Backyard Astronomy

Welcome to the Dodd/Kurylo family backyard observatory near Mineral, Virginia USA, about halfway between Richmond, the state capital, and Charlottesville, home of Thomas Jefferson. Here you will find some of our photographs of the night sky, plus pictures of our former observatory and telescope and imaging equipment. Enjoy your visit!

Nebulae Nebulae Galaxies Galaxies Stars and Moon Stars and Moon
Click here to buy astronomy photos.

We moved to a new house in 2011. The observatory pictured on this website was located at our former house about 20 miles east, and all of the astronomy images were made there. We plan to build a new observatory soon.

visitors since December 16, 2009


This Clear Sky Chart is for the new house and observatory we built in 2010 about 20 miles away.

This is the 8'x12' roll-off roof observatory we built. While you're on that page, be sure to check out the menu at the top for details on the telescope and imaging equipment, and how we control everything renotely. There's also an extensive write-up on eliminating differential flexure from the imaging equipment for better-quality photos.

Observatory

We moved in 2011, and cleared land for a new observatory with a better horizon, so the telescope is packed up until then.

The new observatory site will have a much lower horizon, giving us an expanded view of the sky. Compare the new site's viewing area with the constricted view at our former house.


Lowell Observatory Visit

On June 22, 2004 we visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and spent some time looking through the 24" Clark refractor.

At the Lowell Observatory

In 1894 Percival Lowell, a wealthy Bostonian, set up his own observatory in Flagstaff, and on July 23, 1896, he installed the 24" objective lens onto a 32-foot long tube and viewed the dark Arizona sky. You can learn more about the Lowell Observatory and its telescopes at www.lowell.edu/.

The f/16 refractor weighs six tons (2-ton tube, 1-ton counterweights, 3-ton "other movable"); the German equatorial mount weighs another seven tons. To aim the telescope, the observer uses the "Armstrong method" – shove it around by hand. Once aimed, clutches are engaged and a clock drive tracks the target.

When we visited, the Observatory staff had some difficulty finding targets, and later decided the "clock" (dial) that displays the right ascension needed adjustment. Views though the scope were bright and crisp, and we could detect some color in M51, the Whirpool Galaxy.

This photo shows the rear of the Clark 24" telescope. The controls are, roughly clockwise from the left:

Clark Refractor

Interestingly, the same techniques used to process astronomy images dramatically improved this shot. Taken with a digital point-and-shoot camera having a puny built-in flash, parts of the telescope close to the camera were correctly exposed, but the objective end was not. Worse, the observatory dome was completely lost in darkness. However, application of levels and curves in Photoshop revealed the hidden details, as you can see here.


Updated July 9, 2016