New observatory opens ‘portal to the cosmos’ in heart of Utah’s dark-sky country

(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Bailey stands next to his newly rebuilt Alpenglow Observatory amid the Milky Way. The research grade observatory is a gift from his father that formerly occupied his back yard along the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake City. The TEC 140 refractor telescope, mounted on a German equatorial mount is completely automated and can be operated remotely. Bailey now takes astrophotography with the telescope's CCD camera, recording photos of galaxies, stars and nebulae.(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Western portion of the Veil Nebula, NGC 6960, with star 52 Cygni in constellation Cygnus, photographed at Torrey House -Alpenglow Observatory, June 28-29, 2017.  The Veil is a remnant of a supernova that exploded circa 3,000 BC to 6,000 BC. The whole nebula has expanded to cover an area about 6 times the diameter of the moon.(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Torrey residents Darrell Mensel and Tyler Ward set up Ward's telescope during the town's star party Oct., 19, 2017. Kirsten and Mark Bailey and Mary Beddingfieldsmith held a star party at the Bailey's home to show residents and members of the Wayne County Business Association the beauty of our vast universe, planets and far away galaxies more easily seen in Wayne County's dark skies. Torrey, the gateway town to Capitol Reef National Park, hopes to become the state's first officially designated Dark Sky Community.(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Andromeda Galaxy M31, plus nearby dwarf galaxies M32 and M110. This was a 3-hour, 8-minute exposure through an 80mm APO triplet telescope in Torrey, October 2015. On perfectly light pollution free dark nights, like those found in Torrey, the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye. At 2 million light years away, it is the furthest thing you will ever see unaided.(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Bailey talks with star party guests and members of the Wayne County Business Association about the beauty of our vast universe, planets and far away galaxies, more easily seen in Wayne County's dark skies. Bailey and fellow astronomers set up half a dozen telescopes for the event. Bailey takes photos of galaxies, stars and nebulae at his Torrey House-Alpenglow Observatory, a research-grade observatory that is a gift from his father.(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Torrey residents discuss the town's Dark Sky Community application while viewing planets and constellations during the town's star party Oct., 19, 2017.(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Dumbbell Nebula in constellation Vulpecula, Torrey House - Alpenglow Observatory, Sept. 15, 2017. The Dumbbell is an example of a planetary nebula, the remnants of an exploded star and the cosmic furnace where the elements that make up our planet, and ourselves, are forged.(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) A photo taken of 100 North in Torrey, Oct. 18, 2017 shows the light output and color of three newly installed LED lights in comparison to the two remaining sodium vapor lights. Garkane Energy Cooperative replaced the remaining sodium vapor lights on 100 North with new lights, using spectra at 3000 Kelvin or less, that direct light away from the sky, Oct. 19, 2017.(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Light pollution prompted Torrey resident Mary Bedingfieldsmith to find out what the town, population 300, could do to curb artificial light. Her group helped raise money to install new lighting, saving the town more than $900 in lighting costs each year. Residents in several southern Utah communities have mounted a grass-roots push to retrofit old lighting outside homes, business and public thoroughfares to curb stray beams and save money through more efficient, directed lighting.

(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Torrey resident Mary Bedingfieldsmith, left, watches as workers from Garkane Energy Cooperative replace the remaining four sodium vapor lights on 100 North with new lights, using spectra at 3000 Kelvin or less, that direct light away from the sky, Oct. 19, 2017.  Torrey, the gateway town to Capitol Reef National Park, has applied to become the state's first Dark Sky Community.(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Lineman Courtney Cropper with Garkane Energy Cooperative tests Torrey's new warm-white, energy saving LED lights. Cropper replaced the four remaining sodium vapor lights in town on 100 North with new LED lights, using spectra at 3000 Kelvin or less, that direct light away from the sky, Oct. 19, 2017.(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Galaxies M100, also known as the Blow Dryer Galaxy, and NGC 4312. These galaxies are members of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, 50 million light years away, in constellation Coma Berenices. There are several other dwarf galaxies also in the image, photographed at Torrey House Alpenglow Observatory, May 28, 2017.(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Bailey in his Torrey House Alpenglow Observatory. The research-grade observatory is completely automated and can be operated remotely. Bailey now takes astrophotography with the telescope's CCD camera, recording photos of galaxies, stars and nebulae.(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Kirsten and Mark Bailey stand next to their Torrey House Alpenglow Observatory. The observatory is a gift from Mark's father that formerly occupied his back yard in Salt Lake City. The research-grade observatory is completely automated and can be operated remotely. Bailey now captures astrophotography with the telescope's CCD camera, recording photos of galaxies, stars and nebulae.(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Blood Moon. Full lunar eclipse taken from Torrey on Sept. 27, 2015 withan 80-mm Stellarvue SV80ST telescope on a Losmandy G-11 mount using a Canon Rebel DSLR.(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Pleiades (M45) in Taurus, with 80-mm refractor, captured Feb. 1, 2017. Pleiades is rising again now in the early evening, a sign that winter is on the way.

