Mind's Eye Observatory 2018 to present:
Present Observatory:The present structure was a gift from my parents when my father passed away. It is a hurricane approved, code approved structure. It is now in the same location as my temporary observatory. At first I contemplated an opening roof modification but ultimately discarded that idea because of the number of problems associated with that type of design and the end result wouldn't really fit my needs.
After much contemplation I designed a trolley system with tracks to allow the telescope mount with all equipment to be rolled out and in for climate controlled storage. Using this design also allows the observatory structure to be separate from the mount and is positioned to the north of the mount, thus minimizing thermal waves that affect local seeing conditions for the telescope. This separation also minimizes vibrations from the people using the observatory and the instruments.
During good weather I can use the system with eyepieces, if desired. During other times of the year I can roll out and use the system from inside the air-conditioned / heated room using integrated video cameras. A cooled / heated room was essential if I was going to build a permanent observatory. This has greatly increased my observing time.
Moving the trolley, cables & power in and out is very easy. The roll out is usually performed in less than 10 minutes (maybe a little longer for roll in with a late night stupor!) I use a simple checklist so I don't miss anything important when working with an astronomy hangover!
Electricity to the observatory is supplied from the house mains trenched from the north corner of the residence and lighting is supplied by LED white and red lights installed inside.Regulation of temperature and humidity is supplied by a self resetting air conditioner and a dehumidifier.Security is supplied by motion LED flood lights on all sides. A security motion alarm is also wired into the building. Surveillance is provided by a KASA wi-fi cam that allows me to monitor at any time and alerts me if any movement occurs around the observatory and surrounding area. It will also alert me of a power outage. Since the structure doesn't stand out or attract attention like a classic dome tends to, I believe the equipment's safety is increased.
Lightning protection is accomplished by a copper grounding rod at the north side augmented by a tower on the north east corner supplying a cone of protection. The building's natural metal siding also helps protect the equipment from discharge paths unlike fiberglass enclosures. Summer lightning in my area can be frequent and violent. When the trolley is in storage inside the building all cables and power are disconnected, helping to minimize any stray current from a strike and help protect the sensitive electronics and instruments.
Installed inside is a dedicated desk with a multi-monitor display for operation of the observatory. Increasingly I find I use my hard copy reference material and charts less and rely on computer charts and digital copies of favorite books and references when observing and planning.
When operating from inside, visual and audible cues on the mount performance are lost so I employ a camera outside with a microphone linked to a LCD Monitor to help replace these important cues. When operating close to the horizon or the meridian I take extra caution monitoring mount performance to avoid problems and take note of any irregularities when slewing.
Camera focusing is controlled via a servo system and is done with a bahtinov mask. One mask fits both telescopes and can be performed quickly via a dedicated mini monitor at the mount or from inside the cool room.
Trolley construction:The trolley is constructed of wood with five heavy duty wheels per side. Handles have been installed on all sides to allow easy roll in and out.
leg Bumpers have been installed on all sides as well.
I believe highly about wood construction over metal in respect to dynamic vibrations. This has proven true with the trolley vibrations being easily dampened.
Trolley Features:The 110 volt power is supplied by a mobile cord routed away from other cables to minimize electronic interference.
A converter allows for 12 volt power and is supplied to a buss I built.
Cable management problems are minimized by utilizing dual 30' active USB cables with hub's to operate the cameras and frame grabbers.
The mount is operated via wireless wi-fi control with laptops and a Samsung phone as a wireless hand control. I am not a huge fan of wireless systems due to connectivity problems that can come up just when you are deep in observing but the wi-fi mount control has proven to be flawless. If problems ever arise I will revert to an optional cable control.
The G11 is mounted to the trolley and retained by a cable and turnbuckle system from the mount center. vibration isolation pads are installed under each leg.
The Losmandy G11 head has a safety bolt installed to hinder turning in the quick locks.
an all sky camera is installed on a adjustable tripod at the front of the trolley (north side of mount) and does not interfere with scope positioning.
Polar alignment has proven to be quickly repeatable even with the mobile nature of the design. Polar alignment importance was a trade off.
A simple IR camera allows me to see what the trolley is up to during slews when the roll door is closed and is mounted low to avoid IR light interference with the telescope imager. A color selectable LED flood light is installed on the trolley. It is operated via a remote as well as a color selectable LED array under the trolley to aid in working around the mount when needed. Portable red and white flashlights are mounted on the telescope trolley for handy quick access if needed.
The trolley also serves as a convenient storage platform for eyepieces, filters and other equipment. The mount legs have industrial female Velcro applied in bands for quick placement of hand pads and equipment.
