Friday, January 29, 2010

Two days without playing and fondling it.

It'a been two days since the pallets arrived. You can't believe how tough it's been to not just rip everything out of the box and start playing. The only thing stopping me is that Jim is the owner of a 6" Meade telescope that was knocked over on a tripod after only a few nights of use and we don't need repeat of that event. This new scope is so large and heavy I would never consider mounting it on a tripod. I have used this analogy with a few people, in my eyes it's like balancing a 10 grand bottle of wine on a ski pole. (The 6" Meade that took the fall is being repaired by Meade and will be back in 6 weeks and used for star parties.)

Jim has increased the size of the observatory's library considerably and I believe this will shorten up our learning curve so we can make the most of our good clear night Skies.

The list of books.

1. Astronomy Hacks: Tips and Tools for Observing the Night Sky.

2. The 100 Best Astrophotography Targets: Monthly Guide for CCD Imaging with Amateur Telescope.

3. Digital SLR Astrophotography.

4. Astrophotography for the Amateur.

5. CCD Astrophotography: High-Quality Imaging from the Suburbs.

6. Digital Astrophotography: A Guide to Capturing the Cosmos.

7. Deep Sky Observer's Guide.

8. Handbook of CCD Astronomy, 2nd Edition. (Cambridge Observing Handbook for Research Astronomers)

I'm sure that Jim is on Amazon's Christmas card list after this order. And, after reading the titles, I'm thinking there is a CCD camera in the observatory's future. I'm also finishing the book Don't Know Much About The Universe on my IPOD which I found to be a greatI title, because I don't know much at all. It also has the best Quote I've seen in years, "Education is not the Filling of a Pail, it's the Lighting of a Fire" W.B. Yeats. I intend to paint this on the observatory's wall.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The telescope arrived today

I knew Jim had ordered a 14" telescope and from my research I was aware that in the telescope world that's a pretty big telescope. Well in reality, I didn't have a clue! When the truck backed up the drive way, I was glad to see it had a lift gate because I did know the telescope weighs over 200 pounds. When the driver opened the door revealing only 3 pallets left in the truck, one small, one big and one huge, I should have guessed ours was the huge one. I placed it next to our snowblower to show scale so maybe you can get an idea of size. The top box is the tripod, bottom box the scope.

After opening the telescope box the holey shit factor flooded over me. The 2nd photo shows the lid off the box and you can see a small black circle on top of the scope, this is the lens cover from my camera, hope that helps you understand just how big this scope really is.

A few other things have fallen into place too. First, the electrical service. Jim had his electrician do the math and he is OK with the run footage. All we will have to do is run a large gauge cable up the hill. He indicated that a 1.0 aluminum 3 strand UPD with a #4 USE ground should do the trick and he will get back to us with the price per foot for the wire.
I also emailed Dan at Poly Dome to inform him we will be going with his dome and we're looking for a March or early April pick up date. I need to call him tomorrow and verify the material list for the building the dome fits on. The warm room size and design is still up in the air. I have looked over a lot of photos of small storage building, garden sheds, playhouses and saunas, but I just can't make up my mind yet and want Pat's opinion.I know she doesn't want some crappy looking box up there and it will also have to work well in the winters deep snow.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just trying to cover all the big items early...

Made my trip to Rodney's, his shop is always full of very cool airplanes in all phase's of restoration along with other planes in the shop for their annual maintenance or other assorted projects. Being a very noisy person it is great fun for me to look around and I always learn something every time I'm there. My initial thought was that I could cover a dome skeleton and shutter doors with an airplane cloth skin covering and save a pile of money in construction costs. Rodney gave me a short crash course on how it's applied and a rough idea how many years it might last, and we both came to the quick conclusion that for the money, the Poly Dome is the way to go.

