Located on the southeastern corner of Stewart Pitch, the Dixon Observatory houses state-of-the-art equipment that gives students and teachers the opportunity to make detailed observations of both bodies within the solar system as well as deep space objects. In addition, the tracking mount and CCD camera allows students to conduct advanced astro-imaging of faint galaxies and nebulae.
The building and equipment were gifts of Cynthia and Tom Dixon in 2000. Tom Dixon held a number of roles during his tenure at Berkshire School from 1961-1976 and 1980-2000, including science teacher, Director of Technology and Dean of Students. He and his wife, Cynthia, a music teacher and the director of the equestrian team at Berkshire, shared a love of the arts and astronomy.
The flagship of the observatory is the 14” Meade LX200GPS telescope with equatorial wedge. This telescope has the ability to identify and track stars and other celestial objects across the night sky over long periods of time given an accurate polar alignment (aligning the mount with the celestial pole). This enables long exposure astrophotography, necessary for recording faint objects.
Imaging is done using a Starlight Xpress-H35 B&W CCD Camera, cooled to 20deg below ambient temperature to produce high quality, low-noise images. Color pictures are obtained by combining photos taken through transparent, red, green and blue filters, as well as specialty H-Alpha and Oxygen 3 filters.
The entire observatory can be remote-controlled from any location, using The SkyX Professional, which can track and display the position of everything from fast moving satellites to faint galaxies. The software interfaces with all of the various observatory hardware including: the telescope, dome, imaging and guide camera, and ancillary equipment. Having everything in one application makes control easy.
The observatory also hosts a selection of high quality wide-field eyepieces and an image intensifier device that uses night-vision technology to boost the contrast and brightness of faint objects, such as nebulae and galaxies for visual observation.
Other programs at the observatory include an all-sky camera, which records video of the night sky to hunt for meteors and fireballs (large, bright, fast moving meteors). This is part of larger program run by Sandia National Labs, New Mexico State University and Space Coast Intelligent Solutions, who have country-wide coverage in order to measure specifics like the speed, size and trajectory of fireballs and better understand the science behind them.