Werner Schmidt Observatory

Obs Code: I06; Long. 289.8061; Parallax constants: cos 0.74801; sin +0.66147

The Werner Schmidt Observatory is located on the campus of the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. It includes a 12.5-foot Ash Dome, a 16-inch Meade LX200 GPS telescope, an SBIG ST-8XE CCD camera, two 8-inch telescopes, various computers and software, and many miscellaneous pieces of equipment. It adds an important dimension to science education on Cape Cod and contributes real and valuable data to the astronomical community.

The idea to build an observatory on Cape Cod originated in 1986, at the return of Comet Halley when several amateur astronomers came together to form the Cape Cod Astronomical Society. In those early days the CCAS built a 14.25-inch f/4.25 Serrier truss telescope to be shared by the members. Over the years it traveled back and forth among the towns on the Cape serving to illuminate the sky for students at several schools in the area, and visitors from Nickerson State Park, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, and the National Seashore.

It wasn’t until 1989, however, that the idea to build an observatory acquired firm footing with the establishment of the Cape Cod Astronomical Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-deductible organization. Five trustees from the CCAS were elected to raise funds, and upon completion, manage the observatory. The original five included Nigel Atkins, Jim Carlson, Scott Kennedy, Lili Seely and Charles Weidman. Lili served as chairperson for many years and Charley, a tax lawyer, drew up the Foundation’s articles of establishment.


I'm Kate
During the first decade the fund raising went slowly, but without fail we met weekly to discuss plans and organize a full-scale effort. However, it wasn’t until Werner Schmidt assumed chairmanship of the CCAF that the plans came to fruition. Werner asked the chairman of the science department at D-Y, Owen Graf, whether the school would be interested in having a state of the art observatory built at the school. The answer was made in the affirmative and the result is the building you see today.

Astronomy is an Observational Science

Alvan Clark (March 8, 1804 – August 19, 1887), the decendant of a Cape Cod whaling family, was an American astronomer and telescope maker who helped build the largest refracting telescope (40") in the World which is still used at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay , Wisconsin.

Werner Schmidt
Astronomy is an observational science. Its primary goal is to collect, catalog, and interpret data in a systematic manner. Much of it involves big science projects costing tens of millions of dollars annually, yet few realize that some of the most significant research arrives nearly free of charge. Given the enormous quantity of astronomical objects that require long-term study, and the limited number of professional observatories available to pursue them, dedicated individuals routinely contribute valuable data to many areas of basic research.

Through professionally sponsored programs that often involve the efforts of many observers, students can record the activity of variable stars, the behavior of the Sun's magnetic cycle, the positions of comets and supernova, and measurements of objects that lie in the asteroid belt or travel near the Earth.

Jim Carlson viewing through the 16 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope at the CCAS ObservatoryAs with many advances in recent years, some of the most important involve electronics. Using a camera called a charge-coupled device, or CCD, images can be recorded through the telescope, analyzed on a personal computer, and stored on a hard drive for later retrieval. Over the course of several months, for example, while one group of students monitors a supernova as it brightens and fades, another group can study the appearance of a comet, or record the light curve of a variable star, continuing the work of students who have graduated and gone on to college.

The Minor Planet Center (MPC) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge has awarded the Werner Schmidt Observatory the observatory code I06 (eye zero six). This was done in recognition of the work the observatory does measuring the positions of main belt and near Earth asteroids. The latter are those which cross the plane of the Earth’s orbit and have the potential to strike the planet, resulting, perhaps, in worldwide devastation.

The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) is another organization that provides data for basic research. Individuals are assigned personal observing codes and make daily, even hourly, reports regarding the activity of stars as they brighten and fade. Some stars, like Polaris, the North Star, expand and contract over the course of a few days. Others, like Algol in the constellation Perseus, are eclipsed by a companion star. Still others are called cataclysmic variables, or dwarf novae, which steal gas from the surface of a companion and erupt in an unpredictable manner. Professional astronomers often ask the AAVSO to monitor a given star and report its behavior.

