Director - Mark Urwiller
Staff: Leon Thompson
I will be leaving next week for south Texas - there will be no viewing sessions in November. I have installed a wireless hand controller for the main telescope. I was having to avoid ladders and getting tangled up in the mount with the 10' wire previously used. This is so much nicer. I'm still waiting on some dew/frost heaters for eyepieces, the finder I use for guiding astrophotos, and some lenses I use piggy-backed on the scope for astrophotos. I have also been working on configuring 2 software programs which will be able to slew the telescope through the computer. Currently the scope is "goto" through on-board digital setting circles and Sky Commander with database of over 33,000 objects. (I just found an update that I will install in December.) The on-board system is OK for viewing sessions, but full computer control will be great for viewing and astrophotography and gives even more options! I look forward to seeing visitors in December. Don't forget to wear your muckluks and heavy knickers!
Update 10-1-2019 - New Listserv!
I went up to the observatory yesterday and accomplished several things. I installed a dew cover on one of the finders on the main instrument. The last observing session was hampered by so much dew - it was a real pain. This will solve part of the problem. I have ordered a dew strip for the other finder which I also use for guiding astrophotos. Next I had to put something out to control the mice. I have already had to replace cable to the telescope which I then placed in vinyl tubing to keep from happening again. In addition I have had to remove nests twice from the observatory computer! I originally put an ultrasonic repeller in, but it doesn't see to work. The major part of the day was dedicated to completing the door in the front gable for clearance of the motor when the roof is removed. I removed all the existing gutter from the gable and replaced it with new metal attached lower than before and in a fashion which better blocks rain/snow from getting in. I devised a way for the small door to be raised and lowered which seals the gutter when down. I will try to remember to post a photo of it soon. All that's left is repaint some lettering that had to be cut out when the door was created.
The big news from this update is the new listserv! This will be an improvement over the current distribution list I'm currently using to send out announcements. When fully configured it will allow anyone who visits this site to sign up and join the list. You will be able to join in discussions, ask questions, and help answer them for others. There will also be a second link which will allow you to sign up for a text announcement list. This list will be read-only and will allow me to send you texts to instantly notify you of impromptu viewing opportunities. For now, until I have this all setup, you can send me your e-mail address and I will subscribe you. If you want texts, you can send me your phone number and cell service provider and I will subscribe you to that. This are exciting new features that I hope many will take advantage of!
The telescope and observatory computer are now on talking terms :) I have changed some settings in the servo motor controls which will speed up process of finding new objects for visitors to view. I can now link other software to control the scope, but we already have 13,000 objects in the telescope database so I think we'll be OK until I get more linked :) I will be ordering a wireless control pad soon which will allow me to be free of the wire I currently have to untangle everytime I move the scope. It should be available for the second viewing session in October. I have also constructed a new small door on the front gable to allow clearance of the drive motor which moves the roof on and off. I still need to paint it, but that should be soon.
The observatory now has internet access! My son James came over from Blair Nebraska yesterday and we got it installed. This will allow me to download drivers while on-site to fix some issues I have had getting the computer and scope to talk to each other. This will not effect visitors from the public, but will allow me to take more sophisticated astrophotography. Upon further reflection, having internet will allow access to current information on things we view in the scope and allow downloads of images of those objects. It will also allow access to websites that will help answer questions visitors ask. That's a big plus! Next project - setting up 2 listservs which will allow visitors to receive either e-mails or texts for instant notification of impromptu viewing sessions. I will post to my current distribution list when this is ready.
Polar axis alignment seems to be pretty good. The scope has performed visually quite well recently, but the real test will be photographic use which will have to wait until internet is brought to the obervatory - hopefully soon.
I had 8 visitors to the observatory on August 28th. They had a great time and stayed until after midnight. I did some astrophotography on August 29th. I only got 1 image I'm somewhat satisfied with. It appears here on the site. Photos of the observatory will be coming soon.
Polar alignment was performed on the 17.5" Rasmussen last night. This will be necessary for long exposure photos.
It was immediately evident the original design of the observatory was going to need some additional bracing to accomodate the movement of the (1200 lb approx) roof to prevent major flexure issues. On June 19th the stars aligned (schedules and weather) to allow us (Helpers: Jay Rasmussen and Leon Thompson) to work on fixing this. The roof goes on and off like a garage door albeit much more massive! In addition I also got the telescope optics collimated. In addition to the things mentioned in my last update that need to be finished, you can see I have some painting and mowing to do :) I'll post some video of the roof operation when I get a chance. I'm pretty swamped!
