Kiesel Park Observatory

Auburn Alabama

Disclaimer:  Although this project never reached fruition (due to a number of reasons which were beyond everyone's control), this continues to me THE most visited site on the AAS Web page -- despite having been removed from the navigation menu.  Because of the popularity of the site, I will continue to keep it on the server as long as space permits. 

Russell Whigham, Webmaster.

The proposed Kiesel Park Observatory will be a joint venture of The City of Auburn, The Auburn University Physics Department and The Auburn Astronomical Society. Here is a chronology of progress toward seeing this concept develop into a reality:

Table of Contents

In The Beginning...    Observatory Construction Guidelines    From Talk to Action    Preliminary Design
The Donated Telescope Arrives in Auburn    The Observatory Design Begins
Proposed Observatory Designs and Models on Display    Narrowing the Field    Map to Kiesel Park
Other Observatory Pages

In The Beginning...

Our involvement in the project began with this April 07 1997 e-mail from Mike Bozack, of the Auburn University Physics Department:


We have a good opportunity to obtain a donated 16" telescope from an AU alumni who lives near Dothan. The telescope is a home-built instrument and is pictured on p. 48 of Sky and Telescope from July, 1962. The donor's father (since deceased) built the telescope and wanted to donate the instrument to AU with the stipulation that we really use the telescope and not just show it as a museum piece.

A parallel development is that the mayor of Auburn has a real interest in developing Kiesel Park (outside of Auburn) into something more than a walking path. She has agreed to let us site the telescope in an open field at Kiesel, a site which looks pretty good -- it is relatively dark and has a low tree line.

The donor, my boss, our Dean of Sciences, and the mayor have all endorsed this project. Currently we are working on details such as pricing an observatory dome to house the instrument and getting electrical power out to the site.

Question for You: We want the Auburn Astronomy Club to be involved from the start. We would like to have someone go out and look over the site (there are a couple of choices to place the instrument) and give their opinion, as well as lend other valuable assistance. We view the telescope as something to be shared by AU physics and the Club, and we plan to put a concrete slab in place so other amateurs can bring their portable telescopes out and hook them up. Further, we want to have a small storage shed built to house the telescopes we currently are using for our undergraduate astronomy course.

Let me know if you folks are interested in giving us your feedback as to the site, and further, if you know of good sources to buy an observatory dome.

Thanks, Russell.


I replied to Mike on April 10, 1997:

Hello Mike,

The proposal sounds interesting! Of course we'd like to bring it before the membership at next month's meeting (May 9). Could you meet with us to make a pitch for the project and to answer questions? Where is the park located?

>Let me know if you folks are interested in giving us your feedback as to the
>site, and further, if you know of good sources to buy an observatory dome.
Has the "dome" concept decision already been made?

The reason I ask is (at this point it's only a suggestion -- not a proposal) that since we lost our observatory several years ago, we've had no place to house our 12.5" Cave Astrola. With a roll-off roof design it would be possible to house the donated 16 inch scope, and if approved by our membership, some sort of long term loan arrangement of our 12.5". A roll-off design would also be cheaper and possibly done by City or University labor and could incorporate the space needed for the storage shed for the astronomy course instruments eliminating the need for a separate structure. The dome design also limits the number of people inside. Of course if the dome dollars are also being donated, maybe that's the way to go, but I think we're talking tens of thousands of dollars.

I'll be sending out the May issue of ASTROFILES in about two weeks. I'll include your message. Please pass along any new developments.

Hoping we can do business,


In his reply to my message, Dr. Joe Perez of the Physics Department offered to meet with us at the May meeting, make his proposal, and answer questions.

At the meeting, Dr. Perez showed us the drawings of the park site and some architect's drawings of some ideas for maintaining the continuity of the architectural motif. Dr. Perez was completely open to our concerns and suggestions.

Observatory Construction Guidelines

While all of this was going on, I submitted a query to the ASTRO Mail List on the web, for suggestions of considerations for the observatory. Here is a summary of the replies from the mail list as well as some things we learned from the construction of our old Moore's Meadow Observatory near Society Hill:

I. Site

II. Observatory III. Annex IV. Compromises
Dome vs. Roll-Off Roof
Dome Assets
  • Superior wind and stray light protection.
  • Less dew
  • Looks like an observatory
Dome Liabilities
  • Cost
  • Can house only one telescope
  • Can't accommodate groups
  • Only see one "slice" of sky at a time.
  • Chimney effect degrades seeing
  • Looks like an observatory
Roll-Off Assets
  • Cost
  • Whole sky experience
  • Can accommodate groups
  • Can house two or more telescopes
Roll-Off Liabilities
Concrete Block vs. Wood

This comes down to a compromise between security and seeing. The concrete block affords a better defense against theft and vandalism but absorbs the Sun's heat during the day and radiates it at night, degrading seeing. Steps can be taken to mitigate this:

  • Evergreen shrubbery at the roof drip line to shade the walls during the day.
  • Ventilation fans
  • White exterior
  • There may be a slight cost advantage to wood.

