Last week I visited Sierra Remote Observatory (SRO), a telescope hosting service. What that means is that people install their telescope at SRO and operate them over the internet to capture images. There are both private (amateur) and professional astronomy operations located here, and it’s very popular, which explains why the other common meaning for “SRO”, standing room only, might apply. There are 2 large buildings like this that are filled with telescopes, most of them quite large. There are also smaller buildings, visible on the left in this photo, that house individual telescopes. There are no available spaces at this time, and most of the spaces planned in a future expansion are already spoken for.
The reason it’s so popular is that SRO’s location in the Sierra foothills has excellent seeing and easy access. Professional observatories are usually built on mountain tops to get the best seeing (and to be away from light pollution and above at least some clouds), but that makes them difficult to get to and inhospitable while you are there. SRO’s location is a great compromise; excellent seeing, reasonably dark, and very easy to get to.
You may be wondering if my visit there was because I’m planning to set up a telescope there. Well, I’ve thought seriously about it, but am considering multiple options. I was there more specifically because a couple of friends have or soon will have telescopes at SRO.
In most (maybe all?) cases, these telescopes are “robotic”, and go about capturing image data on their own, based on a list of targets entered by the user. To the beginner in astrophotography this may seem like either a dream or total cheating, since it can be a huge struggle to learn how to capture good images. But once you have mastered it, the appeal of image capture fades considerably, and you really just want good data to work on. Great finished astrophotos are created in processing the data, mostly, and that explains the general direction of my thinking. I’ll let you know my specific plans as they solidify.