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Where Do I Start?

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#1 RatBiscuit225

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Posted 04 September 2021 - 12:39 AM

Bit of a rant...buckle up.  I promise it gets somewhere smile.gif

 

I live in Upstate South Carolina.  Anyone else who lives in the area knows...it's not exactly ideal for this hobby.  There's light pollution galore, virtually nowhere outside the mountains allows night access, and I'm far enough from the mountains that going there requires a solid two-hour drive in one direction.  Since moving here, I've been desperate to keep doing this - two hours drives, even after 9 or more hours at work, have been worth it.  But tonight is it for me.  I just spent an hour and a half on the interstate headed to my usual spot, an extra 45-minutes in near standstill traffic because of construction on the highway, only to finally arrive at my site to find a couple smoking meth there.  I can't keep doing this to myself.  I don't have a usable backyard, as my fiancé and I live in an apartment, and likely will not have the ability to buy our own home for another several years.

 

I want to build an observatory.  I've always had that idea in the back of my mind, even when I was in high school and started doing this hobby seriously, but never put much thought into it because it seemed far off.  Consequently, I don't know where to start.  I'm 23.  I've never bought land in my life, I have only limited woodworking/construction skills, and I know next to nothing about zoning laws, electrical work, and all the other things I haven't even thought of that probably go into a project like this.

 

So, for all you pros out there who know what you're doing: where do I start?  My basic plan has always been to buy a small plot of land up in the Appalachians somewhere, where the light pollution level is decent, and build a simple roll-off roof observatory there, putting down a pier, and plopping my 10" reflector inside.  I'd pictured initially just using the site as a private place to use my scope, but eventually investing in solar panels, so that I could power a permanently-fixed scope and perhaps a few red lights, maybe even a laptop to run guiding software.

 

But the actual details of making this happen?  I don't know the first thing about accomplishing this - how to construct the actual structure, how to weather-proof it, how to even tell what kind of power supply would support my mount and some lights.  Would zoning laws apply to a structure like this?  Would they apply differently if I'm not concerned with being on the electrical grid versus just using solar panels as described above?  I've looked through some of the "suggested links" pinned at the top of this forum, and it looks like it's possible to get pre-built observatories, or at least pre-planned ones that only require assembly?  What do you think of those?  Are they worth it?  Is it better to build something from scratch?

 

Simply put, I'm looking for suggestions.  Given that I have no experience and no idea where to start, I'm open to literally any advice, resources, tips, whatever, that you guys can offer me on how to start seriously planning a project like this - from finding land, to building the observatory, and everything in between.


Edited by RatBiscuit225, 04 September 2021 - 12:40 AM.

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#2 barbarosa

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Posted 04 September 2021 - 02:39 AM

"I don't have a usable backyard, as my fiancé and I live in an apartment, and likely will not have the ability to buy our own home for another several years."

 

"I've never bought land in my life, I have only limited woodworking/construction skills, and I know next to nothing about zoning laws, electrical work, and all the other things I haven't even thought of..."

 

I commend you for wanting an observatory. I have small garden shed converted to a roll off roof. I really enjoy it and I wish that I had done it sooner. As I write this the mount is tracking Jupiter and am sitting in the house watching it in comfort. Setup time nil.

 

We are all of us different so I can only suggest that the problem mentioned in the first quote might be much more important than an observatory.

 

The problems in the second quote are something you can and should  learn about before you put down your money. I don't live in your state but you have to work out a budget for the down payment and the mortgage or the full price. You need to find out about taxes, cost to bring in utilities, local and state rules zoning and construction requirements. You can inquire of the companies that build observatories. You can buy plans. You can get local contractors to estimate or bid.  You can buy and modify a kit shed.

 

What about security at your remote site?

 

Will you camp when you go out there? What about in cold weather?

 

https://explora-dome.com/

 

https://skygazeoptics.com

 

http://astrodomes.com/

 

https://skyshedpod.com/

 

https://www.mysheds....tar-gazer-sheds

 

and more.


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#3 rgsalinger

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Posted 04 September 2021 - 03:57 AM

See if there are any local astronomy clubs in your area. It's possible that, as it is out here, that the various clubs will have dark sky sites. It's likely that some of the club members will have experiencein what you want to do. Having people who can mentor is a big deal. It took my 9 years but I was finally able to acquire one of the 7 observatories at my club's dark sky site. In the mean time, I set up a small SkyShed Pod on a private rented concrete pad and kept some equipment in it (2 hours from my house) to make setting up a 15 minute process once I arrived on the site. 

 

Using my club's site solves some of the security problems - there are often people out there even in the winter. At the same time the building is built from rebar reinforced concrete blocks with steel security doors which also helps. I have two partners so the place gets more occupancy than a smaller place might.

 

You can place a classified ad, looking for partners. You can even (not cheap) simply put your stuff at a remote site for a couple of years while you figure it all out. That would let you enjoy the equipment from you home office. 