From Talk to Action

AAS president, Rhon Jenkins, agreed to head up the committee responsible for preparing detailed information for the architect.

On Sunday, May 18 1997, those wishing to contribute ideas for observatory design plans, met at Rhon's house.

On Saturday, May 24, we met as a group for a combination picnic/site survey at Kiesel Park.
AAS members enjoy fellowship and a bar-b-que picnic near the entrance to Kiesel Park. Thanks to Joyce Jenkins for coordinating the event and being responsible for providing the food. 

After the meal, Rhon went over the sketches (see below) for the observatory before going over the the proposed observatory site. 

The view to the north.
The ridge that runs the length of the field, is approximately north-south. Along the right edge of the field can be seen the park jogging trail. 
Despite a looming spring thunderstorm,(which brought an early end to our evening) we surveyed the horizon to the south. 
Looking south.

Preliminary Design

With all of this in mind, Rhon came up with these basic sketches.

This is a side view of the observatory and the structure that will support the roof when rolled off. Rhon suggested taking advantage of the existing terraced terrain, to make the entrance to the observatory near normal height to avoid head-banging while entering (a all-to-often occurrance at the Moore's Meadow structure). Once in the ante room, users would activate the mechanized roll-off roof. Once off, users will take a couple of steps up the the observatory level and be able to walk about without fear of bumping into roof joists. Guardrails would keep users from accidentally falling into the lower ante room. Upon leaving, the procedure would be reversed.



This view from the south shows the emergency/wheelchair entrance at ground level

View form the north, looking through the cross-braces that support the roll-off track

The Donated Telescope Arrives in Auburn

KIESEL PARK UPDATE, September 1997, by Dr. John Shaw

The telescope donated to the Physics Department at Auburn University for use in the Kiesel Park observatory was put into storage in Parker hall in late August. The telescope had been in storage on the original owner's property, and it was transported to Auburn by members of the physics department in the back of a van.

Despite the size of the telescope, the tube assembly of the sixteen inch Newtonian is about 8 feet long and 20 inches in diameter, not to mention the 6 foot long truck axle which forms the main component of the original cross-axis mounting, a crane was _not_ needed to move the telescope. The mirror was detached from the telescope tube and the mirror and it's cast aluminum flotation mount were placed in a heavily padded box for the trip to Auburn. There was also a very big counterweight for the telescope. A large box of miscellaneous items was packed.

On examination the box contained wooden forms from which the aluminum parts of the telescope were cast, a Foucalt tester, a box of home-made eyepieces, and in a smaller box, wrapped in cotton and a paper bag, an aluminized diagonal. Since I did not get a chance to look in the tube assembly, this could be the diagonal for the telescope or a backup mirror. I don't know. There were also several cast iron polishing tools and two glass disks which were about an inch thick and 16-20 inches across. They did not seem to be tools and were under all the stuff described above.

The mirror is in good shape, no majors dings and the coating is dirty, but not scratched. It should be easy to clean if anyone has the gumption to attempt it. The mirror is about 2.7 inches thick and has tape wrapped around the outer rim. The flotation cell attaches to the end of the tube assembly by three knurled screws so the mirror and cell are a detachable unit.

The tube is fiberglass and has a home-made eyepiece mount. The tube cradle goes all the way around the tube and when the cradle is attached to the mount, the tube rotates on bearings so the eyepiece position can be adjusted.

The mounting has a large right ascension circle at the lower, south end, of the axle. There is a worm gear about 8 inches in diameter and a A.C. drive motor to drive the telescope.

That is about it. The telescope is going to remain in storage until some place to put it is built. It is a large telescope and built in the old Porter mount style -- heavier is better, but it could be a very nice performer with some cleaning and repair.


The Observatory Design Begins

Kiesel Park Observatory Update October 27, 1997, by Dr. Rhonald Jenkins

Joe Perez and I met this afternoon with a group of architecture students to discuss the design of the Kiesel Park observatory. There are 17 students in this class. They are in the third year of a five year curriculum. They and their instructor, Prof. Cook, were very interested in the project and asked a lot of good questions. Joe began the proceedings by explaining the background of the project and what he hopes to accomplish with it. I then showed some slides of our Moore's Meadow Observatory and gave them hardcopy handouts of our suggestions and sketches.

