Following is some history of how the Eastern Missouri Dark Sky Observers organization came to be and some interesting things along the way through about 2004.
A new physics teacher was hired at Washington High School in August 1990. His teaching load consisted of two courses in astronomy and four physics courses. Though a physics major, he had no prior experience in the field of astronomy. Though he had access to the school's 8" Schmidt Cassegrain, he did not know how to use it.
In the same year, a family from St. Louis opened up a frame shop in Washington. The husband, had been an avid amateur astronomer for over 30 years and frequently conducted sidewalk astronomy outside his family's frame shop nearby the entrance to a local restaurant. Using his home made long focal length Newtonian telescope which had a length of about ten feet, the amateur astronomer was observing Mars one evening when he heard a loud click. He looked up and was surrounded by the Washington Police. Evidently, a nearby neighbor had called 911 after looking out her window. After spotting the ten foot long Newtonian telescope, she mistakenly identified it as a rocket launcher.
In late fall 1990, urged by one of his students, the physics teacher stopped by the store and met the experienced amateur astronomer. They agreed to offer astronomical viewing sessions for the the teachers students on a continuing basis through which the teacher would increase his knowledge of astronomy and using telescopes. Throughout the rest of the year, numerous telescope viewing sessions were held.
After a very successful first year effort of involving more and more high school students in astronomy, the physics teacher and the amateur astronomer committed to continue this outreach long term. They also agreed they needed to develop astronomical resources in their region. Franklin County had no organized group of astronomers, observatories they could visit, or contacts of other community members that were interested in astronomy.
The amateur astronomer, who had long been involved in St. Louis astronomy clubs, proposed to restart an astronomy organization of which he had been a charter member but was now dormant. The club, the Eastern Missouri Dark Sky Observers (EMDSO), was an observational astronomy club that focused on doing astronomy by conducting free public outreach telescope viewing sessions, developing resources in the community such as loaner telescopes, building an astronomy observatory that would be accessible to interested individuals, families, community groups such as scouts and church groups, and school age groups, both public and private. Their plan would be to hold regular public astronomical viewing sessions in each community within Franklin County to raise public awareness of their efforts to start a local astronomy club, EMDSO. Stargazing sessions would be used to attract new astronomy club members. Offers were also made by the physics teacher and the amateur astronomer to conduct special viewing sessions for scouts, church groups and groups of school children. Their efforts were supported by involving the teacher's high school students.
Viewing session for the public were held on weekends in public parks and viewing sessions for the teacher's students were held during the week also at city parks or in the teacher's back yard
A professor at East Central College teamed up with the physics teacher to secure a federal grant which secured funds to actually build science equipment that would be shared by schools in the region. This equipment included two homemade Newtonian telescopes to be used for educational purposes and for public outreach. The physics teacher's students assisted in constructing these instruments. The grant also funded workshops for classes of local teachers to learn how to use constructed interactive equipment with their students. Teachers also scheduled science night events and venues through which they could expose their students to activities using the constructed equipment including stargazing sessions using the newly constructed telescopes. High school students and teachers were drafted to assist of offering viewing sessions to elementary schools. The club would eventually convert three more privately owned telescopes for the public to use in its astronomy outreach. Combined with the telescope that the physics teacher used from Washington high school, two more that the amateur astronomer uses, made a total number of telescopes at its viewing sessions to five scopes.
During the summer of 1992, the amateur astronomer found a domed observatory building, but they would have to convince the buildings owner(s) to give it to the club and an educational institution to host an observatory site.
The teacher and the astronomer contacted the owner of the observatory building and visited to assess its condition and usefulness in meeting the needs of the club. The owner was a charter member of EMDSO when it was first formed and he was also a member of the McDonald Douglas Astronomy Club who had previously operated the observatory. The owner's health was failing fast so he was anxious to find a home for the observatory. He was willing to give the dome structure to the teacher and fellow EMDSO charter member if they would agree to use the building for educational outreach. The physics teacher and the amateur astronomer agreed to make it available for education by erecting it on the property of a school. The building had some history.
This observatory was featured in Sept 1942 Scientific American article which describes construction by Earnest Coats on Perry Ave in St Louis. Description of construction included welded iron circles were used in the dome and base with a one piece shutter and a 1/6 hp motor that rotated dome.
