Saturday, May 22, 2010

Homer Observatory

I had heard about 'some guy who has an observatory' in Homer, so when Denver expressed an interest in learning more about it, I tracked the guy down. After nearly two months of back-and-forth, and he finally emailed yesterday and said, "It's sunny and I'm around!" so we finally got together.

Tom Kern's setup is pretty cool. He built a shed with a top that slides off so that he doesn't have to recalibrate the telescopes each time he uses them. Of course they are hooked up to his computer so that he can control things from the comfort of his house, and pictures from the camera attached to the telescope can be downloaded directly to his computer as well. The telescopes are hooked up to a motor so they can track the sun or other celestial bodies as the pictures he takes can take many hours of exposure (one he had on his wall took 9 hours of exposure). Things can also be automated so that if he wanted, Tom could have his computer take pictures at night so he wouldn't have to stay awake for viewing.

When I asked him how his location was for viewing, Tom was blunt: "It sucks." He lives in Homer so has the city lights glowing around him. Apparently this far north there is a lot of atmospheric interference so things that might be clear at a lower latitude are a bit blurry here. In addition, there are about 5 months of the year from April through October that there is no nighttime viewing at all due to long daylight hours. Cloudy days limit the number of opportunities as well, so the actual window of opportunity for viewing can be slim. Apparently when there is a string of clear, dark nights, Tom will be up as much as he can, which can wreak havoc on sleep patterns, but it is a passion he has enjoyed for many years.

Homer is full of people with passions and talents in a huge array of areas, so it was neat to find one who was willing to share their hobby. Denver got to see a sunspot and track it for an hour ("It's still there!"), wanted to get his paws on the equipment, but really wanted to see more "stuff"--which he would need a dark, clear night for. For now, it whetted his appetite for space viewing.

If interested, Tom's
astrophotography website can be found at

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