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History

Updated: 17 April 2021

History of Cassiopeia Observatory

The history of Cassiopeia Observatory begins when Mike was six years old. An older brother, Paul, would take Mike out to their backyard at night and show him the stars from their southern Indiana home. As a Christmas present in 1961, Mike's mother gave him an Edmund Scientific 3" Newtonian Telescope (seen below in 1962 from Mike's "observatory"). Mike still uses the 3" telescope. When Mike was 14 years old, Paul got him a subscription to Sky & Telescope magazine. The subscription has continued uninterrupted since then. As a teenager, Mike was an active amateur astronomer.

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Following high school, Mike entered college at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. As an undergraduate student, Mike was able to use IU's Kirkwood Observatory. Here is Mike in his dorm room at IU holding the October 1967 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine:

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Mike fell in love with asteroids when he worked on the IU Asteroid Program. He was on the Program for four years and even worked there full-time during the summer after his graduation in 1970. He was one of several students who would measure star and asteroid positions on 8x10 inch photographic glass plates using the Gaertner Measuring Engine.

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The plates were taken using one of the telescopes at Goethe Link Observatory, which was operated by IU at the time. (Photographing asteroids that are named for people and places that Mike knows has become an obsession with him. See his collection of images in the Asteroids & Dwarf Planets album.)

After receiving his B.S. degree in Astrophysics in 1970, Mike did graduate work in Meteorology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, with the intention of developing expertise in planetary atmospheres. He was commissioned as an Air Force 2nd Lieutenant in 1972. While Mike was in the United States Air Force as a fighter pilot in the A-7D, an instructor pilot in the T-38, and working on the USAF Space Shuttle Program, Mike's interest in astronomy continued, although he was not able to actively observe much during those years.

In 1996, while working at a southern California aerospace company, Mike purchased a Meade ETX-90 telescope (below, left) and started "Weasner's Mighty ETX Site". In 2002, Mike received a Meade LXD55 8"SC telescope (photo on the right below). Using the ETX and LXD telescopes, Mike once again became an active amateur astronomer.

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Mike is the author of the book Using the Meade ETX, published in 2002 by Springer-Verlag in their Practical Astronomy series. Mike's ETX site continues to be popular worldwide. Mike added an ETX-70AT, ETX-105PE, ETX-125AT, ETX-125 Observer, and other telescopes to his collection over several years.

In 2004, Mike and his wife Laurraine purchased their "retirement land" in Oracle, Arizona, elevation 4370'. From March 2005 to April 2009, Mike would visit their land about once a month with a tent and 1 or 2 telescopes, and stay a night or two. His visits are documented on the "Oracle Observatory" blog.

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Mike retired in mid-2007 and the planning for the move to Oracle began. Mike's LXD telescope and much of his astro gear were stolen in December 2007. In 2008, as planning and work began on their new home in Oracle, Mike began planning for the observatory. He documented the planning on the "Road to Oracle Observatory" blog. As a replacement for the stolen 8" telescope, in late 2008, Mike received a Meade 8" LX200-ACF and would use it to observe from Oracle.

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In June 2009, construction of the new home was completed, and on 25 July 2009, the SkyShed POD observatory was put up.

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"First Light" in the new observatory was on 18 August 2009. That seemed like an excellent time to give the observatory an official name instead of calling it "Oracle Observatory", as it had been since 2005. "Cassiopeia Observatory" was the name chosen.

In 2016 some major observatory upgrades were undertaken. The first of the three planned upgrades, done in February 2016, was the replacement of the seven year old Meade 8" LX200-ACF telescope with a new Meade 12" LX600 telescope:

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The second upgrade, installation of a SkyShed POD POD Zenith Table (PZT), was completed in April 2016:

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The final planned upgrade, installation of a pier to replace the large telescope tripod, was also completed in April 2016:

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A fourth "upgrade" that was not planned for 2016 was replacement of the well-worn 7-year-old carpet at the observatory. That was done in July 2016.

In August 2016 during a visit to Mike's hometown (Seymour, Indiana) and, with the tenant's permission, a recreation of a photograph of Mike with his Edmund Scientific 3" Newtonian Telescope taken outside his home in 1962 was done:

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It was a lot of fun and brought back many memories of nights long past.

In June 2017 another upgrade was done at the observatory: installation of an air conditioner:

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This was done due to the daytime temperatures in Oracle being above 100°F for an extended period of time that month.

Two upgrades to previous observatory upgrades were done in May and July 2020. The three year old air conditioner had stopped cooling so it was replaced with a new one. A new POD Zenith Table (PZT) professionally made by a local metalworks contractor was installed in July 2020.

In October 2017 Mike was chosen as a Meade Ambassador. This title made it official for what he has been doing since 1996 when he started the original "Mighty ETX Site". In December 2019 Mike was selected as an Explore Alliance Ambassador in recognition of his long time astronomy and night sky protection outreach efforts. In May 2020 Mike was selected as an Astronomy Technology Today "Astro Guru".

So why "Cassiopeia Observatory"?

Most astronomers learn to identify the constellation Cassiopeia by the "W" shape formed by its brightest stars. Actually, at some times of the year it looks like a "W" and at other times a "M". Hmmm. W. M. Or rather, M W. Hey, that stands for "Mike Weasner"! At least, that is how Mike has seen it since he was a very young amateur astronomer. Hence, the observatory name is very appropriate. The "Cassiopeia Observatory" logo, seen at the top of the page, has the bright stars of the constellation Cassiopeia at two times a year, depicting the "M" and the "W".

Preserving Arizona's Oldest Natural Resource: the Night Sky

As a long-time amateur astronomer and a member of the "International Dark-Sky Association" (IDA), Mike has always recognized the need to preserve the night sky. In April 2014 Mike formed the "Oracle Dark Skies Committee" to pursue the designation as an "International Dark Sky Park" for Oracle State Park, and continued as the Chair until the Committee held its final meeting in December 2018, having accomplished all that it set out to do. In November 2014, the International Dark-Sky Association announced that Oracle State Park was designated as an "International Dark Sky Park", the 20th worldwide and the first in the Arizona State Parks system. Also in late 2014, the IDA awarded a "Dark Sky Defender" award for 2014 to the Oracle Dark Skies Committee for its work and accomplishments. In November 2015, Mike was awarded an IDA "Dark Sky Defender" award for 2015:

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From mid-2015 to mid-2020 Mike was a member of the IDA "Dark Sky Places Committee" and was its Chairman 2017-2020.

On 30 April 2017, the Tucson PBS TV station aired a 5 minute biographical story of Mike:

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Click image to view the show

In September 2018 this story was nominated for a 2018 Emmy Award. It did not win, but it was an honor and thrill for Mike to be part of a show that was nominated.

On 25 October 2019, Rick Van Kooten, Executive Dean, and Jeff Stuckey of the Indiana University College of Arts & Sciences, were in Tucson and presented Mike the IU Bicentennial Medal for his work in public outreach and science education.

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This was a totally unexpected but much appreciated honor.

On 10 December 2020, Indiana University College of Arts & Sciences again honored Mike by selecting him for one of its "Alumni Spotlights".

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Read the article at Celebrating Alumni Contributions: 200+ Years of Impact.

To learn more about Mike you can read a Short Biography of Mike.


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Copyright ©2012-21 Michael L. Weasner / mweasner@me.com
URL = http://www.weasner.com/co/history.html