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Do I Need an Observatory?

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#1 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 07:56 AM

I recently moved to a property in a Bortle 4 zone.   I'm retiring in three months.  The house is on an acre of cleared land with 12 acres of woods behind, and with a creek behind the woods.  The house is toward the woods side of the cleared lot. 

 

The back yard is about 1/10th acre with a moderately good horizon to the south, Polaris is above the trees to the north, east over the house is not bad, but there's limited visibility to the west and north-west.   The advantage to the back yard is that the house and woods block direct light from neighbors.  The disadvantage is that the house and woods - especially the woods to the west and northwest - block my view of the sky.  At this time I have a picnic table situated at the best position to block neighbor lights.  For now, I intend to set up little table-top scopes on the picnic table for my family and me.

 

The front yard is about 1/3 acre and has lower horizons all around.  But the neighbors on either side - especially on the northeast side - can have their lights on at night sometimes which produce direct glare when I observe in the front yard.  I have good relations with the neighbor with the worst outside light problem - the one to the northeast - so I can text him when I want him to shut the lights off, and he'll do it.  However, I don't really like having to ask every time I want a glare-free front yard for observing.  And there are times when the sky doesn't clear until late at night.  I really can't text him then.  

 

I have an attached 24x24 garage which I use for storage and for yard equipment.  No cars in the garage.  But the garage is unfinished, with no insulation or temperature control.  It is hot and humid in the summer and cold in the winter.  I don't keep any optical equipment in there, just stuff like mounts, equipment bags and supplies.  I store my telescopes and eyepieces on shelves around the living room and in the closet of my back office/den.  

 

I am 100% visual.  No imaging, and I don't plan on ever doing any imaging.  I'm into deep sky, with some planet and double star work.  I'll probably be getting more and more into double stars, mostly because I haven't put much effort into it in the past, and it might be interesting for me in my retirement.

 

My largest telescopes are a 10" f/4.8 Dob and an SW120ED.   But I'll probably acquire a larger telescope in the near future.  I'm not sure what it will be.  If I have to take it in and out of the house, it probably won't be larger than an f/4ish 14" Dob.  Chances are I'll eventually acquire a light enhancement gizmo.  I'm not sure about a larger refractor, but if I get one, it would definitely be an ED/APO.

 

So do I need an observatory?  What would be the advantages of an observatory in my situation?  Where should I place it?  What type would be best?  I'm not much of a DIYer.  Something prefab would be best for me.  I'm not going to build one myself.

 

This is not something I'm going to do right away.  I'm just putting the info together and getting ideas.  Any help would be appreciated, as I know virtually nothing about observatories.

 

Thanks,

Mike


Edited by Sarkikos, 28 April 2021 - 09:06 AM.


#2 BlueMoon

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 08:10 AM

 

But I'll probably acquire a larger telescope in the near future.  I'm not sure what it will be.  If I have to take it in and out of the house, it probably won't be larger than an f/4ish 14" Dob. So do I need an observatory?  What would be the advantages of an observatory in my situation?

I think the decision hinges somewhat on having a larger scope like a bigger Dob. Were I to have a larger dob like you've mentioned, I think I would like it set-up and ready to go. I had a 10" Zhumell and sometimes the thought of hauling it out of the house, setting up and cooling down pushed me to using my 100mm refractor instead. I eventually sold the Dob because I just didn't want to futz around with it. Having a observatory would accomplish the convenience of being "ready to go" and give you some alternative for dealing with any neighborhood lights.

 

Anecdote: I live in a Bortle 3 area with a couple of neighbors who use their lights at night intermittently. So, I built a couple of simple "light screens" from PVC pipe and "sun cloth" and I simply place them where I need them, when I need them, to block the light. Works fine for me.

 

So, do you need an observatory? Well, a definition of that, to me at least, is also a comparison between "need and want".

 

Clear skies.


Edited by BlueMoon, 28 April 2021 - 08:14 AM.

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#3 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 08:13 AM

I'm curious how well an observatory would block neighbor lights.   And would shielding from the lights mean that I would have substantially less of the sky visible to me from the observatory?

