Merry Go Round Observatory

Leslie Peltier's Merry-Go-Round Observatory

Leslie C. Peltier was a renown comet hunter and variable star observer from Delphos, Ohio. Born in 1900, he achieved international fame and the title "world's most famous amateur astronomer" for his discovery of 12 comets. By the time of his death in 1980, he had made over 132,000 variable star observations for the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO).

In 1933, Peltier built a novel observatory to aid him in his comet hunting. This observatory rotated on a child's merry-go-round rack and housed the optics from a 6-inch, f/8 telescope on loan to him from Princeton University. Peltier discovered his last five comets from this observatory and made over 60,000 of his variable star estimates from it. The observatory allowed Peltier to remain in a seated position with the telescope mounted directly in front of his head. When Peltier turned the telescope to different azimuth directions, the entire observatory turned, keeping him directly in line with the eyepiece of the telescope. The telescope moved in elevation about an axis that was in line with his head so all Peltier had to do when changing elevation was tilt his head appropriately. A steering wheel from an old pickup truck turned the observatory in azimuth through a belt drive to one of the four wheels of the merry-go-round track assembly and a small wooden crank on a roller pulled the telescope against a set of over weighted counter-weights to move the telescope in elevation. The seat was also from an old truck, presumably the same truck that offered up the steering wheel.

After Peltier's death, the optics of the telescope were removed by his survivors for safekeeping and the observatory itself was abandoned to the whims of Mother Nature. She played havoc with it for 12 years until MVAS member Roger Hoffman solicited permission from Mrs. Peltier to remove the observatory from Delphos and restore it to operational use at the MVAS dark sky site at John Bryan State Park. Mrs. Peltier agreed and donated the remains of the observatory to the MVAS.

The condition of the observatory precluded economic restoration so a recreation was built, into which all salvageable parts of the original were placed, including the track, wheels, elevation crank assembly, counter-weight arms, seat, and steering wheel. The original optics were not available from the family so a replacement was procured and a new tube assembly was constructed. The new telescope is a 5.7-inch f/8.4 which closely mimics the 48-inch focal length of the original. The completed observatory was put on public display at the Dayton Museum of Natural History during the MVAS's annual Apollo Rendezvous in June 1993 and was moved to the dark sky site and dedicated at the close of the convention. It has been in routine use at John Bryan by both MVAS members and visitors alike.

Bottom two images © 2008 Jeffrey W Soper