How an Octogenarian Astronomer Created an Observatory for Westminster Village’s Senior Living Residents
Discover how our resident astronomer Dr. Bob Richard’s big idea for an observatory brought deep satisfaction to his Scottsdale retirement community – and to himself.
How I Created an Observatory for Seniors
By Dr. Bob Richards
“To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” – Stephen Hawking
The author’s brainstorming brought deep satisfaction to his retirement community – and to himself.
THERE WAS A PROBLEM… a big one. At 68 I retired from a busy private practice in clinical psychology. I enjoyed my work, and it was with mixed emotions that after more than 34 years I decided to leave to focus on other interests.
In April 2018, my 80th birthday rolled around. That landmark event prompted my wife and me to begin serious discussions about where we wanted to live in our final years. We decided the best path for us was to move into Westminster Village (WV), a continuing care retirement community in Scottsdale, Arizona, near our home.
And the problem? I’d been using our backyard for imaging with my new 11-inch Celestron EdgeHD scope. Moving to WV presented me with a serious issue of where to use my telescope. The staff made clear there was no place to leave my instrument set up overnight. At my age, setting up and taking down a scope of this size whenever I wished to imagine is a definite deterrent to enjoying my hobby.
A Bright Idea: Bringing Outer Space to Scottsdale Seniors
But then I had an idea that changed the entire landscape for me… and for everyone at WV. How about creating an observatory where my telescope could be permanently mounted and used for the benefit not only of myself but of the residents, employees, and their families?
In March 2019, I presented my idea to the complex’s CEO. Happily, he thought it was a grand idea. With his blessing and that of the entire staff, I began to work out the details of construction and operating an observatory to house my scope and all its ancillary gear.
As with any intricate project, unforeseen difficulties arose. COVID and supply-chain problems delayed things and assembling the Technical Innovations 10-foot-diameter Home-Dome observatory took longer than anticipated. But in early 2022 our crew completed the dome and installed the scope.
An Accessible Observatory For All
A key part of the observatory is the “observing room” located in a lounge area inside the main building near the dome. Through a home network, we use a program that allows me to display real-time images from the scope’s video camera on four large-screen TVs hung on walls around the room. In this way, all residents regardless of mobility restrictions, can savor astronomical sights while seated in a climate-controlled environment. We display images both from my telescope and downloaded from professional observatories such as the James Webb Space Telescope.
A Community Effort with a Positive Impact
To help me operate the observatory, I recruited six residents to become “assistants.” They completed a seven-week observational astronomy course I taught. As time goes on, we continue to improve the operation. Recently we mounted an 80-mm solar scope on the main telescope and can now observe sunspots and prominences.
The observatory has had a very positive impact on the community here at Westminster VIllage. Many residents, I learned, had never looked through a telescope. Their excitement and gratitude for being able to do so now is tangible. Sharing my knowledge accumulated over decades with others in my age group has been deeply meaningful. I hope my experience inspires other amateurs in retirement communities to do the same.
Read more here and watch the 12 News video below.
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