Mark Slade Remote Observatory (MSRO) – Wilderness, Virginia

Observatory Status: Operational!

South View of Observatory

Director: Myron Wasiuta [email protected]
Assistant Director: Jerry Hubbell [email protected]
Staff Astronomer: Lauren Lennon  [email protected]
Location: +38 20’ 02” -77 42’39” West Longitude Altitude 300’

Description of Facility

The Mark Slade Remote Observatory (MSRO) is an astronomical observatory made possible by generous donations from the estate of Mark Slade, the Rappahannock Astronomy Club, and donations from private individuals in the Fredericksburg, VA, region. Explore Scientific®, a major sponsor, has generously loaned the main instruments for long-term use.

The MSRO is a modern, state-of-the-art facility using the latest in low-cost, high-value astronomical instrumentation. Its mission is to serve as both a training and research facility for anyone interested in astronomy and astronomical research. It is available for use by members of the Rappahannock Astronomy Club and local high-school and college students.

The MSRO is operated by the MSRO Commission, which also oversees funding, approval of observation requests, coordination of observing schedules, and development of observing plans. The day-to-day operation and maintenance of the observatory, scheduling of approved observation requests, and training of users are the responsibilities of the MSRO Director and Assistant Director…

To keep up to date on the latest activities of observers using MSRO, please visit the MSRO Facebook page.

Primary Telescope—Currently, the primary optical instrument is an Explore Scientific® 6-1/2-inch (165 mm) f/7 ED Apochromatic carbon-fiber refractor, which is configured with a 0.7x focal reducer/field flattener and operates at f/4.9 (809 mm focal length (FL)). The CCD camera mounted on this telescope is a monochrome SBIG ST2000XM (1600×1200 7.4 micron pixels). This camera has a plate scale of 1.88 arc-seconds/pixel. The field of view (FOV) is 50.2×37.7 arc-minutes. The camera has an integrated filter wheel with red, V-band, blue, and luminance filters for imaging and photometric measurements. In addition, a 200 line-per-millimeter (lpmm) spectroscopic grating with an effective resolution of about 13 angstroms/pixel is provided.

Minor planets and stars of magnitude 18 can be observed with the main instrument. Astrometric (position) measurements of minor planets are possible with a typical error of 0.15 arc-seconds. Owing to restrictions in the local horizon, observations are possible between −40 and +70 degrees declination. Other horizon limits also may restrict viewing at certain hour angles.

Secondary Telescope—The secondary optical instrument is an Explore Scientific® 4-inch (102 mm) f/7 ED Apochromatic refractor, which is configured with a 2-inch field flattener (714 mm FL). The camera mounted on this instrument is a 4/3-inch, 16-megapixel CMOS chip QHY 163C one-shot-color (OSC) camera (4656×3522 3.8 micron pixels) has a plate scale of 1.01 arc-seconds/pixel. The FOV is 1.3×1.0 degrees. Wide-field full-color images of deep sky objects, such as nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies, can be taken with this instrument.

Mount—The telescope mount is a Losmandy® G11 with the Explore Scientific® PMC-Eight mount control system. The Explore Scientific® Telescope Drive Master (TDM) drive correction system is also installed on the mount to provide precision tracking to less than 1 arc-second RMS. This instrument allows unguided exposures of up to 5 minutes (300 seconds). Typical 300-second star images at the imaging scales are 2 pixels FWHM (less than 4 arc-seconds).

Other Instruments, Computer, Software, Resource Documents—Other instruments include a FLIR® Point Grey Flea3 GigE high-speed video camera for lunar and planetary imaging; a ZWO ASI120MM CCD camera, which serves as a wide-field webcam to observe the instrument while in use; and a GPS receiver and NMEATime® software, which provide a precision time reference accurate to 10 ms when imaging minor planets.

The main computer in the observatory is remotely controlled using the desktop sharing program TeamViewer™ V 13. Maxim DL™ V6 Pro is used to operate the observatory, telescopes, and cameras. Star charting and telescope pointing are accomplished using Cartes du Ciel V4.0. Astronomers using the MSRO can perform astrometry, photometry, and spectroscopy. Software available to MSRO users includes Astrometrica, RSpec™, Registax V6, CCDInspector™, and Nebulosity™ 3. Various charting programs are available, including Virtual Moon Atlas 6.0. Documents available include Photographic Lunar Atlas for Moon Observers by Kwok C. Pau, Photographic Moon Book by Alan Chu, and Exoplanet Observing for Amateurs, second edition (plus), by Bruce L. Gary. Other miscellaneous resources are also available o the computer.

Observatory Instruments   

Screenshot of M100  

Observatory Instruments
taken with Webcam

M20, Trifid Nebula
J. Hubbell)

Gaining Access to the MSRO

You must be a member in good standing of the Rappahannock Astronomy Club to request time as an observer. You can find membership information here. There are three categories of users on the MSRO:

  • MSRO Guest Observer: This is the easiest way to obtain observations. This person does not actively control the observatory but can watch online while the Director, Assistant Director, or another person fully trained in operating MSRO actually makes the guest observers observation. The data obtained are then transferred to the guest observer via remote file transfer. Alternatively, if the guest does not want to be present while the observation is made, the observer will be notified when the data are ready for transfer.
  • MSRO Observer in Training: This is someone who wants to eventually operate the observatory unsupervised. During training, the observer is supervised by the Director, Assistant Director, or a fully trained observer. During training, the observer is sequentially tasked with operating more of the observatory functions until full proficiency is obtained. After a final checkout demonstrating proficiency, the Observer in Training becomes a fully credentialed MSRO Observer. To aid in understanding the startup procedure, you can review the Startup Video. The video also discusses the GPS program and the Weather Ninja application.
  • MSRO Observer: This observer has completed the MSRO Observer in Training Program and has been deemed fully capable of observatory operations by both the Director and Assistant Director. This observer is granted full access to the operation of the MSRO unsupervised.

If you are interested in observing using the Mark Slade Remote Observatory, download the  MSRO Application for Observation Time Request(pdf), fill it out online (it’s a fillable form), and click the “Submit” button to send it to the Director via your email application. Alternatively, download it, complete it offline, save it to your desktop, and send it as an attachment to an email to [email protected]. If you would like to receive training, please be sure to include that request in the “Additional Details” field of the form.

There is no charge for Rappahonnock Astronomy Club members to use this observatory. However, if you would like to make a small donation, please contact the Director via email for details.