Building your own Observatory?
learn from my mistakes!
Today, there are commercially made options for a back garden observatory, which although quick and convenient, come at a significant cost, and may not entirely suit your current or future needs, especially if you also want a 'warm-room'.
Many people therefore, opt to build their own, ranging from a simple shed based structure, to brick built, with a commercially made fibre glass dome fitted.
My approach was at the simplistic end of the scale, and initially comprised of a custom built wooden shed, with an apex roll-off-roof.
The observatory, initially completed in early 2002, has undergone several changes over the years, as my needs and equipment changed. I have learnt much along the way, and if I was starting over again, I would try to look to the future, and do things somewhat differently. I hope that if you are considering building an observatory, the following will allow you to learn from my experience and mistakes, and get it right from the outset.
When I decided to build an observatory, I was very new to amateur astronomy, and built it around what I had at the time. This was an 8" SCT on a simple German Equatorial Mount, without any motor drives. At this time I was not into astro imaging.
This was my first mistake, I built around what I had, and went for a 6'x6' shed, which was fine until I started upgrading the equipment. I now know that 7'x7' should be considered the minimum size.
The pier was made to a height that would suit the existing scope and mount, and was made as a single length. When I upgraded to a 10" LX200GPS SCT with an 80mm Refractor 'piggy backed' on top, and mounted on an equatorial wedge, the pier was now much too tall, to allow the roll-off-roof gable ends to pass over the scope. Therefore, I had to have the pier shortened by some 18".
Wisely, I had decided not to set the pier into the concrete base, but to have the pier made so that it could be bolted to the concrete base. I set four galvanised 'rag bolts' into the concrete pier base, and held them in position with a template of the pier base plate, until the concrete had cured. So, think carefully be you decide to set your pier in concrete, as its pretty permanent, and doesn't lend itself easily to modification.
Now into CCD astro imaging, and with a telescope/mount that could be computer controlled, I wanted a warm-room and so set about adding an extension to the observatory.
Next came an upgrade to a 12" LX200R SCT, again with an 80mm Refractor 'piggy backed' on top. Now another problem arose. The extra height of the 12" scope wouldn't allow the gable end of the roll-off-roof to pass over the 'piggy backed' 80mm Refractor.
Not wanting to have the pier further shortened, this time by around 6", I opted to make an opening flap door in the centre of the front gable, which could be opened to allow the roof to pass over the telescope. See pictures below.
In the spring of 2008, after a particularly windy winter, which restricted my imaging time due to the telescope being buffeted by the wind, I removed the roll-off-roof and installed a home made rotating turret, with a dome like 'slot' aperture. See photos in the Observatory pages of this web-site
At the time of writing this page (February 2011), having recently sold the 12" LX200R SCT and the wedge, I am in the process installing some new telescopes on a German Equatorial mount (NEQ6). For this arrangement, the pier is now too short, and needs extending by around 2 feet. Rather than having the existing pier extended, I am having a separate extension section made, which will bolt onto the top-plate of the existing pier. I think that the lesson learnt here, is to have a pier made at height that will accommodate the tallest setup that you may at some time have, say a large SCT mounted on a wedge, and then have a bolt-on extension made if it ever needs extending. This would remove the need to have an already made pier shortened.
With regards to the 'warm-room', which proved to be a not so warm room, whereby I was nice and warm from the waist up, but my legs were really cold, and the thermostatically controlled electric convector heater mounted on the wall, ran almost continuously.
The walls and roof of the 'warm-room' are 12mm thick timber, and most all of the heat was lost through them.
So at the start of this winter (2010/2011) I lined the walls and roof with 25mm thick Polystyrene Insulation Board, and the covered this with Hardboard. This has made a tremendous difference to the comfort level, and now once up to temperature, the heater is on for only a fraction of the time that it used to be. Now not only more comfortable, but a lot more enconomical too.
So, the moral of the story is, before you set out to build an observatory, try to think ahead as to where you might want to be in the future, and avoid making the same mistakes as I did.
Refractor flap closed
Refractor flap open