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Tuesday, October 16 2018 @ 01:44 pm EDT

Holloway Comet Observatory Struck by Lightning

General NewsYou're an amateur astronomer who has spent the last several years building up an observatory full of the finest, most exquisite set of equipment available on today's markets. You spend long hours chasing after comets, making a name for yourself for your persistence and imaging abilities, and one evening you put everything to bed and call it a night. There's a storm between this and the next time you enter your observatory, but when you do go back to it, everything is destroyed from a direct lightning strike.

On August 4, 2006, AOAS' own Mike Holloway lost his entire inventory of equipment at Holloway Comet Observatory to a direct lightning strike. While he may be down, he's not out, and we all wish him best of luck with returning to full operation as soon as possible.
Holloway Comet Observatory sits a few hundred feet away from Mike's home on AR Hwy 220 north of Van Buren near Uniontown. From the outside, you would not believe that everything inside was totally destroyed by a direct strike from a lightning bolt.


I was shocked, no pun intended, to hear last week about Mike Holloway's observatory being knocked off-line by a direct lightning strike in early August. I was asked last week by the local Farm Bureau Claims Adjuster agent John Driggers, to look at Mike's equipment and write a letter describing what I found for the official record. But what I saw when I got to Mike's home on August 23 made me absolutely sick to my stomach.

Mike and I disassembled his equipment and removed it to his home where we examined it all carefully. The Takahashi FSQ-106 Flourite refractor tube assembly had the dust cap on it when the storm that caused the destruction came up.
The dew shield on the $3,500 refractor tube assembly shows the brunt of the strike on the dew shield rim. The charge from the bolt caused sparks and metallic fragments to be blown into the inner glass of the quadruplet lens and literally melted into the glass. The lens and entire tube assembly are trash.
The bolt apparently came through the very top of his fiberglass dome and then hit the end of the refractor perhaps 24" below the dome. The only outward evidence of the strike is a small hole in the dome's crown, about the size of your little finger.

As seen in the second image, the tube's dew shield was dented inwards, and the dust cap was dented outward and blown off by the strike. When the two were put back together, the gap between them showed damage from the intense heat from the bolt and was nearly an inch wide! To top that off, the interior of the tube assembly shows tiny BB's of molten metal welded into the glass from the electric charge passing through the aluminum tube parts. The whole assembly was sealed and there was another piece of glass at the rear.....and it, too, had the same damages and welded particles within that piece of glass. I've seen millions of tiny little BB's like I saw within this tube as a welder for more than 20 years, but I never saw them imbedded in fine glass lenses like this.

Click read more for more images and the rest of this heartbreaking story.

The Losmandy G-8 mount had smoke damage protruding from every point where one piece was attached to another. Here is the lower-rear portion of the mount shwing some of the blue coloration just under the polar alignment scope.
Mike purchased a new Losmandy G-8 mount about a year ago. This piece of equipment is nearly as legendary as the venerable Losmandy Paramount. What made the G-8 mike's choice was the ease of operation of the mount and it's precision of tracking. The G-8 was performing superbly before the lightning strike caused the sealed bearings to become nearly welded together within the mount. When we rotated the shafts of both axes, we could hear a faint "squeaky" or "scraping" sound while they rotated.

The rotation of both axes was also fairly difficult. We felt like the lubrication of the bearings was likely boiled out when the lightning struck and could possibly have even caused some swelling in the bearing cases, thereby making the rotation difficult. The motors were also quite loose after the strike and that was another indication of just how much power that lightning strike packed.
The Finger Lakes Instruments Maxcam 10ME CCD imaging camera was also trashed by the electrical charge passing through it. The LARGE Kodak chip is seen here and the shutters partially closed/opened and welded into position.


Then there was that magnificent Finger Lakes Maxxcam 10ME CCD camera. The camera's interior was fused into a useless mass of crispy circuitry and melted wires. Somehow the cooling fan in the back was spared, but that seemed almost cruel compared to the loss of the rest of the camera. Again, as with the smoky debris inside the tube assembly front and rear sections, the same type of debris is found within the camera opening and is plainly seen in the picture here.

It is so frustrating for me to see such damage to such superb equipment. And not to a single component, but to the entire system. There is somewhere over $13,000 in lost equipment here, and that's if he can still get it at or near to the prices he originally paid for it. PLUS, that's not counting TWO computers that were also destroyed!

It shows just how fickle fate can sometimes be, and how important it is for ALL of our own equipment to be well grounded to protect AOAS from a similar possible fate while we begin the reassembly of our own 14" CETUS telescope and computer system. Our new permanent pier is in place and we should be reinstalling the Celestron CGE-1400 within the next month. By fall we should be imaging our own planetary, lunar and deep-sky objects. I just hope that what I saw at Mike's observatory was a one-time-only event not only for the rest of the members of our club, but also for EVERY amateur astronomer that we know of.

For even more images of the damages incurred from the lightning strike, see Mike Holloway's lightning-damage images here.
Holloway Comet Observatory Struck by Lightning | 1 comments | Create New Account
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Holloway Comet Observatory Struck by Lightning
Authored by: Anonymous onTuesday, August 29 2006 @ 12:04 pm EDT
Wow I'm sorry to hear this Mike, I hope you get back online soon.

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