Torrey • Mark Bailey’s home is surrounded by an expansive outcropping of red sandstone and a forest of piñon pine. Views are stunning: towering mountains named Boulder, Henry and Thousand Lake and, to the east, a gigantic upthrust in the Earth’s crust known as Capitol Reef National Park. There’s more. Look up and you can see the dazzling Milky Way, starry constellations and other space glories.

Bailey has opened a fully automated Torrey House-Alpenglow Observatory, which has a revolving dome that’s controlled by an Internet connection in a base building next to his Torrey home in Wayne County. Here, he can take advantage of some of the nation’s darkest skies over the park, unpolluted by lighting from the town.

“The fact that I am made of stardust and I’m staring back at the universe so vast that it took billions of years for the light to get here always humbles me,” said Bailey. “It makes me glad to be alive.”

(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Torrey residents discuss the town's Dark Sky Community application while viewing planets and constellations during the town's star party Oct., 19, 2017.

Jeremy Miller, who traveled from Northern California in late October to attend a stargazing party at the observatory, said, “San Francisco is a great city, but if you want to see the Milky Way and a great dark sky, this is the place to be.”

As Saturn was setting, Miller’s 9-year-old son, Owen, said that of the giant planet’s 60-some moons, “Titan is my favorite. That’s where there might be life.”

Said Margaret Smith, who lives in Torrey and Salt Lake City: “It’s incredibly sad that many of our night skies are so polluted with light that most people can’t even see the Milky Way.”

The Colorado Plateau (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) is among the nation’s last remaining dark-sky regions. Its low population density, large swatches of public lands, arid climate and high elevation lend themselves to superior night views. Some cities and towns are taking the importance of dark skies seriously, including Springdale, Boulder, Moab, Kanab and the border town of Page, Ariz.

By the end of this year, Torrey is slated to become the first community in Utah to achieve dark-sky status. Volunteers raised money to install 23 streetlights with more efficient LED lighting that’s directed downward where people live and work, replacing outdated bulbs that spewed out beams in all directions — blotting out the dark sky. Garkane Energy, an electric cooperative, sent crews to replace the lighting, and Torrey, in turn is expected to save more than $900 in lighting costs each year

(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) A photo taken of 100 North in Torrey, Oct. 18, 2017 shows the light output and color of three newly installed LED lights in comparison to the two remaining sodium vapor lights. Garkane Energy Cooperative replaced the remaining sodium vapor lights on 100 North with new lights, using spectra at 3000 Kelvin or less, that direct light away from the sky, the next day.

“Unlike the larger utilities, we don’t have to answer to shareholders or to Wall Street,” said Garkane CEO Dan McClendon. ”We’re in a position that’s it’s possible to show our members that investing in new technology can bring economic benefits by paying less for the same amount of energy.”

McClendon shies away from politically charged words, such as “conservation” or “environmentalism.” Instead, he focuses on educating the public on the cost benefits of energy efficiency. “This isn’t about cutting back or doing without energy. It’s about cost savings,” he said during the stargazing party that attracted about 25 people.

Wayne County Commissioner Newell E. Harward, however, doesn’t see the county enacting regulations supporting dark skies. “We don’t want to curtail lighting for businesses. I’ve also seen laws being used to stop other things not related to the law. We want to encourage economic development, not stop or hinder it.”

