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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Asian Beauty:Hiromi.o | Amateur astronomer builds dream telescope

An amateur astronomer's dream will finally come true this month, when a domed reflector telescope is completed on a hillside near his parents' home in Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture.
The telescope, believed to be the largest ever made by an individual in Japan, can be used to view galaxies billions of light-years away, said Fumihiro Sano, 56, who has spent five years on its construction.
He christened the telescope Momotaro (Peach Boy), after the legendary character born out of a peach who grew up to be a strong yet compassionate man who beat demons into submission.
Sano, a paint dealer, plans to invite local children to view the stars through the 121-centimeter-diamenter telescope.
It is housed in a domed facility dubbed the Takahashi Observatory, which is 7.2 meters in diameter and 6 meters high.
Sano started building the observatory in the spring of 2000 on a plot of land he purchased on the hillside dotted by terraced paddy fields. The project cost him 20 million yen.
From his earliest days he used to watch the starlit sky every night in Takahashi. He founded an astronomy club at his high school, where he and his friends made a telescope 20 centimeters in diameter.
Over the past 38 years, he has made more than 20 telescopes, with the help of expert advice he obtained in academic documents.
The most difficult task of his latest project was polishing the reflector, which was made of special glass weighing 150 kilograms. The reflector serves as a mirror that gathers and focuses light arriving from outer space.
To polish the reflector, Sano rotated it on a turntable while he smoothed the surface. This process took two years, but it was important to make sure that the angles of reflection were satisfactory.
In summer, he was sometimes on the verge of collapse as the temperature in the the dome climbed to more than 50 C. He also had to stay overnight in the dome in winter, when heavy snow blanketed the area.
Friends and family often tried to dissuade him to give up what they considered an unrealistic project, but he never relented.
"Each time I was overwhelmed by the scale of my project, I looked up to the starlit sky and my spirits lifted," he said.
His telescope and observatory have drawn the attention of experts.
"That telescope will be able to detect the flame of a candle from a distance of about 100 kilometers,"Junichi Watanabe at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan said.
"It is probably Japan's biggest telescope assembled by an individual," said the assistant professor at the observatory in Mitaka, Tokyo. "Polishing a reflector of this size requires skills that are beyond the ability of most amateur craftsmen."
Japan's largest telescope, 2 meters in diameter, is housed in the Nishi-Harima Astronomical Observatory, a prefectural facility in Sayocho, Hyogo Prefecture.

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