Project: Astronomy observatory

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We enjoy photographing deep-sky objects in the night sky. An observatory allows the telescope and imaging equipment to remain set up and ready to go.

We used this 8' x 12' roll-off roof observatory at our former house.

Here, we will build one similar to that, but slightly larger, at 10' x 14'.

The roof will be supported by hard-rubber wheels riding on 2x4 tracks. A garage door opener will open it for an imaging session, and close it the following morning.

Observatory site aerial view

We are fortunate to have sufficient land to accommodate a large open area for the observatory, giving us a 30° horizon in almost all directions. The yellow rectangle is where the observatory will be located in the clearing, and in relation to our round house (left), about 300' away. The observatory is oriented north-and-south, and north is up in this photo.

This photo looks east across the clearing with a side view of the observatory superimposed on it. North is toward the left, and the roof is shown rolling open and closed on tracks extending from the building in that direction.

Here is a 360° panorama from the observatory position at telescope height, and shows the horizon the telescope will see.

Here is the new horizon compared to our former site. The expanded viewing area is dramatic.


April 30, 2015 – Ethernet checkout.

The observatory is almost 300' from the house, and the Ethernet cable to it from the basement network closet is longer – close to the maxium length specified for Cat-5 cable. Consequently, we decided to check if a computer at the observatory site can communicate with the Ethernet switch in the house.

Mike put connectors on both ends of the cable, then connected it to the computer and the switch. Thankfully, the network connection works fine.


Roof opener plan

We plan to use a garage door opener to open and close the roof. This is a general plan showing how the opener will be attached to one side wall and the roof.


November 18, 2016 – Casting the telescope pier

At last we've started working on the observatory! Today we cast the 12" concrete pier to hold the telescope mount. The drawing above and this photo show how the pier will be located inside the observatory.

We began by using our power auger to bore a 16"-diameter hole 28" deep. We rented a concrete mixer, and Mike secured it to the tractor's front-end loader so we could lift and tip it to ease the work. Here it is ready to pour concrete for the footer into the hole.

After the footer concrete set slightly, we placed the 12" tubular form on it and used large wedges cut from 2x4 stock to shim it plumb (second photo below). Then we filled it with concrete. In this case, we shoveled the concrete out of the mixer into the form because we didn't want to dump it and risk spilling outside the form.

The pier has a long 12"-diameter base and a 10"-diameter top that is 18" tall. This smaller top will provide extra clearance for the telescope's imaging equipment when pointed high in the sky. The top of the 10" section is four feet above the ground, which made shoveling the concrete into the form a challenge.


November 19, 2016 – Pier complete.

The concrete hardened overnight, so Mike took a look at the pier today. The top section appears tilted slightly, but this is a cosmetic flaw only, as the black telescope mounting plate on top can be precisely leveled with the hex nuts beneath it.

Mike wrapped the pier with R30 fiberglass insulation to keep the concrete from freezing while it cures completely. After this photo was taken, he draped a tarp over the insulation to shield it from rain.


December 8, 2016 – Pier unwrapped.

The concrete pier has cured for nearly three weeks, so today Mike temporaily removed the insulation, then cut and unwrapped the cardboard form around it. He also backfilled the hole around the pier with dirt.

The pier looks pretty good, but the top section has some voids where we didn't stir the wet concrete well enough. These voids don't impair the pier's purpose of supporting 200 pounds of telescope and mounting, but we'll probably patch them later to improve appearance.

Mike replaced the insulation and tarp to allow the concrete to continue curing in cold temperatures.


March 26, 2017 – Burn pile cleaned up.

Ever since we moved into our new house in January 2011, we've been meaning to burn the brush and debris left on the burn pile by the contractor. A couple of weeks ago, we paid a team of workers to clean up debris along the driveway, and take the rubble from the burn pile as well. They took a lot, but left some partially rotted branches and stubble.

Earlier this week Mike attached the pallet forks to the tractor's front-end loader, and used them to carry the leftovers into the woods. Today he used the tractor and landscape rake to drag the rotten wood to the same spot, then smoothed the burn area.

Louise spread grass seed, but weeds are likely to sprout. Either way, Mike will be able to mow this area the same as the rest of the observatory clearing.


May 22, 2017 – Observatory project approved

Our rural subdivision has a property owners association with an Architectural Control Committee (ACC) that must approve any construction, even as minor as our 10' x 14' roll-off roof observatory. The ACC met this evening and approved the project based on plans and descriptions we submitted last week.

Now we can buy materials and begin construction (if it ever stops raining).

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Updated May 22, 2017