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The Five-Year Run of Coleman Observatory

Coleman ObservatoryThe day after Christmas, 2003, I had a wild urge to get outside and start trying to erect one of the buildings we wanted to use as a roll-off roof observatory at our new location for Coleman Observatory. I'd been meaning to get to this since July 4th when a sudden storm had come up in the late evening and rained hard for about an hour. My 12.5" telescope was outside through that rain and the wood on it suffered considerable damage from swelling.
Observing in the open. Wide open skies, but wide open to rainstorms, too. Summer, 2003. All images by Bob Moody unless otherwise noted.
We needed a building. That wasn't a particularly great day, kinda cloudy and cool, but I thought I had the strength and lack of back pain that I needed to get started.
The proverbial "Day One", December 26, 2003.
So, I dug two holes, poured concrete and set the first two posts for the railing that would carry the roof out of the way when I eventually reached the day for that roof sometime in 2004. The next week, I built one wall, at least the framework for one wall, and it was another week before I could physically build the second, about another week apart each for the other two walls, and the building of Coleman Observatory was underway. I'd work when I could, as much as I could stand, and slowly, painfully slowly, it came into shape and became my first roll-off roof building. That was five years ago last month. Now, I'm wondering how much its going to take to dismantle everything we'd done in the ensuing 4 years, and move Coleman Observatory to its third location in 24 years.

My actions caused Joe Roam to want to begin the other building and we started the framework for the large roll-off roof building before we even had the outer siding on the first building. I'd brought some building materials with me when I moved to the site in June '03, and that's what provided us with everything I'd used until this time. The only club funds use for the small bulding came from the purchase of the framing lumber for the roof and the sheeting for the roof and the neoprene roofing nails. Joe bought the lumber for the framework of the second building and we had that erected by March 1st. In the meantime, I'd decided to construct a fold-down south gable for the small building. A strip of piano hinge was just the thing to give me what I needed.
Nearly all the materials in the framework for the small building had been used somewhere else before, then carefully disassembled and finally reused here.
I spent a day framing the gable and installing the hinge, and began to consider just how to go about building the roll-off roof; something I had no experience at.

But how hard could it be to just build a roof and not secure it to the top plate of the walls? All I needed to do was rig some wheels under the framework to allow the roof to roll back on two 20-foot rails of 2" channel-iron. With the roof rolling northward, and the gable to the south folding down, I assumed I'd have enough sky to basically call it a wide-open view. The walls would only be 4' high on this smaller building, but that should be enough to give good protection from all but the windiest conditions......I hoped.

Just attach the 2X4 purlings over the rafters on the roof, cover with sheeting, and voila, a solid roof! (I hoped)
The rest of the roof went relatively slowly. I knew I needed to keep everything as square as possible in order to help the finished roof roll as straight as possible. It also needed to be as solid as I could make it, but I couldn't use braces rigged as joists such as a house might have. This would essentially have to be a vaulted ceiling, with bracing only at the top near the crown of the structure. That had to be as solid as I could possibly build it. By now it was nearly summer, and I'd done most of the work myself with assistance from Joe Roam and Dr Chuck Larson.

The only place I could locate the door into this building was the north wall. I also had to consider the fact that the roof had to roll that direction in order to expose the sky. That's why the structure had to be as solid as possible near the crown, to make it sturdy and yet give me the clearance for rolling over the frame of the doorway. Every point of attachment between two boards had to be cut as perfectly as I could make them, and extra screws added to keep them together even through strong storms and high winds. I used 2X4 purlings to bind the rafters together and provide the strongest attachment for the roofing tin.
Moving day. June 14, 2004.
I used regular galvanized corrugated roofing tin for the roof, and even though I didn't figure it mathematically to end up that way, each 12'-long sheet of corrugated tin was cut exactly in half, and that spanned the length from the crown to the bottom-outside edge of the roof exactly! As if I'd been a real carpenter, HA!

