The Ashton Observatory
The purpose of this page is to provide context for many of the astrophotographs that I have produced and displayed on this Web site. Although the pencil sketch rendering of the Palomar Observatory suggests that I operate from a rather grand observatory, I have nothing of the kind at my disposal. The Ashton Observatory at Johnson Farms is in fact, mostly a flat piece of ground at the western edge of my back yard. The only development that is semi-permanent is a bench, and an alignment board. Everything else is dragged out of the nearby cottage at the beginning of an observing session, and dragged back indoors when I am dogged tired and frozen after staying up too late. I have a clear view of the horizon down to about 35° in every direction except for the east, which is blocked by a huge, beautiful oak tree. I have the capability to run an electrical extension cord to run the mount, camera and laptop for more lengthy observing sessions, and I have Wi-Fi access to the home Internet router. I hope to build a more permanent observatory someday. Perhaps a modest 10' x 10' shed-like structure with a roll-off roof, and a cement pier to support the telescope mount will do. With the telescope "permanently" installed and aligned, the drudgery of set up and take down time will no longer keep me from getting out with the telescope.
Observatory Site Overview
The first contextual image that I offer is the flat piece of back yard. Farthest away from the camera is a bench, and just in front of the bench is the alignment board. Other than that, just a hemlock bush, a fence, and flat back yard.
Next I offer the alignment board. The purpose of the board is to aid in getting a close alignment of the telescope mount. After aligning the mount on this board, I usually find Polaris within a degree of "perfect" alignment when it gets dark enough to see Polaris in the alignment scope. This is a time saver for me, and it results in a pretty good daytime rough alignment for solar observing.
The alignment board is simply a 42" long piece of pine 2" x 4" set on edge in the ground, and aligned to true north. I started the alignment process by looking up the exact time of "local noon" for my location. The implication of "local noon," is that the Sun is at its highest and southernmost point in the sky for a given day. Any shadow cast by a vertical post at local noon points to true north. I erected a vertical post on September 30th, 2013, and put a temporary marker along the edge of the shadow at the designated time. I then dug a 4"-deep trench, and set the board into the ground.
Site Set for Observing
Finally, I offer a late afternoon image of the site set up and waiting for darkness to fall. In this view, the TeleVue NP101 is the main scope, and the Vixen Sf80 is the piggyback guide scope. I have the Canon EOS 60Da mounted on the main scope, and a Celestron NexImage 5 on the guide scope. The mount is my Losmandy GM-8, and you may notice the laptop on the table set up for image capture. The alignment board can be seen extending from the northern (leftmost) tripod leg toward the right. The long shadow falling away from me as I snapped the photograph indicates that the view is to the east.
Clear Sky Chart
(Click chart image for full details)