 

Rgrd-Ross



#4 macdonjh

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Posted 04 September 2021 - 08:40 AM

RatBiscuit225,

 

Buying land can be complex, but at least there are fewer things to consider when using land you own than using land you rent/ lease.  For buying land, I'd start talking with realtors who sell rural land.  Also talk with the county commissioners where you are interested in buying so you can learn the ins-and-outs of what's allowed.

 

As for building an observatory: if you're unsure of your building skills, perhaps hire a builder.  Backyard Observatories sells plans for nice roll-off observatories (I don't know if they travel to the Adirondacks...).  If you want to build your own, search the Observatories forum here, as well as an internet search for "private observatories" for ideas.  There are tons of good ideas out there.  Of course, there is always the SkyShed Pod...

 

Another thing to consider, if you're primarily interested in photography, is renting scope time at one of the professional remote observatories.  Use their gear to collect your data while you're saving up for your own observatory.

 

In the mean time, you can't go wrong by joining a local club and gaining access to a local dark site.



#5 dnrmilspec

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Posted 04 September 2021 - 09:06 AM

Some comments about what you said.  You said:

 

I don't have a usable backyard, as my fiancé and I live in an apartment, and likely will not have the ability to buy our own home for another several years.

 

Looking at what you imagine, I would guess that you would spend enough on your land and observatory to put a down payment on that house you want.  And you would select a house that has darkish skies and a nice back yard.  With interest rates as they are now perhaps the smart money is on buying the house now.

 

Another observation.  Suppose you had your piece of property and observatory now.  Would you still be sitting in the car for a long time to get there?  One more.  If you are a young person who wants to eventually have kids, what happens if/when kids come along?  Are you still going to be able to leave your wife with the kids and drive a ton to indulge your hobby?  My guess is not really.  And that backyard is going to be pretty nice for them also.

 

The issue of security for your equipment, maintenance day trips, power to the observatory etc. argues for a simpler solution.

 

Can you take a nice Saturday drive to nearby farms or rural homes and talk to the owner?  Tell them what you want to do and ask if you can setup on a corner of their property periodically.  I imagine that you might find some who would allow that.  Rural churches, schools and even businesses? 

 

I would love to have an observatory and may well have it someday if my Bortle 3/4 skies go south.  Speaking under correction from those who own them, but remote observatories are expensive, require maintenance/security and in no way serve to eliminate the biggest problem that we amateurs have.....the time to make the trip to use them. 

 

So marry the girl, get a house with a big dark back yard and settle down to a life of astronomical bliss.  grin.gif


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#6 kathyastro

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Posted 04 September 2021 - 09:08 AM

If you are going to build a remote observatory, you should consider making it remotely-operated.  That will require Internet access and electricity.  The alternative is to make it manual, but then you will need accommodation suitable for humans (i.e. at least a warm room, maybe a bunk), and some power source such as solar / batteries.  Keep utilities in mind when choosing land: running a private power line any distance is mega-expensive.

 

Most places require building permits for anything more than a certain number of square feet, or if the building is wired for electricity.  You will need to find out what those requirements are.  Consulting with a builder in the area is an excellent idea.  A builder will know the local codes, and can build the building for you, although you will likely have to teach him about roll-off roofs.



#7 barbarosa

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Posted 04 September 2021 - 07:40 PM

So Mike don't leave it hanging. Keep us advised. 

 

When is the observatory warming? When is the wedding? You could be posting on CN for years to come, pictures of your gear and images that you capture, pictures of the wife and kids at the eyepiece. Pictures of the Cub Scout troop when you invite them over.welcome.gif     And then pictures of the grandkids grouphug.gif stooges.gif  and the pets gathered around your 25" scope.  hamsterdance.gif Dobsonian.gif  snoopy2.gif

 

It will be glorious.usa.gif



#8 Capt404

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Posted 06 September 2021 - 11:17 AM

Dude,

 

I think you have the cart before the horse, but I could be wrong. I wish I had gotten excited about astronomy at your age. Anyway consider these:

  1. Will you change jobs, possibly have to relocate do to employment?
  2. I am 52 and I have had several hobbies, likes, interests over the years. Your ideas are in the realm of the "long game" and you may hold the line for years to come but what if you move on....
  3. Cuiv the lazy geek (you tube) does great astrophotography from Bortle 9 Tokyo. Dark skies are awesome and preferred, but not necessary.
  4. Game lands and State parks closer to your location for trips?

I am in no way trying to discourage you. There are a lot of aspects of this hobby that can suck you in, gear acquisition syndrome, trying to take pictures like Trevor or Dylan before really learning the night sky, and dreams of observatories. There are some folks with seriously deep pockets in this hobby who acquire and build awesome ****. Manage your money like Dave Ramsey, make a list, build a budget and clear skies. Oh and keep dreaming big!


