At Fairfax park, amateur astronomer helps to bring stars down to Earth
Thursday, October 7, 2010
To many, the U.S. Army silo near Turner Farm Park in Great Falls was a deteriorating relic from the Cold War era.
But for amateur astronomer Charles H. Olin, it represented a possibility for something more.
And after more than a decade of work, Olin's goal of seeing the silo turned into an observatory is nearing completion.
During the Cold War, anti-aircraft missile silos similar to the one found near Turner Farm sprang up around the country near potential Soviet targets. In the Washington-Baltimore area, 13 sites like the one near Turner Farm existed, forming a protective ring around the cities.
The site was used as a defense mapping agency, a kind-of early Global Positioning System, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Army abandoned the silo -- a 30-foot square building with domed roof -- in October 1993.
When the Army was packing up, "I actually went in the building to look things over and the guard asked me, 'What are you doing?' and I said, 'Well, I'm looking the place over,' " Olin said. "At that time, this was an area that had the darkest skies in the D.C. area within a 30-mile radius."
For the past eight years, Olin and a dozen or so stargazers armed with telescopes have met at the former military site to view space from the lawn outside the silo.
The land was managed by the National Park Service, which received its first application from the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1989 to use it as county park space.
But it wasn't until the Park Authority was granted control of the site in 1998 that Olin's efforts to establish an observatory gained some traction.
The former 11-acre Army site is next to Turner Farm Park, a roughly 23-acre former dairy farm that has an outdoor equestrian riding center, walking paths and farm buildings.
Olin said he attended a community outreach meeting hosted by the Park Authority in which residents were allowed to discuss what the former Army site could be used for. The options included an equestrian park, a children's play lot or other options.
"I said, 'Make it a park where kids can learn about astronomy,' " Olin said. "One of the things that was said to me was, 'We don't know how to run an observatory' and I said, "Well, I can do that for you.' That's when I formed the Analemma [Society]."