O'Neill Nebraska

Director - Mark Urwiller

Staff: Leon Thompson, Jiya Chaudhari, Austin Walrab

News Page!


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Update 8-27-2022

Right now I am approaching crunch time on our house rebuild.  The estimated time of completion is the end of September or the first part of October.  The observatory is in need of some TLC.  Inside, the contents need to be taken out, the floor cleaned, and resealed.  The tables need some cleaning too.  Outside, the building could use repainting.  If the weather holds, I may work on this in October or wait until spring.  I will be checking with St. Mary's in O'Neill to see if students who need to perform some community service might be interested.  If you would be willing to help, please contact me by email - mark.urwiller@gmail.com or phone - 308-293-5776.  I will put you on a list and contact you when I'm ready to work on this.

Update 5-20-2022

The observatory has a new staff member.  He is Austin Walrab who hails from Southern California. He is 21 yrs old has varied interests including video games, working on race cars, 3D printing and stargazing. He is attending college, and double majoring in mechanical and astronautical engineering. He hopes to one day work for SpaceX/NASA, and maybe one day become an astronaut. 

I was having some problems getting the Atlas EQ-G mount to polar align for astrophotography.  I took it to Jay Rasmussen in Kenesaw and it now works great!  Now I just need the sky to be clear and winds calm during last qtr/new moon!

I'm thinking of having another Honey Creek Star Party again (like we had before Covid) in August (26th/27th).  I will be discussing this with the Platte Valley Astronomical Observers.  This would involve inviting other amatuer astronomers as well as the public to come for observing and astrophotography.  There would not be any camping allowed, but those who needed to could stay in O'Neill.  The city has nice camping spots at Carney Park.

Update 1-1-2022

Happy New Year!  Our home in O'Neill was destroyed by fire on Dec 9th.  I don't have as much time to spend on observatory matters for a while, but will continue to offer viewing sessions for the public.  It's a great distraction from re-building matters.  I have posted a photo of Comet Leonard I shot a few days before the fire and well before the comet reached maximum brightness.  It's on the "Photos" page.  The comet has put on a very nice show - if you live in the southern hemisphere.  Check here for some great photos - Spaceweather.com Realtime Image Gallery (spaceweathergallery.com)

Update 12-1-2021

Currently a power disruption has caused a problem with the observatory weather station requiring a restart.  I will take care of this the next time I am up there.  The weather forecast for early december doesn't look great except for the 2nd/3rd.  It is a bit early to try as it will brighten in later days, but if conditions allow, I will try to get some photos of Comet Leonard.


Update 7-26-2021

The wireless access point in the observatory bit the dust recently.  This stopped the weather station at the observatory from reporting.  If you recently noticed the link on the home page for the observatory weather was dead - that's why.  A new access point has been installed and the weather can again be accessed.  The observatory has a new staff member!  Jiya Chaudhari will be a senior at O'Neill High School this fall. While substitute teacher there last school year she expressed an interest in astronomy.  She is eager to help out with visitors at the observatory and learn as much as she can.  She is a very nice young lady - you will like her!  Lastly I am setting up dates for classes I will be teaching at Northeast Community College in O'Neill this fall - which will include Astronomy, Digital Photography, and a Begining Birdwatching class  I will post the dates to the listserv as they are set up.


Update 5-28-2021

The weather has been lousy for the last several weeks and it along with my schedule has kept me and the public from doing any observing.  I have managed to upgrade the main scope with some new mounting blocks on the declination axis.  In plain english, this modification moves the upper cage - with the eyepiece focuser - further away from the main mirror.  This brings the eyepiece closer to the telescope.  It was too far out and photography should be improved as well.  The optics are realigned which needed to be done after this procedure, but I haven't even had a chance to test it out yet!  I found 3 large fiber optic cable spools and placed them in front of the observatory.  They will provide places to set equipment or "tables" for visitors to place their lawn chairs next to.   Another thing that needs to be done this summer is some cleaning.  I need to take all the equipment out, except the main scope, sweep the floor, and apply a new seal to the floor.  I'm not looking forward to it, but it needs to be done.  I also want to create a short video clip of the observatory from above with my drone to put on the website.  There's never a shortage of things to do!