My next stop was at Arrowhead Electric, our local co-op. Depending on where we put the observatory it could be a long cable run to my existing power meter and I don't know how far I can go. Their advice was to check with an electrician which, I have to say, wasn't much help. I then asked about a new service just for the observatory and was told that charges for a new service are billed at an actual time and materials rate. His best guess was between $4500 and $6000 for a 500 foot service that puts us only 1/2 way up the hill. I would also have to pay another $35 a month service charge, which equates to monthly bill of $70 before buying any electricity at all. So I guess a trip to a local electrician is important because this might be a very limiting factor on the site selection.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We now have a Telescope

The blog is now current with all data up to date.
I drove back to Grand Marais today and found a 72 page Instruction Manual for a variety of Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes in my mail box. Jim had downloaded, printed and mailed it to me late last week. While I was reading away my phone lit up with a call and checking caller ID I saw it was Jim, he was calling to inform me we now have a telescope!
I had never seen Jim poorboy anything and this is no exception. We have a 14" Meade LX200GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope with the Autostar II Controller, wow I'm very excited to unpack and fondle it next week when it arrives, till then I have some more reading to do.
While I'm here, I'm going to put the material list together for the 10 X 10 foot observatory building and take it down to the local lumber yard and have them give us a bid. I'm also going to the Devils Track Airport to visit Rodney, who is an airplane restoration artist that I want to consult about building the dome. I'm 99% sure he will say we can't build a dome cheaper then the $2500.00 price that Polydome quoted us, but I do want his opinion.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back to Grand Marais

Next was the trip to the county courthouse to see about a building permit, set back rules, gravel fill permit, road building requirements and anything else I might need. What I found out is I can build a 160 sq ft building without a permit, what I didn't ask is if I can build more then one building.

I had planned the observatory building at 10 x 10 foot and the warm room to be 10 x 14 foot unattached. I wanted the observatory to be that size so we could use it right away while we finish the warm room, I also wanted more room in there to service and change out equipment. We will also need to store some of the tripod mounted telescopes we have already acquired for star parties. If I have to do it all in one building, the telescope building will be very small, probably 8 foot round with the warm room making up the rest of the 160 sq ft building. This design will be determined by the site location.

On this trip I also lined up our dirt contractor Dean Berneking, Dean has done all the dirt work we have ever done in Cook County and always has done a perfect job at a fair price. It was important to get on his books early because his year fills up fast and we need him to come in right after the frost is gone and the road into the site will hold up to equipment moving in. Dean will dig in the telescope pier, the footings for the buildings, build the road and remove and haul the trees away, we are very happy to have him on board.

Road trip to Polydome

I was surprised to find out there is a company in Litchfield, Minnesota called Polydome that manufactures a 8 foot diameter poly observation dome called the Explora dome. I made a call to Dan, he runs the observation dome side of the company and asked if I could drive to the plant and see one in person. He graciously said yes, so off I went.
The drive was well worth it, Polydome ends up being a large family owned company in the middle of rural Minnesota that build all kinds of poly items. Dan had a display dome set up that
I could get under and get a feel for the design and layout. The inside is finished in black with a white exterior, the shutter doors look well made and the dome comes with a nice wheel kit. I think another big feature is that you can automate the doors and the dome rotation at a later date without a problem. They also have everything you would need to tie the dome into a roof line whether it's a round building or square one. And, being ploy, it will shed snow.

On their website you will also find building plans to download and you can order pre-made buildings. They sell the short entrance doors, they build custom piers, you name it and I think Dan will find or build it. Here is the link: check it out.
Dan, it was fun to meet you and your dad and thank you very much for the tour and education. We will make our minds up in a few weeks but I'm 99% sure your dome will be on the top of our observatory.

After a few weeks of research

Back form vacation. After some Internet research and the reading materials from vacation, I came up with two lists, an "absolute" list and the "still thinking" list.

