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Home Made Observing Screens

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#1 SAL

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 11:42 PM

(Long Post) My subdivision keeps getting larger and larger, and the light pollution is becoming maddening. I live on a small lake (more of a pond actually), and used to have fairly dark skies in that direction (north). But numerous new neighbors have built homes and moved into the area, and they all like to keep all their security lights on at night. So not only do I have their direct light invading, but it also reflects off the water as well. In addition, the city just installed new streetlights in our neighborhood and wouldn't you know one of them was placed almost directly across the street from my driveway, which faces south. My local astronomy club has a great observing sight, but it's over 45 minutes from my house, and that’s not including the time it takes to load all my gear. I'm also the proud papa of 2 boys (ages 8 and 11) and a wonderful wife, so I feel a bit guilty leaving the family every clear night to drive an hour away to observe. Basically, I would much rather observe from my own property for convenience sake. So, last week I set out to build a set of “observing screens” to block out the main sources of light pollution that surround my home. I read about similar screens in a Cloudy Nights post several months ago. Here’s how I built mine.

1-inch PVC pipe was used to keep the final weight as low as possible. After searching for the most light resistant material I could find, I stumbled upon “Car Carpet” manufactured by Autobond. The color selected is called “Porche Black”. It is an indoor/outdoor material that should do just fine with dew. When two pieces of this carpet are attached back to back, car headlights do not penetrate the material! The carpet was cut 72 inches tall by 48 inches wide. The panel frames are just over 75 inches tall because I added an extra cross member at the base for rigidity. The vertical PVC structure is cut into 2 sections of 36 inches with a “T” connector in the center and near the bottom. “Elbow” connectors are used at the frame’s top to connect the cross members, while the “T” pieces connect the cross members in the middle and bottom of the frame. Finally, I used a second set of “Elbow” members to add one additional 48-inch cross member at the base of the frame. (See pictures).

Each panel took me about 6 hours to complete. The carpet must be cut to the proper size, then attached via 2-sided carpet tape to a mirror image piece “back to back”. This gave the proper thickness to block out almost all light. A single thickness of carpet allowed brighter lights to penetrate (like headlights and our new public street lamp). Next the PVC piping had to be cut to the proper lengths and assembled. I did not use any glue because a simple tap with a hammer kept things nice and snug. Also, the carpet was “stretched” a bit when attached to the PCV. This further helped keep everything together nicely, so no need to glue IMO. Next step is to attach the carpet to the PVC via deck screws and washers. I predrilled each hole then visually lined up the screw with the hole. I then offset the screw through the carpet by about 2 screw widths. This way the carpet was pulled tight or “stretched” between each screw. This is time consuming but worth the extra effort. The carpet remains taught on the frame this way and “seals” against the frame nicely which helps reduce light leaks. I used extra pieces of PVC as supports lying under the carpet while I attached it. This held the carpet nice and flat without it sagging in the middle, and made it much easier to “stretch” the carpet between the screws.

The panels are attached to each other via simple work clamps. I experimented with several different types. Some of them are quite expensive. Luckily the type that ended up working the best was a simple spring-loaded 4-inch clamp (see pictures). 2 clamps are used to form hinges between each panel. Just make to sure to seat them properly on the PVC or they will “snap” loose and can injure the carpet material. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

I initially constructed 4 panels. They worked well, but the space was too cramped. I use a Burgess 127mm F8 scope as my primary instrument and it’s a long telescope (1000mm). 4 panels simply did not leave enough room, so I ended up making 6 panels. This is just perfect for my needs. The panels can be arranged in many different configurations. A large “U” shape is great when the wind is low. The arrangement in the following pictures works better in wind (more rigid). I plan to pick up some cat litter in plastic bottles, and attach PVC pipe supports to the bottom of the bottles. These will then become weighted anchors for the base of each panel as needed. But so far, I have had to need to do so. The panels are stable enough as is. Sorry my pics are of poor quality, but my little cheapie digital camera leaves a lot to be desired… The final cost of my project was around $200 for the 6 panels and 12 clamps. I bought all my supplies at Menard’s hardware… (Scott)
 

