A Second Dome for the Grand Mesa Observatory!

After months of on-site preparation and weeks of transportation coordination, the Grand Mesa Observatory has finally taken delivery of our brand new SkyShed PodMax observatory dome! This behemoth came all the way down from Canada, and after being unloaded from the freight truck (where it was packed in with a lifetime supply of peanut butter) the 12.5ft-wide dome found its final resting location on GMO’s most-recently-poured concrete pad. We are still piecing together all of the gear the will be housed inside the dome, but GMO will be working with a coalition of scientists from universities all around the country to prepare the instrumentation package for proper academic use. At the moment this system will likely be centered around a 16" Ritchey-Chretien optical tube which will be loaded on a Paramount ME, and the imaging package will be built around one of the brand new FLI4040 cameras. As we continue to grow it is likely that the setup will too, but luckily there is plenty of headroom with the SkyShed Pod as the dome itself has a 44" slot that opens 22" past zenith to allow for a scope up to 32" in diameter! 

The goal of this facility will differ from that of our main astroimaging facility, with the primary aim here being to provide an easily-accessible, research-grade system to various educational institutions and organizations free of charge. The dome will work on an appointment-based system that will ultimately grow in to a proposal based application as the dome's user-base increases. This system will be capable of conducting a wide array of tasks from photometry to spectroscopy to classical astrophotography, but other applications would not be unwelcome if you know of a team with more specific needs. By providing such powerful tools to our team members it is the hope of GMO that these scientists will be able to conduct better research, in less time, and with less red tape than would be found with typical University-grade setups. In many cases we will also just be providing the simple asset of darker skies than anything found near most schools, but whatever the need Grand Mesa Observatory would like to work with as many teams as we can reasonably accommodate! If you or someone you know works for an academic institution and thinks they could benefit from our services, please contact us using the form (found HERE).

GMO would like to thank all of the team members and volunteers who have been helping coordinate the delivery and get everything assembled. In particular, a special tip of the hat is owed to Chuck Burch who has been leading the assembly team for the dome itself, as well as leading our efforts to prepare the eventual scientific instrumentation packages. The dome is a multi-day setup procedure with a fully functioning crew, and without the help of folks like Chuck and his team it would probably have been a multi-week procedure. We will continue to update you on the progress of this facility, and we invite you to contact us with any further inquires you may have.

Its a big universe but a small world

Volunteer Nancy gave the presentation "Our Home the Milky Way and Beyond" as part of the Clifton Library's Educational Series. The library has a small presentation room, but it was a full house. The participants had fun answering the quiz questions and marveling about the universe. The audience included several young people, one of whom commented that he could not wait to see the future and all of the discoveries that would be coming. 

It turns out that another audience member is actually a neighbor from Lands End Road! He met with Nancy after the presentation about wanting to volunteer at the observatory. All community members attending the presentation were encouraged to attend public sky viewing events and to tour the observatory.

Mesa County Libraries.jpg

Stellar Turnout for Public Night Sky Viewing Event

The first official public night sky viewing event held at Grand Mesa Observatory took place on Saturday June 23rd. This was a rain date for the originally scheduled June 16th. event. The event is one of the Western Colorado Astronomy Club's monthly public events that are held at various locations from April through November, and in this case most of the volunteer astronomers for the evening were members of the club. Grand Mesa Observatory was the host for this month's event and some newly created signs placed along the roads leading up to the observatory helped direct visitors to the event.

Sunset Crowd.jpg

There was a huge turnout too, with cars filling the parking lots and lining the road. People were especially excited for tours of the observatory itself, and observatory director Terry gave 3 tours for about 45 people, and two more tours later on for about 12 people. In addition to the observatory itself, our 50ft X 50ft concrete observing pad was full of people viewing the moon, planets and even some other deep sky wonders through the 10+ telescopes of different types that were set up. The red lights around (and on) the observing pad allowed guests to safely navigate between scopes, and the new red lights along the pathways allowed guests to safely travel back and forth from the observatory.

The crowds also enjoyed beverages and snacks that were provided by GMO, and GMO staff have already begun brainstorming ways to make our next collaborative event even better! Sincere thanks to the volunteer astronomers from the Western Colorado Astronomy Club, as well as the GMO volunteers who helped serve refreshments, place the road signs, and guide traffic into parking areas.

