|Red Barn Observatory MPC-H68
Ty Ty, Georgia, USA
Plans for the observatory originally started in 2002 with only a basic idea of what would be needed for proper operations. A well built, sound building would be needed
to withstand any strong storms that would pass through (and they regularly do) and the building needed to be sturdy enough to last for many years (and it has). So,
when I built the observatory, it was constructed as well as any house or home. After lots of thinking, planning, and designing, I decided to make the largest part of the
building 16' x 20' and the telescope area would be 8' x 8'. The larger area of the building would allow plenty of room for our musical and gym equipment too!
For the floor, I decided to go with concrete instead of wood for its durability and sturdiness. The first step was to level the ground and prepare it so the concrete would
be perfectly level, and I wanted it thick! The entire area was hand dug by shovel to remove the soft topsoil. After all of the topsoil was removed, it was filled back in with
hard, red clay and was constantly watered for several days to allow it to become soaked and packed. Once it dried, the clay almost become like concrete itself. This
would assure a solid pad for the concrete to sit on with virtually no movement of the ground underneath. A wooden "concrete form" was installed with enough height to
allow the concrete to be 6 inches thick, and a heavy-duty, plastic vapor barrier was installed to prevent the concrete from "sweating" during rainy days. Just for the heck
of it, I dug a trench around the entire perimeter 12 inches thick by 12 inches deep and the 8' x 8' area where the scope originally sat was dug to nearly 12" thick. This
was prior to installing the second story of the observatory. The reason for the second story was to allow the telescope to "see" over the primary section of the building.
I'll talk more about that later. After reconstructing the observatory, the second time, I went with a two story. A heavy-duty 16"x16", 2-ton, concrete pier was built to
provide the telescope a nice, solid foundation. I have no issues with the telescope pier!
The walls were framed and constructed with 2x4 studs just as in a house, except they were all screwed in place instead of nailed. I'm a firm believer in screws! Before
the concrete dried, I placed 3/4 inch concrete anchors in the concrete to dry in. These anchors securely attach the walls to the concrete. Once a wall was built, I
measured the anchor position in the concrete, and drilled holes in the bottom plate of the wall for the anchors to slide through - then the washers and nuts were
tightened to form a "strong as steel" wall. After the walls were up, the framing for the roof was next. The roof framework was also built out of 2x4s but since they were
placed every 16 inches (like the walls) it would be nice and strong. To further strengthen the roof, I constructed a 8" beam and ran it down the center length of the
entire building. It was made out of plywood sandwiched and glued between 2x6s (very strong!) Of course I needed help installing this since it weighed a couple
hundred pounds. After all of the ceiling and roof boards were installed, I "stripped" the roof with 1x4s and installed a metal roof.
After the walls and roof were framed, it was time to seal up the outside. This was done with water-proof 3/4 inch, 6-ply plywood. I decided that it would last longer than
anything else (other than brick or metal) but it would have to be painted ever so often - I don't mind. Since I took my time with the framework of the building, the
installation of the plywood was easy. Along with MANY screws, It formed tight, well sealed barrier that should (and has) last for many years. To add to the looks and
strength of the outside walls, I added pressure treated "rough cut" 1" x 8" boards every 16". It gave the building that old-time barn look that I was wanting and covered
up the joints of the plywood. Of all the observatories I've seen on the Internet, I've yet to see one that was designed with an antique look as the Red Barn Observatory
has. It's surely different!
The tough part was the retractable roof. It's controlled by a Craftsman heavy duty garage door opener and works pretty good! A simple light-switch powers the motor,
and the push button garage door opener opens and closes the roof. It's as simple as that! The roof frame work was designed to be light-weight and very strong. I
seldom have any issues when opening or closing the observatory roof.
The only issues I have at the observatory is pine trees! The northern and part of the eastern skies are blocked by pine trees. But I still have the entire southern and
western horizon to perform my observations. Since my primary interest is minor planet research and some astro-photography, I have PLENTY of sky to work with.
|Red Barn Observatory - Construction
|THE UPGRADE - 2 STORY CONSTRUCTION
Four new receptacles added and fresh paint in the main room of the observatory.
Half of the inside painted - prior to removing the telescope.
Telescope room roof removed and the old fold in walls taken down. Notice the trees blocking the
northern view - which is fine with me. Too, some of these were thinned a bit to allow Polaris to be
seen to assist with Polar Alighnment.
A side-view of the observing room at the beginning of the construction.
Inside view of the remodeling of the telescope room - northern trees also in the photo.