#2 SAL

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 11:45 PM

Here's a picture of my Burgess 1278 showing it's size. It is mounted on an Orion Sky View Pro mount...(Scott)

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  • 200656-1278_svp3.jpg

 

#3 SAL

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 11:47 PM

Here's a close up of a single observing screen panel showing the PVC frame... (Scott)

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  • 200659-screen single.jpg

 

#4 SAL

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 11:48 PM

And here is one of the clamps used to form hinges between each panel... (Scott)

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  • 200662-screen clamp.jpg

 

#5 SAL

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 11:51 PM

You can see there is plenty of room for the Burgess 1278 and accessories when 6 panels are used. That's my Apogee observing chair in the background in addition to a power pack for my Kendrick dew system, equipment cases, etc... (Scott)

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  • 200663-screen3.jpg

 

#6 SAL

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 11:52 PM

And a bit different angle of the panels (set up in my garage so I could try to light the photo a bit better)... (Scott)

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  • 200664-full panel5.jpg

 

#7 Craig Simmons

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 06:13 AM

You did a great job making them. Alot better than my efforts.

http://www.cloudynig...232-Shields.jpg
 

#8 SAL

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 08:04 AM

Thanks Craig. It was an exercise in patience as the project took quite a bit more time than I thought it would. But it was worth it, as now I can observe from almost any position on my property using the various configurations that are possible with the 6 panels... (Scott)
 

#9 Bill Grass

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 09:15 AM

Great job, Scott!! :waytogo: That looks really nice. I swear I'm gonna do something like this myself one of these days!
 

#10 Tom L

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 03:04 PM

Excellent design!
 

#11 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 03:34 PM

Great job on the panels. Sounds like you covered all the bases.
 

#12 Starman1

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 05:36 PM

I had to contend with a lot of local light pollution at the dark site I frequent (cars driving in and out all night), so I built a portable light shield/observatory (as did some others). You can read more about it (and theirs) on this thread:
http://www.cloudynig.../fpart/all/vc/1
It might also help to talk to the neighbors with the most offending lights (invite them over to look). They might turn their lights off with a call from you.
Good luck!
 

#13 desertstars

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 06:04 PM

Is your camera up to doing a close-up of how the panel material was attached? I'd be interested to actually see what you described.

Thanks for sharing this! :waytogo:
 

#14 Cow Jazz

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 08:04 PM

Ditto Tom's request for the close-up pics. It looks like a really good design/build, Sal. Thanks for sharing it with us.
 

#15 BCB

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 08:15 PM

EXCELLENT!! :waytogo:

I'll third the request for pics.. I've been looking for a solution to some intruding light I'd like to "screen" out, and I was drawing a blank.
 

#16 Redman

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Posted 21 September 2004 - 04:03 AM

Excellent job!! Very clean design. I would also like to see a close up of how you attached the material. I am really thinking about making one of these. We live very near a Japanese Pachinko Parlor and it is brighter than the sun!!
BOB
 

#17 SAL

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Posted 21 September 2004 - 02:30 PM

Hi Guys. I see many people would like to see how I attached the carpet to the PVC frame, so I took a picture to show the screw/washer positions. Each red arrow points to an attachment point. I used 3/4" deck screws (won't rust or corrode) with #10 washers. They countersunk nicely into the carpet material. BTW, I attached the carpet to the side of the PVC that has the written pipe information, so the finished product would show only plain white PVC pipe. Hope this provides the requested information. Thanks again for the nice comments... (Scott)

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  • 201995-panel screw closeup.jpg

 

#18 Lunartic

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Posted 21 September 2004 - 02:37 PM

That's really fantastic Sal. I'm going to attempt something like this as well but am having trouble finding decent material. I was going to use some kind of tarp but you say you used carpeting? Where can I find the material you used and how is it priced? I tried to google it but nothing turned up. Is it just really thin cheap carpet? Perhaps Home Depot would have something comparable?

Thanks,
Chris
 

#19 SAL

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Posted 21 September 2004 - 02:49 PM

That's really fantastic Sal. I'm going to attempt something like this as well but am having trouble finding decent material. I was going to use some kind of tarp but you say you used carpeting? Where can I find the material you used and how is it priced? I tried to google it but nothing turned up. Is it just really thin cheap carpet? Perhaps Home Depot would have something comparable?