Two more public viewing events are planned at GMO, one on Friday August 10th., and another on Friday November 9th. Hope to see you there!

Evening crowd.jpg

Rho Ophiuchi & The Blue Horse Nebulae

This 2 panel mosaic of The Rho Orphiuchi Cloud Complex is one of the most beautiful and active star forming regions in the night sky with so many types of objects such as open and globular clusters, dark, reflection and emission nebulae. This particular image was shot over two nights using the QHY367C Full Frame CMOS with the Rokinon 135mm F2.0 lens @ F4.0

Observatory director Terry Hancock had previously captured Rho Ophiuchi using the Takahashi FSQ130 and QHY367C, and that image can be seen here:  

This particular camera/lens combination will be added to our equipment rentals "Subscriptions" commencing the month of August. Contact us now using the online form, or send an email directly to terry@grandmesaobservatory.com for details and have a look at what we currently have available

Image capture details
Terry Hancock downunderobservatory.com
Location: GrandMesaObservatory.com Purdy Mesa, Colorado
Dates: June 12, 18th 2018
RGGB 149 x 2 min
Camera: QHY367C
Gain 2850, Offset 170, Calibrated with flat, Dark & Bias
Optics: Rokinon 135mm F2 Telephoto Lens @ F4
Focusing: David Lane's Reveal Focus Filter
Mount: Piggyback on 12" RC, Paramount ME
Image Acquisition software Maxim DL5
Pre Processed in Pixinsight
Post Processed in Photoshop


Pomona Elementary Enrichment Cluster Event

On April 27, 2018 Pomona Elementary School held an Enrichment Clusters Day. Students were given a signup sheet listing the various presentation/workshop options and could choose to sign up for topics of interest to them. For the first time this year, astronomy was added to the roster and Grand Mesa Observatory was invited to participate. Director Terry and volunteer staff member Nancy split the day's presentations. In the morning, Terry gave the presentation "Our Home the Milky Way and Beyond" to an interested group of students. Nancy gave the presentation to two different student groups in the afternoon. The presentation was educational and interactive with " fun facts" and quiz questions included. The students were quite willing to test their knowledge and also to ask great questions and make comments.


Product Review - QHY 168M

This is a prototype version of the the very popular QHY168C, except this one has been factory debayered by QHY to produce a fully monochromatic camera. The camera is mounted on a 12" solid tube Ritchey-Chretien telescope made by AstroTech, which has itself been fitted with the Optec Gemini Rotating Focuser. The filter wheel is a QHYCFW2-M with a 7 position 36mm Carousel. We gave just received and fitted a new set of Optolong Narrowband Filters which have blackened edges that are meant to reduce the halo problems.

High Performance
The QHY168C uses an APS-C format, 16 Megapixel, 14-bit CMOS sensor, the Sony IMX071. This sensor is also used in the Nikon D5100 camera. It has 3.2e- read noise at lowest gain and 2.3e- read noise at unity gain (system gain = 1e/ADU). The QHY168C also has a nice dynamic range close to 14 stops.

True RAW Image Output
While the QHY168C has the same CMOS sensor as the D5100, unlike the consumer camera the QHY168C offers True RAW Image output. In the DSLR implementation there is a RAW image output, but typically it is not completely RAW. Some evidence of noise reduction and hot pixel removal is still visible on close inspection. However, the QHY168C offers TRUE RAW IMAGE OUTPUT and produces an image comprised of the original signal only, thereby maintaining the maximum flexibility for post-acquisition astronomical image processing programs.

Unique Thermal Noise Reduction Technology
In addition to efficient 2-stage thermoelectric cooling, QHYCCD employs a unique thermal noise control technology to reduce CMOS sensor noise to a very low value without affecting the integrity of the raw image. This proprietary technology can be found to improve noise performance across the whole 165/168/247/367 product line, producing much better noise reduction than any competing camera model.

Zero Amplifier Glow
QHY168C has zero amplifier glow no matter how long the exposure time.

Anti-Dew Technology
QHYCCD has more than 10 years of experience designing cooled cameras. The QHY168C receives the benefit of that decade of design work by featuring full anti-dew technology for both CCD sensor cover glass and the sensor chamber optical window. The QHY168C has an electric heating board for the chamber window to prevent the formation of dew and the sensor itself is kept dry with our silicon gel tube socket design for control of humidity within the sensor chamber.

