It has been a long time since I last posted. I have had nothing to report because the weather in the state of Washington has been very astronomically unfriendly, and I have been forced to cancel several planned missions to Zephyr Ridge Observatory. In fact, based on weather forecasts, there has been exactly one reliably clear night (during moonless periods) since the first of February, and this occurred following heavy snowfall, and I decided not to venture a potentially hazardous trip. The month of March was especially bad, as one storm followed another in the Seattle area and the weather in eastern Washington was also uninviting.
But, at last I was able to visit Zephyr Ridge Observatory from April 21-23 and I was treated to two excellent nights under clear skies. I will follow this post with a compilation of my observations, which included mostly galaxies and galaxy clusters.
Since this blog is about sharing the experience of owning an astronomical observatory, I am compelled to describe the various issues that arise as part of managing such a remote property. On this trip I found the observatory in decent shape overall, with only a few minor issues. One of the plastic sheets I installed around the perimeter of the building, which I covered with rocks and gravel, blew away in the wind and I found it about 150 yards away stuck in a bush. I reinstalled it with even more rock cover, and I will be ordering a gravel delivery in the near future to fully cover the installation.
My duct-taped exhaust pipe repair held up, which surprised me. I expected the wind to eventually rip it off the building again, but I underestimated the strength of duct tape! I removed the duct tape and installed a new coupling joint, completing a permanent repair – at least until the next crazy windstorm. Meanwhile, the wind greeted me when I arrived, and while unloading my vehicle the wind caught the rear storm door of the building and blew it wide open, damaging the return mechanism. I will add this to the list of summer projects.
One annoying aspect of owning a remote observatory is dealing with insects, as an unattended building seems especially attractive to various creepy crawlies. In my case, the most annoying bugs are silverfish, which do not bite but seem to get into everything. Wasps are another issue, as they easily get inside the observing room because a roof on wheels cannot be completely sealed. I bought a commercial grade poison and sprayed the building perimeter and also various interior locations. The poison is supposed to retain its potency, even outdoors, for up to three months, so I am hoping this will beat back the crawlers. I will spray entry points for wasps later in the summer, as they seem to only be a problem in August and September when they seek shelter for the winter.
Whenever I visit my building after a long absence, I always test the rolling roof mechanism during daylight to ensure that there are no problems. The roof is now experiencing a sticking problem on the south side of the building, which is probably a combination of the building continuing to settle over time and the fact that the woodwork may have swelled slightly during the wet winter months. This problem occurred last year on the north side of the building, and I used a planer to scrap away a little wood on one of the fascia boards. I will probably do something similar on the south side, but I will need a friend’s help as I am not able to see exactly where the problem is occurring while at the same time operating the roof motor.
A long-term issue for my property is the 0.4 mile long dirt road leading to my property from the highway. This road has become deeply rutted, and while vehicles with high clearance can pass, I fear that friends who would like to visit in typical sedans will find passage difficult. I have included a photo showing the worst section. I may decide to interview excavators to determine how much it would cost to grade and gravel the road, or at least the worst sections of the road.
That is all for now. I hope to visit again in the near future. The rain has returned to Seattle and the next few days look bleak in eastern Washington as well. I am hoping to head out again during this moon cycle if the weather improves again.