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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 14:08 EDT

Total Solar Eclipse Spurs Interest In Homemade Telescope

July 31, 2008

As enthusiasts await the first total solar eclipse in two years, enthusiasts in Russia are hoping the event will help them revive a homemade telescope which was once an inspiration to many.

In the town of Barnaul, Russia, World War Two veteran Mikhail Levchenko constructed his own makeshift telescope in the 1970s. Since Levchenko died in 2002, the telescope, which has a 40-cm (16-inch) diameter glass lens that magnified 500 times, has gathered dust. Thieves tried to steal it for the scrap metal it once was and the observatory sank deeper into the ground.

Now many of the locals who were once mesmerized by his observatory in the past hope a total solar eclipse on August 1 will help bring the creation back to life. The solar eclipse is expected to pass over Canada, China, Mongolia and Russia. In Barnaul, the sun will disappear for 2 minutes and 16 seconds.

“The instrument created by Levchenko is unique — it gives such precise images like no other,” said Oleg Petrov, who as a child would look through the telescope and listen to Levchenko’s lessons and is now among those who want to restore it.

“Observers of the solar eclipse will come to the Altai region from France, Italy and America,” Petrov said. “We dream of showing them the telescope — and maybe they could help.”

Petrov says it will cost around $2 million to totally renovate and possibly move the telescope.

When Levchenko constructed the observatory, it would often attract friends, children and even drunk neighbors to his garden to see the celestial sights.

“As little ones, we listened to the lessons of Mikhail Sergeyevich,” said Petrov. “Many, after visiting this amazing observatory, became fascinated by physics, mathematics and astronomy.”

“As little ones, we listened to the lessons of Mikhail Sergeyevich,” said Petrov. “Many, after visiting this amazing observatory, became fascinated by physics, mathematics and astronomy.”

But his neighbors were fascinated. Petrov remembers how a drunk neighbor was once invited by Levchenko to take a look at Saturn and promptly gave up the bottle.

“He then explained to his wife that in his soul something returned, he understood how many things in life are interesting, while he was wasting his time on drink,” Petrov said.

Nadezhda laughs: “Wives tried to lead their husbands to him to treat them for alcoholism, but the stars did not have such a beneficial effect on others.”

“My father never believed in horoscopes, but he was able to predict the weather with the help of the telescope,” she said. “People believed in him more than they believed in forecasters.”

The people of Barnaul hope the telescope will lure visitors to their town during the total solar eclipse, even though NASA says Russia’s third most populated town, Novosibirsk, is likely to be the main visiting place in this region.

Image Courtesy NASA