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#9 SkipW

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Posted 06 September 2021 - 11:34 AM

Another observation.  Suppose you had your piece of property and observatory now.  Would you still be sitting in the car for a long time to get there?  One more.  If you are a young person who wants to eventually have kids, what happens if/when kids come along?  Are you still going to be able to leave your wife with the kids and drive a ton to indulge your hobby?  My guess is not really.  And that backyard is going to be pretty nice for them also.

 

The issue of security for your equipment, maintenance day trips, power to the observatory etc. argues for a simpler solution.

This is excellent advice.

 

My parents bought two rural properties, one an hour drive, and the other a half hour drive from our house when I was young. We got a lot of use out of both properties, especially at the beginning for one of them, but they both became more and more of a burden with time. Based on their experience, I reached the conclusion that you get owned by your possessions, and found it easy to resist the temptation to buy and build on remote property for any purpose.

 

That said, my wife and I inherited and still own about 220 acres of raw land in NE New Mexico that had been homesteaded by her grandparents. We have the original land patents signed by [actually on behalf of] President Taft in 1911. It's about 9 hours from where we live, so not really practical to use even if we wanted to. It's in exceedingly dry country, and the land is truly awful! The only thing growing on it is low ground cover, all of which has enormous and very sharp spines; if you leave one of the very faint trails through it, it's hard to find a spot big enough to sit down if you needed to. We let a grazing lease on it for a few years (all I can say is, those must have been very tough cattle!), but the rancher had to sell off his herd after years of even drier than normal weather. I can't imagine how those relatives made a go of it, and as far as I know, once they met the homestead requirements, they skedaddled back east. It's about a 2-hour drive from the Okie-Tex Star Party, and when I go to that, I usually visit the property just to see if everything is copacetic (and remind myself that I really, really, don't want to live on it!) If I lived somewhere like Raton, Las Vegas, or especially, Springer, NM, I might be tempted to build an observatory there (I-25 clips a corner off the original 240-acre parcel); it should be very, very dark, and is at about 6,000 feet elevation, so it could be a splendid location, but I'm not nearly close enough to want to deal with it. On the plus side, property taxes are only about $10 a year and there's nothing to maintain, so we keep it, simply because it's cool to have an interesting part of family history.


Edited by SkipW, 06 September 2021 - 06:52 PM.


#10 Chucke

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Posted 06 September 2021 - 03:07 PM

I have driven through that area.  It really does meet the description (by Firesign Theater)  of a "stinkin' desert'.  Some of the ugliest terrain I have ever seen.


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#11 SkipW

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Posted 06 September 2021 - 06:48 PM

I have driven through that area.  It really does meet the description (by Firesign Theater)  of a "stinkin' desert'.  Some of the ugliest terrain I have ever seen.

Wow! A(n accurate) Firesign Theater reference(!), and good assessment. Much of NM is stunningly beautiful. This part is not.
 

"All out for Fort Stinkin' Desert! ..." Apt description.

 

I'm still in awe that her grandparents could sustain themselves there for the time necessary (and still wonder why they did).

 



#12 speedster

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Posted 06 September 2021 - 10:17 PM

Find the nearest club and visit with them.  Probably priceless advice and knowledge.  At your age, things WILL change.  Plus, without a handful of needed skills, you seem to be a prime candidate for a POD.  The simplest, least expensive, and quickest solution and it can be easily moved in a day.  Pretty much no skills needed and it works reliably and lasts forever.  Years from now, if you want add complexity, do something else and you might sell your POD in a matter of hours and recoup the majority of what you paid for it.  I've never seen a pic of POD owner that didn't have a big grin on their face.



#13 mmalik

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Posted 07 September 2021 - 03:07 AM

Where Do I Start?

Start with me: I am building for the first time and learning along the way. Read more here.... Regards



#14 macdonjh

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Posted 07 September 2021 - 12:56 PM

Find the nearest club and visit with them.  Probably priceless advice and knowledge.  At your age, things WILL change.  Plus, without a handful of needed skills, you seem to be a prime candidate for a POD.  The simplest, least expensive, and quickest solution and it can be easily moved in a day.  Pretty much no skills needed and it works reliably and lasts forever.  Years from now, if you want add complexity, do something else and you might sell your POD in a matter of hours and recoup the majority of what you paid for it.  I've never seen a pic of POD owner that didn't have a big grin on their face.

+1

 

I was in the middle of my "six months of Saturdays" building my roll-off roof observatory.  My neighbor at our observatory site rolled up with in a truck with POD boxes and another club member to help.  They parked next to the deck they'd built the weekend before.  Forty-five minutes later he was mounting his scope.  I was jealous.

 

That said, I'm glad I didn't buy a POD (I did consider it).  The original POD is too small for how I use my observatory (they now offer a bigger model).  Which brings me to my biggest piece of advice: consider how big your observatory is going to be carefully.  It's hard for me to imagine anyone regretting building too big an observatory.  But I know people who wished they'd included more walking around room, room for a second pier, a warm room, etc. etc.  Just about anything else can be changed, the size of your building is hard.  




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