Squirrel Valley Observatory MPC-W34 is a privately owned roll off roof observatory located in the foothills of western North Carolina. Major construction was completed in the summer of 2015 with equipment upgrades continuing to be made for private research and astrophotography. The observatory is the culmination of a life long dream. In September of 2016 the IAU Minor Planet Center assigned the observatory code, W34, to Squirrel Valley Observatory for it’s endeavors in the tracking and detection of minor planets, including hazardous asteroids and other Near Earth Objects. We were recently awarded the Planetary Societies 2019 Shoemaker NEO Grant for our work in near earth asteroid studies.
The primary mission of the observatory is astrometric research (the detection, confirmation and tracking of minor planets,ie hazardous asteroids, near earth objects, comets, and other various types of asteroids) and astrophotography work. The observatory sends astrometric data to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center on a regular basis, where is it used to help refine orbit predictions of various minor planet bodies. Each month the results are published in the minor planet circular. Additional research such as generating light curves for some of the larger exoplanets has also been carried out.
Our primary optical telescopes for the first 3 years have been rather modest in size, (a Celestron EdgeHD8 an Explore Scientific CF 127mm triplet refractor and an Explore Scientific 102mm triplet refractor). With the addition of sensitive imaging cameras they can be used to detect, track and image very faint objects. The observatory recently upgraded to a larger Celestron EdgeHD14 with a heavier duty Losmandy G11GT mount. The upgrade to the 14″ Aplanatic Schmidt Cassegrain was made possible by Celestron CEO Corey Lee. Our default configuration is an imaging setup used for asteroid astrometry and astrophotography. It is anticipated that minor planet astrometry, supernova detection and exoplanet research will continue to be the primary types of research conducted for the foreseeable future. Today even small facilities such as this are able to make important contributions to astronomical research.
The Celestron EdgeHD scope (14″ aplanatic schmidt-cassegrain), tracks the sky via the Losmandy G11GT/Gemini 2 system mount. This mount is in turn secured to a 12″ steel pier, bolted to an isolated concrete pier/footer. This setup minimizes much of the vibrations that are detrimental to long exposure imaging. An auto-guider system is also used to provide for even longer exposures. An Explore Scientific 102mm triplet refractor is also available for field work on a portable Celestron AVX mount.
The primary and secondary scope can be computer controlled from the observatory and from inside the connected warm room in my home.
Additional portable telescopes are stored in the observatory. They include a homemade 10″ f5.6 reflecting telescope which is currently in a dobsonian mount configuration (grab and point). It is awaiting some upgrades and much needed maintenance. The remaining instrument is a small, highly portable Meade ETX 80mm short tube refractor on a Meade goto mount. This is used as a grab and go scope for the brightest of objects and is not intended for serious imaging or research. There is also a Celestron 3″ “FirstScope tabletop reflector available for hands on public educational purposes.
The facility also houses a small real time weather station which is available online 24/7.
The observatory is funded primarily by the owner.
Director/Operator/Janitor: Randy L. Flynn