The Making of a Remote Site: An Interview with Bryan Cogdell of Falling Eagle Observatory
Just this month, Sky-Watcher completed our remote site at the Falling Eagle Observatory. The observatory is fully remote and features:
- 3 Sky-Watcher Esprits (2 Esprit 150s, and a 100 piggyback)
- ZWO 6200MM & 6200MC
- Paramount MX-Plus & MyT Mount
This project is the brainchild of Bryan Cogdell, the co-founder of SkiesAway, who hosts astronomy events, astrophotography workshops, and observatory installations throughout the country. Sky-Watcher has been developing the remote site with Bryan for a little over a year, so we decided to sit down and have a behind the scenes look at the construction and development of the Falling Eagle Observatory and what the future holds.
Sky-Watcher: Hey Bryan, thanks for chatting with us.
Bryan: You’re most welcome – it’s very thrilling to see this develop after years of dreaming and planning.
Above: Just after the concrete was poured into the foundation forms and sonotube pier bases.
S: How did Falling Eagle Observatory come about?
B: The idea and ambition to build this observatory began with my lifelong interest in astronomy, astrophotography, and finding a dark sky location I could also call home. It was a lofty goal to want dark skies and a place to live, yet still have paved access with internet and Amazon Prime deliveries. My wife and I searched across the state for years to find the right balance that would work for astronomy and family life. As I started building my first observatory here I collaborated with Sky-Watcher USA and Kevin LeGore of Focus Astronomy, Starlight Xpress, and the software wizardry of Richard Wright. That’s when the Paramounts and Esprit refractors were chosen for setting up complete remote access. And we’re happy to announce that the Falling Eagle Observatory is online and operational.
Above: Framing nearly done and ready to install the roof.
S: Where is your observatory located?
B: It resides half way between the southern stretches of Big Sur on the Pacific Coast Highway and the city of Paso Robles. We are in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the same coastal mountain range that hosts Chews Ridge for the Monterey Institute of Research Astronomy. About 35.8º N 121ºW
Above: The observatory location at our home in SkiesAway Ranch under Bortle scale 2 skies.
S: Why Falling Eagle? Is there a reason for the name?
B: It so happens that bald eagles nest here which was a complete surprise to us. They literally fly over the observatory. And on the symbolic side, we tied a little mythology from the constellation Lyra the harp which passes directly overhead in the summer, just as our bald eagles do. Part of that mythology involves an eagle carrying the lyre harp, named Aquila Cadens, or “Falling Eagle”.
Above: Falling Eagle Observatory seen from the outside with the roof retracted.
S: How many telescopes do you have currently running? Will you be adding more in the future?
B: There are two piers in this observatory now hosting 3, soon to be 4 telescopes. To provide more options for imagers, each pier and EQ mount will have 2 telescopes, the Esprit 150 you see installed now for longer focal length work, and the shorter Esprit 100 for wide field. As part of SkiesAway we will have more in the future, and the next observatory is going online early this year.
S: What do you see for the future of Falling Eagle Observatory?
B: More images, more gear (we’re adding an all-sky cam, SQM, seeing monitor and the list will go on), and ultimately more access to the observatory and dark sky. Even though there are more observatories on the way, Falling Eagle is our “home” setup and will be used more for outreach, product testing, and live astronomy.
S: How can others get involved? Are you renting remote telescope access to the public?
B: We invite those that follow us @skies_away on Facebook or Instagram to comment or message us directly for special requests. We’re offering two things initially. 1: Imaging on request. Tell us what you’d like to see and we’ll capture it, sometimes live, then post and tag it with the featured follower. 2: We’ll share the data for download for anyone who wants to process it with full image rights. The data share, in my opinion, is a big deal since it will give anyone the chance to publish their own astro-photos from very dark skies using high-end equipment.
And we plan to have more live astronomy events like the Jupiter & Saturn conjunction event we broadcasted on Facebook live. A future event that comes to mind is the lunar eclipse on May 26th.
For the next phase we are looking at offering the remote telescopes for rental. That more involves the second observatory which is going online around March this year. We’ll go over that in more detail at the Sky-Watcher webcast coming up March 26th.