By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Carlton Observatory telescopes stolen

News-Register file photo##At a star party in Carlton in 2018, Kendall Stephens peers through the viewfinder of “BigBlue.”
News-Register file photo##At a star party in Carlton in 2018, Kendall Stephens peers through the viewfinder of “BigBlue.”
Submitted photo##The missing trailer in which Big Blue and another telescope were stored.
Submitted photo##The missing trailer in which Big Blue and another telescope were stored.

Now the 15-inch Newtonian telescope is missing, along with another prized scope and the trailer in which they were stored.

Janet Juelke and her husband, Forrest Babcock, who are working toward building an observatory in Yamhill County since they moved to Carlton in 2013, discovered the trailer had been stolen March 11 or 12. The forest green, 20-foot-long Wells Cargo trailer had been stored at Juelke’s daughter’s house on Bald Peak Road, a rural site on the border of Yamhill and Washington counties.

Thieves cut the bolts and locks to the fence and drove away with the trailer and the two telescopes inside, Zuelke told sheriff’s deputies from both counties. 

They believe the crime was part of a rash of similar trailer thefts in the two counties and Clackamas County, as well, she said.

Juelke and Babcock stored the telescopes last year because they were unable to host fundraisers or public viewing “star parties” due to pandemic restrictions. They continued working on plans for the observatory, though, and are planning to announce a major step in the project in May.

Thieves “had no idea what was in that trailer,” which was built specifically to hold the huge telescope, Juelke said. She worries the criminals will cut up the scopes to sell as scrap.

Both are irreplaceable, she said.


The smaller telescope
, which also had been featured at the free star parties, had added sentimental value to Babcock.

As a boy in the 1960s who was fascinated with the stars, he saw that type of telescope in Popular Mechanics and Scientific American. But there was no way he could afford it; the $400 price tag seemed astronomical.

A few years ago, Juelke’s son found the same type of telescope at a used-goods store. Babcock happily fixed its few flaws and built a tripod for it, fulfilling a decades-old dream.

Big Blue also was special, too, in that Babcock built it himself, starting when he was 22 and working for the next 48 years to perfect it, Juelke said.

Babcock had the idea for the big telescope while working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where polished mirrors used for watching nuclear tests and — he found out years later — for detecting X-rays on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft.

He obtained Big Blue’s mirror first, rescuing it from a scrap heap and bringing it back to life. He then sent it to an optical maker in Ontario, Canada, who refined it by polishing it to the required parabola.

Babcock created a mount, or stand, for Big Blue as well — his senior project at Oregon Institute of Technology, which he attended after leaving Lawrence Livermore. He’s been tinkering with it ever since, his wife said.


In addition to
bringing the 800-pound scope out for public viewings at the Carlton soccer pitch and other sites, Babcock hauled it to the annual Oregon Star Party in the Ochoco National Forest numerous times. Stickers from each of those events are posted on the stolen trailer.

The couple also took Big Blue to the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference in Big Bear, California, where it won an Award of Merit in 2017 or 18.

Not long before COVID-19 caused gatherings to be put on hold, he finally announced he was ready to call the scope complete. “I have Big Blue where I want it,” he said — words Juelke said she never expected to hear.

When Big Blue and the other scope were stored for the winter, Babcock removed the large telescope’s 15-inch diameter, 3-inch thick primary mirror. He didn’t want to risk having it damaged by dew and frost.

“That’s good news. That’s some hope,” Juelke said.

Anyone with information about the stolen trailer or telescopes should call authorities at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, at 503-629-0111. Tips also can be sent to the Carlton Observatory Project’s email address, info@carltonobservatory.com.

More information is available on the Carlton Observatory project’s Facebook page or website, carltonobservatory.com.

Comments

BCM

This is sad, we so appreciated the star parties.

myopinion

Stolen trailer with massive, custom telescope found and returned to rightful owners! Awesome news!!!