Trolley Track Construction:The tracks are constructed of wood and have a retention side to allow the trolley to move with no side to side movement along the rails.
They are designed in two sections that can be lifted and moved inside for the treat of a hurricane.
Trolley Tracks:The trolley tracks are constructed of wood, leveled and supported by post blocks. The design allows the trolley to roll restrained side to side and is not connected to the building to minimize vibrations. The tracks have much less heat sinking structure compared to a deck or concrete pad.
I have installed ground anchors with turnbuckles but I don't think they were really necessary. The tracks can easily be picked up and moved into the building if necessary for a hurricane threat.
The trolley rails only require a yearly cleaning and paint.
Construction PhilosophyMy observing style, goals and constraints have driven my observatory construction and setup to its present shape. It is optimized for live real time video viewing with ease of start up and shutdown. My equipment is not state of the art or top of what is available these days. Its is nice equipment none the less. Getting outside using and optimizing what you have is what it's all about. Learning the sky and equipment operation is a lifetime Journey to be enjoyed now not when you can acquire the perfect equipment.
Observatory Design Pro / Con
Pros:- Hurricane approved structure.- Code approved structure without custom engineering approval.- A quick setup roll out / roll in.- Ability for telescope trolley to reach ambient temperature quickly and have no heat retaining material under the mount.- Climate controlled room for me! (Have you seen the bugs in Florida! Not to mention the heat!)- Storage of the telescope and systems in a controlled structure for year round use.- Ability to retain a rough polar alignment.- Trolley system isolated from vibrations from the structure and the observer.
Cons:- Susceptible to heavy wind.- Susceptible to direct light pollution.- Precise arc second polar alignment must be adjusted at each use if needed.- Sky is not visible from inside the structure.- Dew has to be controlled.- Not a classical observatory structure.- When visually observing some scope positions can be awkward.
- Robin Casady custom machined dovetail and cross arm mount TGAD.
- Stainless steel counterweights from Robin Casady.
- Onstep Go-To drive system.
- Digital setting circle Deep Space Explorer system from David Chandler with Losmandy Encoders via RS-232.
- Polar finder from Losmandy with Astro Electric illuminator.
- Kendrick Anti dew system.
- Celestron C8 F10/F1.9 fastar with internal flocking, Williams Optics crayford focuser and Starlight Instruments feather touch focuser. Williams optics 2" dielectric diagonal.
- Celestron C6-R F8 refractor with internal flocking, williams Optics focuser.Williams optics 2" dielectric diagonal. Baader 2" fringe killer filter.
- Williams optics Zenithstar 80mm fluorite doublet refractor "10Th" anniversary.
- Stella Cam II analog video camera from Adirondack Video Astro.
- Mallincam EX analog video camera from Rock Mallin.
- ZWO ASI224MC color CMOS camera.
Camera Technical Details:
Supported resolution: 10bit ADC / 12bit ADC 1304×976 150fps / 64fps 1280×960 152.4fps / 65fps 800×600 241.2fps / 102.9fps 640×480 299.4fps / 127.6fps 320×240 577.9fps / 256.4fps More resolutions can be user defined.
Possible Upgrades and Changes in the Future
- All sky camera. (In work 2020)
- Weather station.
- Automated voice operational checklist. ( In progress 2020)
- Automated observatory power up and shutdown of all systems including lighting and security. ( Completed summer 2020)
- More advanced alarm sound horn.
- Active cone of protection lightning protection system tower.
- Ethernet surge protection system.
- Remote ASCOM focusing for all telescopes.
- Multi-monitor system for computers. (Completed Winter 2019.)
- Upgraded desk and chair. (Completed summer 2019.)
- Remote Bahtinov mask operation.
- Imaging and slewing automation.
- Wind breaks for the trolley. (So far even in windy conditions this hasn't been an issue.)
- Backup power for the mount & observatory systems to allow for a temporary power loss that would result in having to realign the mount and reset the system. (Completed winter 2020.)
- Light color floor paint in the observatory cool room to aid movement in dark conditions. (Completed winter 2020.)
- Walkway from the house to the observatory. (Completed fall 2019.)
- Walkway solar lighting 1800 K with additional solar panels. (Completed winter 2020.)
- Upgraded wide field CMOS imaging camera. (Completed spring 2020)
- Upgraded planetary imaging camera and filter wheel.
- Dedicated imaging PC for high frame rate imaging. (Completed winter 2020.)
History Mind's Eye Observatory 2009 to 2011
Mind's Eye Observatory 2019