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Manzanita Hill Observatory is under way!

astrophotography DIY equipment observatory
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#1 OldManSky

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Posted 02 December 2019 - 09:35 PM

Some of you may remember a topic I started last February, when I put in a quick n dirty permanent pier...

https://www.cloudyni...k-pier-planted/

 

After 10 months of use, during which the block pier served me very well, I started construction on something bigger and better...a flip-top observatory (still small, 6 feet by 6 feet WL) with a full concrete pier.  Someplace I can keep all the equipment set up (instead of just the mount under a cover), and when the weather's good after a long work day, just go out, flip open the roof, turn on the power, and start imaging.

 

First off, thanks to my pal TomK, whose "motel-o-scope" setup was a big part of the inspiration for this.  I didn't want to go full-on with a big full-sized ROR (been there, done that!), and his constant bragging about being able to just pop-open-and-go prodded me to come up with a reasonable alternative.

 

So first, the site:  I moved to the other side of my home on a hill, from the south-east corner to the north-west corner.  This gets me away from the driveway (which was a bigger bother than I anticipated, especially with a teenager in the house!), gives me a lot more open sky, and has the house only occlude the very far south-east.  First pic below is the rough site outline, with a rock showing where I anticipated putting the pier.  I began planning this out months ago, but work/family/travel all conspired to keep me from doing much until recently.  My hill overlooks most of the valley, with Palomar Mountain to the north-east...but otherwise it's pretty clear horizons.

 

Second image shows the beginning of the foundation hole -- at this point it was just 2 feet deep, but I was testing the top slab form location and size.  The hole wound up 3 feet deep, wider at the bottom than the top, compacted and with a layer of gravel at the bottom.  I wired up 3 rebar rods, all within the diameter of the to-come-later 8" concrete pier, and staked them to the bottom of the hole.

 

Third image is just after pouring the foundation -- this actually happened during the summer, and went well.  6 60-lb bags of Quikcrete, all hand-mixed, filled up to the top of the form.  And there it sat for several months -- at least it was good and cured!

 

More in part 2 below...

 

 

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  • foundationhole1.jpg
  • foundationpour.jpg

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#2 OldManSky

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Posted 02 December 2019 - 09:43 PM

(part 2)

So after some months of not being able to get any further, I took the whole Thanksgiving week off work, determined to get the pier poured.

Image one shows what the observatory muses thought of my plan...SoCal got dumping rainstorms much of the week, ruining my plans!  At least it shows the spot I picked was good, as it was uphill of any gathering water (I'll be digging some more drainage runs below it shortly, when I lay the underground power and CAT6 cables)!

 

Finally the rain stopped, the ground dried out quickly, and the temps warmed up to the point that a pour was possible.  Image 2 shows the plan, with the blue tape showing the pier height (after I cut the tube!) -- 32" above the top of the footer slab.  That may seem short to some of you, but it's plenty high to get above ground air effects, and it will keep the flip-off top part of the observatory manageably small.  Image three shows the pier top template ready to go -- four 1/2" j-bolts through a brake rotor pier top, which would work for my CEM25P mount, but will also be perfect for the CEM60 mount I just ordered today!  The board holds the j-bolts in place and keeps the rotor from getting concrete on it, so I can insert it after the pour and let it cure.

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  • obsspotinrain.jpg
  • pierprep.jpg
  • pierplatesetup.jpg

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#3 OldManSky

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Posted 02 December 2019 - 09:50 PM

(part 3)

Finally, after bribing my 23 year-old son to come help mix and pour concrete, I got it all set up and did the pour.  The shorter pier size meant only 2 1/2 60-lb bags of 'crete, so son got the easy part.

Image 1 shows the tube cut to size, the rotor template in place, and the snow on Palomar in the background after the storms passed!

I added duct tape all around the base of the tube form after getting it centered (and over the rebar), to keep the sludge from coming out the bottom too much, then braced the tube with 2x4s, and poured away.  

Which of course meant more rain...so it sat covered for 2 days, with me wondering it if was curing OK or not, or sliding sideways or not, or...

 

After two days, the rain stopped, and I uncovered it, washed off some sludge/excess, and tested it -- firmed up just fine, and still level (image 2)!

It already feels plenty solid, but I'm going to leave the form on for another 3 or 4 days at least, because I want it to fully cure, and because -- you guessed it -- more rain is coming in the next few days.

 

That's it so far, this weekend (weather permitting) I'll be starting on the footers for the building itself, and will start on the walls.  I'll also run the power/data lines (it's only about 25 feet to the house), and dig some more drain pathways and fill them with gravel.

 

I'm just glad I'm finally going on it, I hope to have it done before Christmas!

 

Thanks for looking, comments/criticisms always appreciated.

