Building Tom's Astronomy Observatory

After many nights spent wasting vast swathes of time plugging in wires, lifting things in and out of the house, polar aligning etc etc, I decided, this summer (2004) that I would build an observatory.

Over the Christmas 2003 period we had made a concrete pier for the scope, and some time ago I had moved my imaging computers into the house and started using active USB extension cables. Imaging looked like this:- 

As you can see, this would involve a fair bit of setup. This meant that I was unlikely to setup if conditions were not perfect.. or there was only an hour or two before bedtime.

We wanted a solution that was within our modest building skills, and that was, above all, cheap. It did not need to look pretty, it did not need to be perfect. It just needed to do the job.

Our first parts shopping trip finished with 4 large fence posts, and 8 fence panels that measured 6 foot by 3 foot. These cost about 10 each.

First stage of construction was to level the ground a bit. I am very lazy. I calcuated the volume of earth required to be removed to level the whole area and quickly decided not to. Then I hammered the "metpost" bases into the ground, making sure they form a 6x6 foot square.

This also required careful work with the spirit level to keep them upright! Then we inserted the fence posts into the bases. The green cover on the right is Pete's pier. Don't ask what the grey thing on the chair is! After taking these images I stood on it to saw the tops off the posts!

Next, we started to screw the lower fence panels onto the posts. The bottom panels are permanently fixed with long 8mm coach bolts. Great care was taken to get everything level - particulary tricky given the ground is far from level.



Once we finished the bottom panels, the top panels were attached with more coach bolts and wing nuts on the outside so as to be removable. We also started the frame for the roof.

The roof was quite a challenge. We constructed a frame from treated timber, and covered it with corrugated plastic. It is a fairly simple job to slide it off as seen below. We cannot image in that direction due to the trees. It is simply a case of removing the panel in the required direction. The others are left up to shield wind and light. Often, all the sides are left on when imaging zenith objects.



Inside the observatory the telescope stays setup. The wiring runs into the house via a length of black plastic drainpipe. Inside you can see a black groundsheet to keep the wildlife and weather out from the gap below the panels. Being black prevents reflections, but makes it hard to find that small hex key dropped in the dark!



The light shielding is so effective we installed a bright white light to help with these situations. A red light is alongside it for normal nocturnal uses. Both lights are controlled from within the house.



We also have some decking panels to stand on and a salvaged part of an office desk for storage. The white sheet is put over the end of the OTA, and used for making flat field frames. Look here for full details of the equipment inside.

Many people point out the lack of a door. I am quite tall and have no problem stepping over the base fence panel furthest from the house. The vertically challenged can always use that grey thing.

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