Like many holiday stories, this one begins with a jolly man in a red suit with an inclination to give gifts. Well, half a red suit anyway. While on the way to a holiday event, New Hampshire Astronomical Society public observing coordinator Marc Stowbridge visited a local store while wearing the bottom half of a Santa costume. Marc engaged in a conversation with the store owner about a dream of having a quality telescope available in every town for the community to use so they could enjoy the many wonders of the night sky. After a little bit of time, and a lot of effort on the part of the store, its customers and NHAS members, the NHAS Library Telescope Program was born.
For more than a year, the 140-member and growing astronomical society has been helping libraries acquire Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector telescopes that can be checked out as easily as a book for all library card-holders. Anyone with a library card can check-out the telescope to explore craters on the Moon, bright planets like Jupiter and Saturn, and bright star clusters and cloudy nebulas. Marc explains "Our goal is to help foster scientific literacy and to stimulate the interest in astronomy… By placing the telescopes in local libraries instead of schools, they can be put into circulation just like a book."
The first library to receive an Orion StarBlast 4.5 was the Cook Memorial Library in Tamworth, New Hampshire. Since then, the NHAS and local communities have arranged for 15 libraries (and counting) to receive StarBlast 4.5 telescopes through the program. Most participating libraries have a long list of patrons waiting to check out the telescope, and feedback from the hundreds of people who have already borrowed the StarBlast 4.5 has been quite enthusiastic.
The efforts of Marc, the NHAS, and all the communities involved remind us of the spirit of giving this time of year as Marc explains how he is "delighted to provide an opportunity to share our love of the night sky in this unique way." We couldn't agree more. Keep up the good work Marc!