 

Mike



#4 eyeoftexas

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 08:21 AM

Assuming you are thinking of a ROR structure, the standard design is 5-6 feet high walls (with maybe a fold down south wall).  Get a tarp or blanket that is 6', and find a way to hold it up in your yard between you and the neighbors' lights.  You will see how much light is blocked.  Alternatively, Explore Scientific is selling a small, pop-up, two-room observatory for ~$300.  You could get one and use it for awhile to see if that is enough for occasionally setting it up or that you want to go with a permanent structure.


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#5 BlueMoon

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 08:35 AM

I'm curious how well an observatory would block neighbor lights.   And would shielding from the lights mean that I would have substantially less of the sky visible to me from the observatory?

 

Mike

I think it's entirely situational. Now this guy has a pretty cool structure that seems well suited for his Dob: https://www.instruct...pe-Observatory/ Construction is on the simple side and straightforward. He loses a small bit of of sky directly North and South and from the pictures, it appears to be very low on the horizon where one wouldn't be viewing anyways. I think even that can be mitigated. Depending on where you might want to block any errant light, you may be able to orient the building to that advantage.

 

As for controlling the light. In my case all I do is set the panels around 20' away, between me and the neighbor's lights. It throttles the direct glare from the naked light bulbs very nicely. I still get some indirect reflection but it's unavoidable and acceptable to me. With the panels that far out, I lose no sky at all.

 

Jeff


Edited by BlueMoon, 28 April 2021 - 08:46 AM.

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#6 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 08:49 AM

Assuming you are thinking of a ROR structure, the standard design is 5-6 feet high walls (with maybe a fold down south wall).  Get a tarp or blanket that is 6', and find a way to hold it up in your yard between you and the neighbors' lights.  You will see how much light is blocked.  Alternatively, Explore Scientific is selling a small, pop-up, two-room observatory for ~$300.  You could get one and use it for awhile to see if that is enough for occasionally setting it up or that you want to go with a permanent structure.

Don't assume anything.  :grin:  

 

I know that there are ROR and dome type observatories, but that's about all I know.  I know nothing about the advantages and disadvantages of the two.   

 

I think I'd rather have a dome observatory.  At least that is my feeling right out of the gate.  I wouldn't have a huge telescope, so the dome would not have to be overly large.  I should be able to move it around the sky manually.  Of course, electronic control would be great, especially if I can do that remotely without running an electric line to the house.  

 

I had a small, pop-up observatory tent years ago from Smart Astronomy.   I could never really use it because I found out that my dark site - a state park - did not allow tents on the field. 

 

In any case, I don't want to do have anything that is pop-up and temporary.  To me, that's more work than it's worth.  Just one more thing to drag out of the house.  I can always go to the backyard to avoid the neighbor lights, though with higher horizons.  I want something permanent.

 

Mike



#7 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 08:56 AM

I think it's entirely situational. Now this guy has a pretty cool structure that seems well suited for his Dob: https://www.instruct...pe-Observatory/ Construction is on the simple side and straightforward. He loses a small bit of of sky directly North and South and from the pictures, it appears to be very low on the horizon where one wouldn't be viewing anyways. I think even that can be mitigated. Depending on where you might want to block any errant light, you may be able to orient the building to that advantage.

 

As for controlling the light. In my case all I do is set the panels around 20' away, between me and the neighbor's lights. It throttles the direct glare from the naked light bulbs very nicely. I still get some indirect reflection but it's unavoidable and acceptable to me. With the panels that far out, I lose no sky at all.

 

Jeff

And this guy built the whole observatory in one weekend?  That would be completely impossible for me. No way.

 

Nope, no do-it-yourself building for me.  That's not happening.  I have zero experience and skills for construction.  I want something ready-to-go.  I can pay someone to pour a concrete slab for me if that's what's required.  And then just set the building on top of the slab.  

