About a decade ago I came across an article in a magazine that showed a photograph of a home with an observatory built in and situated on the side of a mountain near Osoyoos, British Columbia. The bed and breakfast was owned by Alice and Jack Newton and what made it special was that they promised to take their guests on a tour of the universe and as I will show you they delivered more than I could imagine.
Jack and Alice Newton's bed and breakfast with their observatory dome and the milky way in the background. 24 mm F1.4 lens, exposure 10 seconds.
Jack and Alice Newton's backyard with the rising moon. Their backyard is also a haven for wildlife and birds.
I knew a little about Jack Newton’s astrophotography from meetings at Calgary’s Royal Astronomical Society which I occasionally attend at the Calgary Science Centre, but I had no idea just how accomplished Jack is or of his many contributions to astronomy. Jack is an amateur astronomer, but it's easy to see that astronomy has played an important role in his life. He has received numerous awards for his astronomy outreach and astrophotography, he is a popular guest speaker, has written several books on astronomy, and discovered more then 94 supernova with more waiting to be confirmed. Jack and his wife have even been honoured by having an asteroid named after them. While I was there Jack was also testing the new Canon 60Da camera for astrophotography in order to write a review. To learn more about Jack see the links about his biography at the bottom of the page.
Jack and Alice Newton in front of some of Jack's award winning astrophotography - June 28, 2012.
On June 25, 2012, my wife and I drove from Calgary through the crowsnest pass and reached the Observatory bed and breakfast located about 10 km outside Osoyoos after a 12 hour drive. We reserved four nights as I also planned to explore the Osoyoos valley and do what I love most - take photographs. I was especially interested in learning more about astrophotography, but also planned to photograph the nearby vineyards, wildlife, landscapes and plant life. This region of the country is part of the Okanagan valley and borders on Washington state. The origin of the name Osoyoos comes from the word suius meaning "narrowing of the waters" in the local Okanagan language (Syilx'tsn). The summers are generally hot and dry with annual average rainfall of 10 inches and is considered semi-dessert. The climate is ideal for growing cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, apples and grapes. Between Osoyoos and Oliver to the north we encountered numerous wineries and the town of Oliver, just north of Osoyoos, is considered the wine capital of Canada. The weather is also ideal for viewing the night sky.
When we arrived we were immediately greeted by friendly hosts who showed us our room which offered a spectacular view of the valley and the town of Osoyoos below. The rooms are all decorated with astrophotographs and numerous other astronomy paraphernalia. This is a paradise for geeks, but as I quickly learned, the location was also incredible for nature photographers and it also included my wife's favorite place, sandy beaches.
Front part of our room called the Saturn room with walk out to the patio where we could see Osoyoos in the valley below.
Panorama view from our walk out - the first day it was overcast but it cleared on subsequent days.
Osoyoos at night shows a clear sky over the town of about 5.000. Photograph taken from in front of our room. 10.5 mm lens, F2.8, 10 seconds.
The highlight of the trip for us was the tour of the night sky which Jack provides on clear nights. On nights that are not suitable for viewing, Jack provides a presentation in his home movie theatre which features 3D movies and some of his astrophotographs. We watched astronauts repair the Hubble in 3D. Even on an overcast night Jack is prepared to dazzle his guests. Jack and Alice's observatory could easily be considered a small science center.
3D movie theatre where Jack provides demonstrations, slides shows, and a variety of astronomy related movies.
Inside Jack's dome he shows me his impressive telescopes including a large 16 inch Meade scope. One of the telescopes is specifically designed for viewing the sun and includes a hydrogen alpha filter which allows the sun's prominences and sunspots to be viewed with extreme clarity. Jack offers a special photographers package for an additional $50 where he assists anyone interested in taking pictures through his telescope - this was the highlight of the trip for me. Of course, although I pressed the shutter button, I could not have taken the images of galaxies below without his expertise and equipment - something I am very grateful for. I felt like a Jedi in training with Yoda (Jack Newton) as my instructor.
I am in front of Jack's computer used to control the telescope. Jack gives me a tour of some of the software he uses to control the telescope and take pictures. 10.5 mm F2.8 Nikon fisheye lens was used to photograph the inside of his observatory dome.
