The Leonard James Ashby Telescope is the third telescope to be housed within Owl Observatory, our 12’ x 12’ roll-off roof facility at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It was named after the gentleman who founded our organization in 1936 and served as its first president. Initial installation began in September 2019. It was entirely funded by generous contributions from KAS members and through the sale of Eclipse Shades. Everyone is invited to view planetary and celestial wonders through the telescope during our Public Observing Sessions, held twice a month from April through October. At all other times, KAS members, upon the completion of a training class, will have the opportunity to use the telescope for their observing, research, and imaging projects.


The Leonard James Ashby Telescope is composed of two instruments. The largest is a 16-inch f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) built by Meade Instruments. Since their debut in the 1960s, SCTs have become very popular among amateur astronomers and small observatories since they are compact for their given aperture. Indeed, the 16-inch SCT from Meade is the largest SCT commercially available today and the largest aperture that can comfortably fit within Owl Observatory and still have room for members, students, and the public.

To avoid the image shift that is common to Schmidt-Cassegrains, we have opted for a Starlight Instruments 3-inch Dual Speed Feather Touch Focuser for ultimate performance. Feather Touch focusers boast ultra-smooth course and fine focus knobs, which result in absolutely zero-image shift or slippage while focusing. The Feather Touch can also handle up to 17 pounds of weight, meaning it can accommodate any eyepiece or camera with ease.

[Feather Touch Focuser]
Feather Touch Focuser
[SCT Corrector Plate]
SCT Corrector Plate
[GTOCP4 Control Box]
GTOCP4 Control Box

At a focal length of 4,064mm, the 16-inch’s field-of-view is too narrow to view or image extended objects like the Pleiades cluster (M45) or Andromeda Galaxy (M31). This is just one of the many reasons we chose the Tele Vue NP101is telescope to complement our SCT. The NP101 is a 4-inch (101mm) f/5.4 Nagler-Petzval apochromatic refractor. It contains four elements in all, which result in a flat field and views free of color aberrations that plague lesser refracting telescopes. The “is” designation (in NP101is) denotes that the instrument is a capable “Imaging System.” It is also an exemplary wide-field and planetary visual telescope. The NP101 also includes a Focusmate 2.4-inch dual-speed 10:1 focuser, which ensures this fine telescope realizes its full potential.

Both telescopes ride atop the Astro-Physics 1600GTO German Equatorial Mount. The 1600GTO is built from the ground up to be a precision observing and imaging platform while still remaining totally user-friendly. It has a total instrument capacity of 220-lbs. Combined, our two telescopes weigh approximately 80 pounds, so the 1600GTO ensures an ultra-stable platform. Its rugged design allows it to track and guide well past the meridian. This will allow members to perform a long series of exposures without stopping in the middle to flip sides. The periodic error for this mount is ±2.5 arc seconds, thanks to the high-quality Swiss DC servo motors that drive the mount. The mount can be controlled via the GTO Keypad or wirelessly using the observatory’s laptop computer loaded with Software Bisque’s TheSkyX.

Additional Equipment & Accessories


Coronado SolarMax II 90mm Hydrogen-Alpha Filter

Owl Observatory can be used day or night thanks to our Coronado H-alpha filter! It threads directly onto the TeleVue NP101 and allows us to view the Sun at a wavelength of 656.28 nm (referred to as hydrogen-alpha). At this wavelength, we can view solar phenomena like prominences, filaments, spicules, and even the occasional solar flare on a layer of the Sun known as the chromosphere.


TeleVue Eyepieces

Eyepieces from TeleVue are among the best available today. Our current collection includes the 41mm Panoptic, 31mm Nagler Type 5, 21mm Ethos, and 13mm Ethos. These give a wide range of magnification with our two telescopes. Their apparent fields of view range from 68° for the Panoptic, 82° for the Nagler, and a staggering 100° for the top-of-the-line Ethos eyepieces. Viewing through them is like staring out the porthole of a starship!


Thousand Oaks Deep Sky Filters

Our collection of 2-inch Thousand Oaks Deep Sky Filters includes Broadband, Oxygen-III (OIII), and Narrowband. The broadband is designed to help reduce light pollution (a necessity at the Nature Center). The OIII filter helps reveal detail in planetary nebulae such as the Dumbbell Nebula, while the narrowband filter increases contrast in diffuse nebulae like the Veil or Orion Nebula.


Thousand Oaks Dew Controller

Michigan is a very dewy place! Therefore, a good dew prevention system is an absolute must. We chose the Thousand Oaks Dew Controller since it has four channels that can be set independently of one another, which is really handy considering the difference in aperture between our two main telescopes (not to mention the finderscope). Dew straps come from Astrozap and Kendrick Astro Instruments.


