Lowell Observatory, Arizona's oldest center for astronomy, is launching a campaign to recruit an army of benefactors to repair the telescope and dome from which Percival Lowell discovered what he said were ancient canals on Mars.

The observatory's Internet "crowd-sourcing" campaign, starting today on the birthday of its founder, hopes to raise about $257,000 in 60 days to restore the Clark Telescope, the centerpiece of its much-visited historical perch atop Mars Hill overlooking downtown Flagstaff.

The campaign, hosted by the indiegogo.com Internet fund-raising site, hopes to attract thousands of small donations, targeting some of the 2 million people who have visited the observatory and looked through the telescope in its 116 years of operation, said Kevin Schindler, Lowell's outreach manager.

The optics of the Alvan Clark refractor, two 24-inch diameter lenses, are still in working order, said Schindler, but repairs are needed for its mount and the ponderosa-pine dome in which it sits.

The telescope, with its 32-foot steel tube, is mounted on bearings that allow it to be moved by hand, but is getting a bit sclerotic.

The same is true for the 8-ton "dome," actually shaped like an inverted bucket and designed by Godfrey Sykes, who later moved to Tucson and built much of the infrastructure for the Desert Botanical Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill.

Sykes and his brother Stanley operated a bicycle shop in Flagstaff and advertised themselves as "Makers and Menders of Anything."

In his memoirs, quoted in a Historic American Building Survey written by Rebecca Jacobsen, Godfrey Sykes said he asked Lowell for explicit instructions as "the building of astronomical domes had not hitherto been one of my more common forms of activity.

"He replied that as we claimed to be competent makers of anything, that of course covered the case and settled the matter."

The bucket-shaped dome the Sykes brothers built now rotates with the aid of 24 truck tires - installed in 1957 as a replacement for the original metal wheels.

"It is all operated on ropes and pulleys. We have some staff that will hang on the ropes just to open it. Like any mechanical device after more than 100 years, it needs a major overhaul," said Schindler.

Schindler said the "crowd-sourcing" campaign fits well with Lowell's original mix of philanthropy and showmanship. It is a way to raise money and spread the word about astronomical science.

He said the campaign also fits with the observatory's most recent linking of science and public outreach - a 4-meter telescope developed jointly by Lowell Observatory and the Discovery Channel. That scope, and most of Lowell's current scientific investigations, are at darker sites, miles from Flagstaff. Mars Hill is geared toward tourism and outreach.

Did you know?

The Lowell Observatory's scientific achievements include Clyde Tombaugh's discovery of Pluto, Vesto Slipher's early work on the expanding universe and the mapping of the moon for Apollo missions.

How to help

You can donate to refurbish the Clark Telescope at http://igg.me/at/restoretheclark or at Lowell Observatory's website at www.lowell.edu . Gifts ranging from posters and T-shirts to private viewing nights are being offered for various levels of donation.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.