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Kids playground to Observatory

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#1 BlakeMC

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Posted 23 July 2016 - 07:46 PM

As my two youngest kids are now teenagers, the back yard play set has been dismantled and hauled off.  I now have some empty space to do something with, and two teenage boys to keep busy.  For various reasons the swimming pool idea didn't pan out.

 

So, the idea is a simple 'shed' type observatory with roll off roof.  This would be for casual observing.  Our current telescope is a Nexstar 4SE, which is great for dragging out into the yard, or to take on vacation.  With someplace permanent to put it, we would probably upgrade to something like an 8 or 10 inch scope with computerized mount and imager for remote use.

 

Bldg. Size:  10x10 or 8x10 seems optimal.  I am concerned with too-big of a roof, since this will be moved with muscle power alone.  I'm planning on a standard shingled roof to match another 8x10 garden shed on the property.  The buildings don't need to match, but I do want the final product to be attractive.  We are in northern Utah, so there is a frost line, and I intend to put 'sonotube' footings at the corners of the shed.  Otherwise I expect simple shed construction with rails for rolling the roof off.

 

Power:  I could run an AC line to the site, but would rather not.  I will not be running a lot of computers and power hungry equipment, so my hope was to have a 12 volt solar powered system.  For cold nights I would like to be able to run things remotely (except the roof).  Is this reasonable or not?

 

Pier:  I'm thinking 8 inch concrete.  It would end up about 4-5 feet above the ground.  From looking around, it seems fairly standard to place three stainless still bolts into the concrete with one of the bolts aligned to north (from the center of the pier).  Is there a standard configuration that would give me some options?  Or do I really need a better idea of what is going on it before I start?  In general, lets say it will be an 8 to 10 inch short tube that can be run remotely and hold accessories such as an imager etc.  But none of that exists yet.  I may be doing things backwards, which is why I'm here asking questions.

 

There are really two goals for this project;  One is to provide a place where it is more convenient to for us to go out and observe, which is something our family enjoys, and secondly to provide a project to keep two teenage boys busy.  They will do the bulk of the work, and the thought of building an observatory has captured their imaginations.  Reality may set in later, but for now they are motivated to get their hands dirty.

 

Experience:  I've built several decks and have done framing, sheet rock, electrical (inspected) so I'm comfortable with the construction.

 

 

Side note:  I remember Cloudy Nights from years ago, and I'm happy to see it is still a thriving active community.


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#2 bobzeq25

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Posted 23 July 2016 - 08:46 PM

I've got the same power situation as you.  I'm planning 12v, 100 watt panel + 75 amp hr battery (or so.).  Questions.

 

Do you use dew heaters?  I don't.

 

Could you pull an extension cord over if, in a particular case, you're using the observatory a large enough fraction of the time that the solar can't keep up?  That's my emergency option, don't expect to have to use it much if at all.



#3 BlakeMC

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Posted 23 July 2016 - 09:07 PM

I could pull an extension cord if needed, its not that far, but I would like to try and make this work on solar.  I've got a lot to learn on that front.

 

I've never used a dew heater, but I can't rule out the need for one here.



#4 Midnight Dan

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Posted 24 July 2016 - 09:12 AM

My 2 cents and worth every penny :grin: :

 

Size - go with 10 x 10.  You can never have too much room.

 

Pier - I think an 8" concrete pier is too small for a number of reasons.  First, you need to put J bolts in the top, and they need to be separated from the edge by a decent distance so that they don't crack out of the concrete. That leaves you very little room for them.  But more important is stability.  I have a pier that is 12" diameter, and 5.5' out of the ground.  I was surprised to find that a good solid whack at the top actually makes it vibrate.  Not that that's a problem because I don't whack it when imaging. :grin:  But I was originally thinking of a 10" pier and I'm glad I went with 12" instead.  Concrete is cheap, sonotubes are cheap, and you only get one shot at the pier.  I'd go bigger rather than smaller.

 

Power - I have AC power at my observatory, but started out with solar, so yes it's reasonable.  You might even be able to power a garage-door opener with the right inverter, depending on how much current it draws.  I started with a Harbor Freight solar kit for $150 that comes with three 15 watt panels and a solar controller.  I would not recommend it.  I'd go with a good quality panel in the 100W to 200W range.  If you use the observatory frequently, you'll want the 200 end of that range so it will recharge the batteries quickly rather than taking several days.  Especially if you have a lot of cloudy weather.  

