MAS Observatory
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OVERVIEW:  This area summarizes the construction of  my second observatory (the first is shown below, and is no longer in use).  This observatory has the ability to operate either remotely or locally, and has two main telescopes (each with a piggyback 4" refractor).  The main telescope is an RC Optical 16" Ritchey-Chetien Reflector (primarily for photographic use) and the secondary telescope is a 12" GPS LX-200 (primarily for video/visual use at star parties).  Although owned and built at my personal time and expense, the observatory is available on a limited basis interested groups and to the Maine Astronomical Society, primarily during star parties. The site is being updated frequently so that those who are interested in building an observatory can follow along with the trial and tribulations of this project. Again, I have been very fortunate to have John Smith ( www.hiddenloft.com ) as my  consultant on this project. 
















                                     Click on Images to Enlarge

In the beginning....

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The original site was put together with great thought and care and, sadly, with nearly every "observatory" mistake possible.  The observatory was methodically and strongly built with millimeter tolerances, by an extremely talented carpenter (Paul Murphy of Murphy's Construction, in Lewiston, Maine). The windows hinge open and the roof opens with the push of a button. It seemed pefect for our cold weather, snow and storms.  Unfortunately, the site overlooks a heat absorbing flagstone patio and heated pool, causing poor seeing at night from the continued release of heat and moisture. As can be seen, no pier was dropped to the ground.  Instead, the scope is on a heavy duty tripod (with vibration suppression pads) on a deck (well built, but still guaranteed to move and migrate with temperature, causeing alignment and guiding problems). It was intentionally built on the side of our house for winter convenience and to block the wind.  Unfortunately, this location also blocked all west views and has a door right next to the scope,  adding to heat problems every time the door was opened. Did I do anything right? Perhaps it remains a nice way to quickly view through the scope during a Maine winter, but it was a nightmare for autoguiding long exposures.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Working in Sub-Zero Conditions...

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After multiple discussions with John Smith (consultant) and Wayne and Brad at Sky-Shed, we decided on a 12 x 16 foot structure with the two teslescopes as noted previously.  Using the "bigger is better" principle, the shed size was increased to 14 x 17 foot.  The conditions were, and are at the time of tnis writing, sub-zero, with a 2 foot frost wall which was machined through (Murphy's Construction).  The two 5 foot piers holes can be seen as well as several 4 foot deep sonotubes for the posts on which the deck, and therefore the Sky-Shed, will be built.  We chose this design because of the fierce winter conditions, in order to decrease any shifting of the Sky-Shed (usually it is built on the ground and works quite well, even in the northeast). 
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Sonotubes

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The Sonotubes are in place above the forms.  I've set their base one foot below the surface, right ar the highest point of the underlying foundation.  This way, if we should move, we could take the entire observatory, knock out the piers and cover the rest with earth. The sonotubes appear high because the observatory will be built on a deck.  The RC-16 pier will be 18 inches above the 'floor', with the LX-200 12 inches above the 'floor'.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Great for viewing, but....

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So much for the original site. As to the equipment in the original site, things were not much better. The workhorse had been the well known Meade 12" GPS LX-200. You'll be seeing that the new observatory is being built around an RC Optical Ritchey-Chretien Reflector with a Paramount ME mount.  The Meade 12" GPS LX-200 will remain a part of this observatory (primarily for star party visual/video use).  My own personal experience is that these telescopes are excellent for observing and video astrophotoraphy and my Meade telescopes introduced me to the world of amateur astronomy. As to the accuracy of its' autoguiding abilities at its' 3000 mm focal length, much has been written, and I'll leave others to draw their own conclusions. Some have succeeded in using this platform for deep sky imaging with the use of adaptive optics (which can, to some extent, compensate for RA periodic errors and RA/Dec random errors). With the use of focal length reducers and adaptive optics, I was able to use this system for deep sky astrophotography.   At longer (3000 mm) focal lengths, I have been less successful with my Meade telescope, possibly due to my own lack of skill.  For long focal length exposures many recommend  a "more solid" (and, of course, much more expensive ) mount, such as Software Bisque's Paramount ME, or an Astro-Physics mount.  Obviously I chose this option, as my major interest is deep sky imaging.  However, for my own part, I will continue to enjoy my LX-200 and have kept a 12" GPS LX-200 in my observatory.  I find it to be a marvelous instrument for introducing others to amateur astronomy and for video astrophotography (also, Meade has a new deep sky imaging system which, by all reports, works well and is relatively inexpensive).  As will be seen, for this observatory the main imaging system (which can be robotically controlled) utilizes an RCOS-16 Reflecor (for long focal length deep sky imaging) on a Paramount ME mount. A Takahashi 106 FSQ will be piggybacked to the RC for wide field astrophotography.  The imaging cameras will be an SBIG STL-6303 for the RC-16 and an SBIG STL-11000 for the Takahashi 106 FSQ.   You will see a brief mention of experimenting with an SBIG AO system (with the Paramount ME, I am unsure as to how much difernce the adaptive optics will make).  The Meade scope is attached to an Astrovid StellaCam EX (with a Meade 3.3 FLR) for deep sky live video imaging at star parties.  An invaluable resource for anyone thinking about a scope, mount, observatory or (and especially) CCD imaging is Ron Wodaski's "The New CCD Astronomy"  ( www.wodaski.com ). Get it and read it twice, if I had, I wouldn't be buiding a 'second' observatory !!!
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Making Progress....

