Roper Mountain Science Center home to historic telescope

The refracting telescope at Roper Mountain Science Center has a deep history.
Published: Aug. 21, 2022 at 11:33 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Did you know one of the largest telescopes of its kind in the nation is right here in Greenville?

Nestled at the highest point of the Roper Mountain Science Center, when the roof on the observation opens up and the telescope is pointed at the right place there are some good sights to see.

“The science part of it, super exciting to just get the hands-on experience for my child and seeing such a beautiful telescope. Knowing that it’s nearby we can see the moon, and the stars, that’s also exciting to show him that up close,” said Lizeth, who was visiting Roper Mountain Science Center.

Besides the views, the eighth-largest refracting telescope in North America has a deep history.

“None of them is exactly the same as ours, they’re all different sizes, they’re all unique. The lens in the telescope is the one part that we know has never been replaced and it’s pretty much irreplaceable,” said Roper Mountain Science Center Education Outreach Specialist Jennifer Romatelli.

Originally made in the 1880s, the telescope and its 23-inch lens lived at the Princeton University Observatory for decades.

During that time, people like Albert Einstein were on campus.

The telescope was also featured in the infamous ‘War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast in the 1930s.

“As part of that broadcast they claimed at one point to be at the Princeton Observatory looking at Mars and seeing strange activity on Mars,” explained Romatelli.

So how did this historic telescope make its way to Greenville?

It went from Princeton to the U.S. Naval Observatory in the 1960s where it was planned on being used to study starts but just ended up staying in storage.

“The U.S. Government started looking for another use for it and they created a contest to see which proposal for having the telescope was the best, that they thought would do the most good and basically help the most people,” said Romatelli.

In 1978, Greenville County Schools bought the telescope for $1. The district did have to pay to move the telescope to the Upstate as well. A few years later, the Charles E. Daniel Observatory opened and that is where the telescope has been ever since.

The observatory and telescope are only open to the public during special events and most Friday Starry Night programs if the weather cooperates.