At about the same time, Joe took pity on me and we found a old-but-solid 12X50 mobile home. Joe bought the trailer and we moved it to the site and I finally moved out of the 23' 5th-wheel trailer of Joe's that I'd lived in for 51 weeks. I split my good days when I could move without excess pain between the skirting around the trailer and the finishing touches on the roof. I finally called the smaller building complete around the end of July, 2004. Now we could concentrate on the larger building. But first there was a little thing going on in the solar system that took all our attention, the undivided attention of every astronomer on the planet during the last week of August.....Mars was coming as close to Earth as it had been at any time in the previous 58,000 years!

Click "Read More" for the rest of this article.
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Exploring Arkansas at Coleman Observatory

Coleman Observatory
Dr Chuck Larson spills his guts about why he loves astronomy as AETN producer Chuck Dovish and camera operator Michad Holliday look on while Dr. Larson's wife Loretta (seated in background) watches the Arkansas Final Four championship game on their portable TV. Photo by Bob Moody
On April 7, an AETN film crew arrived at Coleman Observatory to tape footage for an upcoming segment of the program, "Exploring Arkansas" with host Chuck Dovish. AOAS members on hand were myself, Chuck Larson, Joe Roam, Linda Miller and Leonard Lynch, and what followed was an evening of explaining what amateur astronomy meant to each of us, and how Coleman Observatory came to be. We also touched on our Education and Public Outreach efforts, and how astronomy is currently changing for the person on the street who may be wanting to break into the hobby with "go to" telescopes.

AETN "Exploring Arkansas" host Chuck Dovish and cameraman Michad Holliday pose in CETUS's Lair at Coleman Observatory. Photo by Bob Moody
I had an idea last year to send a note to the AETN program "Exploring Arkansas" suggesting that amateur astronomy might be a possible new subject for investigation. I mentioned a couple of well-known advanced amateur astronomers in the state, and of course, I mentioned AOAS and our Coleman Observatory, too. I was blown away in late March when the program's producer and host, Chuck Dovish, sent me an email asking if they could come to Coleman Observatory to film a segment for an upcoming show. I said yes, of course, and we set the date of April 7 to shoot the footage.

I contacted several of our members and asked if they'd consider coming up to be a part of this event, and I was very pleased to see the members listed above that were willing and able to come and participate. May and June are shaping up to be a busy time for AOAS, and this exposure will hopefully garner us increased interest in amateur astronomy, more visitors at our upcoming AOAS/Mulberry Mountain Lodge Star Party, and increased memberships not only for AOAS, but for all Arkansas astronomy clubs as well.

We offer our sincerest thanks to Chuck Dovish and AETN for choosing Coleman Observatory to represent amateur astronomy in Arkansas, and we hope they will visit us again sometime for a full night of observing from our little corner of the Milky Way, and all the wonders of the universe!

This episode of "Exploring Arkansas" will air on AETN on Monday, June 2, 2008, at 6:30 pm. Check with your local cable provider for which channel this show appears, or check your favorite television listings for the channel and time.
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Mars Night at Coleman Observatory Oct 29th

Coleman ObservatoryUPDATE: October 29th saw upwards of 85 visitors at Coleman Observatory to enjoy views of Mars. Telescopes of every type and from 5" diameter up to the 14" aperture of our primary instrument were used, and will again be in use for the next Mars Star Party on November 5th! Come to Coleman Observatory and join us before Mars begins to rapidly shrink in size after mid-November.

Mars marks its closest point to Earth since 2003 on Saturday, October 29th, at a distance of "merely" 43,000,000 miles away. Join members of AOAS at our Coleman Observatory located 8 mi. NW of Van Buren for the best views of the mythological Roman "God of War" until 2018!

AOAS member Jeff Treshnell captured this image of Mars through his telescope in 2003. This is very similar to what the view of Mars will look like through the telescopes at Coleman Observatory on the weekends of October 29th and November 5th. The public is invited to both events, and as always there are NO FEES to share the views of our universe with us. UPDATE: Visitors to Coleman Observatory on Oct 29th saw virtually the exact same view of Mars as is depicted here. If you missed it last Saturday, join us again THIS Saturday, Nov 5th.
It's a fact, Mars is as close to Earth as it'll be for the next 13 years on the 29th of October and the public is invited to come out and see it with us through our telescopes. The viewing begins at sunset that evening with brilliant Venus in the SW skies. Then we'll watch as Mars slowly creeps above the eastern horizon shortly after sunset. By 7:45, Mars will be high enough to view through most of the telescopes we have on site, but as the evening progresses and Mars continues rising, the views will just get better and better.