 

I'm reluctant to bother with panels.  Like I said, I don't want something else I have to drag out of the house and set up.  If anything, I can have an 8' fence installed.  The neighbor was talking about putting up a 7' fence.  I don't know if that will be tall enough.

 

Mike


Edited by Sarkikos, 28 April 2021 - 09:02 AM.


#8 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 09:04 AM

Nope.  As I said, I'm not a DIYer or a builder.  Not happening.  If I have to build the observatory myself, I won't have one.  shrug.gif

 

Please, folks, focus on prefab observatories.

 

Mike


Edited by Sarkikos, 28 April 2021 - 09:05 AM.


#9 BlueMoon

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 09:10 AM

 

And this guy built the whole observatory in one weekend?  That would be completely impossible for me. No way.

 

Nope, no do-it-yourself building for me.  That's not happening.  I have zero experience and skills for construction.  I want something ready-to-go.  I can pay someone to pour a concrete slab for me if that's what's required.  And then just set the building on top of the slab. 

 

I'm reluctant to bother with panels.  Like I said, I don't want something else I have to drag out of the house and set up.  If anything, I can have an 8' fence installed.  The neighbor was talking about putting up a 7' fence.  I don't know if that will be tall enough.

Sounds like a "hired out and pre-fab" solution would be your best bet Mike given your situation and skill set for construction.

 

A word of caution on the fence though, be sure to check with you local building codes. An 8' fence where I live would be too tall due to fire code regulations, but 6' is fine. I would have liked one at 8' myself and I wouldn't need the panels. waytogo.gif 

 

Clear skies. 


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#10 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 09:25 AM

Yep.  Just grazing through some of the threads in this forum, it seems that even pre-fab observatories require a lot of DIY.  Maybe this isn't the project for me, unless I can hire out the labor and installation.  It's a little late in the game for me to suddenly learn building skills.  This is the first single family house I've ever owned.  The first yard I've ever owned.  The first garage I've ever owned.  I still don't have a real workshop or even a workbench.  So I've had little opportunity to get workshop experience building stuff.  My DIY experience consists of little projects for telescopes.  That's about it.

 

My county allows up to an 8' fence right on the property line, you don't even have to go back to the BSL.  Actually, the best solution to my neighbor light problems might be to just go for an 8' fence on both sides of my yard.  It will cost, but as long as it works, I'll be happy.

 

I'm pretty sure, though, that there wouldn't be objections to putting up an observatory.  There are plenty of sheds, stables and such in yards in this neighborhood.  Permitting would be minimal if anything at all, unless I want someone to hook up electric for me.  (Another thing I wouldn't do myself!)

 

Mike


Edited by Sarkikos, 28 April 2021 - 09:50 AM.


#11 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 09:47 AM

Maybe for me the best solution for larger aperture would be to store the Dob mount in my attached garage and the optics in the house somewhere.  (I'm too concerned about the humidity and extremes of temps in the garage to store optics there.)   When I'm ready to observe, bring the optics down into the garage, put the scope together, open the garage door, and wheel it all out to the front (or back) yard. thinking1.gif  Not as convenient as an observatory, but much better than an observatory I'll probably never have if I have to build it / put it together myself.

 

Mike


Edited by Sarkikos, 28 April 2021 - 09:52 AM.


#12 BKBrown

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 10:49 AM

Prefab domed options exist and are available from SkyShed (the Pod) and NexDome starting at just under 3k, and others who are rather more expensive out of the gate. It largely depends on your needs and the depth of your pockets, with options ranging from a few thousand dollars to over five figures. So what would your requirements and "desirements" be? I explored these options when planning for my second observatory build (lost the first in a home sale), and decided to go back to my previous builder (BYO) for a large ROR. The prefab observatories are looking very tempting now due to the obscene price of lumber that is crippling many building efforts across the country.

 

Clear Skies,

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#13 Sarkikos

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 12:06 PM

BYO as in Bring Your Own?  So you built both observatories yourself?  Not really an option for me.

