The Backyard Astronomical Observatory of Dave and Michelle Lane
Stillwater Lake, Nova Scotia Canada
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Abbey Ridge Observatory (ARO) is named for the granite ridge that rises up above Elbow Lake and along Abbey Road. ARO sits on bedrock on the edge of this ridge giving spectacular views from the south through to northwest. The site is quite dark, considering that it is only about 23 kilometres to the west of Halifax (population ~400,000). The Milky Way is easily visible on moonless nights and the MVM is about 5.8 (Sky Quality Meter readings of 20.6 are typical on good nights). Click here for a map.
The observatory is housed in a Technical Innovations 10-foot Home-Dome and uses a Celestron C14 SCT mounted on a Losmandy Titan german equatorial mount controlled by a SiTech controller. An SBIG ST8XME CCD camera with Optec IFW filter wheel and TCF focuser are used to image the heavens. We also have a Boltwood Cloud sensor.
The observatory, telescope, and CCD camera are remote-controlled from my home office (or from anywhere in the world over the internet), which overlooks the observatory, and "robotically" performs observations on its own. The primary use of the observatory is observing variable stars and general CCD imaging of interesting objects. The observatory is also a registered observing site of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre (site I22).
Variable Star Observing: The ARO observes variable stars (mainly Cepheids and suspected Cepheids) and bright open clusters. This work is being done with Daniel Majaess and David Turner of Saint Mary's University Astronomy and Physics. All observing and photometric processing is done automatically based on data and observing lists provided by Daniel.
The ARO also observes variable stars and submits observations to the AAVSO. The focus has been to contribute to specific observing campaigns or to observe newly discovered objects or objects undergoing outburst (catacalysmic variables, etc.).
The Hunt for the Quark Nova: (project presently stalled) The ARO is leading the search for the theoretical Quark Nova in partnership with the University of Calgary's Quark Nova Project. More details on the search is here.
Papers published or accepted for publication based in part on data from ARO:
Supernova Hunting: As of February 2008, the ARO had withdrawn from active supernova searching. Betweeen August 2006 and January 2008 ARO was a member of the Puckett Observatory Supernova Search program. Prior to that, Paul Gray and I were searching independently and made three supervova discoveries. At the end of 2010, another supernova was co-discovered with 10-year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray, the youngest ever discovery. ARO continues to provide Kathryn with images so she can discover a second one!
Some Images and Movies:
January 2, 2013: I was archiving the 2012 data today from my automated ARO, and as I do every year here are the weather stats. I was able to observe on only 37 nights in 2012 and collected 29.4 gigabytes of raw and processed data. This is because a hard disk crash brought the observatory down in March. It was not back up until mid-June, then I was just too busy to get my research program going again until early-November.
The ARO was available to observe for about 4 of 12 months, so extrapolated to a full year, that works out to about 110 nights per year - a bit better than average.
All of these nights were used for:
My observation count with the AAVSO now stands at 11,507.
January 1, 2012: I was archiving the 2011 data today and here are the stats. I was able to observe for 115 nights in 2011 and collected 79 gigabytes of data. Maybe 5-10 additional nights lost due to vacation, etc. All of these nights were used for variable star and cluster research for Turner/Majaess, observing campaigns initiated by the AAVSO, observations of a couple of stars for Mike Casey at SMU and observing galaxies for Kathryn Gray.
March, 2011: ARO joins the University of Calgary's Quark Nova Project. ARO is leading the search for the theoretical Quark Nova. More details on the search is here.
January 9, 2011: I was archiving the 2010 data and thought I'd report some stats. I was able to observe for 103 nights in 2010 and collected 98 gigabytes of data. Most of January was lost due to equipment problems and maybe 5-10 additional nights lost due to vacation, etc., so not a bad year. All of these nights were used for variable star research for Turner/Majaess, observing campaigns initiated by the AAVSO, observations of a couple of Wolf Rayet stars for an HIA astronomer, and a very productive hour of supernova searching on New Year's Eve.
