Lost in space

10 Jun

05-02-13 BOB ANTOL IMG_7590

When Robert Antol was 10 years old, his parents bought him and his brother a cheap cardboard telescope. They viewed the moon, Jupiter, and Mars and thought, “Wow!” Bob was hooked. He soon graduated to a telescope “made of actual glass” and, as an adult, purchased a full-sized telescope with a tripod.

But the telescope was bulky and took time to set up in the yard each night – and it got downright cold during the winter. Bob yearned to have the telescope fixed permanently in an observatory, perhaps in a shed with a roll-off roof, or in a dome above the garage. In the end, Bob and his wife, Barb, went with the deluxe, only-in-your-dreams version: They extended their house, constructing an attached two-story octagonal tower topped with a 16-foot domed observatory.


To say this is a cool toy is a huge understatement. This observatory is beyond cool. And Bob clearly likes nothing more than showing it off.

When Jim and I visited the observatory in the Antols’ home in Poughquag, N.Y., in early May, Bob cued the theme song to 2001: A Space Odyssey as he opened the metal, rotating roof. He showed us the 14.5-inch telescope mounted on a precision robotic mount. He showed us how, with the push of a few keys on his computer, the telescope automatically points to any object in the night sky.

Sun_2May2013Since it was daytime when we visited, Bob let us view the sun through his solar telescope. The telescope allowed us to see solar “prominences” (or flares) and the surface of the sun.

Had we been there at night, we could have potentially seen the rings of Saturn, the bands of Jupiter, the polar ice caps of Mars, or the intense shadows of the mountains on the stark landscape of the moon. Additionally, the powerful telescope in the Stargate 4173 at Grimaldi Tower (the observatory’s official name) will pull into view far-away galaxies and globular clusters, to which Bob refers to as “Star Trek moments.”

“When I saw the same objects with this telescope that I’d been viewing with my old telescope, I just about fell down,” he said.

Bob received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Iowa State in 1978, and three weeks after graduation he started to work at IBM in the state of New York. Thirty-five years later, he still works in the electronic design automation unit of IBM. Chips designed by his group are used in the Xbox and Wii game systems.

Someday, when he retires, Bob says he and Barb will have the luxury of spending long nights in the observatory, with no alarm clock waking them for work at 5 a.m.

“After a night of observing, I go downstairs with such peace and tranquility,” Bob says. “You just immerse yourself in the stars.”

It’s been eight years since the observatory was completed, and the Antols are still in awe.

“We are still surprised sometimes that we really did this thing.”

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