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Your Local Observatory

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The last few weeks I've heard from several observers that they haven't been able to do any observing due to poor weather and I got to thinking: if we can't talk about our observations, why not talk about our observatories?

Given that I'm still a student and that I've used several different observatories, I thought I would talk about my "first observatory", the Sachleten Observatory of Hastings College pictured below (with a super-cell thunderstorm and what remains of my radio telescope I built for my senior project in the background):

The Sachtleben Observatory of Hastings College

The observatory is located three-miles south of Hastings, Nebraska in an excellent dark sky location.  The roll-off roof (white and brown above) protects four telescopes mounted on peers.  The observing deck is a suspended wooden floor about four feet below the upper-edge of the wall that is physically isolated from the peers on which the telescopes are mounted.  Power is supplied to the scopes through outlets mounted on the peers with wires strung up through the peers.  The base of the peers are, in turn, isolated from the concrete floor of the storage room below.  The northern side of the main floor (left side in the image above) is a classroom for astronomy courses at Hastings College.

Throughout most of the year, the observatory has a great view of the sky, so good in fact that it was difficult to find the brightest constellations because there were so many stars in the sky (see image of the Milky Way below)!

The Milky Way as viewed from the Sachtleben Observatory
64-second exposure at f/2.8, although it looks basically like this with your eyes on a good night.

The observatory has one 14" telescope mounted on a Bisque Paramount, a 10" Mead, and an 8" Celestron scope.  We also have a telescope we call "Big Bertha" which is an 8" Newtonian made by a Hastings College student as a senior project.  He used some aluminium irrigation pipe as the tube and (I think) hand-ground the mirror.

My former boss (at the planetarium) and good friend, Dan Glomski, puts on two public shows at the observatory each month.  If you are in the area, check out the program on Hastings College's Sachleten Observatory page.

Well, that's my home town observatory.  Where do you observe?  What was/is your first/favorite/current observatory?  What makes it special?  What do you like/dislike about it?

Chris Stephan's picture
Chris Stephan
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My observatory is named "Robert Clyde Observatory". It was founded in November 2000 and named after a dear friend of mine, Bob Clyde of Streetsboro,Ohio, who has passed away June 30, 2000. Bob was like a grandfather to me. He was an AAVSO member/observer and member of the Mahoning ValleyAstronomical Society inNewton Falls, Ohio. My observatory is a combination workshop/observatory. My 2 portable scopes (10 inch dobsonian reflector, and4.7 inch refractor)are kept in there and simply taken outside to use. My permanently mounted 14 1/4 inch reflector is just outside the building. All of my variable star charts, star atlases, and telescope accessories are kept there. It is very convenient to use. I simply use the workbench as my desk to lay out my charts, atlas, and notebook for recording. I like to put on soft music while I am observing. The observatory is equipped with white lights , and red ones for night time use. The RCO is located about 5 miles southwest of Sebring, Florida. The skies are fairly dark, except the north where Sebring is located. I'd say I can see 5.0-5.5 magnitude on a great dark night, usuallymid-Octoberthrough April,which is our dry season. Attached you will see a photo of my 14 1/4 inch reflector. This telescope is homemade by Bob Clyde and myself. It was built in 1976.It was featured in "Telescope Making" magazine Vol. 1, Issue 2. Chris Stephan Robert Clyde Observatory Sebring, Florida USA

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Chris, Your observatory sounds wonderful and your telescope's superb! :-) Joan Chamberlin of Southern Gems team

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Since my scope is mounted on a cart that you wheel in and out of the garage I did not want to name it as a memorial to someone! If I ever get a permanent location I might name it something more important. Since I have always wanted to do real astronomical research and am currently living the dream by doing photometry, I just decided to name it after my family name. In a week we are moving 5 miles south of town to a dark sky site. Just so happens that it was the only house available to rent! Should have 6th mag skies most of the time! You gotta love southern New Mexico. On the property is a shed that will be converted to a roll off observatory. My main scope is a 6" Celestron refractor. I am using a SBIG ST-7E watercooled CCD, along with a a Celestron AS-GT super tuned by Tom Kracji. With a 4 star alignment you can put your target on chip, even with fairly poor polar alignment. My filters are a V, Z and a star analyzer diffraction grating. An I filter is on it's way as this is written. When finances permit B and R filters will be purchased. Improvements are a CFW-8 filter wheel to hold all of these filters and a automated focusing system, along with a permanent place to house the setup. The other scope is an ST-80 on a Sky View Promount to do spectroscopy.I plan to use RSPEC with my SAC 7b camera to do real time spectrsocopy. For fun I use a homemade8" Dob, a 90mm ETX EC and a couple of 60mm Meade refractors. This fall I am planning oncontinuing my study of blue white dwarfs. A new project is todo time series of stars with suspected black holes orbiting around them. Might also do some CV work aswell, since that includes white dwarfs as part ofthe pair of stars.

