The Observatory

Our Little Home Dome...

Here's our little observatory. It's designed to house the C14 (see below) on its Paramount. The dome is made by Home Dome, and is fully motorized. It's a very nice dome, and looks very professional. It wasn't especially easy to assemble, but it wasn't impossible either. Behind it is a little deck area where more instruments could be set up for a star party, or where one can enjoy a cup of tea while watching the beautiful sunsets and the ocean view.

The Instruments

Celestron Compustar 14

This is quite a hefty beast, and was my dream telescope for years before I actually got one. The computer controlled GOTO mount is no longer serviceable--it died due to Y2K issues. It needs to know the date and you can't enter anything but 8x or 9x two-digit combinations. Bummer. Not one to be put off easily, I ordered up a Software Bisque Paramount. This is the latest and greatest thing, and boy are they cool. I am embarassed to say that I haven't yet tried it out. It sits in the crates it was delivered in. You see, the mount is massive, and designed to be permanently installed. That meant getting a dome.

So I bought a Home Dome. The dome has been erected, but the motorization for the shutter and to rotate the dome is not yet installed. Also, there's a ton of electrical wiring to be checked out for the project. Someday, I really must finish what I started.

Update: the motorization is now mostly working. There are some spots where it sticks, so we need to double check that the dome is level. Pretty soon, it will be time to assemble the mount!

Here is a picture of what it will look like:

And speaking of dome's and GOTO mounts, it is my intention to set this beauty up for CCD imaging once the observatory is operational. With Software Bisque's unique software, I'll be able to sit in my study and run the whole thing from the computer there. Better yet, I'll be able to call up deep sky vistas for the benefit of guests sitting in the Home Theater. Pretty nifty, eh?

Now when I get done with all this is anybody's guess, but it'll probably be some little while.

Vixen 20 x 125 Binocular Telescope

You really have to try these babys out to understand how cool they really are. Currently, they are my favorite astronomy gizmo. There is something magical about being able to use both eyes. It gives a sense of depth that has to be seen to be believed. It's also well understood that the brain manages to make more of the image when presented with two. In essence, it can cancel out the defects on one eye or the other and concentrate on what is identical to both fields.

Never mind all that hocus pocus--try them out if you get the opportunity, you will be amazed. We like to take them camping at nearby Fremont Peak, which is the closest high quality observing site to my location. They're perfect for that sort of thing. There are always lots of amateur astronomers up there and these suckers never fail to draw a crowd. It's amazing how easy it is to find and see deep sky objects with them. I find them a useful aid in finding things with a high-powered telescope. With the binoculars, I can see the "big picture" surrounding the object I want to find in the telescope, which has a fairly narrow field of view.

Canon 15 x 50 Image Stabilizer Binoculars

I got these suckers from an eBay seller for about 30% less than anyone else I could find would sell them for. eBay is good for that sort of bargain, but only if you know just how much to pay and stick to your guns. As I mention above, binoculars are magical. These are very special too. The electronic image stabilizer really makes it easy to see dim objects by increasing contrast. It's hard to see something that barely contrasts with the sky if its jumping around too. These babys look the image down so you can see it well. They're very compact, and are also good for sporting events and the like.

Other Interesting Astronomy Stuff

Antikythera Mechanism: An Ancient Astronomical Computer
November 2001 Leonids Meteor Shower
A Fantasy trip to Greenland for the Aurora Borealis

Amateur Telescope Builders

Somewhere I have mentioned that Astronomy is my oldest hobby. I must have started when I was in perhaps the 3rd or 4th grade while growing up in Midland, Texas. I had a series of toy telescopes, including a really cheesy small refractor that was completely unsuitable, and a little 4" Tasco Newtonian reflector that was a bit better. I wound up building a pipe mounting in the German Equatorial style for the Tasco, as well as making a few other changes such as adding a decent Unitron finder, a real spider to reduce diffraction, and some better Kellner eyepieces. It was a lot of fun modifying and working on that scope.

My biggest telescope making adventure came when the local astronomy club in Midland decided to grind a 6" mirror for a Newtonian scope that could be loaned out to members. This was a big project, but I still remember all the phases well. One of our members, Brian Lindsey as I recall, built a knife edge tester out of wood from Edmund Scientific plans so that we could see the mirror's figure. The scope was an f/8, so it was a pretty gentle curve. The images from that scope were fantastic, and at f/8, it was especially suited to viewing planets. Many members participated, but there were a few who showed up for every session at Jack Stanley's house, and my father and I were two of them.

One of the last projects I had in astronomy in those days was building a variable speed clock drive controller for one of the local astrophotographers. In those days there were no stepper motors, so this was a very slick chopper-style drive for the existing RA motor. It had a potentiometer knob to change overall speed plus a handheld push button pendant that allowed the guider to speed up or slow down that axis. Not bad for a kid in the 6th grade, eh?

Below I have included a list of links to interesting Amateur Telescope Building projects I've come across on my web travels.

German Equatorial Mount: From a talented home machinist.

Poor Man's Paramount: A homemade Goto mount for a C14.

Bolton Group: A bunch of fascinating telescope making projects.

Heirloom Star-Liner: This guy rebuilt a Star-Liner to be a gorgeous family heirloom.

Van Slyke's Many Crazy Projects: A machinist who makes telescopes into art pieces.

Nicely Machined German Equatorial Mount: Looks like a research-quality Paramount, but built in the home.

Computer Operated Telescopes: Especially stepper-motor driven altazimuth designs.

Another Home Machined German Equatorial Mount: Also a nice mirror grinding machine and Crayford focusers.

Curdridge Observatory: These guys get amazing astrophotos using cheap webcams!

Artemis: Cool stepper motor focusers and CCD camera kits.


All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.