This view at the end of the roll-off rails shows the new (unpainted) bracing added to the rear sprocket. We also put a vertical brace on the chain rail to help with sagging.
Also at the back of the north rail we placed a limiter switch. This stops the outward motion of the roof automatically.
The back wall really needed bracing too!
Here's a side view of the completed rail system.
Here's the limiter on the inside of the building. You also see one of the load binders that hold the roof when it's on the building.
Mother nature did cooperate on June 4th and the roof of the observatory is now motorized! This means we can start to use the main telescope for observing. We didn't completely finish, but much of the left-over work I will be able to accomplish by myself or with local help. Workers included Jay Rasmussen, engineer of Kennesaw, Leon Thompson of Atkinson, Clint Zastrow of O'Neill and Dan Smith of Grand Island. Here's how the day went:
First we had to lower a support crossmember for the motor inside the building so the roof would clear it. Next we constructed the chain support framing to the end of the roll-off rails. We installed 2 pillow-block bearings, a shaft, and sprocket for the chains at the end of the chain support. (See photos below) About 54' of heavy chain (from 10' lengths) had to be linked together and attached to the motor inside the building. We cut out a section of the front gable so it will clear the motor as the roof rolls off the rear of the building.
It was time to test the system. We found a few snags in clearance, but corrected them. We can use the scope now, but here's what's left to fix. 1) The back wall needs some bracing - there's a lot of stress on it when the roof rolls off. 2) The chain needs some adjustment. I should have that done soon. 3) Limiter switches need to be installed to automatically stop roof movement at each end of the rails. (We'll have to be careful until those are installed.) 4) I will have to make a little door in the front gable to clear the motor, but also be sealed against the weather when the building is closed.
Other stuff - I have lots of clean up to do! I want to paint all the new structures. I'm going to put another coat of sealer on the floor. I still have to align the telescope optics, align the telescope mount with the north celestial pole (near the north star), get the scope and computer talking :) With any luck and schedules allow, my son from Blair may get the wireless internet set up before our first viewing session. Like it says on the visit page - we might be a little rough around the edges, but we're going to start having people out! See you soon. More photos soon.
As you can tell from various parts of this site, I'm tired of the rain we have had this spring. I certainly feel for those who have been more affected than I have. I do have some good news about the observatory to pass along. We are hoping to finish roof motorization on June 4th - weather permitting. The observatory computer has been upgraded to Windows 10. Having a computer in a building which is not climate controlled has some special requirements not encountered by normal users. A computer with a hard drive disk (HDD) is not a good idea. The reader arms are subject to being warped in heat near 100 degrees in the summer. The observatory computer has a solid state drive (SSD) which is becoming more common in today's computers. Many of you carry a smaller version of these in your pocket and call them flash drives. This technology holds up better in heat. Most other parts of a computer love cold temps - the colder the better in most cases - except the monitor/screen. Modern flat screens pretty much go black at around 10 degrees fahrenheit. Fortunately, I have a supply of old CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitors. They have no problem with cold temps well below zero. You just have to keep frost off the screen :) I wanted to upgrade the operating system before re-connecting the computer to the telescope and other observatory devices. Part of the problem with setting up the telescope/computer connections in the observatory's new location will involve internet access. Recently that problem has been solved as stated in the last update.
I have a few tidbits of new info for you. I am headed for south Texas on Wednesday and return in 9 days after that. The last work needed to motorize the roof will commence shortly thereafter :) We will also be bringing internet to the observatory soon. I have a set of Ubiquiti Nanostations which will bring in WiFi from our wonderful hosts' house. Once to the building a Ubiquiti Picostation will provide WiFi in and around the observatory. One last item - the observatory will soon have a listserv which you can subscribe to. In addition to being notified as to observatory events, it will have 2 addresses for you to use, one will allow you to post questions to share with others on the list. The other will allow sending and receiving of texts for immediate notification of impromtu observing opportunites. More info when this becomes available.
5 of us worked a full day and accomplished the following installations: Roof motor control panel, Rotary phase converter, Wired remote control switch, motor placement on 4" x 4" span across back of building. All electronics were hooked into main power and work great! We also mounted 2 more 4 x 4's and bracing for the chain assembly outside the building. We found we needed a different chain breaker which has subsequently been obtained. In the next and hopefully last major assembly needed for observatory completion; we will adjust a problem with motor mounting, build the chain support assembly, set the triggers for automatic stops for roll-off and roll-on, and cut a port in the front gable for it to clear the motor at the back of the building. Let's hope we can do all of this in one last day! We'll keep you apprized.
