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You are invited to the second free, public observing session at Hopewell Observatory since the start of COVID.

The date is Saturday, April 22, 2023, starting around sundown (about a quarter to 8) and ending when the last observer calls it quits.


You and your friends and family can get good views of the planets Venus and Mars, as well as the famous open clusters Pleiades, Beehive and Orion — and a large number of galaxies and double stars, through a variety of telescopes, some commercial and some home-made, some on permanent mounts under a roll-off roof, and some that we roll out onto our small lawn.

You will be capturing those photons with your own eyes instead of looking at someone’s super-processed, super-long-exposure photograph (as beautiful as those may be).

Assuming good weather, you’ll also get to see the Milky Way itself, although not as well as in past decades, because of ever-increasing light pollution.

If you like, you can bring a picnic dinner and a blanket or folding chairs, and/or your own telescope or binoculars, if you own any and feel like bringing it/them. We have outside 120VAC power, if you need it for your telescope drive, but you will need your own extension cord and plug strip. If you want to camp out or otherwise stay until dawn, feel free!

The date is Saturday, April 15, 2023 with a rain & cloud date of April 22. We suggest arriving near sundown, which will occur at about 7:47 on the 15th, and about ten minutes later on the 22nd. It will get truly dark about an hour later.


Hopewell Observatory was entirely constructed by the hands of the original founders and share-holders, many of whom were also members and officers of the National Capital Astronomers: Bob McCracken, Bob Bolster, Jerry Schnall, and others, who are now mostly deceased.

There are no street lights near our observatory, other than some dimly-lit, temporary signs we hang along the access road and foot path for public events, and you will need to walk about 300 yards in the dark. So you will probably want to bring a flashlight of some sort. (We have red plastic and tape in our Operations Cabin so that you can filter any white light to make it red. White lights at night destroy your ability to see in the dark, but red lights do not. It takes about 15-25 minutes to rebuild the necessary ‘visual purple’ after seeing bright white lights.)

If it gets cold, our Operations Building is heated. It is about 30 yards north of the Observatory itself and has the makings for hot cocoa, tea, and coffee, all gratis.

Warning: While we do have bottled drinking water and electricity and we do have hand sanitizer, we do not have running water. So our “toilet” is an outhouse of the composting variety.

At this time of year, there are not very many insects around, but you should check yourself for ticks after you get home.


Two of our telescope mounts are permanently installed in the observatory under a roll-off roof. One mount is a fairly new, high-endAstro-Physics mount with a 14” Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain scope and a 5” ED triplet refractor by Explore Scientific.

The other mount, considered ‘university-grade’, was manufactured about 50 years ago by a company called Ealing (no longer in business) for the University of Maryland. UMD decided they didn’t like it much and sold it to us, for a pittance, about 20 years later. We eventually removed the original optics, and kept the analog clutches and clockwork alive for a long time, but last year, we had to completely rebuild the motors and their controllers using something called OnStep — an Arduino-based stepper-motor control syste,m for astronomical telescopes. This system uses very inexpensive, off-the-shelf components such as stepper motors and their controller chips, commercially available for the 3-D printing and CNC machining industry. The software was written by one Howard Dutton and is given away freely. Getting this project to completion didn’t cost us very much money, but since none of us Hopewell members are electronics geeks, the conversion took us nearly a full year of hard work. This is probably the largest telescope mount in existence using OnStep. We kept the original and highly accurate Byers gears in the Ealing mount, but now we can control the mount from a smart phone running Stellarium!

We could not have completed this build without a lot of help from Prasad Agrahar, Ken Hunter, the online “OnStep” community, and especially Howard Dutton and Arlen Raasch. Thanks again!

We also have two home-made, alt-az, Newtonian telescopes, (10” and 14”) that we roll out onto our lawn, and a pair of BIG binoculars on a parallelogram mount.


Hopewell is located on Bull Run Mountain, at about 1100 feet elevation. It is about 30 miles by car from where I-66 intersects the DC beltway. The last two miles of road are dirt and gravel. Cars with really low clearance might ‘bottom out’ in a few places, so leave your fancy sports car (if any) at home. Consider car-pooling, because the parking area is not very large. After you park your car near a cell-phone tower, you will need to hike south about 300 yards to our observatory.

Physically handicapped people, and any telescopes, can be dropped off at the observatory itself, and then the vehicle will need to go back and park near that same cell-phone tower.

To look through some of the various telescopes you will often need to climb some stairs or ladders, so keep that in mind when making your plans.

Our location is about Bortle 4 or 5 – nowhere near the inky dark of the Chilean Atacama or the Rockies. Hopewell benefits from the presence of the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy, helping keep the mountain and its surroundings green. Prince William and Fauquier neighbors and officials have done a mostly OK job of insisting on smart lighting in the new developments around Haymarket and Gainesville, but many of those lights still need better shielding.


[Note: if you have a GPS navigation app, then you can simply ask it to take you to 3804 Bull Run Mountain Road, The Plains, VA. That will get you very close to step 6, below.]

(1) From the Beltway, take I-66 west about 25 miles to Exit 40, US 15, James Madison Highway, at Haymarket. At the light at the end of the ramp, turn left (south) onto US 15.

(2) Go 0.25 miles on US 15 and then turn right (west) onto VA Rt. 55 (John Marshall Highway). There is a Sheetz and a CVS at this intersection,.

(3) Drive about 0.7 mi on VA Rte 55 and pass a Walmart-anchored shopping center on your right that includes a number of fast- and slow-food restaurants, followed by a Home Depot. Then turn right (north) onto Antioch Rd., Rt. 681, opposite a brand-new housing development.

(4) You will pass entrances for Boy Scout Camp Snyder and the Winery at La Grange along Antioch Road. Follow this road to its end (3.2 mi), then turn left (west) onto Waterfall Rd. (Rt. 601), which will become Hopewell Rd.

(5) On Waterfall/Hopewell road, you will pass Mountain Road and Donna Marie Court. After 1.0 miles bear right (north) onto Bull Run Mountain Rd., Rt. 629, the third road on the right. It soon becomes a gravel road.

(6) After 0.9 miles, you will an intersection with a locked stone and metal gate on the left, labeled 3804. That is not our entrance! Instead, go to the right (east), past an orange bar-gate that has been swung open. We’ll have some signs up. This is a very sharp right hand turn.

(7) Follow the narrow, poorly-paved road up the ridge all the to the cell phone tower. (This is NOT the observatory!)

(8) Park your vehicle in any available spot near that tower or in the grassy area before the wooden sawhorse barrier. Then walk, on foot, the remaining 300 yards along the grassy dirt road, due south, to the observatory. Be sure NOT to block the right-of-way for other vehicles.

(9) If you are dropping off a scope or a handicapped person, move the wooden barrier out of the way temporarily, and drive along the grassy track into the woods, continuing south, around a white metal bar gate. ( The very few parking places among the trees near our operations cabin, the small house-like structure in the woods, are reserved for Observatory members and handicapped drivers.) If you are dropping off a handicapped person or a telescope, afterwards drive your vehicle back and park near the cell phone tower.

Please watch out for pedestrians, especially children!

The location of the observatory is approximately latitude 38°52’12″N, longitude 77°41’54″W. A map to the site follows.

If you get lost, you can call me on my cell phone at 202 dash 262 dash 4274.

hopewell map revised