Lima Astronomical Society to build second observatory

LIMA — There are some astronomically large changes in the works led by the Lima Astronomical Society.

The group formed in 1952 when individual members brought their own telescopes to view the heavens and conduct astronomical research. When ground was first broken for Schoonover Observatory in 1963 and a 12 1/2-inch handmade telescope was installed, their ability to make observations improved markedly. At the time, it was one of only two observatories in the country run by a city. The other was Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

In 1992, the club acquired a 14-inch Celestron telescope. Over time, however, the equipment became outdated, and the group gradually settled into amateur astronomy. Nevertheless, LAS members maintained a continued interest in the science of the stars and participated in a national network of research astronomy groups like NASA JPL’s Night Sky Network, the International Dark-Sky Association and the Astronomical League.

Today, however, the LAS is looking to change all that with the purchase of a research-quality Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain telescope from PlaneWave Instruments in Adrian, Michigan, returning them to their research roots by allowing them to once again perform scientific study that could lead to astronomical discoveries.

The keys to this change will be a better camera and more precise mounting system that reduces the mathematical calculations for the computer to correct for the rotation of the Earth.

With the new system in place, the group would be able to engage in two of the hottest areas of astronomy today: the search for exoplanets and discovering new asteroids and smaller rogue bodies that are too numerous for NASA to track all of them.

There are a few ways to search for exoplanets, but the most common is the solar transit method.

“We would point the telescope in the area we know there is a possible exoplanet around a distant star and take a series of photographs over a long period of time. By having a highly precise mount, we’re able to detect that that light has varied from the star. That variation is the planet transiting across the star and dimming the light,” explained Michael Ritchie, president of the LAS.

Once a potential exoplanet would be discovered by an LAS member, the group would forward the information to the Minor Planet Clearing House ( and the Exo-planet Clearing House ( who would then work with other observatories to verify the discovery.

To help bring all this planning to fruition, the LAS applied to the Ohio Board of Budgets for $250,000 in funding assistance that will be earmarked for infrastructure improvements at the Schoonover Observatory, including an expanded parking lot, an upgrade to their HVAC system, removal of trees, and the addition of a new telescope. The Ohio Senate passed the budget, approving the full $250,000 as of May 31.

Additionally, the organization has already raised $16,000 of the $50,000 to $100,000 needed to build a second observatory in Lima, with a larger Cassegrain from PlaneWave Instruments, which would be located in Kendrick Woods.

According to Ritchie, the LAS, a 501(c)3, is seeking donations from area businesses and service organizations and the public to donate through their website They also hope to locate a grant writer to assist them to raise the additional funds needed to complete this second observatory, as well as establish a science center that could be located at either of the two observatory sites or an undetermined downtown location.

In addition to its regular public meetings from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and observing opportunities from 9 p.m. onward offered each Friday, there are several upcoming special events this summer that should not be missed.

The LAS will be at the Summer Moon Festival between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on July 16 and July 17 at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, located at 500 Apollo Drive in Wapakoneta, where the LAS will display telescopes, astronomy handouts, and children’s activities, and sell memberships, solar glasses and t-shirts.

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower viewing will occur on August 12 and August 13 at Kendrick Woods, located at 971 Defiance Trail North in Spencerville, with the staff from the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District. LAS members will set up telescopes and guide the public by providing viewing tips. Be sure to bring lawn chairs, blankets, jackets and bug spray.

LAS Board meetings are scheduled the first Friday of every month from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Schoonover Observatory, Schoonover Park, 670 N. Jefferson St., Lima. Memberships are $15 (students), $20 (individuals), $25 (family), and $300 (lifetime).