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Gary Billings
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I put together a custom setup for monitoring eps Aur. My goal is to do intense time series photometry of the star, to see if there is any "short period stuff going on". So, I'm using a 50 mm SLR lens (from a camera I bought in '79), an old SBIG ST-7 camera (Ibought it about 1996 -- it has a slow parallel port interface), on a German Equatorial mount (see photo). The mount is put on a sloping and overhanging base so Ican put bulkier equipment on it and track below the pole if I want to. You would normally affix your mount to something vastly more rigid, but at my short focal length, vibration is not a problem. As sometimes happens, my results are kind of negative in that it looks like there isn't much happening with eps Aur on the time scale of minutes to hours. On the best night I've had (in December 2009), Itook an image about once per minute, for 11 hours (yes, Ihave an automated data reduction system in place to deal with all those images!). That was a remarkable night, with very good observing conditions: the standard deviation of the photometry is about 1%, i.e. very low noise. Not bad for a telescope with an aperture of about 3/4". So, negative results in terms of finding short period signal in the light from eps Aur, but I've learned a lot about doing photometry with this kind of setup and will be using it on other bright stars in the future. Gary Billings, Rockyford, Alberta

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Very cool Gary. Dr. Bob and Ihave talked about your high-time-resolution photometry, especially about the report you gave at SAS. It is very cool even if it is a null result. I assume you're aware of MOST, Canada's suitcase-sized space-based photometer which can get several photometric points per second. We applied for some time on that (hoping to find some high frequency components), but it didn't make the cut. I've been reducing some data from the SMEI spacecraft that gets a photometric point every 102 minutes and it's a similar story to what you've found, although there is some varability likely due to cosmic ray hits and other things that plague spacecraft. Keep up the good work, Brian

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As some of you know I'm a Research Technician at The Chara Array aka senior night assistant working at the Mount Wilson Observatory.The famous MountWilson Observatory is located in the San Gabriel Mtns above Los Angeles inCalifornia. Chara has worked very closely with Dr. Bob and Brian with amazing and premiere results in observations of Epsilon Aurigae !!! To keep it simple information about Chara can be found at the listed link below. Honestly operating one of the worlds largest cutting edge astronomical instruments is so very thrilling but difficult to understand at times!! Most astro folks know about Mt Wilson, Ill post these links as well. Besides collecting data, overseeing and operating the many systems at Chara, one of my favorite things is when the 100-inch telescope is running as well :-) Due to everything being so fancy and high tech an observer really doesn't even have to leave the control room. This is not my policy, but stepping outside the Chara control room and seeing the 100" slit open and dome rotating is amazing !!! I started working at Mt Wilson as a 100-inch Natural Guide Star Adaptive Optics Operator 10 years ago. Everyone that works at Mt Wilson is incredible and this historic observatory continues to carry on its tradition. Mt Wilson has also opened a Cafe , called the Cosmic Cafe that is open on the weekends - Yummy sandwiches and snacks !! I'm also finishing my masters and thesis in an entirely different subject Special Education:). I also enjoy doing visual observations of variable stars at Ford Observatory on the backside of the San Gabriel Mtns in Wrightwood. Since this job is super technical its always been enjoyable for me to just keep Astronomy simple as my hobby , let me at that eyepiece plus I love to sketch too !!! Id like to say observations at the Chara Array have been going well but the seeing has just recently gotten better. The first few months April, May, June and part of July the seeing or also measured as the Fried parameter To/piston has been so fast which is bad for interferometric observations. Perhaps one can compare it to star light trying to pass through severe airplane turbulence , the stars look like they are having a bad hair day, imagine what light interference patterns would look like with crazy scattered photons !!! The Good news the past few nights we have had excellent seeing, excursions up to 20cm~ Ro or sub sub arc second !! Just in time for the next eps_Aur observing run -YaY !!! Its been really fantastic connecting with everyone , Joan Chamberlin was just here visiting and she has been incredible with organizing the Southern Gems Team and their 10 Star tutorial - Go Gems !!! Hope to see some CS members at the conference in San Fransisco as we all are assisting to solve the eps_Aur mystery. Personally it has been an honor to work with Dr. Stencel and everyone at Citizen Sky !!! That's all from the Mt Wilson Observatory and The Chara Array !!! Info links :-) -------------- [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]
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Hi! Here in Germany, we have a network of "Volkssternwarten" or "Public Observatories": These are observatories that are run by amateurs and receive their funding typically by membership fees of associated astronomy clubs and grants from the communities plus donations. Some of these institutions have a history back into the 19th century. The one near my home town is "Volkssternwarte Paderborn" ( ) , which features a 4.5 meter dome and (among other instruments) a 350/1600 mm Newtonian reflector. I haven't worked much yet with that one but plan to do so soon. (The picture below is a bit out-dated but you get an idea). Now, as the main purpose of this kind of observatory is not science but public outreach and education you have a dilemma: either put it in some nice dark spot out of town, but then the public will not go there. Or put it near a city, and suffer from the light polution. VS Paderborn is no exception, being located on the rooftop of a school and sharing some of its facilities. CS Heinz

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