The reason for this is simple. Low on the horizon, we view objects through the thickest part of Earth's atmosphere. You are literally seeing every object near the horizon through a couple hundred miles of haze, water vapor, pollution, etc. The best views of a planet like Mars comes after it has risen at least 30 degrees or more above the horizon where the atmosphere is less than 40 miles thick.

Between there and the time when it reaches a point overhead known as the zenith, you'll see the most detail available through whatever size and type of telescope you're viewing with. The best views of Mars will be between around 9:00 p.m. and midnight. For any night owl visitors who stay even later, those great views will continue until as late as 3:00 a.m. when Mars once again begins to sink into the thicker parts of our atmosphere in the western sky.

Mars will be well placed for viewing from mid-October through late November. For this reason, AOAS and Coleman Observatory will host a second public night on November 5th, the Saturday after the 29th. This will give everyone ample opportunities to come and view Mars at its best during this apparition.

Click "read more" for the rest of this story.

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Coleman Observatory's New Facility

Coleman Observatory

Mobile home purchase to be Coleman Observatory's future meeting/classroom, library, office, control room, caretakers quarters, and members home-away-from-home.

June 14, 2004 brings a new day to what we will achieve and offer here at Coleman Observatory. Joe Roam's purchase of a 12' X 50' 1970 model mobile home for a mere $2000 was one of the most worthwhile purchases we've made to date. Soon, the electric will be run and an air conditioner unit installed (already on-hand) along with a refrigerator, and a washer-dryer (also on-hand), plus my extra-large double-recliner sofa will be a fine start to what we'll soon have for the members to come and enjoy. A little paint, some fix-ups here-and-there, and we'll soon have a very nice place to hold meetings on our off-months from Creekmore Park. That means we'll be going back to monthly meetings with even numbered months meeting in Ft Smith at Creekmore and odd-numbered months meeting at Coleman Observatory.
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Join Coleman Observatory For An Historic Moment

Coleman ObservatoryIf you'd like to witness the exact moment of Mars' closest point to Earth since 57,618 BC at the eyepiece of your telescope, come to Coleman Observatory and join me for an all-nighter on August 26th and 27th!

UPDATE: August 27, 7:45 pm - Last night about 75 to 80 people came to Coleman Onservatory to share a moment in history with me. I appreciate all of you who made it out for another great view of Mars! I hope that the experience was one that will last a lifetime, just as it was for me. Thanks!
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Coleman Observatory Opens Full Time

Coleman ObservatoryColeman Observatory has been a work in progress for AOAS since our beginnings in 1985. In 1995, we moved the observatory to its new location some 8 miles NW of Van Buren, AR. Our old 20' diameter dome has yet to be rebuilt, but construction is nearly complete on the new bathroom facility. First things (and most important things) first, right?

But in just a few weeks, by mid July, the observatory will begin 24/7 operation for the first time ever! As president of AOAS, I will be taking up residence at the observatory in a travel trailer owned by fellow member, Joe Roam. I need to do this to be closer to UAFS to continue my studies in journalism this fall and spring.

Please NOTE! The observatory is open full time to our members or the public as an OBSERVING AREA to set up your telescopes. I will cheerfully, willingly, happily set up for viewing with the public with 24 hours notice. Please don't ask me to get up out of bed to observe with NO NOTICE! I have to be fresh for my classes on certain days just as you need to be fresh for your work or classes.
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Past Construction

Coleman ObservatoryConstruction of the present Coleman Observatory was started in 1995 at the site NW of Van Buren. At the time, club fundswere low and active members were few, but we were dedicated. What follows is a note from our old web site showing the construction phase in 1995...

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Become a card-carrying member of AOAS. Paying dues gives you several advantages over other registered users, including a subscription to the club newsletter, an AOAS.ORG e-mail address, use of club materials, including books and telescopes, and access to the Coleman Observatory facilities. On top of all that, you also qualify for a 20% discount on all books at any Books-A-Million location.

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