Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chiracauhua Astronomy Complex Grand Opening

Price Ranch and Perseus intersection
"Eat more chicken"
This past Saturday night, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) held the grand opening to show off the completed "phase 2a" construction of the new Chiracauhua Astronomy Complex (CAC).   I had wanted to take my telescopes to some dark skies this weekend, so on Friday afternoon I packed up and headed to the site one night early.  I had checked the weather forecast and while there was a slight chance of thundershowers each night, Friday looked to be most promising.  As I approached the CAC, I was met by the official bovine sentries, who upon seeing all the gear I was hauling, decided to let me pass unharmed.  Here are a few quick images of what has taken shape under the dark skies of Cochise County.  In hindsight I should have taken pictures of the amphitheater, the 18 inch dobsonian, and the inside of the observatory, but perhaps I can add some images to this post if any of the TAAA folks in attendance would like to share (Keith...are you listening?)

At left, you can see my scope cooling down on Friday night when I was alone at the site.  The sky was incredible and if I had a decent camera (and knew how to use it), I could have taken some amazing images.  Below left, is a picture of the roll off roof observatory that houses the new C14 and AP1200 mount donated by Wally Rogers.  The picture is taken from the amphitheater looking southwest.  In the background you can see some of the new member observing pads.  In the picture at right, you can see that there are ten of these pads, each measuring 12 x 12 with electricity.  This is a great size for a pad as there is ample room for a large telescope, a table and two or three chairs.  At one point, I had two telescopes set up on my pad, and still had room for all my gear.  The pads are spaced several feet apart, with just enough room to navigate but close enough that you can still chat with your neighbors without having to shout.  As you can see in the picture, we filled up all 10 pads on Saturday night for the grand opening.

Click to enlarge
In terms of observing, Friday night was excellent, with transparency around 9/10.  Using my 12 inch SCT I observed many objects, and made a sketch of comet 2009 P1 Garradd.  I have observed and sketched this comet several times over the past month, and this was the first time that I was able to detect streams in the tail.  The sketch at right was completed at 0320 UT on September 24th.

Overall, despite getting clouded out early on Saturday, it was a fun weekend at a great astronomy complex.  Kudos to everyone in the TAAA that had a hand in the development of the CAC.  Not only are the skies excellent, but having access to an observatory housed 14 inch telescope, restrooms, showers, and observing pads with power make for an amateur astronomers dream.

Update...below is an image of the attendees preparing for "first light" of the clubs new 18 inch Obsession Telescope...Thanks to Bill Lofquist for this image.

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