Well, a lot has happened since our last meeting and newsletter. I have talked with many of you personally, but for those of you who haven’t heard, we are actively attempting to relocate our observatory.
As you will recall, last month we were planning to put in a power line and security system to our building up there on Tabor Mountain. This would have allowed us to install a security system and reopen the observatory. The bombshell landed when I was talking to the airport manager and she informed me that the M.O.T., to save money, will not be plowing the road to their site next winter. Needless to say, this will affect us deeply. Not only will we be unable to get up there 5 months of the year, but this poses a security threat as well. What is the use of having a fine security system, monitored 24 hours a day when we can’t get up there? What is more, the vandals will know it too. Carried possibly by snowmobiles, they would have all the time in the world to break in.
Sure, we could make the door as strong as possible, install a second set perhaps and maybe hook up a cattle fence power supply to the door and dome. Probably nothing would happen the first year, but sooner or later we would have another break-in, especially when we really begin to load the place with valuables. I am afraid we could never again regard the place as secure.
The thought occurred to me while I was up there: why not use the approximately $12,000 – $14,000 we will have after the next set of casino nights and relocate the telescope and dome somewhere else? A call to a company that rents cranes revealed that they could move the telescope and dome within the Prince George area for about $450. This is peanuts.
Well, what about a wood or concrete block building about 20′ by 50′ or so? A square room at one end would be for the telescope with the rest left for a heated control room and classroom. With better security, one storey would suffice (the dome would have to be modified so that the lower shutter swings out rather than down); it would be cheaper and more convenient. The classroom area would be great for school and other groups – we could have a slide projector permanently loaded with predesigned programme(s) set up for easy use. Other equipment such as a computer, CCD camera, videotape machine, other electronics etc, etc would enhance the observatory. A site closer to town using better roads would not only be more pleasant but would encourage the use of school buses to this destination.
I’ve talked to members of the executive and a number of other people; everyone agrees that we are on the right track. The trick will be to find the right site and to bring it off. The architect of the original building, Dave Dennis, says that the amount we have is “a little light” for a building of this size. There are a few bright spots – the College could build – over time – a wood building perhaps not that large for around $6000 – 8000. Would wood be secure enough? Prince George Lock and Key plus the RCMP told me that thieves are getting in buildings by cutting through walls with chain saws, also that police protection in the district is confined to one (!!) officer patrolling around. The finest security systems are worthless without immediate backup. The best plan, I’m told, is to have nearby neighbours. All depends on the site.
We have looked at a number of potential sites. The criteria are that we want to be at least 15 km out of town (preferably in a southerly direction), close to power, close to neighbours (but not too close), have an absence of bright lights around, have easy access in winter, and have a good horizon in all directions (but we may have to compromise on this point). Red Rock school, 20 km south of here would have been ideal except for the fact that people living there tell me that they get a lot of ground fog in the fall. Thumbs down. In fact, I believe anything off highway 97 south is subject to fog (because it’s downwind of the Fraser and all its moisture). Former member, Alan Whitman offered his property off the Chief Lake Road, but it is in the wrong direction, has lots of trees around and is somewhat bothered by car lights. We were offered room at the old Baldy Hughes site but it is rather far away and has a poor horizon. We may have a site only 6 km down the Blackwater (Baldy Hughes) Road on a farm also used by the model flying club. Security remains a concern as we would not be in site of any nearby houses. Maybe, but let’s keep looking.
I’ve included sketches of the proposed building – these should give you an idea of the potential this observatory would have. Wood or concrete? Wood is cheaper and can be moved; it also burns and is less secure. The advantages and disadvantages are reversed for concrete. My feeling is that we would be more secure in a wood building in sight of neighbours than in a concrete building further away. It all depends on the site.
Once a site is decided upon, we have to cost it all out and make firm plans. We may still be light in terms of cash. I have applied for funding in a variety of places but don’t get your hopes too high. Stay tuned. Sometime we’ll get this built.
Planning is continuing for our casino nights June 4, 5, and 6. Four of us, Steve and Rod Marynovuch, Gerhart Bierman, and myself attended a casino volunteer training session Wednesday evening – two of the above have to be on duty every night. The other three positions each night will have to be filled by others. I’ve phoned most people and will be assigning slots soon. If I haven’t phoned you please give me a call at 563-6928. The hours are long (5:30 PM or so to probably 3:00 AM next morning) but this is the easiest way to earn probably $4000 – $6000 in three nights’ work (about $35-40 per hour for each person).
The secondary mirror has been ordered and construction should begin soon.
Thursday, May 30 at 7:30 at CNC in room 2-223 (Physics lab). I’ll have the latest news regarding the new observatory and would like to have a full discussion of everything. Please attend if you possibly can. Afterwards, if there’s time, we could look at the first part of The Astronomers which I taped from PBS (I have all 6 segments). See you there!
Bob Nelson, President