Dr. Lorann Parker shows off LX 200 mounting system. (Photos by Douglas W. Motley)
Members of Boy Scout Troop 89 at work on a new sign at Astronomy Village, which is an Eagle Scout project coordinated by Rim High School senior Devon Stewart (right foreground).
Canis Major (the “Dog Constellation”) as seen on Dr. Parker’s cell phone.
The Star Gazer Gift Shop has an amazing assortment of educational toys, books, hobbyist telescopes and other science-related items for sale.
Mountain Skies telescope gets an important upgrade
By DOUGLAS W. MOTLEY
Dr. Lorann Parker, Ph.D, D.Sc, president of the Mountain Skies Astronomical Society (MSAS), invited The Alpine Mountaineer to the society’s Astronomy Village, located on a hilltop adjacent to Rim High School, on Sept. 26 to get a look at a recent upgrade to the nonprofit organization’s 17.2-inch, custom-designed Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
The state-of-the-art 22-foot observatory, which houses a research-grade telescope that is utilized by graduate-level university students from throughout the country, as well as K-12 students and the general public, is also host to a classroom, library and the Stargazer’s Gift Shop, which offers many unusual educational and scientific items related to our solar system and beyond.
Noting that only two of these observatories were made, the one at Mountain Skies and another in Australia, where this one was manufactured, then shipped to California. “The Robert Brownlee Observatory was manufactured in Australia by Sirius Observatories, shipped here in August of 2000 and assembled on its concrete pad by MSAS staff members Dillon Ross and Alex Parker, who completed construction of the building and its solar-powered, rotating, fiberglass dome in September of 2000,” Dr. Parker said.
According to Parker, the telescope gets an upgrade about every five years or so. The latest one is a mechanism that uses GPS to tell where it is located now in relation to objects it is looking for in the solar system and beyond. She said its $25,000 to $30,000 cost was paid for by services rendered from several college campuses, such as the University of Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford, New York University and Colorado University, that have sent graduate students here, some of whom are majoring in high energy particle physics, astrophysics and astronomy.
“The telescope is equipped with an LX 200 mounting system that more accurately tracks whatever you are focusing on. It was developed by retired engineer George DuDash,” Parker said, likening it to a flat-screen television, as opposed to an old-fashioned cathode-ray TV. In addition, the telescope’s mirror was replaced with one that goes edge-to-edge to keep focused on the center of an object. “It has all the bells and whistles,” she added.
Much of the observatory is operated from Dr. Parker’s cell phone. At one point during the walk-through of the observatory, she demonstrated how she uses her cell phone apps to operate the lighting, the rotating of the observatory dome and the opening and closing of its huge view windows. One such app allows her to point her cellphone skyward in bright daylight to observe solar flares on the sun’s surface, as well as distant stars and constellations, such as Orion and Canis Major.
The next evening presentation, “Exploring the Known Universe,” is slated for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29. Check their website www.mountain-skies.org for dates of other future evening programs.
Dr. Parker said she needs more science-minded MSAS members and volunteers, as well as a gardener to maintain the property’s lush vegetation.
Before leaving the observatory and Astronomy Village, Dr. Parker showed us the colorful new sign identifying Mountain Skies Astronomy Village that was painted as an Eagle Scout project coordinated by Boy Scout Troop 89 and Eagle Scout candidate Devon Stewart, who is a Rim High School senior. “I’ve been wanting this for 20 years!” exclaimed Parker.