Squirrel Valley Observatory

The NEO follow-up community consists of dedicated observers, working with a variety of telescope sizes and sites. Squirrel Valley Observatory, a member of IAWN, is one such successful example.

sideview of telescope

Celestron Edge 14 with Hyperstar
Credit: Squirrel Valley Obs, Randy Flynn

Squirrel Valley Observatory (SVO) is a privately owned roll-off-roof observatory located in the foothills of western North Carolina. The small observatory is the culmination of a life long dream, with the vision of contributing useful astronomical data to the scientific community. SVO was constructed in 2015 and acquired an MPC code (W34) the following year. Since that time, the primary focus of the observatory has been the provision of NEO astrometric followup and discovery confirmation data.

In 2019 we were awarded the Planetary Society's 2019 Shoemaker NEO Grant for our efforts in near earth asteroid studies. With those funds we upgraded our manual roll off roof to a motorized system and implemented various software and automation upgrades. In that same year we also upgraded from a smaller Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope to a 0.36 meter aplanatic Schmidt-Cassegrain in a hyperstar configuration. This currently serves as our primary tracking scope. The hyperstar configuration yields a f1.9 focal ratio, and when coupled with a 3.8µm pixel size cmos camera, provides a very capable 1.4 square degree field of view for follow up. As the observatory has grown beyond it's initial expectations and space, we have recently converted a spare room at my residence into a dedicated warm room where all observatory operations and data processing is performed.

4 computer screens showing astronomy software in a red-lit room

SVO monitors
Credit: Squirrel Valley Obs, Randy Flynn

We take pride in our role as a support facility for NEO confirmations. The weather in the southeastern U.S. is often less favorable for observing than that of the southwestern U.S. and other regions, but we feel that our facility fills a geographical gap and provides a beneficial vantage point for follow up observations.

Other activities at the observatory include participation in minor planet occultation and cometary campaigns as well as occasionally generating exoplanet light-curves. Squirrel Valley Observatory also devotes time to community outreach programs focusing on the many aspects of astronomy, NEO studies, and dark sky conservation. The observatory has provided several onsite educational programs for the local school systems. It is our hope that SVO's drive and dedication will inspire others to follow their dreams, no matter the size.

Article, Photos courtesy of Randy Flynn, SVO