Home ob­ser­va­to­ries bring con­ve­nience to am­a­teur as­tron­omy

The Day - - HOME SOURCE - By Day Mar­ket­ing

Even if we no longer live in the heady days of Saturn V launches and Apollo mis­sions to the Moon, one can eas­ily find in­spi­ra­tion by look­ing to the sky.

Fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries of space ex­plo­ration are still easy to find. One space­craft fi­nally of­fered de­tailed im­ages of the ex-planet Pluto. Probes have snatched dust from comet tails and re­turned the ma­te­rial to Earth. And the rocket which re­cently launched a Tesla Roadster into space was de­signed for pos­si­ble trips to the Moon and Mars.

It's no won­der that am­a­teur as­tron­omy has be­come such a pop­u­lar hobby – and that ob­ser­va­tory domes have be­come an in­creas­ingly com­mon re­quest in cus­tom built homes. This fea­ture can in­crease a prop­erty's price by hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars, but light fil­ter­ing mech­a­nisms al­low the ob­ser­va­to­ries to be in­stalled even in con­gested ar­eas with sig­nif­i­cant light pol­lu­tion.

For stargaz­ers of more mod­est means, a back­yard ob­ser­va­tory is not out of the ques­tion. Sev­eral am­a­teur as­tronomers have found that build­ing a home ob­ser­va­tory is a rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive pro­ject.

The main im­pe­tus for cre­at­ing your own astro­nom­i­cal fa­cil­ity is con­ve­nience. Dr. Darien E. Fields, vice pres­i­dent of aca­demic af­fairs at the Uni­ver­sity of Find­lay, notes on his web­site of as­tron­omy pho­to­graphs that a home ob­ser­va­tory saved him con­sid­er­able time. Be­fore this ad­di­tion, he had to lug around heavy equip­ment, spend up to an hour set­ting it up, and of­ten work in frigid tem­per­a­tures. With an ob­ser­va­tory at home, the equip­ment was rea­day to go and the tele­scope was only a short walk away.

A dome doesn't have to be large, and the de­sign works well for block­ing light and mois­ture. But it's also the most ex­pen­sive op­tion. A pre­sen­ta­tion by the Mu­seum Astro­nom­i­cal Re­source So­ci­ety of Tampa, Fla., says domes and roll-off roofs are the most pop­u­lar de­signs for am­a­teur ob­ser­va­to­ries.

Ob­ser­va­to­ries with roll-off roofs are more eas­ily in­cor­po­rated into the back­yard, as they are usu­ally de­signed to look like a gar­den shed. In fact, some plans rec­om­mend that you pur­chase a pre-built shed and mod­ify it, sav­ing you the time of build­ing your own. The roof is mounted on rollers, al­low­ing it to slide onto a sep­a­rate frame. The MARS pre­sen­ta­tion of­fers a sim­i­lar de­sign, but has a flip top roof in­stead of one on rollers.

Some de­signs are sim­ple, con­sist­ing only of a mounted tele­scope and a small por­ta­ble build­ing to pro­tect it from the el­e­ments. Oth­ers are beau­ti­ful ex­ter­nal struc­tures, with spa­cious ar­eas for imag­ing equip­ment.

Be­fore build­ing your home ob­ser­va­tory, you'll want to take a few pre­lim­i­nary steps. The ob­ser­va­tory site should ide­ally have good ex­po­sure to an open patch of dark sky. Steven Simp­son, writ­ing for Sky and Tele­scope, says the lo­ca­tion should also be con­ve­nient to your home. Check with zon­ing or home as­so­ci­a­tion of­fi­cials to make sure you don't need any spe­cial per­mis­sions to es­tab­lish the ob­ser­va­tory.

The first con­struc­tion step in any ob­ser­va­tory plan is to es­tab­lish a con­crete foot­ing and pier to mount the tele­scope. This fea­ture al­lows the in­stru­ment to be an­chored and aligned, elim­i­nat­ing that lengthy step of set­ting up the equip­ment.

The pier re­quires the ex­ca­va­tion of a hole, three to four feet deep, and the pour­ing of a con­crete base for the pier. Once the pier is se­cured to this foot­ing, the tele­scope can be mounted on it. You might want to leave the tele­scope mount­ing step un­til af­ter the struc­ture is built, but be sure that the build­ing will give the tele­scope enough clear­ance.

A floor frame should be added around the pier, even if you're us­ing a pre­built shed. From there, it's just a mat­ter of build­ing the walls and roof around the pier or adding and mod­i­fy­ing the pre­built shed.

Simp­son says some ma­te­ri­als might in­hibit your view, so be care­ful in us­ing them. Con­crete blocks, bricks, and as­phalt will all ra­di­ate heat ab­sorbed dur­ing the day, mak­ing night ob­ser­va­tions more dif­fi­cult. Sit­u­ate the ob­ser­va­tory away from these ar­eas, and go with wood for the main con­struc­tion ma­te­rial.

Out­fit the ob­ser­va­tory with elec­tric­ity, in­clud­ing as many elec­tri­cal out­lets as pos­si­ble. The tele­scope will need power to track ob­jects across the night sky, and the other out­lets will al­low you to bring in a com­puter or other astro­nom­i­cal equip­ment. Be sure to ground the ob­ser­va­tory and use surge pro­tec­tors.

Fields says his roll-off room ob­ser­va­tory cost about $1,500, ex­clud­ing the astro­nom­i­cal equip­ment he had al­ready pur­chased. Simp­son sug­gests that you should al­ways plan for cost over­runs, how­ever. Bud­get two to three times what you es­ti­mate the pro­ject will cost you.

Adding a new struc­ture to your prop­erty will, un­for­tu­nately, pro­vide a new place for crea­tures to ex­plore. Fields says he ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems with wasps build­ing nests in the eaves, birds set­tling in on the rollers, and spi­ders and ants crawl­ing around the in­te­rior. Take steps to evict these vis­i­tors, as they can dam­age equip­ment or prove an­noy­ing in your ob­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

Since the ob­ser­va­tory is a semi-per­ma­nent struc­ture, Simp­son sug­gests that you'll want to pre­pare for the fu­ture. Make sure your pier and ob­ser­va­tory space are able to ac­com­mo­date newer tele­scopes or any ex­pan­sions you hope to make.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.