The sheer beauty of space first struck Ben Burress as a child gazing up at stars, planets and galaxies through the Chabot Observatory telescopes in the 1970s.
Decades later, that youthful wonder came “flooding back,” he says, when he peered into those same reflecting mirrors — an unexpected thrill to relive as the Chabot Space and Science Center’s staff astronomer.
“There’s just something about having the light from Saturn bore into my own eye that reminded me, ‘Wow, this is why people come up here,” Burress says. “You cannot get that experience looking at photographs or a computer screen.”
Chabot has been an astronomy hub in Oakland for more than a century, beginning in 1883 with the acquisition of “Leah,” an 8-inch refracting telescope. Leah has since been joined by “Rachel,” a 20-inch refracting telescope commissioned in 1914, and “Nellie,” a 36-inch reflector telescope installed in 2003.
It was that 20-inch telescope that helped bring the Apollo 13 crew home in 1970. When NASA Ames sent up a desperate call for help after an explosion crippled the spacecraft, Chabot was the only observatory with clear skies and the data NASA needed — the ship’s precise location — to calculate a manual re-entry. Members of the East Bay Astronomical Society had been tracking the flight from Chabot.
When NASA Ames sent up a desperate call for help, Chabot was the only observatory with clear skies and the data NASA needed — the ship’s precise location — to calculate a manual re-entry after an explosion crippled the spacecraft. Members of the East Bay Astronomical Society had been tracking the flight from Chabot.
But a new chapter in Chabot’s relationship with the federal space program took off in November of…