About the Old Observing Site

For many years I lived in Arizona, but now spend most of my time in Wisconsin where I am presently the Director of the Milwaukee Astronomical Society Observatory.

The information below is now just a fond memory as it's my old observatory at my home in Cave Creek. 


Click on the thumbnail to view the larger image

 

The 18 inch and 6 inch reflectors

Though my mailing address is Cave Creek, I actually live in the city of Phoenix.  According to the latest census data, it is now the 5th largest city in the USA.  :-(   But Phoenix is also one of the largest cities in terms of geographical area.  (Over 600 square miles/1500 sq. km and still growing.) My home lies near the cities northern-most boundary, near the town of Cave Creek.  Consequently, my eastern, western, and northern are not overly polluted.  My southern horizon is a soup of light pollution stretching 30 degrees.  Since I got to choose the lot for my newly built house, I selected one to give me good views of the "dark" horizons.  Ideally you would want an unobstructed southern horizon, but why not block out most of that obnoxious sky glow? Another advantage to a cataclysmic variable observer of good northern horizons is you can follow stars longer through the year.

 

View looking South

 

 Besides the problems of light that naturally come with expanding civilization (ever decreasing my limiting magnitude), I have another problem this is all too common with home sites: neighbors security lighting.  It seems impossible to do any early evening observing without one set of these lights blinding me.  My neighbor to the east installed a set high on his house, and the placement of my building and pad was specifically to block this problem.  But I consider myself fortunate that my neighbors only seem to use them when they are actually in their yards.  My neighbors to the immediate west hardly use them at all.  (I hope they never move.)

 

View from the West

 

The property has two-thirds of an acre and a desert wash preserve area is directly north.  Because I love the desert and hate anything I have to water, the yard (for the most part) is being kept natural desert.  When asked what I do about weeds, my standard response is, "Weed? What's a weed?" If any plant will grow naturally in this harsh climate, it obviously belongs here.

 

View Looking North

As you tell from the photos, I have fairly good horizons. A big advantage of purely desert vegetation is that the trees are mostly Palo Verde and Mesquite which don't grow very high.

 


Pool area at dusk

Selection of what would constitute the "observatory" were divided by (1) preferred observing style, (2) type of objects observed (3) structure the homeowners association would approve, (4) local climate, and (5) future needs.  I prefer to observe out in the open.  Since I quickly go from object to object, this works out well.  Remembering that I live in what is normally a hot/dry desert, the usual concerns about cold weather don't apply.  In fact, warm weather is a bigger concern. 

 

Pool area.

Finally, many feasible options were out of the question because of the homeowners association.  Basically, any structure built must match the house.  The grand plan for the observatory was integrated with the landscaping needs/wants.

 

View from pad west.

The observing pad is made of a material called "kool-deck." It is essentially as hard as concrete, but absorbs very little of the suns rays.  Normally it is used around swimming pools where walking on regular concrete will burn bare feet here in the summer.  Consequently, it reaches ambient temperature very quickly after sunset-- ideal for observing.

 

View the interior

 

The storage area of the building is 8 feet by 16 feet.  This is sufficient to store the various telescopes and provide for ample desk area which have been built in.  Double doors allow for a wide opening and a minimum of threshold lip means the big scope is rolled easily in and out. There is both red and white lighting. The room is air conditioned and also has a ceiling fan for the long Phoenix summer.  There are no plans for heat.  ;-)

 

VSOing Light Bucket.

 

The main telescope (the big gun, a.k.a.  light bucket) is an 18 inch f/4.5 Obsession Reflector.  This scope gets me to magnitude 15.5 and often past 16.  The small telescope is a 6 inch f/5.1 used for variables brighter than magnitude 11.  For anything brighter than 7.5, I use 8X50 binoculars or my finder scope.  The 18 inch model comes with a set of "wheel barrel" handles which I keep attached permanently in order to quickly move the scope in and out of the storage room.  They also allow the movement of the scope along the observing "runway" for unobstructed views.  Setup typically takes about 3 minutes.

   

 

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