Las Brisas Observatory: 37 Years and Counting

April 16, 2019 - Comment

Novice astronomer Paul Signorelli asks: Can a $400 observatory constructed from outdated transport crates and a dome driving on golf balls stand up to the tough atmosphere of the Rocky Mountains for nearly 4 a long time? Las Brisas Observatory, with the “Administration Constructing” within the background.Paul Signorelli Certainly it could possibly, as proven by


Novice astronomer Paul Signorelli asks: Can a $400 observatory constructed from outdated transport crates and a dome driving on golf balls stand up to the tough atmosphere of the Rocky Mountains for nearly 4 a long time?

Las Brisas Dome and Administration Building

Las Brisas Observatory, with the “Administration Constructing” within the background.
Paul Signorelli

Certainly it could possibly, as proven by the stalwart nature of the Las Brisas Observatory (LBO), Colorado. Inbuilt 1982 as a subject station with very restricted services (there is not any one in residence there), LBO has been in operation for nearly 4 a long time. The observatory is positioned on the outdated Spanish “Las Brisas Ranch,” ten miles west of Pikes Peak, Colorado, at an elevation of Eight,550 toes. “Las Brisas” interprets to “The Breezes” in English, and this outdated ranch has actually robust ones!

Letter to the Editor Telescope Making 1984

Las Brisas Observatory was described by its unique proprietor, Alan Raycraft, within the Spring 1984 situation (No. 22) of Telescope Making.

The modest LBO construction, constructed by Alan Raycraft out of outdated plywood transport packing containers, is 12 toes in diameter and 12 toes tall. The dome is manufactured from skinny Masonite that rides on 100 (at present) 37-year-old golf balls. This distinctive design was tailored from J. Hedley Robinson’s chapter on observatory domes in Patrick Moore’s Astronomical Telescopes and Observatories for Amateurs, revealed in 1973.

Contained in the observatory stands a 14-inch Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and an Eight-inch Schmidt digicam mounted on a big concrete pier. The partitions, in contrast, don’t have any footings; they’re sitting at grade and are literally frozen to the bottom throughout winter. Lesson realized: An observatory constructed with no basis is quickly to be ruined.

Fixing the C14 from a ladder.

The dome seems modest from the skin, however the pier is tall sufficient to make repairing the C14 a problem in steadiness and suppleness.
Paul Signorelli

The Rocky Mountain temperature biking has exploded just a few golf balls through the years, delaminated among the plywood, and cracked among the glued braces. The bottom winter temperature on the web site is normally –20°F, however in 2015, a low temperature of –51°F was recorded in an adjoining valley. Even among the electronics have been broken by the –20°F to +80°F diploma biking. After 40 years (over 14,000 cycles) that is to be anticipated, and total, LBO’s situation stays good. It has been swamped in a flood, evacuated for a forest hearth, and survived heavy winds that destroyed a close-by modular house. Hail has broken the Masonite dome, however repairs have saved it water tight. Nonetheless standing!

The observatory is unheated, however the chilly temperatures are compensated for by carrying World Warfare II-era F1 pilots’ fits, electrically heated. When you’re not accustomed to the fits, watch the the 1944 documentary The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress in regards to the B-17 bomber. The fits will also be seen at this WWII Uniforms and Flight Gear web site. As soon as once I was troubleshooting a wiring downside in a swimsuit, I requested my spouse to place it on so I might discover the place the wire had damaged. That was the final time she ever wore it — the damaged wire will get scorching when it fails!

The LBO’s “Administration Constructing” (a 21-foot trailer) does have warmth and a humidifier. The subzero temperatures and low humidity at this altitude are laborious in your lungs. There is no want for a fridge, after all; as a substitute we’ve a “scorching field” to maintain issues from freezing.

The Celestron 14-inch has a Lumicon Large Simple Guider for F6 operation. The LBO’s Eight-inch Schmidt digicam has been make out of date by Celestron’s Fastar system and the Rowe-Ackermann Schmidt Astrograph, nevertheless it’s nonetheless getting used. The Schmidt digicam brings all the sunshine into give attention to a curved floor, so it could possibly’t be imaged on a flat CCD detector. Our major astrophotography work nonetheless makes use of movie. Kodak has began to provide Ektachrome E100 movie once more and it is fairly good. The uncovered movie is shipped off to The Darkroom Photograph Lab, the place it is developed and uploaded to the online. I can get a number of 85 MB digital footage from movie for $30. This works for me since I don’t have a digital digicam.

I used to hypersensitize my movie however ran out of Forming Gasoline (92% nitrogen, Eight% hydrogen), so I have never been in a position to try this for a very long time. Once I tried to purchase extra Forming Gasoline and talked about hydrogen, the suppliers take a look at me suspiciously and declined to provide me any. They most likely known as Dwelling Land Safety after I left!

Halley's Comet

Halley’s Comet on January 2, 1986, as photographed from LBO utilizing hypered Kodak Tech Pan 2415 movie.
Paul Signorelli

We have seen (and photographed) some gorgeous sights from LBO through the years. As an example, we have noticed all of the comet greats prior to now 37 years. In 1986, we braved +10°F temperatures to watch Halley’s Comet. Hyakutake (C/1996 B2) placed on an epic present in 1996 and Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) adopted it up in 1997. Comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) revealed its wonderful tail for our colour movie because it handed close to the Pleiades in 2005. Halley’s is about to go again towards Earth now, however LBO and I received’t be right here for this half of its orbit!

Comet Hyakutake 1996

The long-period Comet Hyakutake (C/1996 B2) as photographed from LBO in 1996.
Paul Signorelli

Comet Machholz in 2005

Comet Machholz handed close to the Pleiades open star cluster on January 6, 2005.
Paul Signorelli

Light shield

The Cripple Creek on line casino introduced gentle air pollution to a beforehand darkish locale. Mild shields manufactured from plywood, like this 16-foot-tall one, have been erected across the observatory to protect observing circumstances.
Paul Signorelli

When LBO first went into operation, there was little or no gentle air pollution within the space. In 1991, the Cripple Creek, Colorado, playing operation started and it introduced new properties to the realm. Neighbors’ yard lights have been shining proper into the telescope optics, so we erected gentle shields: four×Eight-foot plywood sheets positioned about 100 toes from the observatory. The Eight-foot width of the protect can produce a 12-foot shadow. A number of are 15 to 20 toes excessive, mounted on four×four’s.

A sky cam over LBO exhibits stars all the way down to  4th magnitude. It’s also possible to take a web-based video tour of LBO, full with golf balls (observatory protection begins on the 5:20 mark). If you wish to come to Colorado and watch the celebrities, be certain and take a look at the Rocky Mountain Star Stare (June 26–30, 2019).

Carpe Noctem!



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