Thanks,
Chris


Hi Chris. I used an indoor/outdoor rated carpet actually designed for cars to park on in a garage (see my first post at top of thread). It was 38 cents per square foot. When stretched over the PVC frame it adds to the structural integrity of the panel. I'm sure Home Depot or Lowes would have something similar. Be sure to check a sample of it towards a bright light to see if you need to double the thickness to effectively stop the light transmission... (Scott)
 

#20 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 11:51 AM

I did a similar project using conduit and a tarp. The tarp isn't thick enough to block out headlights, but does an excellent job of keeping the glare from fisherman's laterns down. I also use mine as a wind break. I think it does a better job for wind than light. Actually that was the primary purpose for mine. It's just a flat 6'x 8' rectangle. I really like yours I might just have to redesign mine. :idea:
 

#21 imjeffp

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 02:44 PM

If you have access to a staging or film/video equipment facility, duvetyne would be excellent for this. It's designed to be opaque and black. It's very sturdy--I've used it in sizes up to 12' x 20' (it also makes an excellent sail :shocked: ). Speedrail might be too heavy for portable use for most folks, but it is much tougher than PVC. You can build just about anything with it.
 

#22 desertstars

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 04:09 PM

That stuff sounds like it could have been made specifically for our purposes. Which, in a sideways fashion, I suppose it was. Good links. Thanks.
 

#23 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 11:37 PM

VERY COOL --- i was thinking of making one myself.

What is the cost of your materials?

Where can I get that carpet - any auto store perhaps?
 

#24 SAL

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 01:10 AM

VERY COOL --- i was thinking of making one myself.

What is the cost of your materials?

Where can I get that carpet - any auto store perhaps?



I bought all my materials at Menard's hardware (similar to Home Depot and Lowes). Check out the carpeting section for auto carpet intended to be used on a garage floor. (See my original post). Total cost around $200 for the set of six.

I used the panels tonight in the brightest area of my property. They worked great! I saw things naked eye I have never seen from my yard before with the naked eye. Limiting magnitude doesn't change of course, but the panels allow you to become dark-adapted and hide form the glare of street and head lights. They make a big difference... (Scott)
 

#25 SAL

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 05:35 PM

Now that I have been able to use my observing panels several times, I thought I would write a brief follow-up note. These have proved to really increase my observing enjoyment from my property! I am now able to see constellations that I have never explored before due street light glare and light pollution. Car headlights do not penetrate the material. In fact, I have to use a red flashlight to select EPs or check my planisphere because I can’t see them when all 6 panels are used to create a “panel hut” formation. I never dreamed I could get an environment this dark on my property. They are actually quite sturdy when assembled. The main trick is to make sure you have the clamps securely seated. Another unintended benefit is the reduction of wind to my telescopes. On breezy evenings the panels have largely eliminated telescope vibration. Individual panels combinations can be used as needed. In certain locations just using two panels at right angles is very useful. In other locations I use all six to create a large “U” shape. And at other times I use the six panels to create an “observing hut” for the greatest amount of light shielding (see original pictures).

Any shortcomings? Well yes, a few of them. First of all they do limit the view to objects from about 55* to zenith when using the "observing hut" configuration with all 6 panels. But because of the high mounted streetlights close to my property, I require the panels of this height. Secondly, they do not block moonlight effectively, as the moon is simply too high in the sky at times to be effectively screened out. On these evenings, I either observe the moon itself or retreat to the backyard, where the house screens the moon for me. Thirdly, I injured my back and neck (pulled muscles) by trying to carry several panels at once. They are heavier and more awkward than you might think if you try to carry more than one of them at a time. By the time you add three, they are far too heavy for a single person (ask me how I know this…LOL). It’s really better to carry them one at a time to your setup location. Lastly, a single “doorway” cross member brace is inadequate for stability. You need two of them where the opening is when the six panels are set up. One attached at the top of the opening and another attached at the base of the opening. This provides a great deal more stability, especially if a breeze is blowing. BTW, I would not attempt to use the panels in really windy conditions. But it’s no problem in light breezes… (Scott)
 


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