Published on January 9, 2008
Building an Observatory: Building an Observatory The building Of Rose Mountain Observatory By Daniel R. Blais Picking The Site: Picking The Site If you own plenty of high open space in an isolated area than skip on to the next slide. The ideal location is a flat piece of land with little or no obstruction at a decent elevation. Calculate the costs, maintenance of property ease of access, taxes…ect. Ensure it is within your budget or your clubs budget. Take all precautions as you would for buying any real estate, research for liens and other legal binds that may consume your time in areas you would rather not get involved with. Be flexible and have vision. A scrappy piece of land can turn into a swan of a location. Breaking Ground: Breaking Ground Be sure to calculate the size of the structure and that it will meet the needs for space, and comfort for yourself and other potential visitors. Once staked out, order a 16’ X 14’ X 20” slab of “REINFORCED” concrete to be poured into a “sturdy” frame over a bed of gravel about 9” deep. We didn’t think the frame the foundation pouring folk put up was sturdy enough, but they said it was fine, well, it did bow out at the sides and this made for a nasty turn of events as we had to chisel the foundation back to square which is critical for the frame of the structure you will be building! Also ask the cement company about their types and qualities of reinforced concrete. This concrete was made with special fibers to enhance the strength of material. Note: a 16” slab or less will do fine if you are in an area that is not rocky with no frost heaving's. Ensure slab has proper drainage. Beginning The Dream!: Beginning The Dream! Once the slab is squared, framing can begin. If you are not a skilled carpenter (like me) it is best to have this done by professionals who have a reputation of quality workmanship. It may cost you more to build initially, but it will save you much money and embarrassment from mistakes or oversights in the long run. I chose “L & L” construction who’s slogan was “The Finnishing Touch”. Leo and Linda (Pictured in top right photo) a young couple recently married. Leo chose ¾” plywood for the walls with standard 2X4 framing. He was infatuated with everything being perfectly square! I took this as a good sign. Note: The concrete foundation is chiseled square along the upper edge. This was done so the plywood would not touch the concrete and wick the moisture from it thus preventing rot. Take The Time: Take The Time Take your time when building the frame or having a frame built. If you rush things mistakes are made, or builders will overlook quality of work for time constraints you place on them! This phase took months patience. A good idea would be to document it by taking photos. Also, in determining wall height think about your observable horizon. My walls are less than 6’. This gives a view just above the tree tops. I used a 2X4 with one end held up at varying heights against the treetops to determine this height. Slide6: L & L construction wisely chose to build the roof frame onto the casters so no crane or A frame was needed to hoist a heavy roof onto the walls. Note: that the roof tracks rest on the casters in upper left of photo. Casters And Rails: Casters And Rails Note: upper picture shows casters on “roll off” posts. The choice of casters is critical and I highly recommend one inch wide casters that use Bearings! Stay away from sleeved casters which where originally installed (shown upper left photo). These cheap sleeved casters made the roof a real work out to roll back and almost impossible for one man to do. Bottom left photo and next slide show the “better” wheel. The steel rails are of 1/8” steel angle the length of the buildings roof and placed on the roof portion of the structure allowing gravity to lend a hand. The roof was built upon this frame making it less of a project to complete. I would also recommend deeper tracks, than shown, but these are suffice and lessen the potential friction against the sides of the wheels when rolling the roof back onto the posted portion of the observatory. Changing out the casters was a simple feat, just roll the roof back replace casters, roll it the other way and replace casters. Rails Attached Under Roof: Rails Attached Under Roof Top right photo shows the steel angle iron “track” that is attached to roof assembly. These are 1” Heavy duty polyurethane wheels with bearings and it is the way to go here, if you want to be able to roll the roof back by yourself. (Less friction the better). The black bar at the bottom right of this photo is a heavy duty plastic teflon material that acts as a flap to seal and also give way when rolling the roof. See The Red Christmas Rope Lights? They wrap around the whole inside of the structure and used for lighting the observatory at night when the need to move around at night in the observatory to recheck charts, or change out eyepieces. This will save your night vision. Bottom right photo shows solid soffits with a white teflon trim against the wall, creating a decent seal. This will help keep birds and insects out. Note The cut away area or caster groove. A black flap extends along the front and rear of the building to enhance the sealing effect to keep creepy critters out. Exterior Finishing Touches: Exterior Finishing Touches I chose cedar slats for looks and durability. I also chose to paint the observatory with a light color and placed a white corrugated roof, to keep the observatory from collecting to much heat in the summer months. Too much collected heat, equates to waiting a longer period of time for stabilized air currents at night. This is critical for large reflectors. Other Ideas To Note: Other Ideas To Note (upper left photo): I think it’s a good idea to keep the external casters protected when I am not using the observatory. A length of plastic gutter material was purchased and cut away on one side to allow sliding the whole length over the exposed wheels. (upper left photo): You may create roof dead bolt locks such as shown above (in several spots preferably). Also cable harnesses connecting the roof to walls through eyebolts is a good idea! If you live in a hurricane zone or storm ridden area, this is a must! All can be undone when you prepare for the nights viewing session, which will be done on clear calm nights of course. Little odd and ends…..: Little odd and ends….. Upper Left Photo: Note the bulb holder (15 watt bulb) hooked onto the rear of the reflector mirror… this prevents condensation or (acid) dew from deteriorating the mirror during temperature change condensation. Remember the building is not air tight. Note the platform ladder on wheels to the right. I bought and assembled this so I could sit in comfort while observing the zenith where the skies are the clearest. A desk and chair along with wastepaper basket and small file cabinet is always good to have near at hand. When all is ready you have an awesome place to enjoy hours at your hobby in observing the most magnificent manifestations in nature known to man. You can always add and enhance your structure as time and money allow. My wife did not like the look of this “shed” without windows, so I have commissioned four stained glass windows over the winter, and plan to have them installed latter this spring. I think these windows will add to the beauty of my 2nd home! Three that are completed are shown on next slide. Keep Enhancing Your Work Area: Keep Enhancing Your Work Area These are three of the four and a half windows that I have completed. Mars and a narrow moon window are presently being worked on. When the snow thaws I will install them. Speaking of Snow THAW! ONE MORE POINT!........ A final note!: A final note! Always ensure you or your club members are prepared to keep up with maintenance and accessibility of the observatory. I must really love this hobby or maybe I am just crazy as my wife believes! Either way… I am having fun at it… good luck in your endeavors!