at McDonald Observatory. I've made several trips to use it. It and the 60" at Mt. Wilson (which I have visited, but not used) are available to the public for lease. Typically, groups of amateurs go together to purchase a night on these scopes and then share their time with each other.
McDonald also offers the general public several nights a year on this scope, as well as a one-meter scope nearby as a sort of Dinner with a Telescope outing. You get a catered dinner, presentation by an astronomer, and then 4 hours (typically a handful of targets, depending on the size of the grop) with the telescope.
It is an experience not to be missed by any astronomer near enough to take advantage of it.
The largest telescope I was privileged to observe on was the instrument I operated for 2.5 years--the Hooker 100" telescope on Mt. Wilson. While my duties were to acquire objects for visiting astronomers--such as Alan Sandage, Olan Wilson and Gary Neugebauer among many others--when astronomers could not come to the mountain due to equipment breakdowns or other factors, I would "tour the universe" observing such objects as Seifert galaxies, Mars at .25 arc-second seeing, or M31 (which required me to pan across the image to see it in its entirety). The experience of this work spoiled me with regard to looking through smaller 'scopes--despite the fact I now own a Celestron CPC 1100 GPS, GoTo telescope. My sojourn on Mt. Wilson was memorable, and I treasure the wonderful times I experienced there.