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Building an observatory

  1. Aug 24, 2004 #1
    I know it may be ambitious, but my astronomy club is considering building a small observatory. nothing to special, but something good enough that can be built is a shortish space of time (hopefully a few months in the spring and summer) but can be enlarged or enhanced in the future provided there's space and funding.

    we'd like to purhase land, or better have it donated to us, then build something we can observe the sky with. What i ask of anyone here is to throw out considerations we need keep in mind or how we should go about it. Funds shouldn't be too much of an issue, we're all willing to work really hard to fundraise. Any ideas though would be greatly appreciated. anything about location, space needed, the way it should look, how it should be built, anything at all. We'd also like to get a telescope to put in it. so any ideas about that would be great too. I've really got no clue how to go about it, but we're having a meeting tonight to discuss it. Thanks all.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2004 #2


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    Well, the type of equipment you should get depends heavily on your funding, but I'll give you a couple of ideas:

    Idea #1: Tiny Budget

    Buy a small shed with a roll-off roof, like these: http://www.skyshed.com/. Pick up a Meade or Orion 12-inch Dobsonian mounted reflector and some good eyepieces. Don't forget to budget for sky maps, books, flashlights, filters, and other accessories.

    Idea #2: Modest Budget

    Buy a small fully-manual observatory dome. Install a pier, and put one of the many fine German-equatorial mounts on it -- consider Vixen, etc. Avoid full computer control, but get one with a clock drive and an autoguider port for later expansion. Put a nice telescope of your choosing on it. Consider a 12-inch Newtonian from Meade or Orion. Don't forget to budget for sky maps, books, flashlights, filters, and other accessories.

    Idea #3: Big Budget

    Buy an observatory dome with automatic movement. Install a pier and a nice computer-controlled German equatorial mount like the Paramount from Software Bisque. Put a nice 16-inch or larger Newtonian reflector on it. Put a computer in the dome for controlling the 'scope.

    Idea #4: Huge Budget

    Buy a large, fully-automated observatory dome. Install a pier and a Paramount. Put a 16-inch Newt on it. Buy a nice CCD camera from SBIG. Build a small observing building a few tens of meters from the observatory dome, and put the computer systems in it, along with a heater. The same PC can control the dome, scope, and camera remotely.

    *I am not endorsing SkyShed brand specifically -- many different companies make roll-off buildings, so you should shop around in the back of a Sky & Telescope magazine.

    - Warren
  4. Aug 24, 2004 #3
    To save money, you could build a roll top observatory yourself, or possibly get a high school shop class, or vo-tech carpentry class to assemble the building for the cost of materials.

    If you are away from civilization, consider a solar panel array and battery system to provide some power to use a few red lights and a white light or two for working on the equipment.

    I think a 12" Newtonian on an equatorial mount and a concrete pier. You could buy this from one of the manufacturers that chroot mentioned, or consider building it as a group project (Note: this won't save you much, if any, money, but it is a good learning experience).
  5. Aug 24, 2004 #4
    thanks, so i can actually buy an observatory dome? what does it do really, different than a shed? and possible cost range for that? i looked at a picture from that link you gave me of a guy with a dome who switched to their sheds, and his dome just looks like a giant metal ball. is that what they all look like? is that really better then those shed things? The observatory's for the club, so it has to fit at least a few people in there at a time. Does that change what we should do at all?

    also do you know if we could get some designs to build those shed things? because that might be a possibility. or would it just be best to have it built?

    also anything else considering that its a group place? are there any other things we can have other than telescopes so that people can be doing different things in the same general area?

  6. Aug 24, 2004 #5


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    Abigale :wink:,

    You can certainly just buy a dome -- many places sell them. They are better than sheds because typically a shed doesn't have a very high ceiling, and requires you to tear down the telescope each night to close the roof. A dome allows your telescope to remain set up permanently. If you intend to purchase a fairly large instrument (12 inches or more) and put it on a nice mount, you'll probably need a dome. The shed is really only viable if you're using an essentially portable telescope inside it.

    Some sheds will accomodate a decent telescope and two people, but rarely much more. If you fill it full of accessories, it might only fit one person. A dome would be better in this respect.

    I don't know where to get plans for a shed, but I'd expect that any competent carpenter could build one for you from scratch pretty easily.

    I would suggest that you call up some local colleges or universities that have observatories, and ask them about their setup. You might want to ask for a tour -- you'll learn more in 5 minutes on a tour than you'll learn in hours of discussion here.

    - Warren
  7. Aug 24, 2004 #6

    Here is a site that has several dome manufacturers listed.


    One of the sites sells a 10 ft dia fiberglass dome for about $6,000.
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