AR+AR Optical Window
In order to avoid halos around bright stars the QHY168C has a AR+AR coated optical window rather than the common IR cut window for Single-Shot Color cameras. This permits full access to the red wavelength of H-alpha and SII without attenuation by the window coating. For RGB color balance, without passing the near IR wavelengths above 700nm, a separate removable 2-inch UV/IR filter with the desirable passband characteristics is placed in a custom filter holder in front of the camera.



GMO Director Terry Hancock recently returned from his cross-country drive and annual visit to New York for NEAIC (North Eastern Imaging Conference), which was held at the Crowne Plaza in Suffern, NY on April 19th and 20th. NEIAC is a conference full of world class astrophotographers giving talks on different topics concerning astrophotography. Following the NEIAC conference Terry all attended the larger and more commercially diverse "NEAF" conference(North Eastern Astronomy Forum). This is the world's largest astronomy and space expo and it was held at the Rockland Community College on April 21st and 22nd. In the past Terry had driven from Michigan, which is less than half the distance (Grand Junction to New York is 2050 miles). Under normal circumstances he would have flown, but had a lot of material and equipment to set up at the booth for NEAF. All went well and Terry arrived on Wednesday afternoon.

As an official beta tester for QHY, and with Grand Mesa Observatory being an official testing station, Terry was invited by QHYCCD and Astrofactors (one of the US Dealer for QHYCCD) to assist for the first two days at NEAIC to answer technical questions regarding QHYCCD products. During that time Terry met and talked with many fellow astro-imagers from both the US and overseas, as well as a large number of QHYCCD users. This part of the trip also allowed Terry some first hand views of many new and exciting QHY products being release in 2018,  including the especially-impressive QHY4040 scientific Monochrome CMOS camera.

Grand Mesa Observatory was truly on display for the first time here at NEAF, and to make a big first impression Terry brought a large full-color banner to advertise our services. In honor of the convention it was also on that Saturday when the equipment subscriptions were formally launched on the GMO website! There was a lot of interest in the subscription services, as well in regards to actual telescope hosting for private parties. It was an extremely busy couple of days with about a hundred GMO flyers were handed out, but Terry always looks forward to meeting astro-imaging friends from around the globe so the hustle and bustle were well worth it. There were a lot of questions concerning exactly how our subscription works and thanks to GMO's Assistant Director Isaac Garfinkle, we now have a comprehensive description on our “Equipment Rental Rates” page (which can be found here https://grandmesaobservatory.com/subscription-rentals/)

On the way back to Colorado Terry stopped to see long time friend and Imager Cliff Spohn to pick up his TAK E-180 which will be used at Grand Mesa Observatory in conjunction with his own TAK E-180 as a dual rig. We will use a QHY11M for Luminance and Narrow Band and on the other TAK E-180 we will use either a QHY367C or QHY128C to capture One Shot Color images. If all goes well this tandem setup will be added to our subscriptions.  


Highlights of the trip back East included the following:      

  • QHYCCD representative Kayla Bi is looking at the possibility of having Terry do a talk in China
  • We are looking at doing a GMO live presentation via Skype/Teamviewer for GMO to students in China
  • SkyWatcher Telescopes will be sending a 10” GOTO Dob Scope for Public Outreach use by GMO
  • Bruce Morrell from Astrofactors donated to GMO a QHY Mini guidescope and a new All Sky camera housing and fish eye lens to use with a QHY5 camera
  • Longtime friend and retired imager Andy D’Arienzo who lives on Long Island visited the booth and helped for a few hours. He donated 2 boxes of telescope and imaging accessories (dovetails, adapters and eyepieces) 

First Annual Western Slope Girls in STEM Conference

On Saturday, April 14, West Middle School in Grand Junction held their first annual Girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) conference. The purpose of the program was to inspire young women to consider pursuing STEM careers and to allow them to interact with women STEM professionals. Student participants attended a series of 3 workshops. The teams of girls were then asked to solve specific problems by developing solutions and prototypes using a STEM approach. At the end of the day, the teams of girls presented ("pitched") their projects to a panel of judges that consisted of professional women from various STEM fields.