Kendrick Off-Axis Solar Filter

The off-axis solar filter from Kendrick Astro Instruments has a clear aperture of 114mm (4.5 inches). The solar filter material is manufactured by Baader Planetarium and permits safe white-light views of the photosphere, the layer of the Sun we can see. This is where phenomena like sunspots and solar granulation are visible. It fits over the front of the 16-inch SCT and complements the H-alpha filter used on the Tele Vue refractor.


ZWO ASI071MC Pro Camera

This camera uses Sony's IMX071 CMOS sensor and has a resolution of 16 megapixels (4944 x 3284). Unlike a DSLR camera, it has a two-stage thermoelectric cooling system that allows deep cooling for noise reduction and greater sensitivity. We use Sequence Generator Pro to control the camera for deep-sky imaging. Optolong 2-inch L-Pro and L-eNhance filters are also provided to block out light pollution from Kalamazoo.


ZWO ASI178MC Color Planetary Camera

This camera uses Sony's IMX178 CMOS sensor and has a resolution of 6.4 megapixels (3096 x 2080). We use FireCapture to control the camera for solar and planetary imaging. We also use a Baader UV/IR-Pass filter to reflect infrared energy to protect the camera's sensor and increase contract. A ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector is also supplied to adjust color separation caused by atmospheric conditions.

About Leonard James Ashby

Mr. Ashby was born on December 1, 1891, in Oldham, Lancashire, England, and later moved to Southsea, Portsmouth. In his youth, he apprenticed himself to a textile mill operator, and from 1903 to 1913, he studied nights and in his free time at the Oldham imageTechnical School. In 1911, he won a scholarship to Manchester University and continued, between terms, his studies at the Oldham Technical School. In 1912, he won a medal, one of 20 so honored in an empire contest called, in English phraseology, the Whitworth Exhibition. His Bachelor of Science degree, with honors, in engineering was obtained from Manchester University in 1915.

Enlisting in the British army in 1915, Mr. Ashby later became a lieutenant of the Royal Corps of Signals with service in France. While on leave, one of his former professors at Manchester University suggested he transfer to the Royal Navy, as the school of mines was looking for someone with his training. From then until the end of World War I and, in fact, until 1920, Ashby designed mines and supervised manufacturing operations when industrial concerns got into difficulties.

Mr. Ashby married Nona Gwendoline Wormald, of Oldham, in Crowborough, Sussex, on January 15, 1916. Perhaps their mutual interest in the same sport brought them together. Both were Olympic-class fencers. Apparently, they even qualified for the Olympic Games, but Mr. Ashby was wounded (stabbed) during practice and unable to compete.

The happy couple immigrated to the United States in June 1920. Settling in Kalamazoo, Mr. Ashby applied and obtained an appointment to the faculty of Kalamazoo College in 1921, where an engineering department was contemplated. That failed to develop, and he taught physics for three years. While at K-College, Mr. Ashby built and operated the first broadcasting station in the city. The radio station, WOAP, opened on January 3, 1923. Mr. Ashby left Kalamazoo College in 1924, which brought about the end of WOAP. With his teaching career now behind him, Ashby decided to start his own refrigeration installation business.

[Ashby Fencing]
Ashby Fencing
[Ashby Headstone]
Asbhy's Headstone
[Ashby Mirror]
Ashby's New Mirror

Like most amateur astronomers of his time, Mr. Ashby was also an amateur telescope maker (ATM) by necessity. Commercially made telescopes were quite expensive during this period. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Ashby, with his degree in engineering, had a completely equipped workshop in his basement. Even though telescope-making was the rule of the day, Ashby shared his thoughts on the hobby in an interview with the Kalamazoo Gazette that would resonate with any ATMer active today:

That’s the fun of it. Anyone can buy the things he wants to use, but to see them grow under his hands, that’s the real kick in it. Then, when he puts the machine together and it works, it’s the thrill of a lifetime, repeated every time he does it.

Mr. Ashby also constructed an observatory at the top of his garage. A section of the garage’s roof slid back on rails to expose his telescope to the sky. Many of the earliest gatherings of the Kalamazoo Amateur Astronomical Association were held at “Ashby Observatory.”

In 1940, the Ashby’s moved to Ann Arbor, where Mr. Ashby became a student at the University of Michigan and worked as a Special Instructor of Physics from 1943 to 1944. He died unexpectedly on June 12, 1945, at the age of 53. All members of the Ashby family are buried at Mountain Home Cemetery in Kalamazoo.