 

Mike



#14 eyeoftexas

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 12:48 PM

BYO: Backyard Observatories (https://backyardobservatories.com)


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#15 BKBrown

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 12:58 PM

BYO is Backyard Observatories, owned by Scott Horstman out of Ohio: https://backyardobservatories.com/

They specialize in ROR observatories and offer many sizes and configurations...highly recommended.

 

Beaglehaven Observatory, my first BYO project:

BH ROR 2012.jpg

 

Clear Skies,

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#16 Eric H

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 03:47 PM

My only thoughts on the subject. I very much dislike setting up equipment. Having an observatory has been one of the best things I've ever done. "Oh look, it's clear and getting dark out, think I'll observe tonight". Done.


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#17 DSOGabe

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 05:37 PM

The observatory will make things easier for you in respect of set up and tear down time. Since you are also looking into a larger scope, having it permanently mounted in a secure area will also make your life easier. The observatory will also help in blocking unwanted neighbors lights from interfering with viewing. A dome style one may offer better light protection that a ROR unless you are looking right into the direction of the light source. Plus it does offer more protection from the elements when you are out there as a better wind block that the ROR design. The trade off is a more limited overall view of  the sky. The compromise is the POD with its clamshell half dome design


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#18 geovermont

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 05:41 PM

I chose to set up an optimized observing site on our property without actually building an observatory. first, I walked all around our field one winter night and found the spot that had the least intrusions from neighborhood lights and still had good views. The following summer I brought over some excess fill from a ditch I dug and leveled out a 10 foot diameter area. I then put down landscape fabric and covered it with gravel and used it for a couple years (probably did something like 90 observing sessions from the spot, so I knew I liked it). In the meantime, I kept my telescope and observing chair in our garden shed, about 100 feet away. Then last summer I built a small 5 x 6 foot shed on the north side of the observing spot (see photo). I've now used it all winter and it worked like a charm. I have a folding desk inside and a red light and it holds the gear nicely. I added a portable light shield to help with the last offending lights. I just tip that up when I want to use it. I can see low elevation angles to the south and west and from 45 degrees up to the north. On the east, the trees limit me a bit, but it's not bad (maybe 30 degrees). And my scope is portable, so I can always shift a few feet (but it's very rare that I do so).

 

I almost forgot to mention: The shed was placed so that it blocked a neighboring light that I simply could not dodge. In the end, I still have the same Bortle 4 or 5 sky, conditions, but they most local light sources have been drastically reduced and my dark adaptation has certainly improved.

 

So, it's a bit different, and although my wife and I call it an observatory between ourselves, it's not one in the sense of this forum. Works for me!ObservingSite1.jpg


Edited by geovermont, 28 April 2021 - 05:45 PM.

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#19 archer1960

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 06:08 PM

Simple answer to the question, "Do I need an observatory?"?: yes, everybody needs an observatory!


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#20 BobT

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Posted 28 April 2021 - 08:38 PM

Sarkikos,

 

I have both a dome and a roll off roof on my five acres in a Bortle 4 zone.  Both are based on a 10' X 10' building footprint, the dome is 8' in diameter.  There are advantages and disadvantages for each type. 

 

The dome provides better extraneous light and wind protection but has more complicated requirements for control if you plan to automate.  It can also get very crowded inside depending on the dome diameter and your equipment configuration.  I do all my imaging from the dome and operate it remotely from the house. 

 

I use the ROR for visual observation and photometry.  It is totally manual, no automation whatsoever.  It offers very little wind and light protection but offers an excellent view of the sky (limited in my South due to the roof peak when it is rolled back).

 

Both provide excellent protection for the equipment.  I leave all of my equipment in both observatories 100% of the time.  If it is going to be unused for a long time I'll throw a cover over the OTA and mount just to keep the dust and pollen to a minimum.

 

I too have neighbors with outdoor lights but I don't find them to be very bothersome to either imaging or visual.  My biggest problem is the sky glow from the Austin-San Antonio corridor.  We have been in this location for more than 50 years, it was Bortle 2 until the Tech Boom hit Central Texas.  I don't know where you are located but population (and light) growth is a problem for all of us.

