Frequently Asked Questions
Nanjemoy Creek Observatory (NCO)


What is NCO?

NCO = Nanjemoy Creek Observatory. NCO is a two building complex consisting of a domed observatory building housing SMAS' main telescope and a control room building that contains observing equipment, computers, and a resource library.

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Do I need to be qualified to operate the Celestron CGE 1400 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope?

Yes! The Celestron CGE 1400 is a premium telescope. While it is easy to use, proper instruction in its use will go a long way in making sure that it remains a reliable and easy to use observing instrument.

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How do I get qualified to use NCO equipment?

SMAS maintains a list of "qualifiers" (members that can qualify other members). Contact a qualifier to arrange for training on the use of Celestron CGE 1400 or other NCO equipment.

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How long has NCO been in existence?

In April 1996, the Southern Maryland Astronomical Society (SMAS) entered into a Partnership Agreement with the Charles County Board of Education (CCBOE). Part of that agreement declared that SMAS would build an observatory at the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center (NCEEC), a facility of the Charles County School District. During that time, a SMAS member discovered that an astronomical observatory dome at the deactivated U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) site near Waldorf, Maryland was destined for demolition.

In September 1996, the SMAS/CCBOE Partnership secured the donation of the dome from the Navy, with the agreement that it was the responsibility of SMAS to move the dome from the NRL site to NCEEC. Many lively discussions followed, with members trying to devise a plan to move the dome. Two of the more creative plans included air lifting it via helicopter and turning it upside down, then paddling it down the river.

Finally, another SMAS member created and helped implement a plan to move the dome. In May 1998, he and several club members placed a large steel cradle under the dome, cut it off the top of the old NRL building, craned it onto a flatbed trailer and hauled it to NCEEC. Amazingly, the day the dome was removed from its original building was exactly 33 years to the day of the "birth date" stamp on the inside of the dome. After securing all the permits required, construction began in January 1999. The majority of the construction was completed by SMAS volunteers over a two year period.

The Nanjemoy Creek Observatory (NCO) was dedicated on October 29, 2000. NCO is used by visiting students, teachers, members of the general public and SMAS members throughout the year. The SMAS membership has continued to grow over the years, as has its vision for the future. Perhaps the greatest challenge for any amateur astronomer is to build a small, backyard observatory. The greatest challenge for any amateur astronomy club is to build a large, public observatory. SMAS was no exception, and the quest to build the Nanjemoy Creek Observatory has become a reality.

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Last Updated: 2/15/16