The highlight of the year could of course have been the discovery of SN2010lt on New Year's eve. For some reason, I did not report on 2009, but it was a bad year with only 55 nights, largely due to equipment problems which had the down for about the last 4 months of the year when the Gemini telescope controller failed. It was replaced with a SiTech control system in January 2010.
January 2, 2011: A supernova, SN2010lt, is discovered by Kathryn Gray, Paul Gray, and myself.
November 2010: ARO was featured in a talk given to the Minas Astronomy Group which meets at Acadia University.
May 2010: The observatory was upgraded to include a new 10-position SBIG CFW10 filter wheel with a new Astrocon BVRcIc filter set. The Optec MaxField telecompressor was also replaced with an Optec NextGen WideField, which has better optical properties.
Spring 2010: ARO was featured in talks in Ontario. These included the RASC Centres of Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo, and London.
February 6, 2010: Follow the observatory's activities live on Twitter.
February 1, 2010: The observatory is back running again and now uses SiTech Servo controller (the Gemini controller was "dumped").
January 18, 2010: The observatory has been down (and still is) since September 2009 with a broken Gemini telescope controller. The new one still did not work properly so I am switching to a SiTech Servo controller. I hope to be operational again soon.
October 2009: ARO was featured in talks in British Columbia. These included the RASC Centres of Okanagan, Victoria, Vancouver, and Sunshine Coast and a lunchtime talk at the Hertzberg Institute of Astrophysics.
June 2009: ARO's main scope was upgraded from a C11 to a C14. We are now also using SMU's ST8XME camera with a 0.5x Optec tele-compressor.
November 4, 2008: Another two papers accepted in the past while based in part on data taken at ARO. So far it has been a good year equipment wise, but the weather was bad mid year - the last couple of months have been better.
Feb 4, 2008: In early December, Lionel Catalan of Thunder Bay, Ontario and I independently discovered a new eclipsing binary variable star. We both noticed this star to be changing in brightless (slightly) while observing another star in the same field of view. The star is known as VSX J063528.5+053600 and GSC 00154-00555. It took several nights of observing time to determine the properties of its light curve which varies between magnitude 13.05 - 13.15 (in V) and has an orbital period of 1.07245 days.
January 31, 2008: ARO stops searching for supernovae. I will now be devoting most (all?) of the available observing time to collaborations with Majaess and Turner and AAVSO variable star observations.
January 24, 2008: Majaess, Turner, Lane and Moncrieff have completed another paper (The Exciting Star of the Berkeley 59/Cepheus OB4 Complex and Other Chance Variable Star Discoveries) based in part of data from the ARO. This paper will appear in the Journal of the AAVSO.
January 1, 2008: I was backing up to DVD my images from 2007 today and thought I'd report a few stats. I had clear enough skies to do at least some imaging on 115 nights. That works out to about 1 night in 3 being clear enough to observe. Not included in these numbers would be nights that I wasn't near home (vacation, etc.). Data collected totalled just under 30 gigs.
December, 2007: This month I have been observing two high-mass xray binaries (HMXBs) as part of an AAVSO observing compaign for Dr. Gord Sarty. These observations have been challenging as the variations are very small. During this process a new eclipsing binary star was discovered in one of the fields. We are still characterizing it, so can't say much more at the moment.
October, 2007: The weather has been pretty good lately with quite a few clear nights. That of course means that the equipment will fail putting the ARO our of service! That happened when I was running the ARO remotely from the Toronto RASCs observatory in Collingwood, Ontario. At the end of the night, when closing the dome, the motor did not stop and it shreaded its clutch. I ended up upgrading the shutter cabling, motor assembly, auto-shutoff controls, and power supply and everything seems to work much better.
There is also some research news. Two papers, based in part on observations taken at ARO, have been accepted for publication in the PASP Journal. See: In Search of Possible Associations between Planetary Nebulae and Open Clusters and The Period Changes of the Cepheid RT Aurigae.