The Observatory was given to George Meade, a member of McDonald Astronomy Club. In 1964 Mr. Meade gave the building to Del Scott who erected it at his house in O'Fallon and then transferred its use to EMDSO who eventually erected it on the ECC campus.
The building was disassembled and transported to a back lot at East Central College in Union, MO.
Jan 1st 1993 EMDSO is officially started with two members, the physics teacher and the amateur astronomer. By years end membership had grown to 5 members.
EMDSO continued to offer weekly stargazing sessions to the public in Franklin County at area city parks. A stargazing session was also held once on a Gasconade County golf course. In one of the area city parks, as the teacher and the astronomer were disassembling equipment, a police officer who knew we were doing this activity asked what we were seeing. He was asked if he would like to look. After peering in the telescope, he radioed his fellow officers and for a short time after that, seven policemen came by to look though the scope.
After a rejection by one school district to locate the observatory on its property due to limited funds, East Central College was contacted. The physics teacher and the astronomer made a presentation to the ECC Board of Directors and they agreed to allow EMDSO to erect the building on their property. ECC agreed to maintain and secure the equipment in exchange for EMDSO coordinating the astronomical outreach program.
Summer 1993: Fund raising was conducted by the physics teacher using $1000 from a national teacher recognition award that he received to use as seed money. The teacher contacted businesses, banks and manufacturers in Franklin County as well as some in Gasconade County, raising approximately $5,000.00 by years end.
Observatory refurbishing was started in the astronomers yard in Marthasville, MO. Material was purchased and the dome was redesigned and built. The dome opening cover was fabricated locally and donated. Material was purchased for the upright supports and walls and they were painted and erected.
On one particular Saturday, a group of student volunteers from ECC joined the teacher and the astronomer. All way was spent trying to position the uprights on uneven ground using stones to elevate the upright posts as the corrugated steel sheeting was screwed into the uprights. A few angled braces were placed between the uprights but were mistakenly placed in the wrong positions. After laboring very hard for 6-8 hours, as the students were pulling away the entire wall collapsed on itself. All we could was call it a day and return the next day to analyze what went wrong. The angled braces were designed to be placed at a 120 degree spacing along the the 10 foot diameter circular wall. When the location of these braces was corrected, the building walls were stable.
Newspaper coverage of the planned project was causing a stir in the community. Public and group stargazing was by this time offered to scout groups and classes in public and private schools. Observing was being held more frequently at the East Central Site.
By years end EMDSO had increased its membership to 25 members. In December of 1994, the club purchased a Unitron Refractor Telescope for planetary viewing.
ECC site preparation was begun, clearing the land, erecting the concrete pad, pier, digging and laying underground electrical lines to service to the site. Pad and electrical was complete, the structure was transported to ECC in Union, MO and erected on the completed pad.
The original telescope to be housed in the observatory was a 10” f/4.5 Newtonian reflector formerly owned by Gene Schmidt, astronomer who had passed, given to UMSL and offered on permanent loan to EMDSO with the proviso of using this instrument for educational purposes. The dome was donated by Mr. Del Scott. The observatory sits over an abandoned cistern from an old farm site. Officially named the Schmidt Scott Observatory, it is unofficially called the Little Dipper Observatory because of the cistern-constellation connection.
By the end of 1995, EMDSO had 30 members. EMDSO continued to be very consistent in conducting astronomical outreach to various towns and schools. BBQs were held in the summer months to attract large attendance to meetings. It was a lot of preparation but that worked to ensure larger attendance.
The observatory was painted. (The physics teacher looked like a smurf after spray painting the interior of the dome dark Ford Blue). A steel ladder was built, and the electrical service with outside dusk to dawn (with switch) were completed. A bit more fund raising was conducted.
EMDSO Officers and some members started to plan the ECC Observatories Opening. They decided to schedule its first light to coincide with Astronomical Leagues Astronomy Day in April 1997. Planning was conducted starting in the winter of 96.
During the winter of 1996 an experienced astronomer from New Haven agreed to assist member of the club to convert all the loader scopes to a Dobsonian mount to make them easier to transport and use when traveling.
By the end of 96 there were about 30 members in EMDSO
EMDSO members worked 5 years to complete the Schmidt Scott Observatory.