The wiring for the 3 phase motor for the roof is complete. Five of us were set to motorize the roof Wednesday April 3rd (No foolin'), but once again the weather foiled our plans with cold and wet conditions. Due to other schedule obligations it will be the later part of April before we can try to schedule the remaining work. Once the roof is motorized, the main scope will need to be collimated (optics aligned) which can be done in an hour and does not require darkness or a clear sky. Some tests need to be done on the drive section on the mount which also can be done in a day - during the day if all goes well. Lastly, the polar axis of the mount must be aligned with the celestial pole which will take part of one night with no clouds/wind. This will optimize the instrument for photography and computer assisted object location. In short, once the roof is motorized, the rest of making the facility ready for "primetime" will go pretty fast barring technical difficulties!
We had to roll the roof off the building today - to make sure it worked :) This needed to be done before ordering the materials needed for motorization. Obviously it does work! I'll be leaving for Texas this coming Saturday. We'll install the roof motor hopefully sometime in early December. Much will depend on the weather.
Since the last update you can see 3 things that have been accomplished in the photo below. Security cameras have been installed. I finished the sign on the front of the building. (Disclosure - my abilities as an amateur astronomer are much better than my artistic skills :) The ramp has been painted and the artificial turf has been applied. The shims in the rails have been fastened and stops have been placed at the end of the rails to prevent the roof from being rolled too far off. The roof still awaits motorization and the optics in the scope still need to be aligned.
The only things that remain to be done are to do a little more painting, screw down some shims on the roll-off rails, and motorize the roof. The scope optics still need to be aligned which should take less than an hour. Once I'm able to roll off the roof the mount of the scope will need to be polar aligned which will take perhaps a couple of hours. I'll have to run a test on the mount to determine "backlash" and put it into the ServoCat (servo motor control software). Barring any other unforeseen problems we will be in business soon!
So here's what's new since the last update:
We now have a ramp into the building. It needs to be painted and I have some artificial turf to put on it. This will keep the ramp from becoming slippery due to frost and ice during the winter. The turf will overhang at the bottom so you will not see the support joists or pavers. This should reduce trip hazard as well. With this ramp the building will be handicap accessible as it was in Kearney. This is important to me!
The observatory has 24 ft of tables and 25 ft of bookshelf/storage space. The observatory computer has been fitted with a solid state drive so heat or cold will not affect it. The "old" CRT monitor is also by design since more modern LCD flatscreens go black by about 10 degrees F! The building now sports some RGB LED lights capable of delivering many different colors for the holidays :) You can see a couple of the loadbinders which hold the roof on the building. We've needed those recently!
As you can see, the main scope is in - as well as 4 other nice sized scopes and a small refractor that was my first telescope 50 years ago :) Those who really want to learn the sky can take one of the smaller scopes outside the building and use it by themselves! All we need now is for you to come visit!
Update 9-17-2018 A Lot Has Changed!
We worked as a small group last Wednesday. It was just Jay Rasmussen, Clint Jastrow, and myself. Others were at Husker Harvest Days or had other committments. As described below, I was up at the site much of last week and the building is now painted. We didn't get the scope in last week since there was only 3 of us, but it's ready to transport up there and I assume it will be in the building by this Wednesday. While Clint and I worked on the rail system last Wednesday, Jay installed the breaker box in the building and worked on re-connecting outlets that had to be disconnected when the building was disassembled a year ago. The electrical work, including hooking the building up to main power, should happen this Wednesday. The cupboards/bookshelves are in the building and will be put on the walls on Wednesday. I ordered some LED lights for the building which will offer some fun for upcoming Holidays. I won't give away the fun now :) There are now a total of 5 telescopes at the site - not including the main instrument! Work on the new sign on the front of the building will begin this week too. Harlan Schrunk filled the ditch with dirt and installed a culvert for drainage. The observatory now has an entrance! (A big "Thank You" to him!!!) It was used for the first time by visitors at Saturday's viewing session. You can read about that on the Visitation page. Other things on the list to be done soon include painting the rail braces, reassembling the telescope, motorizing the roof roll-off, and making a ramp for the front of the building. I found a source for "field turf" to reduce how slippery it gets when frost and ice occur. I want to get the facility up and running before it gets too cold. Jay Rasmussen in particular doesn't like to work in the cold :)
We worked again last Wednesday. We had as many as 7 people working at times. The O'Neill Coffe Club as I call them continues to step up! :) These are the names of those who helped me: Jay Rasmussen, Leon Thompson, Clint Jastrow,Dick Mlnarik, Jerry Schaaf, and Jim Gallagher We fixed the doors, replaced a front panel on the building, and finished the beams for the roll off rails. I spent much of Thursday there sweeping the inside and starting to put stuff inside. I also started prepping to paint the building. I plan on working up there prepping/painting on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday we will work as a group to finish the roof rool off, put the scope in, and hook up the electricity. Don't get too exctied, the scope has to be reassembled and undergo a great deal of electronic configuration before it's ready. I will take more photos next week.