     For a solar controller, be sure and get an MPPT type unit (multi-point power tracking).  Solar panels are most efficient at a very specific voltage/current point.  Move away from that point and efficiency drops dramatically.  But that point changes depending on time of day, height of the sun, clouds, etc.  An MPPT unit essentially scans various power settings to find the most efficient, and adjusts it as time goes by to keep the panel running at its optimum.  These kinds of controllers are a bit more expensive, but will get a lot more power out of your panel.  Here's some examples of some full solar kits with good quality MPPT controllers from Amazon:

100 watt kit

200 watt kit

     For batteries, I'd recommend getting two marine batteries.  They cost about $100 each from Walmart.  I found that one battery is barely enough for a night, and is not enough for a long winter night when the cold temperatures sap the battery's capacity.  Try to run everything directly off of direct 12v if possible.  Items that need a different voltage, like 5v for a USB hub, should be run using DC-to-DC converters that you can get off eBay cheaply.  Computers take a lot of power so use a laptop, and get a 12V automotive type power supply for it.

     Avoid using an inverter except where absolutely necessary.  It's good to have one attached to your system so you can use an AC device if need be, but leave it turned off except when in use.  They draw current even when idling.  

 

-Dan


Edited by Midnight Dan, 24 July 2016 - 09:01 PM.

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#5 Fivel

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Posted 24 July 2016 - 10:03 AM

Hi Blake. You will get much enjoyment out of any observatory you build.

You mentioned roof weight-manual control.

Maybe you can look into a split roll-off with flat steel roof panels.

That is what I am planning to build. It offers lighter weight and greater flexibility,

where you can roll off half or all, depending on wind conditions.

Since each half is also half the total weight, it will be much easier to open/close,

either manually or by remote controlled power.

One more thought, you may still want to bring in two conduits for AC and control (in a trench obviously).

With your winters you may soon decide you need that option, so it is better to do it at the beginning.

Best of luck in the build and keep us posted with your progress.

 

Fivel



#6 BlakeMC

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Posted 24 July 2016 - 05:11 PM

Great thoughts, thanks.

 

Pier:  It does seem that if you are going to the trouble to put a building around your pier, you build a pier with some extra capacity.  12 inch will likely win out here.

 

Same with the building itself.  This will likely be more 'hands on' type observing, so more room the better.  I don't want to go beyond 10x10 however.  

 

Power:  Dan, thanks for the links.  I would like to make the solar option work, but since this is a 'shed' with un-finished walls, retro-actively adding AC later should not be a big issue.  Running the line would not be trivial, but is doable.



#7 bobzeq25

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Posted 24 July 2016 - 06:41 PM

 

     For batteries, I'd recommend getting two marine batteries.  They cost about $100 each from Walmart.  I found that one battery is barely enough for a night, and is not enough for a long winter night when the cold temperatures sap the battery's capacity. 

How many amp-hours each?  Do use use dew heaters?



#8 Midnight Dan

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Posted 24 July 2016 - 08:58 PM

The batteries I got were these:

http://www.walmart.c...attery/20531538

 

If I remember correctly, they were something like 85 or 90 amp hours.

 

Yes, I was using 3 dew heaters, one of them was a large one for an 8" SCT, the others were 2" eyepiece sized units.  I was also powering the mount, a laptop, a DSLR, a guide camera, a USB hub, and red LED rope lights for observatory illumination.

 

-Dan



#9 Midnight Dan

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Posted 24 July 2016 - 09:05 PM

... retro-actively adding AC later should not be a big issue.

 

Just thought I'd mention - after switching to AC, I still use 12V to power most things in the observatory.  I still run everything off the batteries, but now I just have a Battery Tender charging the batteries instead of the sun.  I like the idea that if the power goes out, I'll still be able to image, and to take advantage of the dark, no-light-pollution, skies that the power outage creates.  Plus, there's no cleaner power than the 12V that comes from a battery.  No worries about spikes or line noise.

 

-Dan


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#10 BlakeMC

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Posted 13 August 2016 - 10:10 AM

Progress!
 
The anchor bolts from Dan's Pier Top Plates arrived.
Anchor Bolts from Dan's Pier Top Plates

 

The anchor bolt jig:

Anchor bolt jig

 

To get below the frost line I poured the pier in two parts, the base shown below, and then an upper section.  You can see the form for the upper part ready to put into place.  Not shown, but more rebar was added that extends further up the upper pier section.

Pier base

 

And then the top section.

Upper pier with anchor bolts.

 

Aligning the anchor bolts.  The anchor bolts are stainless steel, but the nuts and washers are not and will interfere with a compass so you should have an idea where north is before you get to this point.

