Hopewell Observatory is holding our second free, public, night-time open house since COVID on April 22.
You are invited!
You and your friends and family can get good looks at Venus and Mars, as well as the famous Pleiades, Beehive and Orion star clusters — and a gaggle of galaxies and double stars.
We have a variety of permanently-mounted and portable telescopes of different designs, some commercial and some made by us, some side-by-side, enabling several people to view the same object in the sky with different magnifications.
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 they in may be).
The date is Saturday, April 22, 2023 with a rain & cloud date of April 29. We suggest arriving near sundown, which will occur at a few minutes before 8 pm on the 22nd and a few minutes after 8 pm on the 29th. It will get truly dark about an hour later.
There are no street lights near our observatory, other than some dimly illuminated temporary signs we put along the path, so you will probably want to bring a flashlight of some sort.
If you own a scope or binoculars, feel free to bring them!
Hopewell is about 45 minutes by car from where I-66 intersects the DC beltway. The last two miles of road are dirt and gravel, and you will need to walk about 200 meters/yards from where you park. We do have electricity, and a heated cabin, but since we have no running water, we have an outhouse and hand sanitizer instead.
We are located about 30 miles west of the Beltway on Bull Run Mountain – a ridge that overlooks Haymarket VA from an elevation of 1100 feet, near the intersection of I-66 and US-15. Detailed directions are below.
Assuming good weather, you’ll also get to see the Milky Way itself, although not as well as in years past, 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 binoculars, if you own one and feel like bringing 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!
If it gets cold, our Operations Building, about 40 meters north of the Observatory itself, is heated, and we will have the makings for tea, cocoa, and coffee.
Warning: While we do have bottled drinking water and electricity and we do have hand sanitizer, we do not have running water; and, our “toilet” is an outhouse of the composting variety. At this time of year, the nasty insects haven’t really taken off but feel free to use your favorite bug repellent, (we have some) and check yourself for ticks after you get home.
The road up here is partly paved, and partly gravel or dirt. It’s suitable for any car except those with really low clearance, so leave your fancy sports car (if any) at home. Consider car-pooling, because we don’t have huge parking lots.
Two of our telescope mounts are permanently installed in the observatory under a roll-off roof. One is a high-end Astro-Physics mount with a 14” Schmidt-Cassegrain and a 5” triplet refractor. The other was manufactured about 50 years ago by a firm called Ealing, but the motors and guidance system were recently completely re-done by us with modern electronics using a system called OnStep. We didn’t spend much cash on it, but it took us almost a year to solve a bunch of mysteries of involving integrated circuits, soldering, torque, gearing, currents, voltages, resistors, transistors, stepper drivers, and much else.
We could not have completed this build without a lot of help from Prasad Agrahar, Ken Hunter, the online “OnStep” community, and especially Arlen Raasch. Thanks again!
OnStep is an Arduino-based stepper-motor control system for astronomical telescopes. For this niche application, OnStep uses very inexpensive, off-the-shelf components such as stepper motors and their controller chips — which were developed previously for the very widespread 3-D printing and CNC machining industry.
Getting this project to completion took us nearly a full year of hard work!!! The original, highly accurate Byers gears are still in place, but now we can control the mount from a smart phone!
We also have two alt-az telescopes, both home-made (10” and 14”) that we roll out onto our lawn, and a pair of BIG binoculars on a parallelogram mount.
The drive is about an hour from DC. After parking at a cell-phone tower installation, you will need to hike south about 200 meters/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 to park near that tower. To look through some of the various telescopes you will need to climb some stairs or ladders, so keep that in mind when making your plans.
Our location is nowhere near the inky dark of the Chilean Atacama or the Rockies, but Hopewell Observatory is mostly surrounded by nature preserves maintained by the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy and other such agencies. Also, our Prince William and Fauquier neighbors and officials have done a fair job of insisting on smart lighting in the new developments around Haymarket and Gainesville, which benefits everybody. So, while there is a bright eastern horizon because of DC and its VA suburbs, we can still see the Milky Way whenever it’s clear and moonless. “Clear Outside” says our site is Bortle 4 when looking to our west and Bortle 6 to our east.
DIRECTIONS TO HOPEWELL OBSERVATORY:
[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 US 15 (Exit 40) at Haymarket. At the light at the end of the ramp, turn left (south) onto US 15.
(2) Go 0.25 mi; at the second light turn right (west) onto VA Rt. 55. There is a Sheetz gas station & convenience store at this intersection, along with a CVS and a McDonald’s. After you turn right, you will pass a Walmart-anchored shopping center on your right that includes a number of fast- and slow-food restaurants. After that you will pass a Home Depot on the right.
(3) After 0.7 mi on Va 55, turn right (north) onto Antioch Rd., Rt. 681, opposite a brand-new housing development. You will pass entrances for Boy Scouts’ Camp Snyder and the Winery at La Grange.
(4) Follow Antioch Rd. to its end (3.2 mi), then turn left (west) onto Waterfall Rd. (Rt. 601), which will become Hopewell Rd after you cross the county line.
(5) After 1.0 mi, bear right (north) onto Bull Run Mountain Rd., Rt. 629. This will be the third road on the right, after Mountain Rd. and Donna Marie Ct. (Do NOT turn onto Mountain Road, and note that some apps show a non-existent road, actually a power line, in between Donna Marie Ct. and Bull Run Mtn. Rd.) Bull Run Mtn Rd starts out paved but then becomes gravel, and rises steadily.
(6) In 0.9 mi, on BRMtn Road, you will see a locked stone gate and metal gate, labeled 3804. That is not us! Instead, note the poorly-paved driveway on the right, with the orange pipe gate swung open and a sign stating that this is an American Tower property. We use their road. Drive through both orange gates, avoiding potholes keeping at least one tire on the high spots. We’ll have some signs up. This is a very sharp right hand turn.
(7) Follow the narrow, poorly-paved road up the ridge to the cell phone tower station.
(8) Park your vehicle in any available spot near that tower or in the grassy area before the wooden sawhorse barrier. Then follow the signs and 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 any 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 to the right of the station, into the woods, continuing south, through (or around) a white metal bar gate. (The very few parking places among the trees near our operations cabin, are reserved for Observatory members and handicapped drivers.) If you are dropping off a handicapped person or a telescope, afterwards drive your car back and park near the cell phone tower.
Please watch out for pedestrians, especially children!
In the operations cabin we have a supply of red translucent plastic film and tape and rubber bands so that you can filter out everything but red wavelengths on your flashlight. This will help preserve everybody’s night vision.
The cabin also have holds a visitor sign-in book; a first aid kit; a supply of hot water; the makings of hot cocoa, tea, and instant coffee; hand sanitizer; as well as paper towels, plastic cups and spoons.
The location of the observatory is approximately latitude 38°52’12″N, longitude 77°41’54″W. The drive takes about 45 minutes from the Beltway. A map to the site follows. If you get lost, you can call me on my cell phone at 202 dash 262 dash 4274.