This 12 1/2” diameter telescope was in need of a good home last year when Iver Possehl took it in. A full-time pastor, Possehl has had a keen interest in astronomy throughout his life. He regularly wheels the telescope to the driveway of his home in Brookings to offer passersby a free glimpse of moon craters and other pieces of the sky. Photo by Charis Prunty/Register
• Brookings man enjoys sharing his view of the night sky with others
BROOKINGS – Brookings resident Iver Possehl isn’t shy about letting others in on his love for astronomy. Which is good, because that’s why he received his most impressive looking telescope.
The 12 ½ inch-diameter reflective telescope with a 23-pound mirror had belonged to Augustana College in Sioux Falls.
“They weren’t using it anymore. It’s heavy, it’s a beast, it’s cumbersome and it had basically fallen into disuse,” Possehl said. “But it’s kind of like a poor puppy that needs a good home.
“They contacted the physics department up here and asked them if they wanted it, and they’ve got all the scopes they need and more and didn’t really have a place to put it.”
That’s when his friend Larry Browning, professor of physics at South Dakota State University, called Possehl. The two have together hosted “star parties” for Brookings fifth-grade science classes.
“He called me and said, ‘Iver, would you like a really big telescope?’ I said, ‘Uh, let me think about it… uh, yeah.’ And he said, ‘You’d better talk to your wife because this is really big.’
“This was the real story,” Possehl added. “She said, ‘You would be crazy not to accept it, but it goes on your side of the garage.’”
That was June 2011. He’s since made a few improvements to it. The scope is a 12.5-inch F/6 Cave/Astrola built in 1973.
“But for something like this, age is not all-important, as long as the optics are good and the motor that drives it to follow the sky,” he noted. “If that’s good, then it’s very well usable.
“It’s built like a tank, kind of 1950s machining and all that. The whole thing weighs about 230 lbs. with the mount and the base.”
Though impressive, this is not Possehl’s only scope: He mainly uses an 8-inch Meade LX200 Classic SCT, as well as a 6-inch F/5 Harden Optical Newtonian.
Interest since childhood
Possehl, 59, is the pastor of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Watertown, but he and his family live in Brookings. His interest in astronomy traces back to his childhood during the early space age.
“You know, John Glenn orbiting for the first time, all of that was just ‘Ooh, wow!’ to me,” he said.
“We had World Book Encyclopedias, and I always had the ‘S’ book out for ‘space,’ dreaming about how we’ll get to the moon and those kinds of things. And I got my first telescope – a very rinky-dink telescope – when I was about 10. But, that got me started.
“Also at that time I was living in St. Louis, Mo., within biking distance from the planetarium in St Louis. So, I would go over there to the planetarium show and, after the show in the evenings, they would allow the public up on the roof to observe with their telescopes.
“Eventually I got to the point I didn’t have to watch the show, they just let me up on the roof to look,” he said, adding that when he was 14 or 15, “I ended up helping guide the public to what they were seeing and things like that, operate the telescope.”
He later made a small telescope for himself, including personally grinding the mirror and putting all the parts together, which he used during late high school and early college.
As an adult the hobby has been on-again off-again for Possehl. But recently he discovered a way to enhance his vision of the sky beyond what he sees through a telescope, by using digital photography.
He started with just a webcam, stationed where the eyepiece of his telescope would ordinarily go, then moved to a camera specially made for astronomy photography.
The cameras use a long exposure to gather as much light as possible to provide a good picture of the stars, planets and other things anchored or floating in space.
“Tracking the sky, because the sky moves,” he said. “And it’s motorized and computerized so, even if I can’t see it with my eye, I can still find it with the camera and the computer.”
With these cameras he’s taken pictures of the moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, star clusters and more. At 25 million miles away, Possehl calls his photo of the Whirlpool Galaxy “my best one yet.”
Telescope photography has allowed him to overcome the light pollution of living in a city and see things he wouldn’t otherwise be able to see in the sky. Sometimes on a good clear night when he’s taking star photos, Possehl will stay at his telescope until light begins to appear the next morning.
Sharing with others
On other nights, Possehl invites passersby to join him in his driveway on Orchard Drive. He’s been doing so for six or seven years, but only since he received the large telescope has he hung a sign on a ladder in the driveway to formally make the invitation. The sign will often entice people with a phrase like “See moon craters tonight.”
“Last night there was a family going by in a car and they get a couple houses down and I hear a (little) voice that says, ‘I want to see moon craters!’ I don’t know if they came back or not, but we had 42 people here last night,” Possehl said last Monday.
“I put buttons in a jar to keep track of people because I lose count after a bit. Usually we have more like 20 or so.”
Possehl said he enjoys sharing his telescope with other people, especially when he gets to see their reaction the first time they see something in the sky up close.
“I’ve had people say, ‘It looks just like a picture,’” he said. “And I say, ‘No, that’s the real thing.’”
His personal viewing goals have included getting a photograph of Pluto, which he was able to accomplish this summer, and to photograph all 110 Mesier objects.
Possehl is also part of a new astronomy organization called the Brookings Regional Astronomy Club. Judy Vondruska, an SDSU physics instructor, and Browning are among the members. They began the club this spring because of a desire to “share a common interest and to promote greater understanding of astronomy within the community.”
Learn more about the Brookings Regional Astronomy Club and find information about its upcoming events at brookingsastroclub.org.
Contact Charis Prunty at firstname.lastname@example.org.