The Alpenglow Observatory will be used for periodic public stargazing parties, education and citizen space projects. Bailey’s astrophotographs will be available on his Thots and Shots blog.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Bailey) Dumbbell Nebula in constellation Vulpecula, captured at Torrey House - Alpenglow Observatory, Sept. 15, 2017.

The observatory was originally built in the backyard of the home of Bailey’s father, David, 85, at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. But as the elder Bailey aged, he suggested that his son move the observatory to Torrey. Last August, Mark Bailey and his son Nick, 29, began taking apart the observatory and reassembling it near Capitol Reef, a dark-sky park, within the town limits of Torrey, without worrying about polluting lights.

Joe Bauman, vice president of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, said Bailey can achieve fine astrophotography just by turning on his computer and sending commands to the observatory.

“Mark has made a significant advancement in building an observatory in a clear, dark-sky region that he can operate from anywhere that has internet access,” Bauman wrote in an email. “When northern Utah is socked in with clouds, chances are good that he can make his spectacular astrophotos from anywhere he happens to be.”

Bailey, who retired after a career in investment management, had enjoyed stargazing with his father, starting with viewing Halley’s Comet in 1986 through an 8-inch telescope in Canyonlands, one of Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks.

When he began disassembling his father’s equipment, he hit some snags, starting with the complexity of the observatory. Before he began work, he turned to his younger sister, Camille, who had helped their father set up the observatory years before when she was 14 years old. But her only recollection was climbing a ladder, “hanging on for dear life and doing whatever Dad told me,” Bailey wrote in his blog. Bailey began slowly, using reverse engineering, and packed up the observatory into a large rental truck.

There were surprises. The dome, for instance, is much like an eggshell, strong when assembled but light and fragile when it’s disassembled and in pieces. The shutters were sturdy but weighed so little they could be carried by hand. In Torrey, he built a 10-by-10-foot base building, giving him twice the space as his dad’s round building. Now his father can operate the observatory from his personal computer, making it possible to make observations from Salt Lake County, 225 miles away.

(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Bailey talks with star party guests and members of the Wayne County Business Association about the beauty of our vast universe, planets and far away galaxies, more easily seen in Wayne County's dark skies. Bailey and fellow astronomers set up half a dozen telescopes for the event.

Bauman noted the value of that arrangement; whenever he tries to get a view of the heavens, “I must pack all my heavy gear into the Jeep and travel hours to a dark site, spend an hour and a half setting up and aligning the telescope, spend the night because it can be hazardous taking everything down in the dark, try to grab a few hours’ rest after making my photos, spend an hour and a half packing up in the morning and then travel home for a few hours.”

The Alpenglow Observatory, named by Bailey’s father, moves on a robotic mount, allowing Bailey to precisely point at a star or other deep-sky object. The observatory focuses automatically and applies the correct color filter. At the end of the telescope is a specialized CCD astronomical camera (used for digital imaging) that’s cooled to an exact temperature while taking astrophotos.

“The joy is always there,” he said. “This is like having a portal to the cosmos.”

Dark sky initiatives<br>Torrey has taken a starring role in the dark sky community. So far, the Dark Sky Community designation is an award granted to only 15 other communities in the United States, Canada, Scotland, Denmark and the Channel Islands. In addition, the University of Utah has awarded formal recognition to the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, the first academic center in the world dedicated to discovering, developing and applying knowledge to help protect night skies, according to U. officials.<br>Other states also are playing a role. New York has enacted regulations to limit the installation of new outdoor lighting on state-managed lands and put restrictions on the brightness, glare and direction of outdoor lighting fixtures (beaming down instead of up). And, only essential lighting is allowed during peak bird migrations.

Outdoor lighting basics<br>• Lights should be on only when needed and be no brighter than needed.<br>• Only illuminate areas that need it, and consider motion sensors, dimmers and timers.<br>• Minimize blue emissions by using lighting that has a color temperature of no more than 3,000 Kelvins.<br>• When purchasing outdoor lighting, look for the International Dark-Sky (IDA) seal of approval.<br>• Outside lights should be fully shielded — pointing downward rather than upward, polluting the night sky.<br>Source: International Night-Sky Association.

from The Salt Lake Tribune http://www.sltrib.com/artsliving/outdoors/2017/11/07/new-observatory-opens-portal-to-the-cosmos-in-heart-of-utahs-dark-sky-country

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