Anchor bolt alignment

 

The finished pier.

Pier unwrapped.

 

There is some 'gapping' at the base that I will patch, but it all appears to be solid.

Pier detail

 


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#11 BlakeMC

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:00 PM

More progress.

 

The floor frame with anchor posts attached.
The floor frame with anchor posts attached.

 
The frame squared and leveled.  The post are secured with concrete below the frost line.
The floor frame squared, leveled.

 
Squaring the corners using Pythagoras, since the pier prevented measuring the corners directly.
Check for square

 
The pier is offset from the center of the shed to the north and east.  The roof gable will be to the west, and we are slightly north to provide a bit better southern clearance.  The location was also chosen to make placement of the joists and floor panels easier to fit.

 

With any luck the floor will go down Saturday.


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#12 BlakeMC

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Posted 27 August 2016 - 09:23 PM

Floor completed.

 

The floor is complete.

 

TG floor planks secured with ring-shank nails and glue.  Screws would also work, but the nails proved much easier to work with.  I cut the planks while my 16 yo manned the nail gun.

 

We had a great time.


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#13 MalVeauX

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 07:28 AM

Great stuff!

 

Very best,



#14 macdonjh

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 01:31 PM

It's too late to comment about pier diameter, but I'll say this: I poured a 12" diameter pier and darned near didn't have enough room for my counter weights to swing when the mount moved.  Be ready, you may have to install a pier extension.

 

It's also too late to comment about building size, but if you do visual observing, I agree with "more room is better".  I've only got one mount in my building and usually have plenty of room to walk around and have others in with me.  It's great, especially compared to others who have small observatories and are always ducking around their gear and can't invite their friends inside.

 

Remember the reason for your observatory: convenience.  If you think you might want 120VAC power, run the circuit.  If you tell yourself, "I can always string an extension cord" you'll be surprised how many nights you don't observe/ image because you don't want to string that extension cord.

 

My observatory is approximately 11' x 11' with a standard wood framed/ decked roof and asphalt shingles.  The roof weighs a bit more than a ton and I can move by hand with moderate effort.  The trick is having the right kind of casters and a level frame.

 

Consider storage: it's great to have all your gear in the same place, so have some shelves or cabinets to store charts, reference books, eye pieces, finders...  You know, all that stuff that we all have and only need once in a while, but when we need it, we need it.  If your observatory was at a remote site I'd also suggest some storage for maintenance stuff like basic tools, bug killer, weed killer, cleaning supplies, etc.

 

Finally, look at the postings in the Home Observatories forum here and do an internet search for the same topic.  There are at least two good ideas you haven't thought about out there.  What about running power and data cables to your pier under the floor so you don't have wires to walk/ trip over?


Edited by macdonjh, 28 August 2016 - 01:32 PM.


#15 macdonjh

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 01:33 PM

Oh my goodness, all that lecturing and I didn't even congratulate you.  Congratulations.  Building an observatory will be the best thing you've ever done for yourself with respect to this hobby.  You are going to love it.



#16 BlakeMC

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 10:27 PM

More progress to report:

 

Framing started.
 
Framing going up.  With the walls up I'm getting a better idea of the size.  More on size in my notes below.
 
Rafter rig on shed floor.
 
The rafter rig laid out on the shed floor.  This is easier to do before you put up the walls, but there was still plenty of room.  The joints were reinforced with 1/2 plywood glued and screwed into place.
 
Rafters up.
 
The rafters in place.
 
Shingles up.

 

Shingles done just tonight.  Rain moving in so son and I have been busy.

 

Some design note so far:

 

Size:  

Bigger is better meets keep it simple.  The advice seems to be a bigger spot for visual observation is better, and I agree.  For this project 10x10 feels about right.  For one thing it keeps me under the size of structure that would require building permits.  To the city this is a simple shed.  I doubt for our use we will ever have more then two or three people observing, and most of the time just one.  This won't be my last observatory, so perhaps the next one will be bigger.

 

Power:

Again with the permits.  This will be a 12 volt shed that I hope to power with solar.  This seems to be doable.  AC would be convenient, but would also be an expensive pain to run.  I also don't plan on closing up the walls which I would want to do if I was to wire it up with AC power.  Again we'll see how this goes.  I have a conduit run under the floor to the pier to run DC power.  Right now everything I will put on the pier, or expect to in the near future runs 12v power.