 

Attached Thumbnails

  • readytopourpier.jpg
  • pierpoured.jpg

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#4 redskynj

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Posted 02 December 2019 - 09:50 PM

Chevy Cruze rear disc FTW! I went with an 11.25 inch front disc from a Dodge Dakota, I just waited for the rest of the truck to rust away from it.


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#5 Tom K

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Posted 03 December 2019 - 02:06 AM

Looking good Paul - that is going to be sweet with a CEM60 on there.   Let me know when you need a hand getting the rest of it put together!   Figure out what size you need it to be and then make it bigger!


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#6 ksouers

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Posted 03 December 2019 - 05:06 PM

Great start, Paul. Looking forward to see the progress.

 

I used a similar construction for my pier, cinder blocks glued together with construction adhesive, then filled with concrete.

Mine is just sitting on the ground though, at the moment. I have plans to relocate it a few feet for a better northern view.

 

Don't know if I will bury it at that point or just start a buried one from scratch. I'd also like to build a tiny roll-off around it.

 

 

 

Kevin


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#7 aaube

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Posted 03 December 2019 - 06:08 PM

What a spectacular view!


Edited by aaube, 03 December 2019 - 06:09 PM.

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#8 OldManSky

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Posted 04 December 2019 - 09:23 AM

What a spectacular view!

Merci, aaube!

 

Here's an almost 360-deg. pan I took last summer when picking the spot...Palomar Mountain (with the big Hale 200" scope) is to the North-East.

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#9 DougSol

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Posted 04 December 2019 - 12:16 PM

Congratulations neighbor! We are up in Julian and built our own observatory here in late 2013-spring 2014. We are enjoying imaging and we do outreach as well. Hope to see you live in person one of these days, though we know an observatory is an unending project. We call ours Curiosity Peak. You can see us building it on the website curiositypeak.us. 


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#10 OldManSky

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Posted 04 December 2019 - 07:23 PM

Congratulations neighbor! We are up in Julian and built our own observatory here in late 2013-spring 2014. We are enjoying imaging and we do outreach as well. Hope to see you live in person one of these days, though we know an observatory is an unending project. We call ours Curiosity Peak. You can see us building it on the website curiositypeak.us. 

Thanks, neighbor! That’s a great setup you guys have up there. Come spring, I’ll certainly take you up on the invite :)



#11 t-ara-fan

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Posted 04 December 2019 - 07:50 PM

Nice project.

 

 four 1/2" j-bolts

L-bolts. Which are better than J because they are harder to pull out due to the small radius of the bend.


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#12 OldManSky

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 01:09 PM

Nice project.

 

L-bolts. Which are better than J because they are harder to pull out due to the small radius of the bend.

Yep.  Thanks for the correction, that is indeed what they are!



#13 OldManSky

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 03:13 PM

The rain finally stopped, so I removed the pier form today.  A few small voids, but not bad and certainly nothing structural.  It's nice and solid, should hold the CEM60 with no problem.

The L bolts shrunk in differentially (not surprising, the same thing occurred with my last concrete pier), but the bolts with one nut under the plate and another on top only took a few little turns to get the brake-rotor plate nice and level.

If the rain holds off, I'll get the conduits for power/data run, and the foundation blocks in this weekend, then I can start on the building!

 

 

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  • newpieruncovered.jpg

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#14 ksouers

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 04:59 PM

Hi Paul,

I find the brake rotor concept intriguing. Aluminum, and even steel or iron, disks or plates are so expensive when purchased from the small-quantity suppliers. Yet here is a somewhat inexpensive cast iron plate just waiting to be picked up the local car parts store or salvage yard.

 

I'm curious, though, how are you going to attach the mount to the brake rotor?

 

 

Kevin


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#15 Tom K

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 05:19 PM

I live just down the hill from Paul and have a CEM60 attached to a brake rotor using a cheap slab of aluminum from a local scrap yard.   I drilled and tapped holes to attach the aluminum to the rotor from the bottom and then drilled and tapped a hole for a central post that the mount rotates around for alignment and two tapped holes for the hold down posts used by the CEM60.   Cheap and works great!

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Edited by Tom K, 06 December 2019 - 05:20 PM.

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#16 OldManSky

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 06:45 PM

Yep, Tom answered it -- and I take no credit whatsoever for the brake rotor pier plate idea, I stole it from Tom.

 

The one I got, by the way, was brand-new from Amazon, $9 and free Prime shipping smile.gif

 

https://www.amazon.c...0?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

It shows as $16 now, but new and used with free shipping are as low as $6.50.


Edited by OldManSky, 06 December 2019 - 06:49 PM.

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#17 Tom K

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 06:58 PM

I, in turn, stole it from others, although the aluminum blank idea was mine.   Improvise, adapt, and overcome!


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#18 ksouers

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 07:03 PM

Thanks guys.

I have a fairly complete machine shop; lathe, mill etc. I can make anything I need.

It's really interesting to see what people come up with to solve the issue before them.

 

 

Kevin


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