Late August/Early September, 2007: The year up to now has been fairly uneventful, other than the generally lousy weather. We seemed to have turned the corner and have had a string of clear weather lately. I presented a paper at the RASC General Assembly in Calgary about the automated observing and processing that wer are doing for the variable star project with Dan Majaess and David Turner. Dan and David also presented papers based in part on stars observed at ARO. We did have some minor equipment problems recently. The cloud sensor lost sensitivity again (as it did about the same time last year) and had to be sent back for repair. I also broke two drive belts in the dome rotation motors - just wear and tear after 4+ years of use. When the dome rotation was out of order I decided to devote some observing time to an AAVSO alert about a suspected dwaft variable by doing some time series observations. All went well and I have developed the procedures to easily submit observations like this to the AAVSO database.
January 1, 2007: I was backing up to DVD my images from 2006 today and thought I'd report a few stats. I had clear enough skies to do at least some imaging on 82 nights even though ARO was down with equipment problems from about mid April to mid August. Accounting for those missing 4 months, that works out to about 1 night in 3 being clear enough to observe. This is about what I have quoted for years as being the fraction of clear sky nights in Nova Scotia. Not included in these numbers would be nights that I wasn't near home (vacation, etc.), nights of Nova East, etc. Data collected this year was about 23,000 images or 12.6 gigs - last year was about the same. Many of these were calibration frames associated with the variable star work that I've been doing this past fall.
In the past 10 days, I've also spent a lot of time working on automating the calibration, image combines, and photometric analysis for the variable star project. I am close to being able to have the ARO do all the data analysis at the end of the night and upload an excel-compatible file that contains the magnitude measurements of the target stars. Yahoo!
September 2006: The ARO is now observing variable stars, mainly Cepheids and suspected Cepheids. This work is being done for Daniel Majaess and David Turner of Saint Mary's University Astronomy and Physics. All observing is done automatically based on observing lists provided by Daniel. They are being given about 2 hours of time each clear night.
August 2006: The ARO has joined the Puckett Observatory World Supernova Search and has abandoned the search program developed by Paul Gray for ARO.
April to August 2006: The ARO was out of operation following a catastrophic telescope malfunction. It took about two months to get back in operation while waiting for parts from the manufacturer.
September 2005 to April 2006: The supernova search continued on nearly every clear night.
September 12, 2005: Paul Gray and I are pleased to report that we have discovered another supernova (mag ~16.3) in PGC33662 (a magnitude 15.4 galaxy in Ursa Major), as reported on IAU Circular 8600. It has been designated Supernova 2005ea.
April 14, 2005: This past weekend I installed a Boltwood Cloud Sensor. This is a really neat gadget. I still have lots to learn about its capabilities, but so far I'm impressed with it. I'm just starting to integrate it into my automation software, however, I have written some software and scripts to put its sky data on-line in real time.
January 11, 2005: Paul Gray and I are pleased to report that we have discovered a supernova (mag ~17.5) in UGC11066 (a magnitude 15.2 galaxy in Draco), as reported on IAU Circular 8462. It has been designated Supernova 2005B.
January 2, 2005: 2004 was a very productive year despite the generally more cloudy weather than is typical. My image logs tell me that I got useful images on 67 nights and collected about 5.6 gigabytes of image data! Not counting the pretty picture imaging, I imaged about 9500 galaxies (as part of the supernova search program that Paul Gray and I are working on) - lately as many as 500 per night. Of course, the big advantage of CCD imaging is being able to use those frequent clear evenings/nights when the Moon is up.
November 27, 2004: November has been a good month too, despite the many cloudy nights when compared to Sept/Oct. The advantage of automation is being able to take advantage of nearly every clear night. Now that the nights are longer, I'm able to image over 500 galaxies per night as part of our supernova search program. No discoveries yet, but some REAL-CLOSE-CALLS.
