Cat-Star Sky Ranch is a privately owned site where amateur astronomers can set up remotely accessed observatories to take advantage of the Bortle 2 skies of West Texas.
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Cat-Star NEWS —

Test of Long-Distance WiFi at Cat-Star Sky Ranch
If you want to set up a successful remotely accessed observatory, one thing you will need is a good Internet connection to download commands to control your telescope mount, camera, etc., and upload the imagery you acquire. To date, observatories at Cat-Star Sky Ranch have relied on buried Ethernet cables run from the main router located in the Ranch House some 250-300 feet from the observatory locations. This has worked well, but burying cables is labor-intensive and expensive. In an effort to provide a better solution, a long-range outdoor point-to-point WiFi system was acquired and tested. Normally, WiFi systems rapidly lose power and speed as the distance from the transmitter increases. The Hawking Technology HOW12ACM Outdoor Wireless-ACT300 Managed Access Point/Extender uses two WiFi units, one in access-point mode at the Internet source and the other in repeater mode at the remote destination. Hawking Technology claims that this configuration will allow line-of-sight communications for distances up to 1000 ft with minimal reduction in transfer speed. The system was set up and tested at Cat-Star Sky Ranch on 8 August 2022. Hawking Technology's claims were borne out, with neglible loss of Internet download and upload speeds over the distances between the Ranch House and observatories. Transfer speeds using the long-distance WiFi system were significantly greater than those previously achieved using buried Ethernet cable. A report and video are available describing the test. With this new capability, astronomers who set up remotely accessed observatories at Cat-Star Sky Ranch can be assured of high-quality Internet access to their equipment and data with a minimum of set-up effort. [posted 9 Aug 2022]

Meteors from Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann
On the night of May 30/31, there was considerable excitement about a possible outburst of meteors as Earth passed through debris ejected by the periodic comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann during its pass around the sun in 1995. Modeling predictions suggested the possibility of a "meteor storm" with thousands of meteors visible per hour around the time of peak activity. Alternately, there might be nothing. With this in mind, optimistic observers gathered to view the event. At Cat-Star Sky Ranch, a camera (Nikon D300 DSLR with Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye lens) was set up to record a continuous sequence of full-sky images bracketing the expected peak period, which was predicted to occur at around midnight local time. This resulted in a sequence of 328 30-second exposures starting at 10:07 PM CDT and ending at 1:07 AM CDT. Visual observations during this period yielded 21 meteors— the camera captured ten of the brightest. A portion of one of the images is shown below. Conditions were excellent, with no moon and a clear, very dark sky. The meteors that were observed were very interesting and unlike those you often see. As predicted, the meteors were very slow. They also had relatively short tracks. And, like the one in the photo, they were colorful! The brighter ones were blue, yellow or red, with red predominating. While the "meteor storm" didn't materialize, it still was an excellent viewing event. A summary of shower activity has been provided by the International Meteor Organization. [posted 1 Jun 2022]

Flower Moon Eclipse at Cat-Star Sky Ranch
The night of 15-16 May provided the first of two total lunar eclipses of 2022. Weather conditions for this "Flower Moon" eclipse were perfect for observing, with clear skies and warm temperatures (and no mosquitoes!). Conditions were good for photography too— the composite sequence to totality shown to the right was shot using a Nikon D300 DSLR with a Nikon 18-200 mm f/5.6 zoom lens. Totality lasted almost an hour and a half, with the moon seeming to disappear from view (for the photo, the exposure was greatly increased to show the coppery totally eclipsed moon). Binoculars revealed the dark russet face of the moon, with a tiny star (HD138413) perched just above its northern limb. The surrounding sky during totality was very dark and star-filled, with faint flashes of lightning dancing along the eastern horizon from distant thunderstorms in the Dallas area. Totality ended around 11:45 PM, with a bright sliver of moon peeking out along the edge of the darkened orb. By 1:00 AM it was all over. The next total lunar eclipse for North America will be on 8 November 2022. For the Cat-Star Sky Ranch area, it will start around 2:00 AM and last until dawn. [posted 18 May 2022]

Tornado skirts Cat-Star Sky Ranch
On the evening of 4 May 2022, there was cause for more excitement than usual among Cat-Star Sky Ranch astronomers. At around 6:30 PM CDT weather radar indicated a strong thunderstorm with hook echo— the signature of a tornado— passing over the area. Storm chasers reported a funnel on the ground kicking up dust and moving rapidly to the northeast. So, for a brief while there was concern about the safety of the astronomy facility. As it turned out, the small tornado passed to the north of the Ranch. Surveillance cameras at the site quickly showed no effects. The tornado caused no damage in the area in part because it was weak and also because, besides mesquite bushes and barbed-wire fences, there's not much in the area to damage. The storm responsible for the tornado moved off to the east where it spawned a few more weak funnels in the area near the Three Rivers Astronomy Campus. A report on the event has been provided by the Lubbock NWS Office. Later in the evening, the same storm system intensified and spawned several stronger twisters that caused some damage along the Texas-Oklahoma border. Strong springtime thunderstorms are not uncommon in the Cat-Star Sky Ranch region but damaging tornados are rare, tending to occur more to the east in the "Tornado Alley" portion of the U.S. [posted 5 May 2022]

Yuexiao Shen describes his Roll-off Observatory on the Astro Imaging Channel
On the evening of 17 April 2022, Yuexiao Shen described the planning, construction and operation of the remotely operated roll-off observatory he and his fellow astro-imagers have at Cat-Star Sky Ranch on YouTube's Astro Imaging Channel. Yuexiao detailed the decisions leading up to the construction of the facility and the interactions with commercial contractors that laid the concrete flooring and piers and fabricated the building. He also described the roll-off roof mechanism and the electronics controlling it and the slew of astro-imaging equipment within the facility. This is a great source of information for those who are thinking about building a remotely operated roll-off observatory. In addition to the presentation, Yuexiao answered numerous questions from those viewing the live event. The Astro Imaging Channel provides a replay of the presentation. [posted 18 Apr 2022]

Cat-Star Sky Ranch hosts Messier Marathon
On the night of 2-3 April 2022, Cat-Star Sky Ranch hosted the South Plains Astronomy Club for a Messier Marathon. Around a dozen people attended, with a few literally going "dusk to dawn" to capture as many objects on the Messier list as possible. Skies were clear the entire night. A smiling, 2-day-old moon graced the western sky and set shortly after sundown. Participants who hung around for the duration were treated to Venus, Saturn and Mars rising just before the morning light. Temperatures were mild and winds were light, allowing for a comfortable and enjoyable night. Special thanks to Tom Heisey of SPAC for organizing the event. And congratulations to Robb Chapman for bagging 108 of 110 Messier objects. Some photos from the event are presented below. [posted 3 Apr 2022]

Photos shot using a Nikon D300 DSLR with a Nikon 18-200 mm f/5.6 zoom lens.



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