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.
The primary purpose of the observatory is astrometric research (the detection 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 almost daily to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, 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 constructing light curves for some of the larger exoplanets has also been carried out.
The primary optical telescopes are rather modest in size, (a Celestron EdgeHD8 and an Explore Scientific CF 127mm triplet refractor), but with the addition of sensitive imaging cameras they can be used to detect, track and image very faint objects. Each can be configured for planetary and deep sky imaging as well as visual observations. This setup is in an imaging configuration at least 90% of the time for now. This configuration allows for far better results to the eye, but at the cost of more time processing images for final review. With the advancements in noise reduction and the increased sensitivity of today’s CCD and CMOS cameras, the time spent imaging may soon relax somewhat and also offer the opportunity for near real time imaging, similar to a video feed. Many facilities are already doing this. 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 modest contributions to astronomical research.
The EdgeHD scope is an 8″ aplanatic schmidt-cassegrain, and the 127mm refractor is normally saddled to the EdgeHD main tube, which tracks the sky using a Losmandy G11/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 available for field work on a portable AVX mount.
The primary and secondary scope can be computer controlled from the observatory and from inside 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 and 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 relies solely on funding by the owner.
Director/Operator/Janitor: Randy L. Flynn