 

Pier:

I probably read too many of the 'pier pour gone wrong' stories before pouring my pier so I opted to not embed a box and conduit into the concrete.  I may regret this later, but I really wanted to keep that pour as simple as possible.  I'll run the conduit to a low-profile box attached to the outside of the pier.

 

This has turned out to be a great project for my teenage son and I to work on, which is still the greater motivating factor.  Today, with the shingles done, I looked at it and thought 'Hey, we almost have an observatory done!  How cool is that?'

 

Your advice and the various threads here have been a great help (and shed building videos on YouTube)  Thanks.



#17 hm insulators

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 02:49 PM

Cute little observatory! :waytogo:



#18 BlakeMC

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Posted 24 September 2016 - 11:25 AM

Cute little observatory! :waytogo:

 

That's exactly what my wife calls it!  I imagine its un-official name will always be the 'Cute Little Observatory'.

 

The rails are up and the roof is on so I can relax a bit now.  We had almost 2" of rain the past few days and the inside is nice and dry, even without the weather stripping in place.

 

Still a lot of work to do.  Door, trim, paint.  I hope we have as much fun using it as we have had building it.



#19 Raginar

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Posted 24 September 2016 - 11:30 AM

I think you'd be happier with a permit and power. you gonna automate it? How many batteries are you using?



#20 BlakeMC

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Posted 24 September 2016 - 12:17 PM

I would like to make the 12v solar work, or a least understand its limitations before running AC.  That said, the AC option has been left open if needed down the road.  I don't plan on closing up the walls until I do that, and part of the floor can be turned into a false floor for running additional lines to the pier if needed.

 

I am paying close attention to the other threads on battery types, solar, power etc.  The only power source I'm currently using is a Celestron Power Tank.  The power needs will certainly grow when the observatory is done.

 

I would like to eventually automate the scope, but things like the roof, no.



#21 Raginar

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Posted 24 September 2016 - 03:56 PM

Cool. I waited and used an extension cord the first year of my observatory. It was a huge pain. Putting power and Internet directly to the shed was really useful.

Its a pretty build. Keep it up!

#22 BlakeMC

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 09:09 AM

I have neglected this thread.  The build has continued and has been a very enjoyable project in itself.

More details:

Roof rolled onto the rails.

The roof rolled out onto the rails.  You can also see the non-standard door I had to build.  Watch your head!


Detail of the tail track.

The rails are a laminate of 2x4s and plywood.  Bolted together, caulked and painted with all-weather paint.  The track is 'gate' track from Aleko.  I ran the track along the top seam of the laminate and caulked around it to keep water out.  These have been up for about 10 months and have survived one Utah winter.  So far they show no sign of moving.


Detail of soffit weather strip.

Detail showing the roof soffit and the garage door weatherstrip to keep water/wind out when closed.


Roof caster detail.

The casters are v-groove casters I bought from Amazon.  They are not made for the Aleko track, but work great.  There are six casters, three on each side.  Each caster is rated at 700 pounds, but I was more interested in the larger size.  The roof rolls off very smoothly with one hand.


These pictures are from last fall, I'm further along and will post more detail when I get a chance.


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#23 BlakeMC

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 08:42 AM

Solar Power

 

The solar power system has been up for several months now and has so far worked flawlessly.  I have not stressed the system very hard, and I'm not running nearly the type of equipment I know many of you are using.  For those interested in the setup, here are the details.

 

Solar panel and battery box
The solar panel is a Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Panel from Amazon.  The battery in the battery box seen below the panel is a simple 12v 35amp hour rechargeable battery I bought locally.
 
 
Solar charger controller
The power panel with the solar charger controller (Amazon).  
A small fuse box for the connections between the solar panel, battery, and the solar charge controller.  
The main 12 volt bus.
The lines running up to the right connect to the fuse box/distribution panel shown below.
 
12v Fuse Box

A simple 12v fuse box and distribution panel.  The larger gauge wires coming out to the right run to the pier.  The smaller circuits run white and red lighting.  I'll detail that in a later post.

 

 

This system can grow when needed.  You can add additional solar panels and expand the battery bank if needed.



#24 dmdouglass

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 01:46 PM

Very Cool....

Thank you so much for sharing your adventure.



#25 BlakeMC

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 07:53 PM

Shed floor detail:

 

Floor detail

 

The floor is oriented strand board flooring.  I put down primer than a heavy coat of porch paint with a crushed walnut shell additive.  Not so much that its difficult to clean, but enough to make the floor feel firm underfoot.  

 

I went ahead and painted the pier with the same paint.




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