Observatory Project Update
The Thunder Bay Centre is pleased to be in partnership with Fort William Historical Park in the development of their David Thompson Astronomical Observatory. The automated 15′ observatory dome houses a world class 20″ CDK telescope and mount, as well as a top notch 5″ refracting telescope, that both deliver stunning views of the gems our universe provides.
The observatory opened for business on December 5. It is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday evenings from 7:30PM. Staff are busy entertaining 4-35 guests per night, as well as honing their skills with respect to the telescope operation, and CCD image acquisitions. The learning curve is a steep one for all that are involved. Congratulations to FWHP and the opening of the facility.
The observatory is undergoing final preparations for their December opening. According to officials at FWHP, the David Thompson Astronomical Observatory will be open for business on December 5. Landscaping is currently underway, as is final furnishing and preparation of the discovery centre. Staff is busy getting trained on the operation of the equipment, and putting final touches on educational materials and programs. October and so far the first part of November has not been so friendly for observing, as the clouds have seemed to be almost permanently fixed in the sky. We anxiously await the clear skies again so we can continue our imaging, and look forward to the opening of this great facility! Below are a couple of photos the first photos that are single 4 minute shots through the 20″ CDK. Many more like these will follow!
WOW, it been a busy summer. Sorry for the lack of updates over the summer but rest assured that there has been a lot of work that has been done.
Since the last update the classroom construction has been finished. FWHP is in the process of getting the furniture, desks, screens, display cabinets etc. all installed. The construction trailer that was acting as the control room is gone, and the new control room is operational. The SBIG CCD 6303 camera was finally installed on the 20″ Planewave.
The next steps are to become more familiar with the CCD operation, install the weather station, cloud detector, and all-sky camera. Landscaping around the area has also begun.
Here are a few pictures to wet your taste buds.
Well it’s been a while since the last update. Spring at the Observatory has not been overly busy for a number of reasons. The weather has certainly not been in our favour as of late, and neither has the amount of darkness. Increasing amounts of daylight mean that we need to start work at the observatory later than had been in the winter. FWHP does not always have staff available that late in the night to stay and get any decent amount of work done. This will soon change, as they transition into their summer programs, and there is staff there all evening.
Since was last reported, the classroom building has been worked on. It now has a roof, the electrical is roughed in, and the HVAC unit and ductwork are in place. Work continues on the inside. By the time you read this, there will be windows installed, and the drywall will have been started.
As far as the dome and telescope go, I am proud to announce that we finally got the pieces in the focal train to be able to get the Mallincam MCX to a proper focus on the 20″ telescope. On the last Saturday in April the pictures below were taken. Please keep in mind that the pictures posted here in no way represent what the image looked like on the 9″ Speco monitor (They were way better on screen). These are cell phone pictures of the 9″ monitor. All the pictures on the monitor were at a 56s exposure with the Mallincam (and a 1/4 moon too). Eventually these will be able to be captured direct to a PC, and they will be awesome to view live.
The next bit of work on the telescope, now that the Mallincam will focus in the 20″, is to properly polar align the telescope, and build a better model for the scope drive. We also need to start capturing pictures and video through the mallincam for presentation use during cloudy nights. At some point soon, all the cabelling will need to get moved from the temporary control room to the permanent control room.
January 8 – After being cloudy all day, we had a brief clear patch between 5 and 8 to get some serious work done. The finder scope was remounted on the main scope, and it was aligned with the telescopes. The 20″ Planewave mirror was finally revealed today, a beauty it was. We used Jupiter as the target to align everything to, but for some reason we couldn’t get the telescope to track when we were doing this, but we got it pretty close. We had also planned on using the Ronchi tester to ensure that the secondary mirror was at the right spacing from the primary, however we thought that we better figure out the tracking first, and play a bit more with the software that controls the telescope. Turned out this would take us the rest of the evening. We started using the software to try and “goto” different stars, but every time we tried one, the scope seemed to have a mind of it’s own and went off in a way different direction. After scratching our heads and going through the software settings a number of times – we finally came upon the problem. We had the RA motor plugs in the DEC ports, and the DEC plugs in the RA ports. DUH!! Well it was good that we caught this early in the game! Back to home position and lets start over again…slew to Vega in the west …and it actually went the right way….and landed to within 2-3 degrees. A quick adjustment and sync, and we were off to Deneb..bang – right there! We went to a few more stars, and had to sometimes use the scope handpad to adjust, but in the end we had a 7 point star model, and the telescope was tracking. Using this small amount of data, the computer was able to tell us that we were 2 degrees to the left and one degree down from being polar aligned. We adjusted the scope in Azimuth, but lacked the proper wrench to do the Altitude adjustment. By this point we were all a little chilly, and the wisps of clouds started to come in, so we decided to call it a night. We put all the caps back on everything, parked the telescope, and saved the model mount that we had just created so we can call it up the next time we go out to do more work. Next steps – refine polar alignment, get The SkyX working with the SciTech telescope program, and test out the mallincam.
Mount/Scope Installation – Late December
December 28 – Work in the last few weeks has been limited, here is a quick list of what has been done. Secondary scope and finder scope were mounted to primary, control cables were run through conduit to computer, foam matting was installed on concrete floor, red rope light was installed around bottom of dome, and software installation was completed. Now the fun part – trying to get the PC to talk to the mount. That’s the next challenge for the new year.
Mount/Scope Installation – Early December
December 5 – THE SCOPE IS UP!! Today the scope was delivered to site, uncrated and lifted up into it’s final resting place. It was kind of funny when we tightened the dovetail plate. Some people just didn’t think they should let go! It is a pretty daunting thought of that thing coming down on you. Once we got over that fear, the scope was given a primary balancing, and was wired up with power. We managed to get it working by hand control (once we figured out we plugged the DEC and RA axis leads into the wrong plugs), and the motors were very very quiet for a beast this size. Also did a bit more software installation, with a little bit more to go. It is a very impressive looking scope, lets hope it serves the public well for many years to come!
December 3 – Another successful day, today the pier was oriented and leveled, the mount and counterweights got installed, the observatory computer got moved out to the observatory, the dome controller was hooked up to the computer via serial port, the dome and shutter were trained, and remote communications with the control room PC was established. The new telescope was also viewed (in it’s crate) for the first time!
Dome Construction Day 3 – Dec 2, 2011
Today the dome was finished!! The dome is operational from the hand control inside of it. There are a few little quirks but nothing that can’t get ironed out in the future. Tomorrow the plan is to get the dome working through the computer and using the remote computer to operate it.
Dome Construction Day 2 – Dec. 1, 2011
DOME CONSTRUCTION DAY 1 – NOV 30, 2011
Mid-November 2011 Update
It has been a flurry of activity at the construction site over the last few weeks. Both the observing pad and the dome pad/pier are complete, and work has begun on the classroom/control room building. Arrangements have been made for the dome manufacturer to come up and assemble the dome at the end of the month.
Early November 2011 Update
Excavation for the new pier has begun! The goal before the snow flies is to have the concrete pier, dome pad, observing pad complete, as well as to get the dome built and functional. It is our understanding that the concrete pad for the classroom will also be poured this fall.
September 2011 Update
Demolition of the existing building has taken place, and tenders are currently out for the construction of the concrete pads.
August 2011 Update
The environmental assessment has finished, engineering drawings are near to completion, and tenders should shortly be going out for demolition, and concrete pad construction.
July 2011 Update
All of the equipment and the dome are on-site, in storage at FWHP. Because the project is on government property, it is subject to an Environmental Assessment, which is a process that has been ongoing. This has been completed, and needs to be posted publicly for a month.