The absolute list.
1. Start the blog
2. Name it: Murmur Creek Observatory
3. Dome top
4. Wood floor with rubber mat floor covering
5. Large proper telescope pier, concrete base with steel sand filled upper mount
6. Warm room, done with one building or two
7. Electric service, 110 volt to the observatory and 110/220 volt to the warm room
8. Extra open duct runs between observatory and warm room for expansion
9. Level site around the buildings for star parties and lawn chair viewing
10. Build the buildings as practicable as possible, saving the money for the gear inside

Still thinking list

1. Size and shape of the observatory
2. Size and shape of the warm room
3. How best to heat warm room
4. Build or buy the dome
5. Service entrance to the dome
6. Dome automation add on for later expansion
7. Lightning protection

Now the big push is to sort out the still thinking list with a few road trips and phone calls.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Costa Rica Christmas

It was time to pack up and head for the cities. I had ordered a few books and stopped for some magazines, I knew I had some reading to do before I could do much more planing.

The books are:
Setting Up a Small Observatory by David Arditti
Seeing in the Dark by Timothy Ferris

The magazine are:
Sky and Telescope, January 2010
Beautiful Universe 2010.

So off the family went for a sunny beach in Costa Rica. While there my daughter-in-law Jolene gave my a few lessons on blogging, she has done it for years and is very good at it. I hope I don't embarrass her with my feeble attempt at this blog and I do appreciate her help. Being dyslexic, the reading is slow. I have been highlighting everything I think important and I will post my thoughts in the next few postings and then I will try to keep up to date from then on.

Thank you Google Earth

Selecting the best site is going to be harder then I thought,. I have two parcels of land to work with, one is 20 acre's and the other around 5. The 20 acre site is flat and swampy, it's 1320 feet north to south, 660 feet east to west, with an elevation of 1516 feet above sea level. This site has no light pollution but also no electricity. It's a cold, windy spot in the winter, the road going past gets a fair bit of traffic, there is no security and it's 2 miles from the house.

The other site is approximately 1000 feet deep north to south and 200 feet wide, the elevation ranging from 1535 feet to 1670 feet. This is the back lot of our lake property. The lake lays northeast to southwest, is 2 miles long at an elevation of 1506 feet. This site is also clear of light pollution, it has electricity, less traffic, close to the house and much safer.

Thanks to Google Earth and a hand held GPS, I was able to find my property survey pins and the back lot line. The northwest corner of the lot is on top of a maple tree covered ridge and is where the 1670 foot elevation was found. From there the back line runs somewhat down hill at an angle to the northeast corner, then the 200 foot strip of land ends at the lake shore 1320' below. Our house is on the lower 300 feet.

Last winter 2008/2009 we got hit with a very bad ice storm and lost a batch of trees on this back lot. I was up there just before Christmas this year looking for the best site between the down trees and the snow it hasn't been fun. My first thought was way up the hill, the higher the better, but after going up and down a few times I think I might be just as good lower down the hill. I have found some spots that would take less tree removal, a shorter road, closer to the power box and closer to the house. If the weather holds I will do more looking around, Jim should be up early in February, he can also see what were up against and just how far we want to go

Thursday, January 14, 2010

No Problem

It was mid June 2009 when my neighbor Jim asked me if I could build a astronomical observatory and with no practical knowledge of astronomy, my answer was "no problem". .

A few reasons for the blog.

First is my wife Pat. We have been together 29 years and she has seen me start many projects but witnessed few that are ever completed before another is started. She has a well deserved "honey-do" list that I did check, and observatory was not on it. Sometime in this project I will get the what the f**k were you thinking look, one that I have come to know well. Now when the look shows up, she will be able to read the blog and realize what little thinking I do, and this time, it's all Jim's fault.

Another reason is that when I started researching, mostly on the site I found numerous types of amateur observatories built by all kinds of people, some handy, some not, but they all documented the experience, I enjoyed looking through them all. The photo's are a great help, they shorten the learning curve along with keeping construction screw-up's down, thank you all.

This third reason is a partnership, not just between Jim and I, but with the small community we live in. I'm sure once construction starts there will be people to thank and acknowledge for their contribution and I hope to miss no one.

Jim and I share a love for shiney, hi-tech, expensive stuff and this project seems to have it all. This blog will allow Jim to see just were his money is going and then he can hang his head and cry in private.

My hope is the WOW factor takes over after the build. I would love to see growth, some star party's, maybe get the high school involved, lets see were it goes.