Using my Observatory

Both the SkyShed and Pulsar observatories offer the option of additional storage space in the form of pods which attach to the sides of the domes.  Without this option I needed some form of shelving for storing my eyepieces, locating the computer, etc.  This I had in the form of a television stand which was redundant after we changed our TV for a flat screen one.  But it soon become obvious that it was unsuitable, being too low and too deep.  It just got in the way.


So I opted for a do-it-yourself shelving system.  A few planks from B&Q sawn to the correct lengths and screwed together with supports and 4 rollers so that I could move it around more easily.  Very crude but giving me a narrow but tall enough cupboard on which to sit my computer, with 3 backless shelves beneath in which to store the other bits and pieces.  It does work, except that the rollers don't really roll that well. This cupboard is too tall and narrow for that.  But it is light enough to sort of slide/lift it as required.  More important, it doesn't get intrude in the same way as the TV stand did and the top is just the right size and height on which to place my netbook.


Ideally an observatory would have an electricity supply.  Maybe mine will some time in the future, but for lighting  I initially made do with 3 stickon led lights covered with red sweet wrappers.  I had originally placed them against the wall, but have since found that they work best on the ground immediately underneath the ends of the tripod legs.  This made it much easier to avoid knocking the tripod.  Now, however, the tripod has been replaced by a pier and I have dispensed with the led lights altogether.  The front covers cracked and as I am mainly imaging I used the light from my Netbook and a red light torch.  As for powering the scope, I use a rechargeable 7amp 12V Skywatcher power tank, which works very well.


Although the led lights helped considerably with the problem of avoiding the tripod legs the pier was the real solution.  The 2.2m - actually the height as the width is 2.1m - is just wide enough for you to move around in comfortably, but getting close up to the scope does involved slotting yourself between the tripod legs and sometimes you end up trying to look over one of the legs.  The pier eliminates that problem.  Ideally you should separate the pier mounting from the rest of the observatory base, but knowing how much concrete went into mine I think I can live without worrying about that.  


Although I hadn't fully appreciated the tripod problem, I had been researching possible observing chairs.  At the time the Skywatcher chair wasn't available and is in any case more suitable for outdoor use than inside an observatory.  But what had caught my attention were the gas lift bar stools.  These seemed to offer a good solution at reasonable cost and I had bought one ready.  It worked quite well, the lowest point being suitable for zenith and near-zenith viewing and the highest for near-horizon viewing - well almost.  But that brought up the question of how high the mount and telescope should be.


I am fairly lucky in that I have a fairly wide sweep of the horizon from roughly north-east to west which is not overly obstructed.  However, I soon found that the initial height I set the tripod to was too low and I had to adjust.  This is still fine as far as stool height is concerned, though near-horizon viewing, especially with the binoviewer, is easier done standing.  But then again, near-horizon viewing is seldom that satisfactory due to both light pollution and general atmospheric distortion and interference.  


Although this particular bar stool worked well, and was certainly comfortable and light enough to move around easily, it had a back, which was a mistake.  This back wasn't needed and merely got in the way.  As the stool also swivelled it tended to catch up against the observatory wall, which didn't do the material any favours.  So I am now sitting on that one typing away in front of my computer and have replaced it with a similar stool, but one which is just a simple, round, backless one.  And if I could only find some way of disengaging the swivel it would be ideal.  Getting on it when set low is easy enough, but at the highest position it tends to swivel and set one off-balance.  I will get used to it.


Indeed, getting used to it is something that one has to do within an observatory.  Moving around, positioning my cupboard, not tripping over anything, opening and closing up the hatch, storing and replacing the protective caps of the eyepiece and those of the main scope and finderscope - all these things become second-nature after a while.


As for observing, yes an observatory really, really does work.  You are as comfortable as it is possible to be, protected from the wind and stray lights and your scope is permanently set up.  With the Celestron Hibernate facility I don't even have to align the scope every time I want to use it, or balance it.  Brilliant.  Now all I ever need are lots of clear nights!


August 2013:  Pier now in place and the amount of extra space is just amazing.  It is an AstroEngineering AC282, suitable for both Alt/Az and Equatorial mounts.  Expensive but well worth it. For anyone considering buying a mount, or maybe making their own, first have a look at their videos.


May 2014:  I gave up on the led lights.  They never stuck very well to anything and the front bits eventually cracked.  As I am mostly imagined the light from my computer is more than sufficient, plus a red light torch.


Nov 2016:  As far as lighting is concerned I now use the red light from the powertank plus a Celestron nightlight red torch.  This is powered by a 9v Varta battery and works very well - the Duracell ones were rubbish!  I find that a moveable torch means that I don't find myself staring at a light when trying to view through the eyepiece - I can turn it away.  Another big help has been the purchase of a £15 stepping stool from Argos.  It is very light and just 8 ins high which works perfectly with the additional 4 inch plinth that I now have.  Much easier to view all objects, both low and high.

homemade shelf

Homemade shelving system

150mm SCT on AC282 Pier

150mm Celestron NexStar  SE on wedge and AstroEngineering AC282 Pier


Celestron SCT 9.25 AVX on

AstroEngineering AC282 Pier