Twillingate Astronomical Observatory, Newfoundland, Canada

About Us
    Jim Gillard | Simon Dawson

Jim' Story

Jim GillardI became seriously focused on astronomy about 35 years ago, although my interest went back much farther. Most of my time was spent reading, library books, magazines and then later, after getting involved with the Astronomy Book Club. I purchased many hard cover astronomy books. I also subscribed to Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, and in recent years the Canadian magazine Sky News. As I got more involved with learning about this hobby there was never a shortage of things to read. Of course, then the internet came along and the amount of information that is presently available can be mind boggling.

12inch LX200 Meade TelescopeI spent a fair amount of time roaming the sky with binoculars, but it seemed that I was most content reading and learning about the universe in all of its diversity. Although I spent a fair amount of money on astronomy books I couldn’t seem to break down and invest in a telescope. As a result my observing career had to wait till the children had grown and were moving on with their own lives.

After having spent considerable time learning the constellations and studying about the many objects within them, I felt it was time for me to do some serious looking. It wasn’t long before a 12” LX200 Meade showed up at the door. It was an awful size and when I got the packaging off, it was so much larger than I had imagined. From that time forward I knew that this would be a turning point in the way I imagined the sky and the things in it.

Building the dream.The size of this scope became painfully obvious as Audrey and I mucked it back and forth from the house to the veranda on nights when the viewing was good and nights when I thought it would be good but wasn’t. There was no doubt this thing had to have a permanent pier and a roof over its head.

I must admit that the idea of the observatory with the dome had come long before the telescope arrived. However, it was as if I had maneuvered myself into a position where I had no other choice but to build it and the only way to get myself off my rear and get started was to buy the scope first. Well, that worked just fine and before I knew it I was digging a hole in the garden right where Audrey had just planted some trees. The trees had to suffer the shock of another move. This was a fairly large hole and in it I built a wooden box Jim and Simon in front of the Observatory5ft x 5ft x 5ft. It was poured full of cement after I placed a 9inch steel pipe in the middle. It extended 20 ft above the ground. To make a long story short, the observatory was built around it. I constructed the dome in a shed not far from the observatory. Upon its completion, it was transported and hoisted by a boom truck to the top of the observatory. So finally my favorite tool had its own shed and I had realized a very long time dream. I guess I could go on and on about why it is built the way that it is and about the little problems we had to work around during the construction but I’d rather write about what I want to do with it.

by Carl Sagan
Co-founder of The Planetary Society 1994

This excerpt from A Pale Blue Dot was inspired by an image taken, at Sagan's suggestion, by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood for the fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size.

This brings me to my plans for the future. These plans are shared by a friend of mine, another amateur astronomer in the name of Simon Dawson. Between the two of us we want to change the way people look at the sky, whether they be interested adults, children or teenagers.

If you come visit us and you find that your interest is more than you expected and you wish to learn more about that celestial sphere above your head, then we will share with you our knowledge and show you how to move amongst the constellations and locate their hidden secrets of beauty. The sky that may now seem to be an endless maze of stars will take on a host of very recognizable patterns and you will learn to navigate these ancient constellations and cherish their beauty whenever you see them overhead.

We are hoping to bring together at least a small group of individuals, who like us, find great enjoyment in learning about the heavens and sharing with astronomers and scientists the joy and excitement of their discoveries as they now seem to be happening in leaps and bounds. With a sufficient number of interested people we would like to put together a formal astronomy club. Once in place, scheduled events of observing or simply talking and learning can be a regular part of our meetings together. All is required is a desire to learn, and here at the Twillingate Astronomical Observatory we have a fairly large astronomy library with lots of star charts and current magazines showing us all that‘s new in the sky on a day to day basis. Drop us an email, we would love to hear from you.

Jim Gillard
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Simon Dawson, Astro-Tech Guy

Simon DawsonMy initial awareness of things Spatial came courtesy of Dan Dare, in Eagle Magazine. Anyone remember Anastasia? The time was the Fifties, and the Russians were doing all the interesting things. The first satellite, Sputnik. The first photos of the far side of the Moon. The first man in space. It was around that time that I got my first telescope, a 1.5 inch refractor on a spindly tripod, for Christmas. Being as I was in the middle of a rather large city, I decided to focus my attention on the Moon. This was actually a good thing, as things got very interesting after I moved to Canada in 1966. The Apollo program was well under way and provided us with the Apollo 8 Christmas orbit of the Moon and the Apollo 11 landing - which I listened to on the radio in Port au Choix, on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland (I was an archaeology summer worker at the time).

I've always been more interested in the Solar System than in stars or deep space objects, mainly because I always thought stars were just points of light and I'd never seen a DSO apart from DS9. Later, I would be amazed at what could be seen in a good pair of binoculars, but then I was content to read all about it and follow interesting events on television.

In 1974, I finally graduated from Memorial University and moved to New World Island to teach French and eventually Tech Ed. We had originally intended to stay for two years, but we still haven't got around to leaving.

Jupiter, NASADuring the 1980s, the hot thing on the go was the Space Shuttle. Also during that time, I came across The Planetary Society, founded by Carl Sagan. It was around this time, too, that I decided that Jupiter was the most interesting planet in the solar system, next to Mother Earth.

During the nineties there was the Galileo mission, along with the spectacular collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter. It was around this time, too, that the internet came to us in the form of STEM~Net, which was set up for Newfoundland teachers in 1994. I was subscribed to and first heard about the comet via this new medium. And then things got really interesting when the world wide web became widely accessible the following year. I'm making a fuss about this because that's my other great interest - computers and networks. One of these days I'd like to hook up a camera to my telescope and get into astrophotography.

Another highlight of the nineties occurred in August of 1999 when my wife and I joined a very early morning group of people on Signal Hill to watch the solar eclipse. The combination of a still, peaceful morning, the setting and the crowd all combined to make this a most memorable event. I really believe that astronomy is best shared.

Saturn, NASAWith the turn of the century and the millennium, I decided that I should get more serious about astronomy and I went and got a telescope. From a department store. Oh, well. It was a standard 60mm refractor Twillingate Astronomical Observatoryand had the standard plastic lenses. However, this was the telescope that gave me my first glimpse of Saturn and its rings. It was around this time I joined the RASC (which I recommend to anyone who's interested in astronomy), but I still was rather isolated. Finally, in 2004 the RASC AGM was held in St John's, and I contacted Jim in Twillingate about going in and since then I have been a regular visitor to the observatory. In 2005, I bought a really good telescope (in the picture). It's a 200 mm Dobsonian, and its strength lies in its optics. Now, if I could get it to track...

Now I'm discovering the fascination of deep space objects. And that's the problem with astronomy. There's always something else to learn. Visit Simon's website here.

Simon Dawson
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Last update: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 11:00
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