I realized recently that I forgot to acknowledge the contribution of Chad and Molly Swanson from Spencer in May. Chad did the trenching for the electric wire! He and Molly, along with so many others, have been instrumental in helping me to re-construct the observatory - so I can share with the entire community! Here is a link to photos of the trenching.
I went up to the site yesterday and mowed. I created an entrance from the road through the fence and mowed the ditch. Here are some photos of the finished posts from Wednesday.
Reconstruction Update - 8-30-2018
Seven Guys Came To Help Yesterday! So Wonderful!
Helpers: Jay Rasmussen, Leon Thompson, Clint Zastrow, Jerry Schaaf
Dick Minarik, Don Tejral, Bert Conway
9 posts were placed for the rolloff rails. We tried to mount the front doors, but ran into a small problem that required us to wait until next week to finish it. Yesterday marked the end of needing special equipment to finish the observatory! I will be able to go up and finish some stuff myself. I will be washing the sides of the building, applying caulk, and then painting it. I will also be mowing the site. The rails should be completed by next week. We will need to build a ramp for the entrance and then we will be able to get the scope in there! Not too muck longer now!
Reconstruction Update - 8-23-2018
Four of us worked 6 hours yesterday.
Helpers - Jay Rasmussen of Kenesaw, Leon Thompson of Atkinson, and Clint Zastrow of O'Neill.
Thanks So Much! Roof Rolloff Rails Are Next!
Perseid Meteor Viewing 8-12-2018
Event Photos Taken By Tom Shield of Kearney
Update 7-27-2018 Walls Are Up!
The walls were erected on Wednesday July 25th. Thanks to Harlan Schrunk and his son from Atkinson for the use of their boom trucks, we did not need the muscle I had originally planned on. We had the walls up in about 3 hours! As you can see, when the observatory was located in Kearney, the floor was different and the walls had back fill part way up the sides. The dirt residue will have to be cleaned off before re-painting. The tarp on the floor is a mess, but I need to protect the floor before the roof goes on. That will hopefully be the week after next! Then the roll off rails and then.... the scope!
Three of us - Jay Rasmussen of Kenesaw, Leon Thompson of Atkinson, and myself met Tuesday 7-17 and completed the floor. I went up to the site today to put in a few more screws and put sealer on the wood. I had placed tarp over the floor, but they only partially held in place during last night's rains. The floor is fine and I feel better having put sealer on it. While working Tuesday, the neighbor to the west - Harlan Schrunk - came over to visit. It turns out he has a boom truck capable of lifting the premade walls in place. He kindly offered to assist us!
The telescope mount will rest on the cement piers. They are isolated from the floor. People walking around inside the building will not vibrate the scope! Hopefully we can place the walls early this coming week. The boom truck will also come in handy to place the roof trusses soon :)
The photos above are actually from a couple of weeks back. Three of us met at the observatory site today, but a series of things kept us from getting much done. The site still looks basically like the photos, but we did move the trusses a bit to accomodate the flooring material. "Buck boards" were also cut to make sure the floor will not transfer vibrations to the telescope support columns. We hope to finish the floor early next week (if we can avoid rain) and hopefully find enough volunteers to help set the floors soon after that.
Lynn Lilienthal (White Hat), Jay Rasmussen (Baseball Cap), and Harper (The Wonder Dog)
Update 5-15-2018 Day 2 of the reconstruction - footings are poured at the building corners. The floor will sit 1 foot higher than the top of the corners. The slope drops to the right (East). This is why the footings are higher on the right side. The four pillar molds in the middle of the photo are where the main telescope will set. They are set high enough to be level with the top of the floor. They will be isolated from the floor so people can walk around inside the building, but not vibrate the scope. The 24 ft trailer contains the 20 ft walls to the building and the roof. After the floor is built, the walls will be set on the floor. When the roof is reassembled, it will roll off to the right/East.