View from the front - some of the trees in the background will be coming down before they completely block the eastern sky!
NOTE: The photo's above were taken as of May 21, 2010.
|THE UPGRADE - 2 STORY PIER CONSTRUCTION
Before construction continued, the pier had to be installed so that proper measurements could be taken for
the second floor system to be installed. Below is the progress of the pier as it is being constructed.
The original floor of the telescope area was poured around 24" thick so the floor under the pier had to be "dug up" so that the reed bar could
be concreted into the existing floor. It is extremely sound! The pier dimensions are 24" x 24" - cinder blocks filled with 2000 lb/sq" strength
concrete. Lots of little helpers to work on the pier! :-) The pier is growing in size and weight.
At this point, the pier was tall enough to install the second floor system (and its still growing). This pier will weigh
somewhere around two-tons when completed. Here's the steps going up to the second floor.
The telescope is mounted on the pier! But, if you notice, I mounted the Meade base plate 180
degrees off! Next project, remove the base and remount it correctly.
During 2009, I decided that I needed/wanted to upgrade the observatory in hopes to allow the following advantages:
1. Raise the telescope room (and telescope) to allow more sky to be visible - build a two-story
2. Rewire the entire telescope room to "hide" all the wires - too many times have I tangled up in wires in the dark
3. Upgrade the software to improve remote operations and pointing accuracy
4. Mount the telescope on a very solid concrete pier - weight approximately 2.5 to 3 Tons
5. Design a computer controlled roll off roof
6. Upgrade the computers and data storage to at least 2 TB
7. Fully automate (as much as possible) the entire process of astrometry and photometry of asteroids and comets
These upgrades will allow the observatory to be nearly full-automated and will produce much more data per night - without me staying up all night to monitor the system.
With the scope being mounted in a second floor room on top of a large concrete pier, it will be able to see more eastern sky than before. With the telescope in its old
position, the main part of the building blocked most of the eastern sky. Although there are trees in the area, some of these will soon be removed to allow more visible
sky. Part of the northern sky is blocked due to trees, but using a LX200 and SBIG CCD imager, the scope will not slew completely north without hitting the forks. So I
will not remove any of these trees. I still have most of the eastern sky, and all of the southern and western skies (more than needed for my research).
I have also figured out a way to use my old Mel Bartels Scope Controller board to connect to the "garage door opener" that I use to open and close the roof. This will
allow further remote operations since I'll be able to open and close the roof by computer. Once the software finishes running the nightly script and parks the telescope,
it will be a simple process to remotely close the observatory from inside my home. The next step from this point will be to figure out how to use the software to shut down
the telescope and camera, then close up the observatory once the script finishes.
As of June 13, 2010 I've started installing the track system for the roof. The construction is going well and is still on schedule. I hope to have the roof fully installed by
June 20, and then start running the wires. The new wires will consist of a total rewire of the telescope room and all of the network cables will be rewired. I'd thought
about going to a wireless network, but its just not as fast as a hard wired connection - well, through all these thick walls anyhow. I tried it once and the connection was
June 15, 2010: The roof is ready to be installed and hopefully the new track system will work out as expected.
June 17, 2010: The roof is installed and ready for the new wheels!! Once the new wheels are on, the motor will be installed and it should be ready to go!
More photo's coming soon.
June 26, 2010: The roof works perfect! I was able to finish installing the "finishing" on the walls of the lower floor of the telescope room and have purchased the
materials to finish the interior walls of the upper scope room. The wiring is completed and the Network cabling has been wired into the telescope room. Exterior siding is
being installed this weekend (in the super hot temperatures) and is progressing well. With any luck, the Interior and Exterior walls will be completed this weekend (all but
painting). As of now, construction is ahead of schedule!!
June 27, 2010: Whew, it's another hot day out today and the outer siding will be completed before dark. I worked way past dark last night on the interior walls and the
bottom floor is completed (except painting). The materials to complete the upper floor where the telescope is to be installed has been purchased and is waiting to be
installed. If the progress continues as it is, the construction should be completed within the next two weeks. Once the telescope is installed, it will probably take a
couple weeks to get the telescope "tweaked" and all the software running again. This has turned into a costly and labor extensive remodel!!!
July 4, 2010: The inside of the observatory is finally ready to paint! Painting has been scheduled to start tomorrow (Monday July 5) and hopefully most of it will be
competed by the end of the week. Plans are to paint the telescope room a flat black to help with reflections, and the rest of the observatory a flat white. The largest
room of the observatory will be for visitors and will also be our family and friends music room. It will be nice to have the scope upstairs working while having the family
out there playing our instruments!