Thanks to her accomplished career that began as a chemist, GMO Outreach volunteer Nancy McGuire participated as one of the judges! Additionally, as a way to drum up excitement about STEM and about the observatory two of GMO Director Terry Hancock's astrophotos, which were taken at Grand Mesa Observatory, were donated to the event and given away as door prizes. Heidi Ragsdale (STEM Educator, MESA Program Coordinator, and passionate advocated for astronomy on the Western Slope) first removed the prints from their gift bags to show them to the audience and to impress upon everyone that these images were taken locally... And impress they did!

Grand Mesa Observatory is proud to have supported this wonderful event and hopes to be back for year 2!

Heidi Ragsdale, STEM Educator and MESA Program Coordinator, addresses the student participants.   

Heidi Ragsdale, STEM Educator and MESA Program Coordinator, addresses the student participants.

Great School Experience

On April 11, Grand Mesa Observatory founder and President of the Board John Mansur had the opportunity to talk about astronomy and the observatory to a group of 25 young men, ages from 13-17 at a school in Melbourne, Florida for at risk youth.  Most of what these young people knew about astronomy is what can be found in science fiction movies and what their teacher had been telling them in the days prior to the session.  Also remember, in that part of Florida, the Space Coast – Cape Canaveral area – the air is so humid that the seeing conditions are very poor.  Combine that problem with the light pollution, and the only stars visible there are the primary bright stars.  In fact, in nearly 30 years of star watching there, John himself has seen the Milky Way only one time and then it was very faint.  As a result, the young men really had no concept of what is out there.

John gave a Power Point presentation entitled “Our Home The Milky Way and Beyond” that GMO volunteer Nancy McGuire had prepared, with just a few modifications.  It was primarily aimed to give a good overview of astronomy, including what different kinds of astronomers there are, what do they do, and what tools they use to study the universe.  It was designed to really spark an interest in astronomy and it was very successful in doing that.  The young men had many questions and showed much interest – as did the supervisory staff that sat in on the presentation.  John stated: “They were very impressed and amazed at the number of stars, galaxies, and other wonders there are in our heavens.  But then so am I.”

They loved the images of nebulae and galaxies. They were fascinated by the video that GMO Assistant Director Isaac Garfinkle had put together showing the roof opening at the observatory in Colorado and then the scopes doing a ballet set to classical music as they un-parked, pointed, then parked again and then the roof closing.

John encouraged the young people to strive for an education, so they could really participate in the field of astronomy or other sciences.  He sensed that most of them had never considered such a possibility before.

John commented; “All in all, it was a wonderful experience for me, and I think also for them.  Nancy, thanks for your help!”

Galactic Maelstrom M81


Messier 81 (M81), or as it is also called, Bode's Galaxy, is a bright, swirling spiral galaxy located in the constellation Ursa Major just up and to the right of the top of the Big Dipper asterism. This image was captured at Grand Mesa Observatory by Tom Masterson and Terry Hancock, and it beautifully highlights the interesting and delicate structures of the spiral arms.

First discovered by Johann Elert Bode in 1774, M81's relative brightness (apparent magnitude 6.94) and closeness (11.8 million light-years distant) makes it one of the most studied and photographed galaxies in the night sky. It contains an active galactic nucleus powered by a supermassive black hole at its center and was host to one of the brightest supernovae of the 20th century, SN 1993J. Also in this image, the blue blob above M81 is a satellite galaxy gravitationally locked to M81 called Holmberg IX, which is thought to have formed within the last 200 million years, making it the youngest nearby galaxy.

M81 wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_81

M81 in 60 seconds from NASA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39Sw0axqIBM

Holmberg IX: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmberg_IX#cite_note-sabbi-2


Technical Info:

Grand Mesa Observatory System #2 https://grandmesaobservatory.com/equipment/

Telescope: AGO 12.5” Astrograph/Newtonian
Camera: QHY163M Monocrome CMOS
Guiding: OAG
Mount: Paramount ME

LUM 25x 300sec 1x
RGB 25x 300sec 1x1 (4h10min total)

Processing/Stacking: PixInsight, PhotoshopCC, Registar, Straton

Location: Grand Mesa Observatory, Purdy Mesa, CO