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Observatory Owner Seeks To Move Facility To Holt County

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With the desire to share the sky with others, the Director of the Seven Hills Observatory near Kearney Mark Urwiller is looking to move his facility to Holt County in the near future. 

Retiring next year after teaching 30 years at Kearney High School, Urwiller and his new bride Kathy Johnston will be relocating to O'Neill. Johnston was just recently hired as the new program director at Valley Hope. 

"Next month, the observatory will celebrate its 20th anniversary," Urwiller said. "Moving the observatory will be a major undertaking and the new location will need to meet several criteria."

The primary mission of the facility 4 miles northwest of Kearney has been to provide a resource for students and to the public to enjoy the universe of astronomy. Teaching physics and physical science at Kearney High School, Urwiller said building the observatory has been a dream of his since he was a teenager. 

Built by volunteers in 1996 with discounted materials from local suppliers, Urwiller is hoping he has the same success in Holt County. 

"I have friends in central Nebraska who will be helping with the physical moving of the building, but local help is certainly welcome," he said. 

Without a home yet, Urwiller said he is looking at locations around 15 miles south of O'Neill were he has found some of the darkest skies. The telescope is designed to take astrophotography. 

"A long exposure photo can be ruined by the lights of an untimely car passing by," he said. 

Trying to avoid rural farms and traveled roads, Urwiller said it is also important to find a dry spot.

"I have a deep love for the Sandhills, so my preference at this point is to live and put the observatory south of O'Neill somewhere along Highway 281," he said. "I have no problem having cattle graze nearby. In fact, I would enjoy it."

President of the Platte Valley Astronomical Observers, Urwiller is hoping to start a local club after the observatory is relocated. 

"I'm also interested in approaching Northeast Community College and the Educational Service Unit to see if they are interested in having workshops or classes once I am up and going," he said. "It would be great if the local schools were interested in utilizing the facility as well."

For more information about Seven Hills Observatory, visit


For those of you wanting to know the "nuts and bolts" of the operation, here is some of the observatory's equipment according to Urwiller:

• The main instrument is a 17.5" fork mounted equatorial Newtonian reflector driven with ServoCAT GOTO drive designed and engineered by Jay Rasmussen of Grand Island

• The right ascension gear is a 12" Mathis 266 tooth anodized aluminum gear.

• The declination gear is also a 12" 360 tooth anodized aluminum gear.

• The mirror was manufactured by the former Coulter Optics and is supported by a Novak 18 pt. cell previously owned by Charles Morris at the JPL in Pasadena, CA. Now tested by Steve Swayze of Portland, OR, refigured, and re-coated with enhanced coatings by Spectrum Coatings of Deltona, FL.

• The spider is custom made by Jay Rasmussen and secondary mirror holder is Novak.

• The focuser is a Jim's Mobile EV-1nM 2" Crayford with motorized focus.

• Finders include a University Optics 11x80 mm with right angle amici prism or straight through option and a Telrad manufactured by my friend, now deceased, Steve Kufeldt in Southern California.

• 10,000 step digital encoder setting circles are employed along with SkyCommander database.

• Eyepieces include, among others, 4 Televue Naglers 20mm type 2, 13 mm, 9 mm, and 7 mm.

• Light pollution rejection filters include Lumicon Deep Sky and Ultra High Contrast in 2" and 1.25" sizes.



I grew up 10 miles southwest of Stuart on the Greger family ranch. I graduated from West Holt Public Schools in Atkinson in 1997 and Northeast Community College in Norfolk in journalism in 1999.

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