The story begins a few years ago when in a mild mid-life crisis, I purchased a Meade fourteen-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope (SCT). We had recently moved to a neighborhood out of town, and I decided the sky was finally right for such a purchase. As the neighborhood grew, my neighbor’s floodlights were soon as bright as my house in town. My neighbors seemed to hate the red filter and my astrophotography days were soon over. I was able to conduct some visual observation but, the big SCT was really a giant paperweight.
I began my search for a dark location. Did you know that more than 80-percent of Americans cannot see the Milky Way?
The best widespread dark skies in Alabama are around a Bortle of three. Bortle is a way the darkness of skies are measured. Bortle one is the best with no halos on the horizon and Bortle nine is in the middle of Times Square in New York City. So, I went on a hunt for a Bortle three location closest to my house. The second criteria for financial reasons was for the parcel to be small and affordable. The third would be to have a peak in elevation which would allow for the least amount of tree clearing if that was necessary.
Turns out, in Alabama, a Bortle three location which fulfilled the other two criteria was almost always going to involve significant tree clearing.
Ten acres became available near the Franklin/Colbert County line. It nicely fulfilled all of the criteria and exactly fulfilled my wishes. A wise philosopher once said be careful what you wish for.
My criteria almost guaranteed a long and winding drive would have to be constructed through the limestone formations of northwest Alabama. Without the drive, concrete and other building materials for the observatory would have to be hauled up the hill. Hauling concrete up the fourteen percent grade of the old four-wheeler trail would have been, well, fun’s cousin.
At the time of this writing, the road is mostly complete. More trees were sacrificed to accomplish the task than I would have liked.
The only thing left was the name. The hill I had purchased was not named so that was no help. There were however, two creeks. Rock Creek stood a mile away while Beech Lick Branch was about a thousand feet down the hill.
Before we go any further, we should probably have a conversation about licks.
Wikipedia defines a mineral lick as follows:
So, I immediately imagined the starved and exhausted pioneer who settled the area and named the creek or branch just north of my hill. He probably saw a deer licking the ground near both a Beech tree and the creek just before he shot it. The deer, that is. Hunting stories are the same as the fish variety. Knowing the place is what gives the audience hope.
My selection of names was sealed when I began looking at all the licks near the top of the hill I would later name Observatory Hill. Apparently, the former owner was an avid deer hunter and established multiple salt licks on the property. My game cameras attest to how successful the former owners were in talking the local deer into dropping by.
And so, it was. If you believe in that sort of thing, I guess the name Beech Lick Branch Observatory was, well, ordained.
The logo of the new observatory was created by my creative and gifted daughter, Rachel. It contains a deer, a telescope and Beech Tree fronds. It also contains a full moon to which her dad seems to love barking.
THE BIG IDEA
John Dobson, the creator, and developer of the inexpensive Dobsonian telescope concept said:
“The importance of a telescope is not on how big it is, it’s not on how well made it is – it’s how many people, less fortunate than you, got to look through it.”
John Dobson, 1915–2014
A Dobsonian Telescope has been called the “Carbine of Astronomy” because, by design, John Dobson set out to make an inexpensive telescope capable of seeing the same things as its larger more expensive cousins. Paired with a CCD camera, the Dobsonian, or Dob for short, created a sort of revolution in astronomy where amateurs could contribute as much to the data of astrophysics as many of the professionals. They also “set the hook”, in fishing parlance, in the mouths of babes.
To drag the metaphor around the block a few times please join me in this little thought experiment. How many hooks would be set if the USAF used videos of young airmen on latrine duty instead of fighter jocks flying a Joint Strike Fighter? I mean, isn’t it necessary, maybe even required to clean the latrines in the USAF? How can the pilots do their job without doing their job? Why do we expect kids to become excited in STEM without the wonder. Believe me, catching the first photon of Saturn IS one of the Joint Strike Fighters of STEM. Beating them over the head with constant math achievement tests is apparently not doing the job.
The 14-inch Meade SCT I moved to Beech Lick Branch would not be considered a Dob as far as expense goes but, I believe the sentiment of Dobson’s quote is sound and true. We do however, hope to purchase as many telescopes as possible in our educational endeavors. We hope someday to have a nicely grassed meadow near the top of Observatory Hill. I think we will name that field a “Star Field”. We hope to cover our “star field” with as many kids, parents, teachers, amateur astronomers, aunts, doctors, sons, plumbers… well, you get the picture. We hope they lay on blankets and count meteors. We hope they look through wooden Dobs. We hope they look through our big telescopes. We hope…
Mostly, we hope you might come along for the ride.
There is a photon which has been traveling for billions of years for your eye right now. God made it just for you. Come see it!
Dallon R. Ogle, Jr., P.E.
Resident Principal Investigator