Observatory Tour

The tour of Badlands Observatory actually begins as you approach the town of Quinn and look north from Highway 14. The white dome is visible through the trees in the NW corner of town. Then, as you approach the building from the roadway the unusual shape of the dome can be seen. This shape, known as a truncated rhombi-cube octahedron, was patterned after the WIYN observatory located at Kitt Peak National Observatory. They discovered this shape was especially good for minimizing the effects of air turbulence around the telescope opening, as well as being relatively inexpensive to design and build. The Badlands dome and observatory was constructed by Ron Dyvig and several members of the Black Hills Astronomical Society.

Upon entering the lobby area of the observatory, it can be seen that the telescope control room has viewing windows, allowing visitors to oversee the activities within. It is conveniently set up with three computers: weather and Internet access on the left, dedicated telescope control in the center, and telescope navigation, camera control, and image processing on the right. This arrangement allows remote control of the complete telescope/camera system, which is located on the second floor above.  One obvious advantage of this arrangement is that it provides a shirt sleeve environment all seasons of the year.  In addition to on-site observing such as this, Badlands Observatory has also recently developed Remote Access observing capability from anywhere in the world via Internet link.

The telescope can be reached by ascending the stairway from the left side of the small lobby area. It was placed on the second level in order to preserve floor space on the ground level for other functions. In addition, a slight improvement in performance is possible by elevating the telescope so as to help avoid thermal effects near the ground.

These various views of the telescope illustrate the very sturdy construction of the instrument. The very heavy mounting is known as an equatorial fork, and is designed with its polar axis precisely aligned to the celestial pole, allowing the telescope to accurately track objects in the heavens by primarily moving it in only one axis. In these views, the polar axis as well as details of the friction-disk drive system for both axes, are clearly shown. The computer control system, called PC-TCS, is designed by Dave Harvey of COMSOFT, INC. of Tucson, AZ. His control system is in use at many major observatories. The telescope itself is known as a Newtonian reflector design, originally invented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1668. The 26" diameter, f/4.8 primary mirror is carried in its cell on the lower end of the tube. The reflected return light path comes to a focus near the upper end of the tube structure and is accessed by intercepting the beam with a flat diagonal mirror, and directing it through a viewing port on the side of the tube. A sturdy stair platform is provided to gain access to this port, and is also used for public viewing.

The dome weighs about 2000 lb., and is controlled by two of these powerful motors that operate in parallel through the switching panel, also shown. This, in turn, is controlled by the same computer that drives the telescope, keeping the opening slot always in front of the instrument. The dome shutters are easily operated via a nautical- style wheel and cable system.

The tour of Badlands Observatory ends with this image of the viewing port on the upper end of the tube assembly. Ron Dyvig is shown atop the stair platform adjusting the ST-8 CCD camera, mfg. by SBIG, Inc of Santa Barbara, Ca. This extremely sensitive, cooled, digital camera allows images to be viewed on the computer screen in the control room below. The telescope, of course, can also be used for direct visual observation by removing the camera and using a variety of eyepieces giving different magnifications.

Images provided by Kent Stevens

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