Background and History of the Little Thompson Observatory
The Little Thompson Observatory (LTO) was started in 1996 as a grassroots effort, following the donation of an 18-inch Tinsley Cassegrain telescope from Telescopes In Education (TIE). When the offer of the telescope was made, Tom Melsheimer, Tom Patterson, and Chet Rideout formed LTSF to make the telescope available to the community.
Contractor and Berthoud High School teacher, Tom Patterson and nearly 150 volunteers built the observatory. Tom Melsheimer of Meridian Controls Corporation developed the remote telescope control system. Hewlett Packard donated all necessary computing equipment. Many local businesses have donated time and money toward the completion of the observatory.
The 18-inch was installed in 1999. During 2005-2006 we expanded the observatory to welcome even more visitors. The second dome was completed in 2010 and the 24-inch Cassegrain telescope from Mt. Wilson Observatory, above Pasedena in California, was built for NASA’s Apollo Space Program in preparation for the moon landings. We are honored to have such an historic telescope come to the LTO!
Since its dedication in 1999, between 400 and 500 people per month, on average, have visited the observatory and we celebrated our 25,000th visitor in October, 2005. Our 50,000th visitor was welcomed during January, 2012. Approximately 68% of our visitors are students K-12; the rest are a mix of community members with an interest in the night sky. Visiting groups have included pre-school children, home schooled students, scout troops, church groups, professional society meetings and community college groups. We also host Public Star Nights the third Friday of each month with speakers on current topics in astronomy.
The construction, funding, programs, staffing, maintenance and day-to-day operation are performed entirely by volunteers under the auspices of the Little Thompson Science Foundation. The formally trained, all volunteer staff is comprised of local residents, teachers, and amateur astronomers. In addition to the donation of the site, the Thompson School District provides coverage for legal liability, utilities, and Internet access. The Observatory and Berthoud High School have created a magnet astronomy course for high school students, taught in the evening and open to students from all high schools.
Historical videos on the LTO YouTube Channel:
(Click on Playlist icon to see all videos)
The observatory also supports professional development workshops for teachers, which are accredited through Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines and the school districts. Previous reviews have been very favorable: a committee of teachers and administrators from the Thompson School District selected LTO workshops to count towards Incentive Credits (movement higher on the salary schedule) because the courses met the criteria: “Learning must be directly transferable to the classroom with students and relate to standards, assessment and/or technology.”