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Observatory and Observation

One important (required!) part of the course (as noted above) will be observation and learning to use a modern ``amateur'' grade telescope in conjunction with star charts or planetarium software. Duke has its own observatory area, located in Duke Forest not too far from campus. This is some distance away from the city lights, but still quite low and near to the city and hence subject to haze and some degree of light pollution from Durham. It is, however, far better than the old observing facility on the roof of the physics building surrounded by campus lights!

A map of the route from campus to the observatory can be found here, or you can follow these verbal instructions:

The observatory is located in the Duke Forest, on Cornwallis Rd, about one mile west of Kerley. From the Duke Physics building, drive down Science Drive until it terminates on NC 751 (Cameron). Turn right. Proceed down the hill, under US 15-501, and down the hill again to a traffic circle. Go 3/4 of the way around the circle and turn right onto Erwin Road (towards Chapel Hill). Proceed a half mile or so over a bridge and up a hill and turn right (west) on Cornwallis at the light and proceed a bit more than two miles (past Kerley Road, then start looking on the left). Access to the observatory is through a Duke Forest gate on the left hand side of the road. (The gate is usually locked unless observatory is open). The gravel road through the gate forks soon. Follow the road to the right around a large shed and park in front of the shed. Turn off car headlights as soon as you have stopped! Walk down the hill to your left (away from Cornwallis) to the observatory site, about 150ft.

A radio tower with a flashing red light is also located off of the left side of Cornwallis just past the correct entrance. If you get to the radio tower, you have gone too far - turn around and come back and look on the right as you come past the tower.

The telescopes at the site are located in a locked shed and have to be taken out and assembled on fixed stands, and then taken down at the end of the day. Students will be learning to do this themselves - one important goal of the course is to teach you enough that you will be able one day to buy your own telescope and assemble/disassemble it as needed and use it to enjoy amateur astronomy for the rest of your life!

Before your first trip to the observatory, please download and save/print your own copy of the assembly instructions for the telescopes:$\sim$plesser/observatory/LX200GPS%20Assembly.htm

Bring this copy with you to the viewing, along with a tiny flashlight if you have one. Setting up will usually happen while there is still daylight, but taking down will be done late, when it is quite dark.

Visitors Are Welcome! If your roommate or some friends want to come along, that's fine (especially if you have your own transportation). Please let me know, however, if you plan to bring somebody just so I can keep a running total of how many people we are likely to have in my mind.

Bringing beverages is permitted (it can be hot and viewing sessions can last for four or five hours on a really good night) but plan to carry out your trash. I personally don't care if the beverages are alcoholic as long as students both comply with NC law and Duke policy regarding them and comply with my own standards of polite behavior and moderation while handling expensive pieces of equipment. Remember that you will have to drive back to campus, as well, and that the roads to and from the observatory are full of deer and other hazards at night! Gentle, sober driving and good reflexes are definitely called for...

next up previous contents
Next: Observation Hazards: Mosquitos, Ticks, Up: Physics 55 Course Description/Syllabus Previous: Useful Links and Resources   Contents
Robert G. Brown 2010-06-26