Update 1-26-2021

The problem with the main scope has been resolved.  It turned out to be a very small broken wire from the declination encoder.  Because of this, data in the declination axis (similar to latitude on a globe) was not reported to the Sky Commander (digital setting circles) which in turn did not send correct data to the ServoCat with directs the scope where to move.  All is well now!  Since the last update the weather hasn't been great much of the time for astronomical observing.  As I get older it becomes more difficult to motivate myself to get out in extreme cold too.  I have acquired a couple more filters to help viewing of certain objects at the eyepiece.  The newest project involves a weather station for the observatory.  After installation there will be a new graphic on the home page which will display current data live from the observatory.  Hopefully that will be active in a couple of weeks.

Update 11-28-2020

The main telescope in the observatory is temporarily out of service.  I seem to be having a problem with a servo motor.  It seems to be affecting the ability of the scope to orient itself to sky locations - at least I hope that's what's causing that problem.  Until I get these problems solved I can't use this scope for astrophotography.  I don't need this scope to photograph Geminid meteors if conditions allow.  I will do some wide field photography on the peak night.  I can use the 16" scope in the observatory for the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction.  My friend and the observatory engineer will be coming up soon and we'll get to the bottom of the main scope problems.  Meanwhile we have lots of resources at the observatory.  Have a great Holiday Season!

Update 8-25-2020

The star party was a success!  The smoke from fires in the western US made the transparency poor, but the sky was free from clouds.  This did not put a damper on the enthusiasm of visitors who were amazed by the number of scopes brought to the observatory by the PVAO.  Guests got to see lots of different objects and asked lots of great questions.  They really enjoyed getting answers to those questions and said they would be back!  I hope to have another star party in the not too distant future.

Update 8-13-2020

HCOBS/PVAO Star Party!

Honey Creek Observatory and the Platte Valley Astronomical Observers will hold a star party which is open to the public - at no charge!  The event will take place on August 21st and/or 22nd starting at 9:00 PM - depending on the weather.    There will be lots of telescopes to look through and people to answer your questions.  This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the sky.  Social distancing is not a problem with this event.  Children (adult supervised) are welcome!  Directions to the observatory can be found on the "visit" page.

Please e-mail or call to lets us know you are coming so we know how many to plan for.  This event will be cancelled if the weather doesn't cooperate.  If you are not already subscribed to the observatory listserv, this is a good way to receive updates on the weather before the star party.  Better yet, the observatory has a text list.  Both of these lists are free and do not have spam or ads!  If you want to join either or both, just email mark.urwiller@gmail.com If you want to join the text list I need your phone number and cell provider.  (Each company has their own gateway address needed to sent the text to you.)

Below are photo maps showing where you can park. Here is a link to a pdf file on star party ettiquette.


Update 7-28-2020

All entries regarding the process of building the observatory have been moved and can be found here.  Last week the unofficial Nebraska Star Party occurred at Merritt Reservoir south of Valentine Nebraska.  There were several people there albeit a reduced amount from normal. The weather wasn't great for the week either, but I visited with several friends and got to talk "nerd talk" all week.  I had a great time!  Here are some photos from the week.


Update 6-21-2020

I have seen (Eastern) Bluebirds at my house in O'Neill, but never had any luck getting them to use the nestbox I put out for the last 3 years.  I knew there were Bluebirds at the observatory so I decided to move the box up there this spring.  When mowing a few weeks back I lifted the front door and was surprised to see Mama Bluebird sitting on a clutch of eggs.  She sat tight and I quickly shut the door.  This past week I decided to check on their progress.  There are 5 fledglings (one has its back to the camera).  Fortunately Mama was out getting them something to eat :)  It will be great to watch them around the observatory!

