Magnitude at Zenith: 5.8
Lat: N 32 deg. 28' 59.2"
Catalina, Arizona USA
10" f/10 Meade LX200, polar aligned.
Building an observatory has been a dream of mine since my high school days with a 6" Newtonian back in 1981. Vedeler observatory is the culmination of over a decade of dreaming, planning and deliberate moves in my life.
The structure is a 10 foot by 12 foot raised platform with 6 foot high walls and a roll off 3/12 pitch roof. While in the design phase of building this observatory I looked seriously at buying a traditional dome. Dome's are synonymous with observatories and offer a much greater aesthetic appeal to most astronomers. However, I went with a roll off roof for the following reasons:
A roll off roof design is
simpler and less costly to build than a dome.
A roll off roof does not require complex motors and electronics to move as the telescope moves.
A roll off roof reaches thermal equilibrium faster than a dome, and does not create a chimney effect as hot air rises out the open slit of the dome.
A roll off roof permits an unobstructed view of the sky for naked eye observations and wide field piggy back astrophotography.
A roll off roof building can be disguised as a shed to camouflage the expensive equipment inside.
The only practical advantages of a dome are that they require less real-estate for a given sized observatory, and that they shield wind and light better. My house is on 1.5 acres, and so an extra 120 square feet of land to accommodate the roll off roof was trivial, and I built my observatory behind a small hill to help shelter it from traffic light and wind. Night time winds are fairly rare here, and on those occasions it is usually due to a storm and thus I would not be using the observatory.
My 10" f/10 Meade LX200 sits upon a 5 foot high 12" diameter concrete pier. The concrete pier is connected to a 1 cubic yard, 4000 pound concrete deadman which is sitting 3 feet in the ground. This massive weight is necessary to act as an inertial dampener for vibrations and to aid in the stability of the telescope. The floor of the observatory is raised about 2 1/2 feet off the ground. This was done to get the telescope up and away from the radiating heat from the desert ground, and in the hope of making it more difficult for unwelcome visitors like scorpions and snakes to make a home of the observatory. The roof rolls off by a push of a button using a Sears 1/2 HP electric garage door opener. Originally I was going to simply move the roof by hand, but by the time I had put shingles on the roof it became too massive to move easily by hand. The garage door opener makes opening and closing the roof easy and precise.
The telescope and CCD cameras are controlled with a computer I bought for this sole purpose. I used to have a Macintosh in the observatory to control the telescope and CCD cameras, but I found that telescope control software and CCD camera control software is much better on the PC platform. The current computer is an IBM Aptiva 133Mhz Pentium MMX with 32MB of RAM, and a 2GB hard drive. The computer can control the telescope and ST4 via a serial connection, and can control the ST7 via the parallel port. The software used is TheSky level 5, and CCDOPS from SBIG. A Cat5 Ethernet cable also connects from the observatory to the house which permits me to remote control the observatory computer from my office computer using a software package called PC Anywhere. This permits me to control both CCD camera and the telescope from inside my house about 100 feet away.
Since finishing this observatory I am using my telescope like I never could before. Deciding to observe is simply a matter of walking out to the observatory, pushing a button to roll off the roof, powering on the scope, and syncing the computer to a known star. The scope is already nearly perfectly polar aligned and ready for imaging.
here to see a pictorial construction history.
The observatory was built in about 3 months starting in late January 1999 until late March 1999. No contractors where used for any stage of construction, and only on one occasion did I need help from a neighbor. The only power tools used where a Skill Saw and a 1/2" drill.
Far more hours went into the planning and design than into the actual construction. This greatly reduced cost by saving on wasted lumber and saved a great deal of construction time as most of the details where worked out before I ever picked up a hammer or a saw. All of the CAD drawings I used for the construction are available in the pictorial constriction history page. There were several modifications necessary from the original drawings such as adding additional support for the structure that the roof rolled off onto, and how the roof rafters connect to the track rollers but the drawings give a good basic plan for the observatory.
The cost of the observatory from plans to completed product (not including the telescope, camera's, or computer equipment) was about $2800. This was almost 3 times my original budget of only $1000. This was due to my serious miscalculation as to the cost of lumber and as I worked on the construction I decided not to skimp on anything as this was something I had wanted to do for so long.
Since the observatory was built in the winter, I wasn't sure how well it hold up to the extreme Tucson summer heat. The observatory is not insulated to remain as close to the outside temperature as possible. In the heat of the summer however, this can pose a problem since even though the observatory is very well ventilated, it still builds up heat during the day. I installed a thermometer which records the high and low temperature. On the first 100 degree F day on May 27th 1999 the inside of the observatory got up to 112 F. This kind of heat is not good for the electronics of the telescope, CCD camera or the computer. It is not uncommon for mid summer high temperatures to reach 110 F here so it quickly became obvious that I needed to do something about the heat buildup inside the observatory. I did this by adding a 14" powered attic fan to the roof of the observatory. This seems to have done the trick as I am now seeing only about a 2 or 3 degree delta between the inside and the outside on hot days.
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