They hope to have a design by the end of the quarter. What's more, they should be able to scan their layouts onto their website so that all our members can take a look and offer feedback! I'll keep everyone posted on this!! Joe hopes to be able to begin his money raising campaign in the Spring.

I've asked that they keep in close touch with us, and they've promised to do so.

Proposed Observatory Designs and Models on Display

Kiesel Park Update, November/December, 1997

AAS president, Rhon Jenkins, sends the following messages:

I spent three hours this afternoon going over a number of observatory designs that the architecture class had come up with. It turns out that EACH student will submit a design. This includes drawings (some quite detailed), 3-D models (for some) etc. As you might expect from a class that size, some were not good, some were OK, and three or four were excellent. I was very pleasantly pleased with the level of effort and originality with some of them. Now, bad news and good news .... bad first: since there are 17 (I think) designs, they won't all be available on the internet. They are, however, going to make a public presentation the week after Thanksgiving to professors, at least one representative from the City of Auburn, and as many members of the AAS as we can muster on a weekday. I don't have the exact date or time yet. For those who can't make it then, I'm going to try to get some sort of display set up for our December meeting.

One design that struck me as particularly innovative was as follows: imagine a cake-shaped cylinder which is cut into two half-cake slices of nearly equal radius. Now imagine that the slightly larger portion can slide around behind the smaller one so that what remains is half-open. Now place three telescopes on an arc in the open space. half open to view, closed completely when not viewing. the problem is in the load bearing structure, but she's aware of this and is working on it. It's really quite striking when you see her 3-D rendering of it.

There are several others. I think we're going to be quite pleased with the final outcome. Rhon


As per the message below, the exhibits will be on display on Friday, December 5. Alan Cook assures me that Dudley Hall will still be open at 8 on Friday night, and that all of us will be able to view them at that time (even though the students themselves won't be there). He also indicated his willingness to carry on with the project with selected students if we (Perez and us) can agree on one or two designs for more detailed work.


From: Alan Cook cookala@GROUPWISE1.DUC.AUBURN.EDU To:

Dear Star Watchers;

You are invited to participate in the exhibition and review of preliminary design schemes for an observatory complex to be located in Kiesel Park. This project is a joint enterprise between the City of Auburn, the Auburn University Physics Department, and the Auburn Astronomical Society.

The projects are from Prof. Alan Cook's AR 301, Third Year Architectural Design Studio. Each of the seventeen students have spent five weeks developing their ideas and presentations, many of which are digitally modeled in 3-D. Some of the designs should be available on the internet in the near future for your perusal.

The exhibit and review will take place from 1:10 PM until 5:00 PM on Friday, December 05, 1997; in the second floor Hallway exhibit space of Dudley Hall. Please come and give us the perspective of your expertise and points of view as potential users.

Narrowing the Field

KIESEL PARK UPDATE, December '97 - January '98

At our December meeting, we perused the exhibits of the proposals by Alan Cook's architecture class. The designs ranged from the traditional roll-off (gabled) roof to some elaborate and innovative designs-- variations based on the low-profile cylindrical concept described by Rhon in the December issue of Astrofiles. One feature, that we had not thought of suggesting, was benches along the walls for those not at the eyepiece, was incorporated into a couple of the proposals. I liked Allen Screws' criterion for any design proposal, which was the old KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle.

In further developments, Rhon writes:

Alan Cook, Joe Perez, and yours truly met on Wednesday, December 10, to try to come to some sort of decision. The mayor and her entourage viewed the exhibits Friday afternoon before we did. I'll bet that you can guess which design they wanted ... that's right, the towmotor. Because this design disregarded the requirement for rigidly mounted piers for the telescopes , I strongly advised against that design. Perez agreed ... Joe also stated that he (the Department of Physics and us (AAS) would call the shots on this, not the City of Auburn.

We selected two designs to carry forward to the cost estimate phase:

Option No. 1: the "conservative" option .... is the traditional roll-off roof design (a la Moore's Meadow), with the domed classroom building which could conceivably be used as a planetarium.

Option No. 2: the "unusual" option ..... is the pie (or cake) shaped building where one-half of the building rotates around. The building, mind you, not just the roof. The latter was done over my objections but I figured we had to compromise somewhere.

That's where we stand now. I think it's obvious that Joe is willing to work with us and listen to our advice. This bodes well for the future, I think.

I'll let you know when the initial cost estimates come in. At that time we're going to have to make a recommendation as a group as to what to do then.


Here's a map to Kiesel Park. From Auburn, take Wire Road, or SR 14 (Lochapoka Highway) to Lee County 51 (Chadwick Lane). The entrance to Kiesel Park is about a mile from either route on highway 51.

Other Observatory Pages
Vedeler Observatory
Bill Arnett's Amateur Observatories