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Here I am, standing in the 5 foot deep (5 ft x 4 ft x 2 ft) hole in which the rebar and concrete will be poured (I plan to get out first).  The RC16 telescope will sit on 40 cubic feet of concrete, hopefully more than enough to hold it absolutely steady.  The depth is critical so as to ensure we are below the frost layer.  The hole will be poured with forms in place to decrease any shifting of the cement which could occur during the winter.  Over the next few days the concrete will be poured.  The base plate, on which the Paramount ME will be mounted, will be aligned to true north (using the shadow of the sun as it transits the meridian) and leveled using a nicely machined Software Bisque leveler. 
 
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Almost Ready for Cement

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The rebar has been placed within the foundation base (down to 5 feet) and within the sonotube.  Rebar is also pounded into the ground at the base of the foundation.  Before pouring the concrete the north/south direction will be determined a third time (I've done it twice so far) using the sun transit system.  Two simple variations of this techinique will be shown in a future photograph. This work was done with the temperature at -5 deg F with a wind chill factor of -30 degrees (hense the need for a robotic/remote observatory during the winter). 
 
 
 
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The new site....

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I agree, there may not seem to be much to see yet (the shovel marks the spot). However, a closer look and a lttle imagination can change this. The new site is to the south of our home, with essentially unobstructed views (even the pole star is easily seem to the north). There will be two 5' deep concrete/reinforced foundations and Pier-Tech adjustible piers ( www.pier-tech.com ), all completely isolated from the observatory (to decrease alignment and vibration problems). By the way, check out Pier-Tech's remote observatory, its an engineering marvel, comes as a kit, is made of anodized aluminum (maintence free) and has self-retracting rails.  Its a great option for slightly smaller observatories where you don't need to match the "look" of the observatory to your home (these were two major requirements of our observatory, hence we went with the Sky Shed design).  Our structure will be a 14 x 17 foot robotically controlled roll-off roof observatory, built with the award winning designs (roll off roof with the "look" of a shed) developed by SkyShed (www.skyshed.com , more on the Sky Shed design later). With most viewing directions there are no significant night-time heat sources.  As with any setup there are always compromises. We do have neighbors and there will be some light polution. Most of this can be blocked, and on those very rare nights of exceptional seeing, they will dim their lights for us.  Yes, after storms I will need to blaze a trail to the structure. But since the structure will be robotically controlled, I will rarely 'need' to go there.  Rather I can go out when I want to, to change lenses, to look through them, or for star parties.  And yes, there will be some wind from the west (Mt Washington), but the scope will be lowered for autoguiding (protecting it from the wind) and can be raised for viewing (thanks to the Pier-Tech). Again, many thanks to John Smith for his engineering and astronomical skills in consulting on this project ( www.hiddenloft.com  ).  His site is filled with useful information and is highly recommended.  The main telescope will be an RC Optics 16" Ritchey-Cretien Truss telescope ( www.rcopticalsystems.com) with a piggyback Takahashi FSQ 106,  placed on a Software Bisque Paramount ME mount (www.bisque.com). The secondary scope will be a 12" GPS LX200 with piggyback wide view 4" TeleVue; both primarily for visual and video use.  These will be secured to the adjustible Pier-Tech piers and will be placed under the roll-off-roof observatory. Imaging (primarily with the 16" RC) will be through an SBIG ST10-XME with adaptive optics, SBIG STV (www.sbig.com) and Meade USB Autostar Suite Lunar/Planetary Camera (www.meade.com). Updates to this site will be added periodically as the construction moves along.
 
 
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Forms in Place

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The forms were put together today (1/22/04).  This form is about 4 x 3 feet with a depth of 5 feet.  Tomorrow the rebar will be placed and true north will be determined using the sun as it passes the meridian.  This will ultimately hold the RC-16 telescope with the piggy back 4 inch Takahashi refractor.  The form for the GPS LX200 is 2 x 2 feet and also 5 feet deep.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Setup for True North Alignment

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True north was determined by using the shadow cast by a perpendicular rod as the sun transit occured (as the sun passes from east to west).  This time was determined by "The Sky" and "Starry Nignt" for my latitude and longitude (11:52 AM).  The exact time was determined by setting my watch using "nistime-32bit" (can obtain off net). There were 20 mph gusts (-30 F wind chill), making a plumb bob impractical.  Therefore a level was placed on the rod and the exact center of the sonotube was carefully marked on a string. The shadow must pass through the center of the sonotube and the rod must be perpendicular (hence the level).  I marked the shadow (and exact location of the rod) for 11:30, 11:40, 11:52 (transit), 12:00 and 12:10 (Download and magnify photo for details; asterix marks center of sonotube along the string).
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