Observatory Use Protocol

There are many reasons why we continue to improve the equipment and accessories at NCO. We want to provide our members with a permanent facility that will supplement their personal equipment, for observing and imaging. We also want to improve the facility for use by the school district, for the enjoyment and education of the students and teachers who visit NCEEC throughout the school year. We will also continue to pursue the feasibility of extended astronomy programs for students, teachers and the general public. Finally, we will continue to hold Star Parties for the general public, which will help us spread the word about the joys of astronomy, as well as SMAS itself.

Because of our recent equipment changes, and expanding programs now and in the future, we know we need to establish a system to ensure that everyone who wants to use the observatory will have the same opportunities as everyone else. To that end, we have created a system in which the SMAS members, and all others, can reserve the use of the observatory. We realize that this is not an especially critical situation right now, but as our equipment changes and our programs expand, so will the use of the observatory.

PLEASE NOTE: During weeknight student overnight sessions throughout the school year, the time blocks just after astronomical twilight will be reserved for student use, where applicable. The number of time blocks used by the students will vary, based on the number of students in each class. SMAS members may request a change in the use of these time blocks by students only, due to an "extraordinary" astronomical event. See Items #15 - #17 for additional protocol, regarding SMAS Member Use During Scheduled Weeknight Student Overnight Sessions.

SMAS Member Use During Scheduled Observing Sessions (#1 - #12)

  1. During a scheduled SMAS Observing Session, the first 45 minutes or 1 hour after astronomical twilight, to the next nearest hour, will be reserved for the "general use" of all the SMAS members.
  2. After that "general use" time has passed, members may reserve the use of the observatory for their own individual use, in one-hour time blocks. They may reserve up to one hour before midnight and one hour after midnight, so that others may get an equal chance to reserve time blocks during the observing session, as requested. The hours reserved before and after midnight may not be consecutive.
  3. The blocks of time may be reserved ahead of time, or upon arrival at the observing session, based on availability.
  4. We are investigating the creation and use of an interactive online reservation calendar, so that all members may see what time blocks are available during the observing session, then input their reservation(s). Currently, notification via SMAS@groups.io is acceptable.
  5. During their reserved time blocks, members may determine whether or not they want the observatory to be "off limits" to other people, such as when doing critical imaging,etc.
  6. Members may also determine if they want other members to be with them, to "share" their time block, but the person who made the original reservation will determine the observing plan.
  7. If two people try to sign up for the same time block at the same time, they will decide between themselves who will get that time block.
  8. The reservation calendar may also list alternate names for each time block, in the event that the original person who signed up for the time block cannot attend. The original person must notify the next person on the list and SMAS@groups.io, as to the availability of the time block.
  9. If a member signs up for numerous time blocks and does not use them, thus abusing the system, that member's access to the reservation system may be temporarily revoked.
  10. Tracking the use of the observatory is determined by the "Observatory Use Log," which is located in the control building.
  11. All members who use the observatory are required to sign in during each visit, whether they are doing individual, club, public or weeknight student observing sessions, or simply visiting NCO to do work. This is especially critical during the times when individuals use the observatory alone. (General SMAS observing session and star party volunteer attendance may be listed as a "blanket amount," rather than individual names).
  12. In order to reserve time, the member must be checked out on accessing and closing NCEEC, opening and closing the observatory and control building, using the telescope and related equipment, etc., OR be required to have another member there who IS authorized. Check out procedures can extend to overnight use of the facility, when requested, including pavilion, cabin and restroom access.
  13. SMAS Member Use During Scheduled Public Star Parties (#13 - #14)

  14. During scheduled Public Star Parties, the time blocks would be for public use only, until the final guest has left. SMAS members may request a change in the use of these time blocks by the public only, due to an "extraordinary" astronomical event.
  15. After the final guest has left, the use of the observatory by members may revert back to the same system as above (#1 - #12). Starting with the first 45 minutes or 1 hour after that time, to the next nearest hour, the observatory will be reserved for the "general use" of all the SMAS members. The time blocks after that may be reserved on site, on a first come-first served basis.
  16. SMAS Member Use During Scheduled Weeknight Student Overnight Sessions (#15 - #17)
    (See "PLEASE NOTE" above)

  17. Members MUST determine the availability of NCO by checking the SMAS calendar page.
  18. If there is a student overnight program scheduled for a night that a SMAS member wants to use the observatory, the member MUST contact someone at NCEEC at 301-743-3526. Use of the observatory by the classes is an individual decision by each teacher at NCEEC, therefore, NCO may or may not be available. The member MUST inform someone at NCEEC of his or her visit, before arriving on site. To guarantee that the NCEEC staff is aware of a SMAS member visit in this situation, notification must be made by telephone. Notification after 5 PM on the same night as a visit is acceptable.
  19. Weeknight time blocks after student observing sessions may be reserved after enough time is allowed for the program, on a first come-first served basis, either online or on site. Prior notification to NCEEC staff for any NCO use during a student overnight program is still required, as in #16 above.
  20. SMAS Member Use During Other Times Not Listed Above (#18 - #19)

  21. Time blocks may also be reserved on nights when no one else is on site. Multiple time blocks may be reserved, based on availability.
  22. If someone reserves a time block months ahead, and an "extraordinary," "exciting," or "unusual" astronomical event suddenly occurs, we would like the opportunity to revert back to a "general use" time block, if the person who made the original reservation agrees.

Last Updated: 11/16/20