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Renovation begins on telescope used in Pluto discovery

In this Jan. 17, 2009 photo, Lowell Observatory public program educator Erik Lehmkuhl talks about the Pluto Discovery Telescope during a tour of the observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. Astronomers and advocates for dark skies say a proposal to allow electronic billboards in the northwest of the state threatens Arizona's billion dollar star-gazing industry. Lawmakers worked with the electronic billboard industry and astronomers to negotiate a compromise in 2012 that sets up buffer zones for the state's observatories including Lowell Observatory, Kitt Peak National Observatory outside of Tucson and Mount Graham National Observatory near Safford. (Jake Bacon /The Daily News-Sun via AP)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The telescope that first spotted Pluto nearly a century ago is undergoing a restoration that will take about a year to complete.

About $155,000 in grants and donations will fund the work on Lowell Observatory’s Pluto Discovery Telescope, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

Observatory spokesman Kevin Schindler said the decision to renovate was made in light of growing traffic, with a record 100,000 visitors in 2016.

He said NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft also spiked interest in Pluto after it flew by the dwarf planet in 2015.

Mechanical engineer Ralph Nye, who is leading the renovation, said the telescope has been gathering dust since 1997 when it was last used for astronomical observation.

“We would like to make it knock people’s socks off,” Nye said. “It’s a relic of the past that put us on the map because of the Pluto discovery and it should be taken care of properly and preserved.”

The leaky structure will be weatherproofed and telescope parts will be cleaned, among other improvements.

“When it’s raining you can hear it, drip drip drip,” Nye said.

Once it’s restored, Nye said he hopes the telescope can get back to taking color photos of the night sky.

“The telescope will be better taken care of if it’s actually used,” he said. “You’d be surprised what old lenses can do.”

The telescope will be removed while work is underway.

Public tours will continue.

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