TRAVERSE CITY -- Jerry Dobek's wildest dream has come true.
The math and science instructor at Northwestern Michigan College is also curator of the college's Joseph Rogers Observatory.
Since 1981 he has used a Celestron C-14 telescope to teach students, conduct research and welcome the public to viewings. The unit, purchased in 1976 with money from the college's annual barbecue, had been housed in the observatory's dome since 1981.
When the phone rang this March offering a nearly-pristine 16-inch telescope, Dobek jumped at the opportunity to upgrade.
John Carlisle, a retiring engineer for General Motors, was relocating to Maine. The Detroit area resident's Meade 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain computer-controlled telescope was not going along. Carlisle had owned it for ten years and used it only twice, so he decided it was time to find a better home.
Mutual NASA contacts led him to call Dobek with the stunning offer.
"It's phenomenal, it's just a wonderful, wonderful instrument," Dobek said. "Here is basically a research instrument -- there is a noticeable difference in the optics, two inches more in diameter provides a noticeable difference."
"I saw a great opportunity at basically no cost to the college," he said.
While a portion of the telescope's cost is a donation from Carlisle, Dobek tapped Project ASTRO materials and equipment funds for the rest. Project ASTRO is a national project promoting the teaching of astronomy and physical science for which Dobek is the site coordinator. One of 14 participating sites at universities or observatories, the Rogers Observatory is the only one based at a community college.
Boosting the on-site equipment was not even on Dobek's radar. Carlisle's generosity leapfrogged the idea from fantasy to reality at warp speed.
"To start with, before this came around my dream was to have a smaller second dome out back to put in another telescope," said Dobek, referring to a smaller portable model owned by the college. "Then if the classroom were larger, we could have both classes and labs here."