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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Planning Stage 1

One of the major tasks of creating an observatory is planning. I’m using present tense since I’m still in that stage of construction. I’ll share some of my ideas and the reasoning behind those ideas as the project progresses. Why build an observatory, George? Good question! Setting up and tearing down a hundred pound telescope takes precious time away from what I’m most interested in…astrophotography. With a permanent setup (observatory), I’m able to start taking pictures in minutes rather than hours. I won’t go into detail here, but I wanted to point out that I’m not doing any kind of scientific research. I just want to take “pretty” pictures. I do have a few goals in mind. I think my ultimate goal (dream) is to have a photo published in APOD (Astronomy Photo of the Day). This is a project run by NASA and it’s targeted for “backyard” and professional astronomers. I think it would be quite an honor to be recognized by professional astronomers and it’s something worth pursuing. To reach that point will require a lot of preparation, skill, patience, time, knowledge, and luck. I didn’t mention "money" because some of the photos on APOD are taken with relatively modest equipment used by very skilled individuals.

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have been carefully trying to figure out where I would build the observatory. I needed an unobstructed 360 degree view to the horizon. Dreamer…What I have is a view that has a volcano towards the southeast, a three story house towards the west, a roof of my garage towards the northwest, and two tall trees towards the southwest. Other than that it’s perfect. Well, not exactly perfect. The volcano creates its own weather by not allowing clouds to pass. During the summer months, Tsukahara will have thunderstorms when everyone else is hot and humid. I’ll take the storms, thank you. What this means is that I can almost rule out taking photos in the summer due to cloud cover and the potential for lightning strikes. I’ll talk more about lightning strikes in another post. I’ll just mention that lightning is a bad thing for the delicate electronics associated with astrophotography. What kind of electronics are you talking about? I’m glad you asked.


Here is a diagram of what I’m trying to accomplish…an observatory that is automated. What does that mean? I like to sleep at night. I enjoy spending time with my family. I do not want to stay up all night babysitting my equipment. Instead, I want the computer to do most of the work. Believe it or not, there are inexpensive software and hardware that will detect the weather conditions and determine if it is safe to open the observatory roof. The program will close the roof if clouds roll in. Another program will wake the telescope, point it in the correct position, focus, track the object, take the required photos, change filters, take more photos, park the telescope, close the roof, and put the system to sleep. Yes, the whole thing is automated. In the morning, a stack of images is ready for processing. Does it sound too good to be true? Not really. There are hundreds of backyard observers doing just that…getting a good night’s sleep and creating images suitable for publishing. The trick is to have all of the equipment working in sync and 100 percent reliable. It’s easy to say, but incredibly difficult and frustrating to accomplish. Hey, if it were easy, then where is the challenge? The journey to create this form of art (and it is art) should be fun. I have to keep reminding myself, this is fun. It’s a lifelong hobby and it’s fun. I’m having fun, but sometimes…     George

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