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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man has set a record by building the world's largest amateur telescope, and he plans to travel the country to allow others to use it.
By day, Mike Clements drives a truck to Idaho and back. However, by night, he's preoccupied with something much less down-to-earth.
Clements is an amateur astronomer who, after years of planning, finished constructing the world's largest amateur telescope in September. The telescope is as long as a school bus, and weighs about 900 pounds. It also houses a mirror that is 70 inches wide.
"I still am in a state of disbelief," Clements said after completing his project. "I'm mad. I'm simply mad. It's something I had to do."
In 1988, a group of amateur astronomers named Group 70 attempted to build just such a telescope, but ran out of money, according to their website. Clements wears a souvenir Group 70 t-shirt given to him by a friend. It bears a large "1.8" to represent the 70-inch mirror.
The heart of Clements' telescope is a government surplus 70-inch mirror. It was produced originally for a Cold War-era spy satellite.
"It was designed for looking down and I guess reading license plates in Russia," he said.
Clements began began building a steel structure to house the mirror in 2012. He did it without formal training in telescope construction or welding and without any blueprints.
"He's got nothing on paper," said Clements' friend, Steve Dodds. "He did make a model out of popsicle sticks."
- The telescope is as long as a school bus
- Weighs about 900 pounds
- Has a 70-inch mirror
Clements finished the telescope and in late September, he said he put a reflective coating on the mirror with a weed sprayer.
"It was grass roots from beginning to the end," he said.
"Mike is a very positive, 100 mph type guy," said his friend, Charlie Green. "He sets his goals and he jumps on things and you can see that in his telescope."
One cold fall night, Clements took his first real glimpses though the telescope. He said The Ring Nebula, a small blur in a normally-sized telescope, filled a large portion of his field of view. Clements said that conditions were not optimal due to heat waves radiating from the earth and distorting the view, but the sight was still impressive.
Clements plans to eventually buy a trailer and haul his telescope — designed to be disassembled — to parks to show people the night sky.
"I'm gonna take it around the country and show people," Clements said. "It's also portable. I don't know if I mentioned that."
Clements said years ago, he got the nickname "One-Meter Mike" when he built a large telescope with a diameter of one meter and hauled it around the country in the back of a pickup. He took it to national parks and rest stops and showed off the stars and planets.
Clements may be getting a new nickname with his latest project.