 

Having an observatory (of either type) will enhance your enjoyment of the hobby.  It only took me one week of setting up and tearing down every evening to start building one.

 

BobT


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#21 jcj380

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Posted 29 April 2021 - 07:39 AM

Maybe for me the best solution for larger aperture would be to store the Dob mount in my attached garage and the optics in the house somewhere.  (I'm too concerned about the humidity and extremes of temps in the garage to store optics there.)   When I'm ready to observe, bring the optics down into the garage, put the scope together, open the garage door, and wheel it all out to the front (or back) yard. thinking1.gif  Not as convenient as an observatory, but much better than an observatory I'll probably never have if I have to build it / put it together myself.

 

Mike

If you're ok with that much effort, maybe you should look into roll-outs instead of roll-offs - buy a garden shed to store the scope in and roll the scope out on a dolly to observe.  You'd still have to consider your neighbors' lights and such.  DIY would be limited (if needed) to putting down some pavers.  Just a thought...


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#22 geovermont

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Posted 29 April 2021 - 08:01 AM

It really is extremely convenient to have my scope about 5 feet from the point of use. I haven't timed it, but in no more than 5 minutes I'm set up and ready to go. and as I said, I placed the shed (which could easily have been some pre-built shed) to block one of the offending lights. And all of the bulky gear is kept in the shed: I simply walk out of the house with a shoulder bag that is kept packed with eyepieces, binoculars, atlas, and red flashlight. As far as extremes of temperature at the low end, -20 F and lower hasn't done any harm to my equipment. Of course, I'm in Vermont so the high temps are not bad.


Edited by geovermont, 29 April 2021 - 08:01 AM.


#23 Sarkikos

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Posted 29 April 2021 - 08:23 AM

If you're ok with that much effort, maybe you should look into roll-outs instead of roll-offs - buy a garden shed to store the scope in and roll the scope out on a dolly to observe.  You'd still have to consider your neighbors' lights and such.  DIY would be limited (if needed) to putting down some pavers.  Just a thought...

Any kind of a non-temperature controlled, non-dehumidified, non-insulated building would have the same problems as my garage:  too hot and humid in summer, too cold in winter.  Maybe the "too cold in winter" would not be a problem, as long as frost doesn't form on the optics. (However, frost has a good chance of forming here.)  But "too hot and humid" in summer is a deal breaker.  Mildew could form on both the mount and the optics.  (I've already seen mildew on my Dob mount that I store in the garage.)  If the scope has any cemented optics, they could potentially be affected by the heat.  At any rate, humidity and extreme changes in temperature - such as we get here in Eastern Maryland - cannot be good.   So a garden shed would be no better than my garage.  

 

In fact, come to think of it, wouldn't these conditions seriously limit the practicality of an observatory in areas where there are hot and humid summers?  Shouldn't I also insulate, dehumidify and temp-control an observatory in my area if I want to store a telescope in it?  thinking1.gif

 

Mike


Edited by Sarkikos, 29 April 2021 - 08:39 AM.


#24 macdonjh

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Posted 29 April 2021 - 03:34 PM

Sarkikos, something to consider: the Keck mirrors are stored in a non-climate controlled building. I have stored my scopes in an observatory without climate control for six years without trouble. The trick is to keep your scopes covered against dust and insects but ventillated against moisture build up.

Good luck with your project. A place to store your observing gear set up and ready is a luxury worth having.
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#25 Sarkikos

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Posted 30 April 2021 - 09:38 PM

Sarkikos, something to consider: the Keck mirrors are stored in a non-climate controlled building. I have stored my scopes in an observatory without climate control for six years without trouble. The trick is to keep your scopes covered against dust and insects but ventillated against moisture build up.

Good luck with your project. A place to store your observing gear set up and ready is a luxury worth having.

I'm not sure how the environment is on Mauna Lea at 13,600 ft.  But at 56 ft elevation here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there is enough heat and humidity in my garage to form mildew on the 10 inch's Dob mount.  

 

Mike




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