RAO aerial

50 Years of Technology and Research

Jason Nishiyama


NGC 7000

NGC 7000

Baker Nunn Jason

Baker Nunn Jason

The Rothney Astronomical Observatory - A personal retrospective.

My affiliation with the RAO began in the late 1980s as an undergraduate astrophysics student at the University of Calgary. As undergrads we had the opportunity to use small 10cm telescopes to do our lab work. The ARCT building had only been recently completed and the ARCT did not have its optical mirror yet. No visitor centre existed; a couple of ATCO trailers linked together served as the classroom/warm up building. At some point we were able to use the 40cm telescope (after the lab TA manually pointed it). Observations, even through the 40cm telescope were visual, with the human eye, no electronic imagers at that point. The telescopes were all manual too, no computer assisted pointing.

Fast-forward a decade or so after graduation, moving away to pick up an education degree, returning and getting established as a teacher. A long association with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada allowed an opportunity to volunteer at the RAO to help with outreach activities. Of course, at this point many changes had happened to the facility. A new visitor centre had replaced the ATCO trailers. The ARCT now had a proper mirror and the Baker-Nunn telescope was operational. The main telescope was now computer controlled and the days of undergraduates using small cardboard-tubed telescope were long gone. I spent my time operating a telescope for the public on the observing deck where I had my labs so many years before.

Completing a master's degree in astronomy then allowed me the opportunity to become even more involved in the science mission of the RAO. Using the RAO spectrographic equipment for my planetary nebula work. I've also be able to use the Baker-Nunn telescope for some asteroid hunting as well as some experiments in colour imaging (the BN was not designed for colour images).

This has all lead to a position as a sessional instruction at the U of C, so things have now come full circle as I now use the RAO as part of the courses I teach to undergraduates.

Larry McNish

Larry McNish

Phil and the C14

Larry McNish

RAO observing terrace piers

Larry McNish

RAO Cube

Alan Dyer

A Fond Memory of “The Cube Project” By Larry McNish Calgary Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

I started as an amateur astronomer and astrophotographer in 1986. In 1988 I moved my family to Calgary, but it wasn’t until 2002 I had the time to join the RASC.

Shortly after that, in 2004, I became aware of the new public outreach program at the RAO Public Star Nights where the RAO and members of the Calgary Centre of the RASC set up telescopes and let members of the public come out to have a look at the stars, planets and deep-sky objects.

The concrete pad of the RAO’s Observing deck was the place to set up scopes and at times there were up to 20 amateur telescopes on and around the pad. This pad or terrace was once used as a teaching facility for UofC Physics and Astronomy undergraduates. To facilitate the generation of scopes available at the time, and their easy setup, 17 metal stands were installed onto the concrete pad with tilted tops allowing the easy polar alignment and latitude adjustment for observing.

By the 2000’s they had served their purpose as the world of portable telescopes had move on to advanced computerized mounts that could not use the RAO stands. Also, the purchase of a new Celestron 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope with its computerized targeting and tracking mount – together called “The C14”. To use that “Queen of the advanced Portable Telescopes” during “Open House” star nights.

The setup process took between 1 and 2 hours every time we wanted to use the C14 involving disassembly of the scope, counterweights, and tripod mount at its protected location inside the RAO building. Carrying the three heavy sections out to the observing deck, then re-assembling the pieces and supplying power. Wait until sundown to “calibrate” the telescope’s to its exact position on Earth (longitude and latitude), the exact time, and then to target several stars so it could precisely target and track any objects. And then, after a long night of using the C14 to show deep-sky objects to an admiring public, it was necessary to disassemble everything, carry the sections back inside the big RAO building to protect it from the weather, re-assemble it there and cover it until it was needed for a project or until the next star night.

There were so many public events over the next few years that hundreds of hours of Dr. Langill’s time or mine were used up just setting up and taking down the C14. So, Dr. Langill decided to resolve this by creating a unique building to house the C14 permanently on the Observing Deck and have it completed in 2009 for “The International Year of Astronomy”.

Because I had volunteered for other projects at the RAO and had just completed a building with a roll-off roof for the Calgary Centre's Wilson Coulee Observatory, D. Langill asked me to help with the design and construction - and of course I said yes. Between March and October 2009, we designed, constructed, wired, and completed a building to house the C14. It was a blast having an electrical Engineer and PhD Astrophysicist hauling construction materials, cutting wood, bolting stuff together and running cables! Working with Phil was a time I'll never forget!

The most unique thing is that the C14 remains still and is never moved outside its building. Instead, it is the entire building that moves along steel rails leaving the C14 with a clear view of almost the entire sky. Opening the building takes only a few minutes. And the C14 does not require re-calibration every time it is used - just powering it up and it's ready to go. This has saved us hundreds of hours over the last 13 years and provided thousands of interested member of the public with a view of the universe through a quite large telescope.