About the Observatory

As mentioned elsewhere I am in a very isolated part of the northern Minnesota woods on the southern edge of the Paul Bunyan State Forest. To get to me you take several gravel roads, each narrower and slower than the one before. The last one is only a bit over a kilometer to reach me. The image below shows this road in. It is one of the better sections. It is barely wide enough for one car so if you meet a work or garbage truck it is bigger than you so you know who backs up, sometimes for a half kilometer. Normally we get a few “what’s this road go to” visitors, they have to back up unless they are bigger than my full-size pickup. I have to maintain the road and also blow it clear of snow in winter. Due to the trees right to the road’s edge much of the way there’s no place to push snow too with a blade, I use a 5 foot wide 26 horsepower blower on the front of my cab type ATV so can easily do it in one pass down and back. But that means don’t leave in winter as if there’s a bad snowstorm blocking the road (we’ve had two 1 meter storms and many not much less) you are walking in for the kilometer in very deep snow and the road has a 25% grade in two places. Not something you want to do so we rarely go anywhere come winter unless the weather forecast is unusually good and then I drive the ATV down to the end of the road, chain it to a tree so if need be I can use it to get in.

If you reach me this is the view from the deck leading to the observatory. It is accessible only from the deck which has no outside stairs. Notice there’s no one out there. This is a summer image so no docks or other sign of anyone as there is no one out there. The land you see is either part of the Paul Bunyan State Forest or in a trust that prevents any development of any kind. Back taxes must be paid if the trust is broken plus interest, since many miles of shoreline is involved this would take over a million dollars today so it won’t happen. While the land in the center of the picture looks like an island it’s not an island. The land on the left however is. This is even more confusing from lake level. I even had a game warden stop me, hand me a map and say “I’m not lost but can you show me where we are on this map?” One look at the map and I answered “No.” That almost got me a citation. I finally said the map only covers two townships, the lake covers 4 and you are not in the right two and well off the map. I did show him how to get back on the map. I hope he made it. He started in the right direction and turned down the right channel at least.

The observatory from ground level with the roof, over 3 meters up open. The lower level is a fish cleaning area and for storage of things that don’t mind being frozen in winter. Working around the pier going up to the telescope can cause a few bumps and bruises until you get used to its presence. The door at the top of the steps from the deck to the telescope level is only 5.5 foot high to keep the walls as low as possible. That was the smallest one anyone around here stocked. Forget to duck and you see stars even in the daytime. Most only need one “reminder” and duck after that.

This is the 14″ LX200R, cameras, and me. The STL-11000XM is the silver one while the black one is an even older ST7-EX used for photometric work. I do have to go out and move a mirror to use it. Note behind it a small mirror. This is part of the safety interlock that prevents the roof from rolling if the scope isn’t parked.

This is my operator’s position inside the house. The computer has since been replaced with a slightly better one after the motherboard in this one died. It served me well for several years but its small screen became claustrophobic so rather than replace the motherboard I went for a new one with a larger screen and more pixels. It has been in use for about 9 years and working great. It controls everything from when it’s dark enough and cloud free enough to open the roof, to what on the to-do list is best positioned. It opens the roof two hours before it is dark enough to image to let things come to temperature. Then it fires up the camera, the mount, the dew heater and focuser. Once dark enough it focuses the image then slews to the first night’s object. Takes the data rechecking focus every 30 minute or filter change. Once done it records a log entry, scratches the object from the to-do list and moves on to the next whatever is in position. I don’t even have to be home. Getting the data is easy if the weather cooperates which it did for some years. At one point I had 188 images still waiting for me to find time to process them. Then the weather turned and I no longer have much of a backlog. Maybe 4 or 5 when the weather is “good”. Even the computer in the picture could do this and it had only 1G of memory and a 100G hard drive. The replacement has 2G of memory and 1T of memory. Both are XP machines with no internet access. Control software is homebrew specific to my equipment. It communicates to the observatory via USB and class 5. With class 5 throughout the house, I can operate from the living room or bedroom as well as elsewhere as needed.

See Designing My Remote Observatory for more details.