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Astronomy at Windowpane Observatory

Windowpane Observatory (WPO) is so named after the 48-inch square viewing glass through which astronomers can observe the sky in year-round comfort. Looking through this window to the universe is an 18-inch short-focus reflecting telescope (learn more about our telescope here).

WPO is engaged in the astronomical science of discovery. We are searching for comets, supernovae, and earth-crossing asteroids. WPO is a visual observatory contributing to fundamental astronomical science in the tradition of Galileo and Isaac Newton. In fact, our reflecting telescope is called a Newtonian telescope.

WPO is located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert at the gateway to the Organ Pipe National Monument. This area of the United States is part of a protected United Nations Biosphere. The pristine Sonoran Desert contains many rare plants and animals peculiar only to this area. With its extremely dry climate and clear nights this site is darker than the United States' National Astronomical Facility at Kitt Peak.

Most observatories can only be visited during the day when astronomers are not working. WPO can be visited at night and the general public is invited to join us in a voyage of discovery. The modest fee charged for this adventure helps to fund the basic science conducted at WPO.

Windowpane Observatory is a proud member of and contributor to optical astronomy via the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO)

If you would like to join us at Windowpane Observatory separate and apart from the activities mentioned on these Web pages please contact us for observatory and astronomer-guided tour information.

Our Telescope Up Close

ash dome observatoryThe observatory dome is a 17 foot Ash Dome with the Lanphier Shutter System. The Lanphier shutter is a 4 ft. square pane of optical quality glass that allows the interior of the dome to be climate controlled. Hence, the name Windowpane Observatory. There are only 9 observatories in the world with the Lanphier Shutter as the concept is poorly understood and untested.

Armed with assurances from the manufacturer, WPO achieved great success using the Lanphier optical glass that climate-controls the observatory even with large temperature differences up to 70 degrees F. between the outside of the dome and the interior temperature. Most astronomers believed this to be impossible due to heat radiation off the glass plate. Extensive testing at the high altitude site proved that because heat was radiating evenly across the entire surface of the glass images were not blurred working to powers of 300X. The Windowpane Observatory glass plate became the subject of several research studies in climate controlled observatories and was presented in a series of papers and lectures at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory.

They key to high resolution was to make sure that the flat plane of the primary mirror was exactly parallel to the plane of the windowpane optical glass portal. In addition to protection from the elements, the windowpane glass portal eliminated the problem of wind tunnelling from high wind gusts as the entire dome environment was draft free. Before relocating to Ajo, AZ, Windowpane Observatory was operating at 8,000 ft. outside Santa Fe, NM with an Antarctic package that allowed snow loads up to 10 ft.

Now the telescope has been moved to Ajo and the observatory that got its name from its viewing portal window pane has excellent ambient temperatures 8 months out of the year. If you would like to learn more about Windowpane Observatory or the universe in general please call 505-463-8360.