0.7m Telescope Observatory Construction Begins

This will likely be a series of posts involving some very exciting news here at the observatory: We are adding a new observatory building complete with dome and telescope! Very much exciting times! The new structure will be 16’25’ in dimension with a 16′ diameter dome on the south side. The interior will be divided into two sections: the telescope/equipment room and the control room. A wall with large glass window will separate the two so that people can work with low-level red lighting while keeping the telescope and its sensitive instrumentation in the dark and away from the heat of humans which can cause disturbing air currents.

Artists Impression of the 0.7m Dome

Artists Impression of the 0.7m Telescope Dome.

The telescope is a PlaneWave 0.70m diameter modified Dall-Kirkham optical system with two ports. One port will hold a CCD imager with filter wheel. The other will attach to a fiber-fed echelle spectrograph.  It is difficult to imagine the scale of such an instrument. The telescope alone weighs over 1500 pounds! For a comparison here I am standing besides the same model of instrument at a recent American Astronomical Society meeting.

PlaneWave 0.7m telescope with the author

Ground breaking started a couple of weeks ago. Concrete pouring started today for the pier footing and the footing for the building’s foundation. This will help give a sense of scale the final structure.

The Initial Dig

The boundaries of the structure have been posted here with wooden stakes. The ground is being prepped to dig for the base level foundation.

Gravel base

The gravel base for the concrete has been laid here. Looking closely you can see the inset region in the gravel where the pier for the telescope will rest.

Initial Concrete Pour

The initial concrete pour which took place today. The central region is the base for the telescope pier. The surrounding is the base for the building’s foundation.



20-21 January 2019: Total Lunar Eclipse

From: https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html 

We have a splendid opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse this January. It will be taking place late on a Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning. That Monday is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the USA, so many schools will not have classes that day. Eclipse timings are given in the above graphic, in Universal Time.  Converting that to the various USA time zones: 

Partial eclipse starts7:34 pm8:34 pm9:34 pm10:34 pm
Total eclipse starts8:41 pm9:41 pm10:41 pm11:41 pm
Total eclipse ends9:43 pm10:43 pm11:43 pm12:43 am
Partial eclipse ends10:51 pm11:51 pm12:51 am1:51 am

Usually the real eclipse visibility starts to take place late in the penumbral phase approaching the first contact of the umbra. If you have not seen a lunar eclipse before, it is quite a special event. The moon will appear to have a charcoal chunk missing from it as the eclipse progresses.  Deeper into the eclipse, the moon will take on a rusty red hue caused by the sunlight passing through the earth’s atmosphere before arriving at the moon. Telescopes are not required, as one can see the whole event easily with the eye. Binoculars and telescopes will offer a nice closeup view.  Photography of the event is a relatively simple affair. A good tripod and telephoto lens will work well with the moderate shutter speeds required.  Tracking is not needed.  An example of a series of photos I took of the last total lunar eclipse is below. The camera was a Nikon D7000 with 200mm telephoto on a tripod. Click for a larger image.

The Annual Leonid Meteor Shower is Upon Us

It is that time of year again when we get to enjoy one of the best meteor showers, the Leonids. This one peaks mid-November and stems from the remains of Comet Tempel-Tuttle which has left its debris in a massive orbital path through which our planet passes yearly. This November the peak is on the mornings of November 17th and November 18th.  This is not likely to be a storm shower, as we have enjoyed in the past. This is more likely to produce anywhere between 10 to 15 meteors per hour. As with all meteor showers, you will see more if you are far away from city and town lights and have clear, transparent skies. Here in the state of New Hampshire, it will also be chilly, so you’ll want a coat, sleeping bag, and some warm food/drink to enjoy while looking up. The meteors will appear to stream out of the head of Leo, the Lion. This is the sky for those mornings (click to enlarge):

A New and Potentially Bright Comet!

Don Machholz, Shigehisa Fujikawa and Masayuki Iwamoto have confirmed a new comet which might very well become bright enough to see without optical aid. Stand by for updates here in the coming days as the orbital elements and ephemeris are corrected. The comet has been designated:

MPEC 2018-V151: COMET C/2018 V1 (Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto)

More information from the Minor Planet Center here: https://www.minorplanetcenter.net/mpec/K18/K18VF1.html?fbclid=IwAR2ZmjuWzNVq4QQb4mZNGeVtJdyEhnjZEgmyj08SsUtCcTL_NFqkq5bRUFc

A Winter Comet: 46P/Wirtanen

It appears that we might just have a bright comet for the end of 2018 and into the start of 2019: Comet 46P/Wirtanen. With a short period of just about 5.4 years, this time around the Sun, it will be very close to Earth (a mere 0.07AU or 11.6 million km) and enjoying its perihelion, too….. Predictions at this stage suggest a magnitude 3 object, well within the visibility range of the human eyeball.  When and where to look?  Here is an overall map of the comet’s path through December. Note that the perihelion date in December 16th, then the comet should be near its brightest:

Comet 46P/Wirtanen throughout December 2018. (click to enlarge)

Comet 46P/Wirtanen throughout December 2018. (click to enlarge)

On the night of 16 December for mid-latitude northern observers, looking south, this is what you should see…a lovely view of Orion and surrounding constellations. The comet should be near the Pleiades, making for a fine photographic opportunity.

