For the last few years, staff, members and volunteers of the Battle Point Astronomical Association have been hard at work doing an array of much needed upgrades and improvements to the Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory at Battle Point Park. The observatory, which was christened on the Winter Solstice (December 21st) in 1997 and named after one of the BPAA founding members, Ed Ritchie, houses the largest telescope accessible to the public in the Pacific Northwest and provides a variety of educational and fun programs and experiences for astronomers and star gazers, regardless of your level of expertise.
Many of the upgrades focused around their outdated computer systems and the projection system for the John H. Rudolph Planetarium and classroom, and BPAA worked with Bainbridge Community Foundation (BCF), Bainbridge Island Rotary, and the Bainbridge Island Parks and Trails Foundation, as well as other fundraising efforts to make that happen. The computer equipment and the projector came on line earlier this year, but another important upgrade was also needed—replacing the original removable curved aluminum framed planetarium projection dome.
“The new planetarium dome was purchased from Emerald Planetarium Systems. It’s a negative pressure dome,” explained Frank Petrie, BPAA President. “It eliminates the seams and pooches in our old dome that so terribly degraded the experience. It comes as a kit; it has an inner frame that goes together like tinker toys. The frame supports inner and outer fabric covers, and a blower pulls the negative pressure that sucks the inner fabric into a perfect sphere. It’s really quite ingenious! The dome is 5 meters in diameter and rests on an aluminum ring of our own construction, suspended from the ceiling.” The assembly and installation of the new dome was completed by a dedicated group of BPAA members, who come each week for “Telescope Tuesday” work parties*.
BPAA member, Erin Howard, who has experience with the projection planetarium system, will be stepping into the role of Planetarium Manager and will be joining their board in January as Education Officer, Frank said. “She’ll be responsible not only for programming, but also for training volunteers on how to operate the system and deliver planetarium shows. The system comes pre-loaded with scripts and lesson plans.” Erin earned her Bachelor of Science from Western Washington University, and is a research scientist for the University of Washington, where she is a member of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory Data Management Team and operates and tests software processing pipelines being developed for the Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).
On Saturday, November 11th, I was invited to attend the inaugural unveiling of the planetarium dome at the observatory. The new dome, along with the new projection system provides a full-dome 360-degree immersive experience for the viewer. Saturday night’s focus was on Jupiter, which reached its full opposition earlier this month. Using the new system, Erin was able to zoom in on Jupiter and its moons, as well as mapping out various constellations with overlays, making the experience more informative and fun.
The computer system upgrades included the tracking and imaging systems for the Ritchie Telescope, and identifying additional adjustments have been ongoing, which will be made over time to improve its performance even more. They also collaborated with the Metal Fabrication Studio at BARN to build a new shutter for the telescope dome. “The new aluminum shutter will replace the tired old wooden one that creaks and groans when operated, and leaks when it rains,” Frank said. “You can see the shutter outside the welding shop at BARN. Construction is nearly complete, and in about a week it will be transported to a paint shop for painting. From there it will be delivered to the observatory, where a crane will remove the old shutter and lift the new shutter into place.”
In addition, they are installing a remote-control system that will allow the telescope dome to be opened from afar. “This is the final step in making the entire telescope system remotely operable so that we can do imaging from the warmth of the control room downstairs, or even from home!”
Other renovations include the second-floor workshop, which has been unfinished since the observatory opened its doors in 1997. Members and volunteers have almost completed the sheetrock, paint, and flooring and will continue work to include new lighting, workbenches and storage.
With assistance from the Bainbridge Island Metro Parks and Recreation District, they were also able to upgrade the old DSL line with high-speed internet. “We now have strong Wi-Fi throughout the building and are running networking cables to various locations to support workstations and other connected devices, including the planetarium,” Frank shared. “We’ll be able to livestream all manner of astronomy and space exploration content.”
If you’d like to stay up to date on events and news, you can browse their website at bpastro.org, and check out the BPAA Observer Newsletter at https://bpastro.org/newsletter/, or follow them on Facebook here.
*Everyone is welcome to attend the “Telescope Tuesday” work parties regardless of membership status. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the observatory and astronomy from members, and of course, assist in maintenance around the property. They begin at 9:30 every Tuesday morning.
BPAA membership is only $25.00 per year ($40 for a family membership, $10 for students under 18) and offers additional features such as organizing your own events and access to the loaner telescopes, click here for details.
Got skills? BPAA is always in need of people with skills; whether it be computer, carpentry, painting, electrical, social media, party planning…or you’re great at helping out with a variety of tasks and want to learn more about astronomy. Sign up to volunteer at the observatory and reach for the stars! Contact Frank Petrie at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
If you’d like to learn more about the observatory, visit our previous articles:
Reaching for the Stars: The Ritchie Observatory at Battle Point Park – Built for and by Bainbridge Islanders | THE ISLAND WANDERER and The Sky’s the Limit at the Ritchie Observatory at Battle Point Park | THE ISLAND WANDERER.
Bonus Feature! The observatory also houses a ham radio station, operated by Bainbridge Island Amateur Radio Club (BARC) (official call sign W7NPC). It’s a wonderful addition to the observatory because, as Frank said, “it provides a space and opportunity for local ham operators who live in apartments or condos with restrictions on large antennas to practice on-air and enjoy making contacts around the world, and it provides long distance communication capability for the emergency HUB established in Battle Point Park by Bainbridge Prepares.” He’s also hopeful that hams with an interest in astronomy will experiment with “radio astronomy” utilizing homebuilt receivers tuned to specific radio frequencies emanating from celestial sources. If you’d like to learn more about BARC, visit our previous article: Bainbridge Island Amateur Radio Club…Reaching out locally, nationally and globally! | THE ISLAND WANDERER
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