by Dave and Jennifer Skitt
The cold weather has set in but that doesn’t mean the observatory can’t be used to catch that elusive asteroid or your favorite winter galaxy or star cluster. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind before you head out.
First and foremost is to dress appropriately for the cold temperatures. Dress in multiple layers (more than you think you’ll need) and bring along a hot beverage and snacks to keep your energy levels up. There is a small heater in the control room that can be used to keep warm; just be sure to turn it off before leaving. Also, having a willing and devoted spouse, friend or fellow observer accompany you is highly recommended.
Second, please consider that any significant snowfall will affect how you access the observatory. The park’s main entrance gets closed and locked much earlier now and our typical access from Bear Tavern Road may be plowed in. You may need to shovel an opening to reach the locked gate. Furthermore, the parking lots by the soccer fields do not get plowed, nor does the gravel road by the campsites. Therefore, a vehicle with a high stance and all-wheel/4-wheel drive is highly recommended.
Next, thick/compacted snow on the control room roof will impede opening the roll-off-roof. However, light/fluffy snow can be simply (but carefully) brushed off using the broom stored in the bathroom. While there is a snow shovel in the observatory, it should not be used as it can all too easily damage the roof surfaces.
Lastly, the water to the observatory has been turned off and the pipes and fixtures drained to protect their integrity. If used, the toilet bowl can be manually flushed using water you bring with you in a five-gallon bucket. Pour the water rapidly into the bowl to flush and be sure to replace the pink RV antifreeze in the bowl before you leave. There is a supply of antifreeze in the bathroom; about two cups added to the bowl is sufficient. If you happen to use the sink, please add some antifreeze to the drain trap as well.
While this may seem like a lot of effort to go through for winter observing, remember that the telescopes are already there, already set up, aligned and waiting to be used. Use them as you would on any warm summer night. Happy New Year and happy observing!