In a few concluding words, the observatory seeks to give students an understanding of the ways in which science and scientists achieve their goals. From little steps come big returns. The challenge is to acquire an education and having the will to participate in creating future.

Jim Carlson, Director
Werner Schmidt Observatory
D-Y Regional High School
South Yarmouth, MA 02664


Schmidt Observatory's New Director Mike Hunter

Member Profile:

This month (Sept 2007) we are pleased to present a member profile on Mike Hunter, present Director of the Werner Schmidt Observatory andVice President of our Society.Biographical:Mike was born in Muskegon, MI in 1941. He holds a Bachelor of Art Education with concentrations in math, science and geography from the University of Michigan, 1963. After a stint with the Air Force’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Center working on navigational and bombing charts, he spent four years at UM at Ann Arbor culminating in a PhD in Educational Psychology (specialties: research design and statistics; achievement/motivation theory).

Following two years at a research lab in Tucson, Mike’s career moved to the Michigan Department of Education: nine years in statewide educational program evaluation with special attention to research on the cost effectiveness of reading programs. Mike then served some eighteen years with the Ann Arbor Public School system as Director of Research and Evaluation, Director of Facilities and Systems, and finally Director of Capital Planning.

On retirement in 1998, Mike and his wife Marilyn moved to Dennis. Mike’s hobbies other than astronomyinclude boating, fishing, and woodworking. Mike and Marilyn enjoy traveling in New England, the Midwest, and regular trips toAustralia where they have a daughter and her family.Mike’s Life in Astronomy:Mike participated in one lecture and two lab courses undergraduate in astronomy at UM prior to switching from an astronomy major to math education. As he put it, “an astro major consisted of 45 semester hours of math, 30 of physics, and 18 of astro. Iwanted to look through telescopes not integrate over fields!” Mike cites 12 years of active reading and “building” in astronomy and has been an observer since his teens: “I got started in 1956 as a result of the early space program. My first scope was a 3”Newtonian reflector on a GEM made of concrete and steel pipe. The primary and secondary mirrors, two lenses for an eyepiece,and a fiber tube were purchased from an optical supply house with the remainder coming from hardware stores and junk yards.”Mike remembers M42 and M51 as early highlights observed with that home-made 3” scope.

Bill McDonough, Mike Hunter, Werner Schmidt, Jim Carlson at the Dome
Bill McDonough, Mike Hunter, Werner Schmidt, Jim Carlson dismantle the Meade 16' for servicing trip to California. The big Schmidt Cassegrain will be out of commission until April 2009.

Mike continued to be an equipment builder: “In 1959 I worked with a small group of local amateurs to form the Port CityAmateur Astronomers, now the Muskegon Astronomical Society. That year also brought a new scope, a 6” Newtonian on a GEMwith babbit metal bearings on a wooden tripod. The mirrors, focuser, and eyepiece were purchased from an optical supply housewith the remainder being scrounged and bought here and there.” Mike also designed and assisted in the construction of aplanetarium dome and observatory for that club in the early 60’s.Mike’s Life with CCAS: Mike has given special service and leadership to the Society in recent years serving two years as President and most recently asVice President and Director of the Observatory.

He joined the Society in the summer of 2000. At that time, Ed Swiniarski, with whom Mike worked, had been nominated forPresident. To quote Mike: “Ed said that if he was going to be president, Mike had to join the Society!” So he joined. Shortly thereafter, Ed and Mike and Jim Carlson initiated working the summer star parties as well as resurrecting the club’s 14” Dobsonian from Jim’s barn. Yes, that is the same Dob now being loaned out to members.From that beginning, Mike has made many important contributions to the Society including the following:

  • Implemented regular Executive Committee meetings with participants taking on regular assigned duties and tasks thatwent beyond those of any particular office. Jim Carlson was brought onto the EC as an at-large member to bring hisskills and knowledge to deliberations as well as to to form a stronger link between the Society and the CCA Foundation.

