Sunday, June 22, 2014

Suburban Star Gazing at its Finest

Over the past few weeks I've been really pushing to put the 'finishing' touches on my observatory (although if you asked my wife she would just roll her eyes; deep down she knows it will never REALLY be done).  The latest and most time consuming addition has been moving from the tripod simply resting of the observatory floor to a separated concrete pier.  With the help of my brother and brothers' in law I was able to get the piling poured and all the equipment back in the dome in just under two weeks.  Despite yesterday being the summer solstice (and the shortest night of the year) I got to test it under beautifully clear skies.  The rest was amazing!  The alignment is still off by about 40 or 50 arcseconds but it definitely works well enough for simple pointing.  I can't wait for darker skies in the fall!

The video below is a short time lapse of the pier construction.  I realised after the fact that it was a bit too far away to provide much detail of the actual construction process but it was actually a lot simpler than I first thought.

I had to go back and make some minor changes though.  We put the anchors in the wrong spot and initially, the polar axis was impossible to align.  Rather than take the entire piling apart or chisel out the anchors I just tapped a couple new holes in the base plate and now it works perfectly!

After the concrete set and the mount was installed I brought in all the optics and electronics.  I had to build a small table for the computer monitor since my initial shelf didn't have enough clearance.  Providing AC power to the observatory was straightforward - just rewired an existing outlet and run the line into the dome.  I still want to add some dim, red lights in the interior but that can wait for another weekend.

Other than that, the Observatory is now full stocked and operational!  The specific details are below:
Mount: Skywatcher EQ8
Telescopes: Celestron Edge 11" & Skywatcher Espirit 100 mm
Cameras: Lumenera Lu135m, SBIG STX2000XM & Lodestar autoguider
I've also got a variety of narrowband and LRGB filters along with a couple white light solar filters.

(View from my chair)
(The telescopes)

(My wife loves the fact that most of my gear can be stored out of sight now!)

The only thing I think I'm 'missing' is a nice HA solar telescope.  Alas, I think the limits of my wife's indulgence has been reached for the time being.

In addition to my usual astrophotography I've been dabbling in photometry and spectroscopy (although with the short nights of summer and the terrible spring weather, the past two or three months haven't seen near as much stargazing as I'd like.  However, by August or September, I hope to pick up where I left of in April and continue doing some Exoplanet observing.  Now, with everything set up and ready to go, hopefully things will be much simpler.

The only downside to this exciting project is the fact that its not really under dark skies. The suburban Edmonton skies are only about a magnitude 3 or maybe 4.  Still, I've done some excellent narrowband imaging last year and with an 11 month old baby I don't have the same flexibility as I used to; late nights for me now mean changing diapers and crying babies instead of nebulae and galaxies. 

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