Messier 101 also called the Pinwheel Galaxy, a face on spiral galaxy about 21 million light-years away, taken through Jack's 16 inch Meade telescope with his assistance and guidance.
Ursa Major (Big Dipper) constellation showing the location (red arrow ) of the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) chart source Wikipedia.
Whirlpool Galaxy also called M51 is a spiral galaxy estimated to be about 23 million light-years from the Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. It is a popular target for astronomers that study galaxy structure and interactions.
Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) is located near the handle of the Big Dipper. Chart from Wikipeadia (Sky and Telescope).
Dumbbell nebula also called M27 is a planetary nebula in the constellation Vulpecula, at a distance of about 1,360 light years. This object was the first planetary nebula to be discovered by Charles Messier in 1764. At its brightness of visual magnitude 7.5 and its diameter of about 8 arc minutes, it is visible in binoculars, and is also a popular observing target in amateur telescopes (see Wikipedia for more information).
Star chart showing the location of M27 in constellation Vulpecula - chart source Wikipedia
How good are your eyes? Some folks can see double stars in the handle in the big dipper, specifically the 2nd star on the handle contains 2 stars, Alcor and Mizar. In ancient days the Romans tested to see who would become an archer by testing their ability to see the double star in the big dipper. If you passed you became an archer and could fight behind the lines. If you failed, you had to serve as a front line swordsman with a high mortality rate. Italians joke that the reason many of them don't need glasses is that the archers lived to breed while those that could not see the double stars died and left no seed.
Moon and Saturn photographed on Jack Newton's telescope - composite image (different magnifications). On nights with good seeing it's possible to see a black ring inside Saturns' main ring. This dark ring is called Cassini's ring or division. The ring was discovered by Giovanni Cassini in 1675 using a refracting telescope with a 2.5 inch objective and 20 foot focal length for a total of 90x magnification. Cassini's division is just barely visible in this photo near the top of the ring.
M13 is a Great Globular star cluster in the constellation of Hercules and contains about 300,000 stars. It's easy to find this cluster and it can be seen even with binoculars.
The red arrow points to the location of M13 in the constellation Hercules.
After breakfast, Jack takes his guests up to the observatory to show them images of the sun through his telescope fitted with a special hydrogen alpha filter that reveals solar flares, sunspots and fibrills on the surface of the sun.
Composite image of the Sun taken using Hydrogen alpha filter. Note the texture and solar prominence around the edge. Taken on Jack's telscope with his assistance and image processing on June 26, 2012.
I was impressed with the images I was able to take home with me using Jack's equipment and with his expertise, however my images pale in comparison to those Jack has taken. His images have been featured in LIFE magazine, National Geographic, Sky and Telescope and other publications. Jack said his interest in astronomy started when he was 7 years old. I asked him the question why he did not become a professional astronomer and he answered "because I can view the stars when ever I like", and as an amateur he is free to work on what he pleases. However, Jack has collaborated with professional astronomers and has even been given time to photograph on the Hubble telescope. Below are just a few of Jacks amazing astrophotographs - please visit his web site to see more of his images.
Astrophotographs by Jack Newton (photographs used with permission)
This is a composite image of the sun taken with a hydrogen alpha filter and the corona that was visible during a solar eclipse. This is one of Jack's most popular images.
Andromeda or M31 is a spiral galaxy thought to resemble our own galaxy. It is located about 2.5 million light years from earth. The galaxy can be seen with the naked eye or binoculars and is found below the constellation cassiopeia and within the constellation Andromeda. It is thought to contain about one trillion stars. The Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way are expected to collide in 3.75 billion years.
Orion Nebula, also called M42 processed with Maxim DL4 Software (see link below). This diffuse Nebula is in the sword of the constellation Orion the Hunter and is about 1,344 light years from earth. The nebula is estimated to be about 24 light years across. The nebula has revealed much about how stars are formed.
Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, or also referred to as Messier object M45, is an open star cluster easily seen with the naked eye. The cluster is located in the constellation of Taurus. The cluster is dominated by hot blue and extremely luminous stars that are relatively young (about 100 million years old). Interstellar dust around the stars forms a faint reflection nebulosity.
If you like Jack Newton's images, Jack sells a DVD with a number of his images for only $20.00 CDN.
