Turner Farm Observatory – Sky & Telescope

May 21, 2019 - Comment

Beginner astronomer Jeffrey Kretsch tells how an area astronomical society turned a former Chilly Battle missile management website right into a thriving observatory park. Ready in line for a view of the Transit of Venus on June 5, 2012. Don Fowler For a few years, residents of Nice Falls, Virginia, drove by a authorities website

Beginner astronomer Jeffrey Kretsch tells how an area astronomical society turned a former Chilly Battle missile management website right into a thriving observatory park.

Line to see Transit of Venus, Turner Farm Observatory,

Ready in line for a view of the Transit of Venus on June 5, 2012.
Don Fowler

For a few years, residents of Nice Falls, Virginia, drove by a authorities website marked by a tower sporting an observatory dome. What precisely was it for? Most individuals needed to wait till the the mid-1990s, when the U.S. Division of Inside determined to make the land extra accessible to the general public, to seek out out.

The land supplied to the county was initially a dairy farm owned by a household named Turner. Throughout the 1950s, with the Chilly Battle menace of Soviet bombers to our nation’s capital, the positioning was chosen for a Venture Nike missile advanced that was a part of a hoop defending the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., metro space. The U.S. Military operated the missile management website between 1954 and 1961–62. (Solely a part of the Turner Farm was taken for the Venture Nike website; the remaining remained in operation as a dairy till 1969.)

In 1961, the advanced with its buildings and radar buildings was turned over to the U.S. Military Map Service, which established a analysis station and satellite tv for pc monitoring program there. Throughout the 1960s, the Map Service transformed one of many radar buildings to an observatory with an Ash dome and a 24-inch Ritchey-Chrétien telescope. In 1972, the satellite tv for pc monitoring program turned a part of the Protection Mapping Company (DMA). DMA efforts to precisely measure and mannequin Earth performed a vital position within the growth of the World Positioning System we use as we speak.

Herndon Nike Missile Battery W-83 Integrated Fire Control Site

Within the early 1990s, the previous Herndon Nike Missile Battery W-83 Built-in Fireplace Management Website was redeveloped as a public park that included an astronomical observatory.
U.S. Military / Public Area

Someday earlier than 1993, the yr the DMA website was closed and transferred to the U.S. Division of Inside, the observatory was additionally shut down and the 24-inch telescope despatched to the Apache Level Observatory in New Mexico. The observatory construction itself remained undisturbed.

Within the mid-1990s, the Division of Inside supplied the land to Fairfax County below the situation that it’s used for a park. On the time, Nice Falls was altering from a farming space to a well-to-do suburb with largely giant tracts. The well-spaced homes resulted in a comparatively low quantity of sunshine air pollution, making it the darkest website inside 30 miles of Washington, D.C. The residents of Nice Falls have been requested to find out doable makes use of for it. Charles Olin, a Nice Falls resident since 1971 who had developed deep ties with the group, noticed the potential for together with an astronomical observatory within the park plan.

Apparently, whereas a guided missile officer within the U.S. Marine Corps, Olin had skilled in a Nike missile program at Fort Bliss, Texas, so he was acquainted with the buildings on the positioning. In 1998, he gathered like-minded folks and fashioned the Analemma Society devoted to growth of the park as an observatory. The mission of the society was to foster consciousness and appreciation of science by means of astronomy for youngsters and adults.

Olin envisioned the theme of the park to be the idea of time and placement, and he shepherded the concept by means of an extended collection of public hearings. His efforts have been profitable and growth of an observatory was included within the grasp plan for the park.

The land was deeded to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) by the Division of Inside in 1999. The Analemma Society then joined a public-private partnership by means of a cooperative settlement with FCPA to develop Observatory Park on the Turner Farm. The location already included an observatory (constructed from a former radar tower), and one of many early initiatives by the Analemma Society was to switch the aged Ash dome with a brand new dome.

Dome resting on grass, Turner Farm

A brand new dome is ready to be put in at Turner Farm Observatory.
Robert Anderson

Turner Farm Observtory New Dome

Employees put together to elevate the dome to the highest of the observatory tower at Turner Farm.
Robert Anderson

Heading for dwelling.
Robert Anderson

Dome installed on tower at Turner Farm

Success! A brand new dome at Turner Farm.
Robert Anderson

The Analemma Society efforts additionally included growth of a Remotely Accessed Telescope Observatory (RATO) utilizing the constructing already standing on the positioning (subsequent to the previous radar tower). The roll-top observatory was funded by the 2008 Park Bond Referendum and funds for gear have been acquired from Jean and Ric Edelman and Analemma Society members, together with the household of Tom Lemke.

Turner Farm Observatory April 2019

A former radar construction, initially topped with an Ash dome, was given a brand new dome in 2010. Subsequent to the dome stands the roll-top Remotely Accessed Telescope Observatory (RATO), which was completed in 2016.

Telescopes within the observatory embrace an Astro-Physics 180-mm (7-inch) f/9 APO refractor, a Celestron C-11 f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT), and a Meade 14-inch f/10 SCT. The Analemma Society additionally plans to switch an current Eight-inch reflector with a 16-inch Meade Newtonian.

Jamestown Commemorative Sundial

The Jamestown commemorative sundial was put in in Observatory Park at Turner Farm in 2007.
Jeffrey Kretsch

For the reason that completion of the RATO in 2016, the Analemma Society has supervised the operation and use of the observatory and its school rooms. Along with the current buildings on the website, a sundial backyard is below growth. The Jamestown commemorative sundial has already been put in. It was added to the positioning in 2007 to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The subsequent sundial might be a mannequin of the Ibn al-Shatir sundial, which dates AD 1371, when it was positioned on the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. It is regarded as the earliest extant sundial utilizing a polar gnomon. This building offers equal hours on the dial. Ibn al-Shatir is acknowledged in regard to his contributions to astronomy, which predated these of Copernicus.

The present observing program consists of Friday evening classes (free to the general public), particular viewing occasions throughout eclipses and meteor showers, and a collection of courses managed by means of Fairfax County’s Parktakes program. The most well-liked actions contain households that deliver their youngsters to expertise the wonders of the sky by means of the 4 telescopes. Individuals are invited to deliver their telescopes to get assist setting them up and make the most of an open space to see the sky from horizon to horizon. The Analemma Society additionally helps native science actions equivalent to judging science gala’s and dealing with numerous scout teams for his or her Astronomy Advantage Badge actions.

Turner Farm Observatory

A younger customer explores the sky from RATO.
Jeffrey Kretsch

For the quick future, the subsequent main mission for the Analemma Society at Turner Farm is creating the RATO to permit use by teams for observing. Moreover the direct visible viewing at the moment supplied by the observatory’s scopes, the hope is to offer youngsters with a possibility to manage a telescope remotely. Observing from a distant location, like a classroom, they might see the dome open and rotate. The telescope would transfer electronically to the item they choose to watch, and they might see its picture type on their laptop display.

Crimson lights on! An evening of observing within the roll-top observatory is underway.
Jeffrey Kretsch

Though the positioning is not as darkish because it was one, due to native inhabitants progress, its proximity to the that very same inhabitants encourages many individuals to go to and expertise the sky. Already, some youngsters who participated within the Friday evening classes have grown as much as grow to be astronomers. Many had their first publicity to science by means of Observatory Park and the RATO.

— Jeffrey Kretsch

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