Also during the summer of 1996: A 30” diameter mirror Dob was purchased for $5725.26 from Martz Observatory Group out of New York State by a group of investors including club and non club members. The telescope was initially housed in one of the owner's fathers barn. An observatory was constructed on the family farm of one of the investors. Initially club members assisted in the initial site design and construction. After necessary modifications, the building was constructed professionally. The 30” site was used numerous times by the club and its members.
Nov 14th 1996 The 30” mirrors were sent off to be re-coated by QSP for $1568.58
EMDSO decided to celebrate First Light of the ECC Observatory scheduling it to coincide with Astronomical League's Astronomy Day, April 12, 1997. After a day long program featuring telescopes, science demonstrations, numerous telescopes on display, music by local high school students, address by ECC Officials, EMDSO officials, and politicians (MO Governor Mel Carnahan declared it Officially Astronomy Day in MO, EMDSO held a ribbon cutting and transferred ownership to ECC College and dedicated the ECC Schmidt Scott Observatory.
EMDSO, a club that was only five years old achieved Honorable Mention by the Astronomical League on July 5th 1997 and was mentioned in Sky and Telescope Magazine announcing the winners in its competition.
By years end in 1997 the club had 30 members.
The Schmidt Scott Observatory facility has been used to offer public stargazing free to the public since 1997 on a regular basis ie monthly and bimonthly to the present. Thousands of local people and groups such as church groups, scouts and school children have been able to peer through a telescope to see both deep sky objects and objects in our own solar system. Astronomical facts and explanations offered by club members accompany the viewing.
The ECC site scheduled regular bi-monthly astronomical viewing sessions for the entire year with one viewing session preceded by an EMDSO business meeting.
Modifications to the 30” were completed installing a 30” drive system and mount, with electronics and a programming laptop computer. The 30” drive system and mount cost $3825.00.
1999 In October the 30” dob telescope was replaced by a 40” dob by its owners. The 30” telescope was placed in storage for over a year and offered for sale. Several club members chose to buy out members who wanted to move their investment into the 40” telescope. This allowed two large telescopes to be located in Franklin County. The 30” telescope was much more user friendly for younger students and older viewers. The 40” was very large and had a number of liabilities accompanying its use.
The 30” was eventually located west of New Haven in a saddle between two sizable knobs or hills.
Called Big Blue Observatory it was named named after the painted sides of the primary support box.
The terrain it was located in is very rough but it features caves, rock faces, glades, and wild life (recently cougar tracks have been found.
An access road about 1.5 miles long had to be constructed. By purchasing culvert pipe, and lots of rock. Student help was used in filling deep gulleys along an old logging road. Newly purchased rock topped this to establish a traversable road bed. Despite numerous applications of rock and repairs, the road typically lasts 3 years at most due to heavy erosion and leaf buildup in ditches. Simultaneously an almost 100 step stairs was constructed in the last leg of the journey to the observatory site. The stairs was built in sections over several years. Once the road was passable to the site location, excavation, piers, a deck was partially constructed, a 4 ft diam 4ft high pier was poured by hauling concrete up the hill in 4 WD pickups. A railing was built into the deck designed to roll the telescope shelter off the deck exposing the telescope. After the deck was finished, the telescope shelter building was built and siding was installed. Solar power was added to the building,
Investors do not charge people for viewing but accept donations.
Located in a rough terrain that features caves, glades, rock faces, deer, raccoons, cougars,
30" relocated on McDonald property Big Blue named for its lower unit color.
7/24/2000 Initial deposit 2223.00: culvert pipe purchased: rock, Lumber:
We have 11 members and 2 continued work on Big Blue: lumber, rock, poured concrete pier, steps, deck,
We have 29 members,
April 2002: 8 day visit by John Dobson, famous amateur astronomer and telescope mount designer.
10-11-02 Big Blue improvements: propane stove, telescope shelter, railing, deck, outhouse, steps, roadwork
Featured in Rural Missouri Nov 2002 Publication of Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives:
We have 23 members.
Big Blue improvements: copper ring for tracking, stairs, deck.
We have 30 members.
1-28-04 Big Blue improvements: feather touch focuser, rock, road upkeep, bobcat work
Investors use the scope to share the astronomy experience with others.