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The 3towers Observatory:
The History of a Modest Suburban Observatory

by Tim Hunter

I. The Grasslands Observatory: availability versus observing conditions

Over the years, I have been the proud owner of three observatories. The Grasslands Observatory, was established in 1987. It is located on 20 acres of land at a very dark site an hour's drive from Tucson. The observatory has a 24-inch telescope, and it is a wonderful facility. However, because of its remote location, it is not used as much as it could be. Work gets in the way of my hobbies; staying up all night observing or doing CCD imaging at the Grasslands Observatory is not compatible with being gainfully employed the next day.

The enjoyment of an observatory is usually a direct function of its availability. If it is readily available, an observatory is more likely to be used and enjoyed. A small telescope in a modest observatory in ones backyard, even though it has a limited horizon and a sky compromised by light pollution, often is far more enjoyable and productive than a large telescope at a fancy observatory out of town.

It is amazing what one can do with a lot of persistence. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of deep sky objects easily observable with a small telescope from in town, not to mention the Moon, the Sun, and the Planets. There are thousands of splendid double stars and hundred of variable stars that can be monitored from in town. Personally, I am far more likely to use a telescope permanently set up in my yard than I am to drive out of town to use a large telescope at a dark site.

With a home observatory, one can go out and observe for a few minutes, come in and have dinner, watch TV, go back out and observe some more, come inside for a snack, and even go to bed, leaving the observatory open and ready for an important 4:00am observation. If you want to make a short ten or twenty minute observation one evening, it is easy with a home observatory. There is no hassle. You are unlikely to do this if you have to drive out of town, or if you have to go out to your garage to get your portable equipment, drag it outside, set it up, observe, break down the equipment, and transport it back to the garage.

Now there is nothing wrong with a large telescope used at a dark site whether the telescope is permanently housed in an observatory or whether it is a large portable Dobsonian telescope. Large telescopes combined with dark skies cannot be beat for sure pleasure, and they are requisite for observing and photographing faint objects. But for everyday, no hassles observing, a home observatory is the way to go. An observatory in ones yard or as part of ones house cannot be beat. It is always available, and it only takes 5 minutes of minimal work to remove the telescope covers and open the dome or roll-off roof. There is no long drive and no lugging of heavy, clumsy telescope parts to set up a portable system.

Nowadays there is internet access to remote observatories for a fair price, and if one is willing to expend the resources, a remotely operated observatory can be established. This is not inexpensive, and it necessitates someone on-site or readily available to fix problems as they arise. Or, one has to be ready for a long drive in the middle of the night when equipment becomes inoperable at a remote observatory. There is probably nothing worse for an observatory owner than having a roll-off roof that refuses to close when a rainstorm is threatening. Nevertheless, having remote control of an observatory is wonderful, even if the observatory is in your own backyard.

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