If everything keeps going well, the telescope should be back in the observatory by next weekend. Then I'll spend a couple weeks tweaking the mount and setting up the
software. I should have scheduled this to be a winter project but it needed to be done - even with the HEAT!!!
July 5, 2010: The painting is completed in the telescope room and in the first floor under the telescope room. I painted the telescope room "Star Spangled" blue - which
matches the blue 0.3-m SCT that will be reinstalled in the room. I also added a "shelf area" over the steps to allow a computer monitor and keyboard to be placed. This
will save room. If all goes as planned, the telescope will be installed next week!
July 9, 2010: The mount is completed and the mounting base for the telescope has been installed! I'm allowing the concrete to "cure" for a couple days before I install
the telescope, and I'm also planning to re-check the roof again to verify that there is no leaks. Leaks + Electronics = DISASTER!
As of now, all wiring has been installed in the addition, the 2 ton mount is complete, painting in the addition is complete, and the motorized roof works perfect! The
remaining work includes: finishing the paint work in the main part of the building, checking the roof for leaks, mounting the telescope and installing the computers. Once
the computers are installed, they will be cleaned off and all software is going to be reinstalled. Nothing but the necessary software is going to be installed on these
computers because they need to be as fast as possible - with few or no errors generated! The main computer within my home is also going to be cleaned off and the
third hard drive installed in it is to be dedicated to storing images only. Once the CCD takes an image, it automatically stores the image on this computer. Too, I plan to
(somehow) have this set so that when certain images are downloaded, they will automatically upload to this web site within private and password protected folders for a
few other selected people to download. To do this, I'll have to upgrade my current Internet Connection up to 10 MB whereas the images can be uploaded/downloaded
at a fast rate.
I still have trees to my immediate north and some to the east of the observatory. Some of the trees in the east will be cut down to allow more sky to be visible, but the
northern trees will probably just be trimmed back since I do very little work in this part of the sky. 90% of my work is performed between the zenith and eastern to
western skies. The northern trees do make a nice "wind block". With over 100,000 asteroids in clear view from my observatory, I don't think the northern trees will
affect my research...
As of July 29, 2010, the telescope is installed! The computer that controls the telescope is working great, the network is working strong in the observatory and the
telescope is solid as a rock on the mount! If all goes as planned, I'll be able to use the weekend to tweak and adjust the alignment of the telescope mount and start
"shooting asteroids" within the next week.
July 31, 2010 - All wires have been connected to the computer and scope and it is ready for adjustments. I had planned to have the observatory completed by today,
and it is almost complete! The observatory will be back in operations within a few days - finally!!!
August 4, 2010 - The telescope was installed on July 29th, and as of now the software has been set-up. Everything is working. The problem - it has been cloudy with
scattered showers the past few nights making it impossible to align the telescope. As soon as the skies clear (hopefully soon) I'll be able to align the telescope and
finally get back to work!
August 8, 2010 - Due to rain, I've still been unable to make the final adjustments to the telescope that will put it back in operations. We had nearly 3" of rain yesterday
not counting all of the major lighting that was produced from the storm! Once the storm passed, it sprinkled rain throughout the night. At least the heavy rain was able
to put the observatory roof through a good "leak test". I found two very small "dripping" leaks and plan on fixing those this afternoon. As soon as the skies clear, I
should be good-to-go! I've also updated all of the software and have it ready to work. As of now, I'll be using TheSky6 Professional, CCDSoft, T-Point, and Orchestrate
to control the telescope. Also with these programs, they offer remote operations via the Internet and I'll work on that process once I have the telescope and CCD
tweaked. Waiting on clear skies...
August 21, 2010 - Ever since I installed the telescope in the observatory it has been cloudy every night. I even got up this morning at 4 am to check for some early
morning clear skies and there was no stars visible. A tropical depression moved through the area a week ago and I'm assuming that is creating all the cloudy skies.
Hopefully the skies will clear soon.
While waiting on the skies to clear, I'm weatherproofing the outside of the observatory and I am baking the desiccant plug for the CCD imager. Soon I'll be out of
projects and everything will be at a "sit still" until I can see stars again...
August 24, 2010 - Still no signs of clear skies. It was cloudy with sprinkling rain last night and heavy fog in the early morning hours. There's a chance of rain for the
next week! While I'm waiting, I'm thinking about redesigning my entire web site. That will be a huge task but at least I'll be productive while waiting on the skies to clear...