Update 4-24-2018 There were seven participants in the first offering of Beginning Astronomy and Atmospheric Optics class at Northeast Community College in O'Neill last night. I think all of them had a good time and I also got some more people interested in helping with viewing sessions. The weather finally looks like we can break ground without more cold or snow storms :) When scheduling can be worked out between volunteers, we will begin. As soon as we start, I will take photos of our progress and post them here!
Photos From The Site of Honey Creek Observatory
Approximate Location - About Center Far Side Of The Herd Above.
The "Neighbors" Are Curious!
Looking South From Site Area. The Cabin On This Site Is The Only Building On This Road!
A New Site Has Been Found!
A site north of O'Neill has been found off from Road 883 west of Hwy 281. It has all of the criteria I was hoping for - good roads and easy access to the site, electricity nearby (in fact very little modification may need to be done), no lights on the site or visible from the site, open skies free of obstruction, and most importantly - wonderful hosts who are also excited about sharing this facility with the schools and public! Here is a map which shows, if you zoom in, light pollution areas near O’Neill. If you follow Hwy 281 north and zoom in to Road 883 (Johnson's 3 Eagles Road) you will find this area is almost at the darkest possible on the light pollution scale. (The darkest sites in Nebraska are about 100 miles west, south of Valentine.) This new observatory will be VERY dark and reasonably near O'Neill. Most city dwellers have never seen a sky this dark! I am very lucky to have found it! There are no plans to put up signs on Hwy 281 or on Road 883. A link for directions will be placed on this page or will be sent to those interested in visiting once the observatory is up and running. As in Kearney we want to have visitors register and let us know how many will be coming. There will be no cost involved! It will take a few weeks to rebuild the building, get the telescope re-oriented, and re-set the electronics. I will post progress on this site and will make sure the Holt County Independent posts an article announcing this facility is open! Oh, one more thing, the observatory at the new location will now be called Honey Creek Observatory - named after a small creek on the property! The observatory web pages will continue, but will be accessed under a new domain/URL address. A redirect will most likely be posted for a while.
New Staff Members Will Be Needed In The O'Neill Area!
Before anyone gets too excited, these are not paid positions. The "pay" is in helping people see and enjoy the night sky. What qualifications do you need? Not much. You only need to be interested in learning about the night sky and willing to come to public observing sessions to help out. This includes helping to set up equipment, helping to park cars, helping people get to and from the building, and answering questions. Are there age requirements? Not really, but if you are not old enough to drive you will need to have someone bring you here and back. Is there a limit as to how many staff members we need? No, the more the merrier. If you are interested, e-mail the observatory at the link found at the bottom of any page on this site. We look forward to hearing from you.
News of Observatory Move Reaches O'Neill and Holt County
The article containing the announcement can be found here: Holt County Independant. I have been scouting areas, mostly south of O'Neill for suitable locations. I certainly found some, but I haven't found anyone willing to sell a small parcel (5 acres) of their land! I have a few more places to check out and have looked at some sites to the north and east as well. If you are reading this and know someone in the O'Neill area that would be able to help with this project, please let me know. If you want to help us move sometime late spring or early next summer, or help set the building back up in the O'Neill area - please e-mail me or call 308-293-5776!
The Platte Valley Astronomical Observers
Members of the observatory staff are delighted to participate in a "society" of amateur astronomers in the area - The Platte Valley Astronomical Observers (PVAO) This group is currently meeting the 4th Thursday of every month
Meeting times are 7:30 PM. Join us both here at the observatory and in this club! Check it out at this link:
The Platte Valley Astronomical Observers
Presentations Available For Public\Club Meetings
We offer public presentations for community meetings etc. - free of charge (of course donations are always welcome). If you're looking for a program for your group, please contact us!
Observatory staff often receive inquiries about astronomical equipment. Quite often people are looking for a birthday or Christmas present. If you are looking to buy a telescope, in some cases these have to be ordered early. We don't recommend department store telescopes.
If you would be interested in purchasing astronomical equipment, give us a call. We would be happy to give you our opinion on what type of equipment would be right for you!
You can reach me and set up an appointment by e-mail at: email@example.com or you can phone 308-293-5776
Keep Looking Around!
Mark Urwiller - Web Page Administrator
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