Update 6-14-2020

This weekend my oldest son James and his family came out from Ft. Calhoun to visit us.  We went up to the observatory to restore the wireless internet connection.  Our hosts changed the wireless system in the cabin and we ran cabling to adjust to it.  Everything works great now!  On Saturday 6-13-2020 I photographed the ISS crossing the face of the sun as seen from the observatory.  If you want to know how this was done, see the Photos Page!

Update 5-24-2020

Since my last posting managed to get a clear night to find a location for astrophotography with a portable mount near the observatory building.  I've marked spots for the tripod legs and will soon place large cans in the ground filled with cement for hard points.  This will allow relatively quick setup and polar alignment necessary for astrophotography.  I will photograph the new setup and post photos here once this job is completed.  The observatory also has a new telescope and it's a big one!  The main scope in the observatory has an aperture of 17.5" and the new one is 16".  It is the club scope of the Platte Valley Astronomical Observers and a place was needed to store it.  It's too big for one person to move.  Besides there's only one of me and I couldn't operate both big scopes at once.  I'm hoping to get the club to come up for some star parties.  We will discuss inviting the public, but we'll have to see how things develop on the Covid front too.  When the public is inevitably invited, visitors will be treated to several large scopes since one member of the group also owns a 16".  We have lots of "toys" to give you great views of the heavons!  I will also post a photo of this new telescopic occupant soon.

Update 4-26-2020

 It's been a long time since I have posted to this page.  I'll try to do a better job updating it.  I still have things to get done at the observatory, but there have been some interesting things accomplished.  Several months ago I was contacted by a gentleman from Atkinson who had recently lost his father.  He wanted to donate his father's "telescope".  It turned out it was not a telescope, but a very large pair of binoculars - 25 X 100mm!  Here is a photo to give your perspective as to their size. 

From Left to Right - my birding binoculars - Nikon Superior E 10 x 42mm.  Middle - Fujinon FMT-SX Polaris 10 x 70mm.  Right - Zhumell Tachyon 25 x 100mm.

The 2 binoculars on the left are far superior as to optical quality, but the 25 x 100mm's should give impressive views of wide field objects at the observatory.  The next problem was adapting these new binoculars to my suspension systems.  I already had one for my 10 x 70mm binos and my friend Jay Rasmussen had made an extra one to use for similar or smaller binoculars years ago.  These babies weigh in at 10 pounds and are twice the weight of my 10 x 70mm!  I also needed another large tripod capable of handling these.  When I told Bob Atkeson about the new binoculars he donated a very nice tripod that would work beautifully!  Jay then modified the top of the tripod to fit the suspension assembly and added more counterweight.  See photo below.

I am going to Kenesaw tomorrow to help Jay finish a platform which will help in doing astrophotography. I purchased a small guide scope this winter as well as a digital autoguider.  These along with a portable mount will allow tracking for wide field and telephoto astrophotos with digital SLRs.  The platform we are making will attach to the portable mount.  I will post photos of it after bringing it home tomorrow night.

Jay and I modified an off-axis guider I got from Germany before I left for Texas.  This device will allow photos through the main telescope.  This setup will create - depending on the camera I use - 40X or 64X magnification.  This will be great for star clusters, nebulae, or galaxies!  It will take a while for me to learn how to use all the ancillary equipment and software, but I'm looking forward to creating some wonderful astrophotos!

Several weeks ago I purchased a coma corrector for the main scope.  This optical device when used with an eyepiece allows for improved images of objects viewed with the telescope.  In the coming months I hope to update my 30 year old eyepieces to the new state of the art!


Update 10-22-2019

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 seem 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!

Update 9-27-2019

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.

Update 9-5-2019

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.

Update 8-30-2019

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.

Update 7-12-2019

Polar alignment was performed on the 17.5" Rasmussen last night.  This will be necessary for long exposure photos.

Perseid Meteor Viewing 8-12-2018

Event Photos Taken By Tom Shield of Kearney


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

scopes2.gif (7015 bytes)

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!

Information Available

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: mark.urwiller@tutanota.com or you can phone 308-293-5776

Keep Looking Around!

Mark Urwiller - Web Page Administrator

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