By Rex Parker
I know that I’m not alone in longing for a home observatory. A permanent set up, ready to power on, impress your friends, bring the stars home! Over the past dozen years my heavy “portable” mount has been dragged outside, tinkered with and toggled to set up and align a telescope for an observing session. Counterweights, balance, polar alignment, star-database-connection, CCD imager-link, finally ready to do astronomy. These sessions typically ended in early morning hours with some splendid moments and good images, but often with mixed results or even no success. After bringing it all back in and falling asleep after 2 AM, sleep-deprived, I often repeated the same process a night or two later.
Fast-forward a few years. There is a better way. Considering home observatory designs, we were drawn to roll-off roof concepts. Admittedly the dome brings a certain cache, yet the wide night sky over open roof is compelling. Still, aesthetics seemed absent in many sky sheds and outbuilding designs. Then my wife Carol chanced upon a Fine Gardening magazine ad for Gardensheds.com, a company that designs and builds custom sheds to enhance the garden and yard. On a hope and wish, I called them and learned that the Architect Ken Smith and company were local/regional and interested in talking about a home observatory design. This could become a prototype for them in the amateur astronomy market.
I proceeded to measure, calculate, and sketch the dimensions and angles needed for astronomy equipment as Gardensheds evolved an architectural drawing. We settled on a 10 x 10 ft building with 10 x 10 adjoining deck, limited by township set-backs. This size proved to be commodious, just right. The roof rolls over the deck area with nice symmetry, form and function. The walls are 6’-3” high, stand-up height which blocks stray light. Built at an indoor facility using cypress siding and floor, and recycled roofing material, with steel casters/track for the roll-off roof, the entire building was brought in on a trailer and placed onto the site (see picture). In advance, we formed a 3-ft deep, 14-in concrete footing as base for the Advanced Telescope Systems aluminum pier holding the mount. This is isolated from the building by a circular cutout in the floor to prevent vibrations. A conduit brought AC electricity to the observatory which was pre-wired with outlets and red lighting fixtures. A Wifi booster brings the observatory online with our home network to download software updates for telescope programs.
The observatory houses a Losmandy G11 equatorial mount carrying a Takahashi FS128 refractor and SBIG ST10-XME (below) and a Celestron C11. Now I’m dreaming of that perfect deep-sky astrophoto.