Looking south of 16 December. (click to enlarge)

Looking south of 16 December. (click to enlarge)

Totality from Casper, Wyoming

The eclipse was a perfect success! Clear skies prevailed throughout totality, with forest fire smoke and clouds coming in after it was all done. The temperature dropped from 88 to 68F, stunning! The corona was larger than those I had seen before. We had prominences and more. MANY images to deal with and not fast internet, so please be patient while I get these things edited and out there. It might take a while… a week or more. In the meantime, here are a couple of unedited shots.

Casper was most generous: we had an excellent space from which to observe: green grassy fields on to the hill to the east of town. The parking lot lights and grass watering sprinkler systems had been disabled for the day. The medical center even provided a lunch at the end!

Mid Corona 2017

Totality: This is the mid-corona using a longer exposure to show the fainter regions.


Inner corona 2017

Totality: The inner corona. Note the fain, pink solar prominences on the right limb.


Partial stage 2017

Partial stage as the eclipse begins. There are a few sunspot groups to see there.


Diamond ring 2017

The diamond ring as the eclipse reaches totality.

Arrived: Casper Wyoming

All, I am safely here at Casper, Wyoming, right on the line for the eclipse. We DID have rooms in the local motel (YAY!) and have been rambling through town a little to get oriented. The town is divided in a couple of neat ways: the Platt River runs through as does a major train route frequented by the BNSF RR and others. The town has a basic grid layout with a couple of highways to help with faster circumnavigation. It is clear, sunny and hot, and the weather is supposed to stay that way through the eclipse. Restaurants and businesses are all out in full force with eclipse gear: shirts, hats, pins, logos, stickers, drinks. One can not make way through town without seeing some reference or another. Yesterday as we drove into town, there was little in the way of traffic, so I surmise that there will be a LOT of traffic today and tomorrow. In short: ALL is GO for eclipse 2017 here.

9 May 2016 Mercury Transit

The day started out as partly cloudy with a blustery wind up to about 15mph. At 6:30am, the sun was well up, and 45 minutes it both cleared the trees and was to start a morning-long experience with the little planet Mercury crossing its face. Those 45 minutes came and went, and the clouds stayed until about 10am, when things started to clear out. We even had a few strong rain showers, associated with the looming cumulonimbus clouds that were rolling by. The wind picked up, the skies cleared, and the sun came out to play!

We had two telescopes in operation. The newest, the 16″ SCT in the Kurtz Dome was operating with a newly constructed solar filter: Baader solar film and cereal boxes combined with hot melt glue and duct tape. This makes for an excellent off-aperture 6″ screen for the monster scope. The other was our Heliostat which has an inverted Byers fork mount that moves a primary flat mirror to reflect sunlight onto the secondary and then into a 6″ refractor waiting through a hole in the Chart House wall in the library. We had some excellent views and enjoyed visitors from NH and MA as well as several astronomy classes and some members of the astronomy club.

Mercury Transiting the Sun 9 May 2016

9 May Transit of Mercury seen through the 16″ SCT. A Nikon D7000 was used to snap this image which shows the small round dot of Mercury along with two sunspot groups.


The working end of the 16″ SCT with the D7000 attached for prime focus work.


The heliostat in use. This is also a unique selfie opportunity.

Gravitational Waves!

Observatory Director, John Blackwell, explains the recent discovery of Gravitational Waves

Gravitational Waves Explained: What The Discovery Means for Science

Last week, scientists made headlines with the announcement that they’d detected and recorded the first gravitational wave in human history. John Blackwell, Phillips Exeter science instructor and Director of the Grainger Observatory, explains how the discovery proves the last predicted outcome of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and gives astronomers the first new way of looking at the universe since Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky.

Lunar Eclipse Wows All!

September 27th lunar eclipse was an awesome experience from Exeter, NH. Well over 100 people came to the observatory for a visit and a look through the telescopes while the eclipse was under way.  At moonrise, I thought there was actually someone with a spotlight in the adjoining fields…. nope! That was the moon!  It was BRIGHT!  Bright enough to take this 5 second exposure of the fields and fog:

Fields and Fog with Full Moon

Fields and Fog with Full Moon

As the event ensued, we had a few cameras out there: one taking wide field shots of the event every 10 minutes or so, one taking closeup images with a 200mm telephoto, and some others roaming around. The following two images are of the event with the images stacked in PhotoShop. The moon’s dimming is very much evident here:

Eclipse series 1

Wide field series of images of the eclipse.

This image shows the eclipse with deeper exposures. The stars become evident as the moon dims. Note to the lower right the light pollution from Boston, to our south. As with all photos in this blog, click on the images for higher resolution!

Wide Field Series 2

Wide field series with deeper exposures.

This series below is from the 200mm lens and follows the eclipse from full moon (no eclipse) to totality.  Photoshop wass used to stack the images. Click for higher resolution.

Sept 27 2015 Lunar Eclipse Series

Sept 27 2015 Lunar Eclipse Series