Observing Sites

Dark-Sky sitesHome siteMiscellaneous sitesEquipment used

Central Oregon dark-sky sites

Desert sunsetMany of the images on this site were taken at one of two dark-sky locations in the Central Oregon high desert. The Oregon high desert has some of the darkest skies in the nation, rivaling those of the desert Southwest. The Pacific Northwest weather, however, makes these dark skies unusable for part of the year. Both of these sites are beyond the reach of the power grid, so with no lights at night, it is incredibly dark. I have been involved with astronomy since I was eleven years old, but I have a hard time distinguishing some of the constellations because they are crowded with so many stars that I usually don't see! The desert terrain is flat horizon to horizon, and at over 4000 feet elevation, there is almost a mile less air to look through.



2005-2013

Initially I was part of a site south of the town of Prineville, abbreviated ARGO, for Astronomical Research Group of OregonI had a small shed, about 8 feet by 10 feet, that contains a desk for computer equipment, a chair, and a cot for resting during the day. South of the shed is a concrete pad with a pier for the telescope, and all wires to the scope travel through underground conduit from the shed to the pier. It gets quite cold in the desert at night, and being able to image from inside is quite helpful. This photo shows my shed, with the telescope out front, protected from the searing daytime heat. Notice the cooler on the ground next to the car. With only enough solar-generated electricity to run the computers and telescopes, refrigeration, as is air-conditioning, is out of the question. Since the sheds often get hotter inside than out during the middle of the day, the cooler with food and drink gets left outside, moving from shadow to shadow as the sun moves across the sky.

Here is a view inside the shed, showing me all set up for a night's imaging. The cables from the telescope can be seen connecting to the laptop at extreme left. The laptop runs my image acquisition program on the main screen and my astromomy charting program on the secondary screen. A second copy of the image acquisition program and my photo-editing programs run on the second computer, so I can work on images as they come in from the CCD camera.

Here is a view of my telescope all set up for image, demonstrating the mass of wires that I try to keep from getting tangled through the night.



And here's me.


Sunset over the hillSunsets in the desert can be quite beautiful, as seen here.





The weather can also be quite unusual. On one of the few cloudy days I have experienced there, I witnessed a small hole break in the clouds just as the sun was setting. A brilliant ray of sunshine shot through the hole, looking like some sort of science fiction movie alien death ray. Moments later, it wass gone. Within the next couple of hours, the sky completely cleared, and we all enjoyed a full night of imaging.



Rainbows are also quite common; this shot shows a double rainbow over our southern horizon.

Desert jack rabbitThe desert offers quite a bit of wildlife. Jack rabbits live under the sheds and out in the sage brush. All sorts of birds are heard during the day, and coyotes throughout the night. This little creature was basking outside my front step one morning, with many more like it in the bush. My daughters have named him "Stripey-White".



2013 - present

Roll-off roof observatorySince 2013 I have had this roll-off roof observatory farther out into the desert, near Christmas Valley. Being further from any large cities than ARGO, the sky here at night is even darker, allowing for imaging of even fainter objects. Not only that, but at this site the telescope is protected from the elements. The front half of this observatory is the living quarters, similar to the ARGO site. But the back half of the building houses the telescope, protecting it from the heat of day, wind-blown dust, rain and the occasional hail storm. As soon as the sun sets, the elevated roof slides forward, over the living quarters, to open up the telescope half to the night sky. In the morning, or in the event of a sudden shower, the roof is simply rolled back closed, leaving the telescope ready for the next night's imaging.

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Home site

My second observing location is from my home in Corvallis, Oregon. The two locations couldn't be more different. Whereas I have a 360 degree clear horizon at the desert, I live on the border of a state forest. My north, east and west horizons are completely occluded by trees, up to an elevation of 75 - 80 degrees. I have a 30 degree break in the trees at the southern horizon, allowing me two hours of imaging in that direction. Other than that, it's straight up. Living on a mountain several miles north of the city, it's fairly dark, although nowhere near as dark as the desert. This shot shows my home southern horizon. I won't bother showing the rest, as it's all trees.

The telescope sits out on our deck. I used to have to run the wires in through the dining room window, and set up the computers on the dining room table. This got pretty cold in the winter, though. My ever-patient and understanding wife permitted me to drill a small hole in the wall further down the house, and run the wires through a junction box mounted on the side of house. A removable wall plate in the family room hides their entrance into the house, and with light-blocking shades installed on the south side of the house, I can now image year-round in the comfort of our family room.

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Miscellaneous sites

A few of the images were taken at various other miscellaneous locations. Some of the earlier solar system images were taken from my previous backyard in Pasadena, California. The 2003 image of Mars was taken from atop Mt. Wilson in Pasadena, home of the famous 60 and 100 inch reflectors. It was quite an interesting juxtaposition, standing in the shadow of the huge and famous 100" telescope with my little C8, both imaging Mars together!

A few were taken in Lockwood Valley, Frazier Park, California, the dark-sky site of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, about ninety miles north of Los Angeles. The 1991 solar eclipse image was taken in Playa del Rincon, on the west coast of Mexico.

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Equipment

Most of the nebula, galaxy and cluster images were obtained with my Celestron 8 inch SCT. My main imager is an SBIG ST2000XM CCD camera. Most of the images are obtained at f6.3, using a 0.63 focal reducer. Images of very small planetary nebula and galaxies are obtained at f10, without the focal reducer. I use Astrodon LRGB filters in an SBIG filter wheel. Focusing is done using a Robofocus. I use CCDSoft for image acquisition, reduction and alignment, then produce color images in Photoshop. Telescope control is done with Software Bisque's TheSky 6.

For wide-field images, I mount a 180mm Nikon lens on the CCD camera in place of the telescope.

Some of the brighter, large objects (such as the Sun and Moon) were imaged using a Nikon D100 DSLR with a 200mm telephoto lens. Images were processed directly in Photoshop. Some of the older SLR images (Comet Hale-Bopp, the solar eclipse in Mexico), were taken with a totally manual Minolta XG-1 camera with 400ASA film. The negatives were scanned, and the images processed in Photoshop.

Recent planetary images were taken using the C8 telescope, barlow lenses of 2x, 3x and 4x power, and an Imaging Source DMK 23U618 monochrome video camera, filter wheel and Astonomik red, green and blue filters. My telescope with a 4x PowerMate barlow has an effective focal length of 8000mm at f40. Video was acquried using IC Capture, and processed using WinJuPos, AutoStakkert2 and Registax. Combining and final tweaking of the images was done in Photoshop. Older planetary images were taken using a ToUCam 740 Pro color webcam. An infra-red pass filter, or various color filters were used for luminance data, and an IR-UV blocking filter was used for the chrominance data. Video was acquried using K3CCDTools, and processed using Registax. Combining and final tweaking of the images was done in Photoshop. The oldest planetary images were obtained using a SAC-IIIc single-shot color camera was used.

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