Jack mentioned several times the without the support he recieves from his wilfe Alice he wouldn't be able to do the work that he does. We got to know and talk to Alice mostly at the breakfast table. Breakfast was served at 8:30 am and was delicious. It was also a pleasure meeting the other guests at the table, some of them travelled great distances and seemed to have wide variety of backgrounds, but all had a common interest in astronomy. During the day, we and the guests, would usually explore the Osoyoos valley. Several visitors brought their children and Jack impressed the kids with the views of the universe through his telescope. Who knows some of these kids may become astronauts or scientists in the future.
Breakfast table with a view of Osoyoos out the font window. We watched humming birds come to a feeder by the window and deer would sometimes be seen in front of the house on the hillside as shown below. If you visit, keep your camera close by along with a pair of binoculars.
Mule deer and fawn photographed from in front of our room on Newton's property. 300 mm F4 lens, Canon 7D.
While we were visiting we would often would sit in front of our room, relax and look out over the valley. A wide variety of birds visited us during the day including: Osprey, Lewis's woodpeckers, California Quail, Western Bluebird, Flickers, Morning Doves, Ravens, Bald eagles, common grackle, cedar waxwings, Gold finches, Calliope Humming birds, a Chukar and in the evening nighthawks flew overhead with their distinct call. I managed to photograph many of the birds except for the Chukar. Below are a couple of my favorites.
Male California Quail (Callipepla californica). These birds have a loud distinctive call "chi-CA-go". I spotted the female and young chicks walking around the parking lot on several ocassions. I had never seen this interesting bird before and they are definitely not shy.
I was able to capture one shot of a Lewis's woodpecker (300 mm F2.8 lens) at the bird feeder. This is the first time I have seen this beautiful bird in the wild. Lewis's woodpeckers prefer open Ponderosa pine forests for breeding, especially old growth stands that have been modified by burning. A few years back there was a fire on Newton's property that was started by sparks thrown from truck's brakes as it descended the hill.
I photographed this male Common Grackle (purple form) down in the valley along Blacksage Road. 300 mm F2.8 Nikon lens and Nikon D300 camera ISO 200.
While walking along the driveway of Jack and Alice's home I spotted a Yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) and was able to take a few quick photos before he disappeared into the rocks. Jack showed me some pictures where the marmots sometimes climbed up into their bird feeders. A pair of Least Chipmunks visited us frequently during the day along with a resident Nuthall's cotton tail rabbit. I also photographed a young Western Jumping Mouse in the parking lot. Jack mentioned that he also sometimes gets California bighorn sheep visiting his property. There is lots to see and photograph at this observatory B & B in addition to the stars!
For photographers interested in landscapes and old buildings I found numerous opportunities driving around north of the town. Pondersoa forests and wide variety of wild flowers can be found by driving highway 97 then taking the 3A loop back to Osoyoos. We also visited the Desert center and took an interpretive walk to learn more about desert life. Believe it or not I was hoping to photograph a black widow spider, badger or spade foot toad.
Ponderosa trees and sage brush along highway 3A
View from our room shortly after sunset
Grass and yellow-leaved stone crop flowers
Reflections on Vaseaux lake photographed from the highway 97 using 300 mm F4 lens.
On a walk at the Desert Center we learned about spadefoot toads (inset), antler sagebrush, black widow spiders and
other desert plants and animals. I recommend you bring a bottle of water with you - the tour lasts about 1 hr.
Nk'MIP cultural centre has a small museum and leads to several pathways that includes information on how the
early natives lived on the land. One of the B&B guests also spotted a rattlesnake along one trail.
Bark of the Ponderosa tree can be orange in colour and was used by natives to create smookless fires.
Pentax Optio WG camera in macro mode.
Above Legion Public beach. My wife loves the beach and she pretty much had this one to her self. While my wife sun
bathed I caught a few winks while lying in the shade so I would be well rested for shooting the night sky.
Old homestead on Blacksage road just past the turtle crossing.
Milky way from Jack and Alice Newton's backyard. The constellation Scorpio can be seen near the bottom.
Jack slewing his telescope to the next object and educating a group of interested visitors.
Osoyoos Map and location to the Observatory BB located 10 km outside of town. The trip from Calgary takes about
10-12 hours driving depending on the route you take. The shortest driving route is to take highway 1 through Revelstoke.