Sunday, October 18, 2015

Luling Skies Observatory Construction, Pier

I have only been in this hobby since 2011 but I've come to greatly enjoy my time out under the stars, with or without a telescope.  As with most hobbies, the time available is limited by work and family commitments and of course by poor weather conditions.   It takes about an hour to setup my equipment and start viewing and then another hour to tear down at the end of the night.  That doesn't leave much time for viewing unless I stay out four or more hours.  I started to consider the convenience of having an observatory where I could leave my equipment setup.  That would allow more productive use of my available observing time.

Living in a semi-urban area, my skies aren't great.  My best Sky Quality Meter readings are around 18.65 (magnitude ~ 4.5).   Despite this, with my Mallincam video camera and a light-pollution filter, I've been able to see many deep sky objects.  Nothing can replace having really dark skies, but with my astro-gear, the skies in my area can provide rewarding observations.  I've seen many astronomers on the Night Skies Network broadcasting from highly light-polluted areas.

After scouring the internet for months, looking at hundreds of pictures, and reading scores of web pages, blog posts, and forum conversations, I decided on a roll off roof design.  I wanted an office space for my computer out of the dew and away from the mosquitoes.  Also as my daughter Heather is responsible for getting me into this hobby, I wanted enough space for her scope so we could view together.  I decided on the below design.

At 8 x 16' it isn't spacious, but should be adequate.  I decided to have Tuff Shed build it as I've been happy with the shop they built for me a few years ago.  Browsing their web site I found that the company has built a roll off roof observatory in California.   More on the building design and construction will be posted later as construction progresses.

The G-11 tripod is huge so I decided a pier was needed.  After much reading I decided on  a 10" concrete pier.  I wanted it to be the same height as the G-11 tripod above the floor of the observatory.   I drew up some plans and sent them to a local contractor who recently poured a driveway for our camping trailer.  I was impressed with their work and figured they would do a good job.  I planned on a 3' x 3' x 20" footer for the pier with rebar through the footer and pier.  The contractor convinced me that a wider and thinner footer would be more stable so we went with a 4' x 4' x 12" footer.  His plans are shown below.

On Oct 10, the guys built my pier.

To support the G-11 mount on the pier I used an adapter plate
Dan's Pier Plates.     After 3 days we back-filled the hole and stripped the cardboard form to reveal the pier.

On October 16, 2015 I setup the pier plates and mounted the G-11.   Everything went together well and solidly.

As darkness fell, I sighted Polaris and the polar alignment seemed close.  I installed the polar scope andnervously took a look to see if the scope was aligned with the celestial pole.  I was delighted to discover Polaris near the center of the field.  A few tweaks of the mount's declination and azimuth controls brought the star in line with the markings on the polar scope's reticle.  Successfully polar aligned, I was ready for some viewing.

>My daughter Heather came over and we had a great night viewing several star clusters, the Ring and Dumbell nebulas, and Uranus. They sky conditions were good with much lower humidity than normal for our area.  It took me awhile to reacquaint myself with the GEMINI system as it has been over 6 months since I last used my gear.  Once we overcame operator errors, the equipment performed flawlessly.  It was a good night and Heather and I both enjoyed our time under the stars.

I didn't take the opportunity to try out my Mallincam Extreme 2 which was recently upgraded by Rock Mallin to a XT-418 model.  The Argon purged sensor cell will come in handy in our humid climate.  I hope to squeeze in another couple of nights in the next few days as we have only a couple of weeks left to prepare our equipment and observing plans for the Deep South Regional Star Gaze, November 3-8, 2015.  Soon after the Deep South, Tuff Shed should build the observatory and my focus will be on getting it up and running.  First light should be in November.  Lots to look forward to in the next few weeks..