October 3, 2004: September was a very productive month with many clear nights. These clear nights allowed Paul and I to image thousands of galaxies in the supernova search program and for me to add more capabilities to my automation hardware/software and to work out most of the bugs.
August 18, 2004: A major milestone was reached last night with first light of my new home-built dome controller. The dome azimuth sensing is somewhat unique in that it uses 72 barcodes (spaced out every ~5 degrees around the dome) and a bar code scanner. It seems to work very well indeed. To stitch together everything I wrote a program called the ARO Dome Controller which allows both manual control of the dome and remote control using the ASCOM dome standard. When the ASCOM Dome Control Panel is used with it, the dome automatically follows the telescope position.
July 25, 2004: I've made great progress in the last couple of weeks on the dome automation project. I've built and programmed a dome controller which can open/close and rotate the dome both manually and via a PC. I've also worked out the details of the dome azimuth sensing system - more on that later. By end of this week, I should have all the hardware complete leaving just the software on the PC side to write.
January to May 2004: Activities during this period were mainly confined to the supernova search project that I am doing with Paul Gray. I did attempt to do a drift polar alignment which did improve things - I have to do more iterations though. Overall the dome survived the winter very well. The only problem that I had was the observatory door froze shut a few times.
December 15, 2003: Not too much is new since September. Other revenue-generating (!) commitments kept me from making any further progress on the automation projects. I did, however, install the new Optec focuser but I had so much trouble getting good flat field corrections that I removed it until I installed flocking paper inside it - this cured the internal reflection problems that I was having.
During the fall we did manage to observe about 700 faint galaxies in our new supernova search program. Paul Gray has organized a program of about 2000 galaxies in the northern sky that we will be systematically searching - no discoveries yet! We are still in the process of taking reference images.
On November 8th Clint Shannon and Mary Lou and Lloyd Whitehorne came over to watch the lunar eclipse. Clint and I took photographs of the eclipse using the Genesis telescope and E200 slide film. One of the photos is on the recent images page.
On November 16th I observed the asteroid named for Saint Mary's University: 6898 Saint-Mary's. This image is also on the recent images page.
On November 27th I observed the first comet at ARO - in fact two comets: Encke and C/2002 T7 (Linear). Both were enjoyed visually by amateur astronomers. These images are on the recent images page.
September 4, 2003: Craig Levine joined me again - we took the first colour CCD images at ARO - of M27 and M51 - see them here.
August 28, 2003: Craig Levine joined me on this night. We tested the automatic sync function that I recently added to my scripting software (it worked!). We imaged a couple of objects (see recent images above) and automatically imaged the first new supernova search list of 40+ galaxies in a new set of search lists perpared by Paul Gray.
August 27, 2003: Ordered an Optec TCF-S digital focusser - this is making it much easier to focus the CCD camera.
August 23, 2003: The official opening was a great success with about 35 of our friends and family attending. We even managed to arrange a clear sky! The picture below was taken shortly after the new observatory sign was unveiled (Dave's 40th birthday present from Michelle).
August 21, 2003: Added the ARO DomeCam (see above).
August 18, 2003: Tonight I tried using an Optec WideField 0.5x compressor lens, borrowed from Saint Mary's University, in front of the CCD camera. This made the field twice as large (and 4 times the area). The images looked very good - I have to get one of those!
August 16, 2003: Over the past couple of weeks I've been working on a scripting program (still very much a work-in-progress) to automate the aquisition and imaging of target objects. In the past two nights I've been able to type one command to start the automatic imaging of a list of objects - and eureka, it worked! This has allowed Paul Gray and I to restart our supernova search program, which died in 1995 shortly after our first discovery. Paul is now scouring over lists of galaxies selecting those that meet our program requirements. More on that later. More "pretty picture" images have been added below from the last couple of sessions. I have also started the design and ordered parts to start the project automating the dome shutter and rotation.
Last Updated: January 18, 2010. Click here to go back to Dave's home page