    Werner Schmidt makes a final inspection
    Packing the optical tube. Werner Schmidt oversees packing the 16" main scope which is being sent out for repair. In the meantime The Schmidt observatory has an three (18", 14", 13") Dobs and a 8* Celestron goto scope available for starry nights until April when we get the Meade back.

  • Working with the EC, Mike caused two important goals for the Society to be accomplished: having an organized program for each monthly meeting of the Society and increasing the number of members involved in accomplishingtasks which promote the mission of the Society and its value to all members. Mike’s pursuit of the concept of broad active participation by Society members has resulted in the present involvement and continuing contribution of many ofour current officers and EC members, my involvement in First Light, broader participation of our membership in making presentations or arranging for same and in broadening the involvement of the membership inmanaging/operating the Observatory and making it actively available as a resource for all our members and the public.
  • Two years ago, Mike initiated editorship of First Light in its present incarnation as a newsletter created and distributed indigital form. As he put it, “My goal was to bring a Society presence to each member and former members that went beyond the monthly meetings.”
  • Perhaps Mike’s most important contribution is what he has done since assuming the Directorship of the Observatory. In his own words:“As Director of the Observatory, my primary goals have been to bring the members of the society to The Schmidt and to expand the membership. I knew that I could not do this alone; burnout was a certainty if I had tried. Thus, I implemented thetraining of Society members as observatory staff. It should be noted that such training had been an ongoing request of variousSociety members.”

    Welcome to the Werner Schmidt Observatory located behind D-Y Regional High School“I dropped out of astronomy as a major in college because I saw that there was little chance to look through telescopes as aprofessional astronomer. I wanted to look at nebulae, planets, stars, etc through a telescope. As the new Director, I felt that the members of the Society and the public in general wanted to first and foremost look through telescopes. Just as my primary activity at the observatory has been training staff,my primary direction has been to visual observation. Realtime imaging, taking “pretty pictures”, and astronomical research will follow. Walk first, then run. That is why theccd camera has been replaced by that wonderful 9mm Nagler eyepiece. What a view!”

    Mike enjoys observing using the variety of equipment at ourWerner Schmidt Observatory. As he put it, as a result ofhaving access to the Schmidt, “My own 8” Schmidt-Newtonian, GOTO and all, sits lonely in its micro-observatory.”When asked to comment on his most memorable observing experiences, Mike replied: “Returning from dinner down a dirt road to an inn inAustralia’s Hunter Valley, I was startled by two very large,bright objects in the sky. The night was crystal clear and, asthere was no exterior lighting visible for at least a mile,extremely dark. The two objects in the sky were the Greaterand Lesser Magellanic Clouds.”Mike Hunter: “Welcome to The Schmidt”It seems clear that fostering opportunities to see beautiful things through good equipment is what drives Mike in his hobby and inhis contributions to our Society. Thanks to Mike for serving as our “test run” personality for Member Profiles in First Light.
    (written by Peter Kurtz, contributing editor)

    Director Jim steps down

    CCAS members are surprised and saddened by Jim Cahoon Carlson's decision to step down from his post as Schmidt Observatory director for personal reasons at the end of March 2007. Jim's dedication to the observatory began in 1989 with completion of the Schmidt long before his appointment as Director of Observatory in 2004. He personally influenced many changes and improvements in the equipment and ironing out the observatory along the way, moving the Schmidt into a posture of being truly a research observatory. All this has meant thousands of hours for Jim the consummate volunteer. He was dedicated to the educational mission of the CCAS and in his soft spoken way opened the eyes of hundreds of school children from Cape Cod to the wonders astronomy and our big telescope. He also kept an open line of communication with the D-Y High School staff and science department. Jim spent hundreds and hundreds of nights at the observatory observing variable stars. He eventually sold the idea of installing the CCD camera nearly 2 years ago allowing the observatory to participate in the AAVSO photometry program and was personally responsible for reporting 400-500 VSO observations annually. There is no question Jim has left big shoes to fill. We all at CCAS wish him the greatest success on whatever new direction he chooses to follow in life, one thing is for sure, Jim will be looking up!

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