Friday, February 13, 2015

Shutter and dome rotation completed.

It's been a while since I posted progress on this.  Finally got some warmer weather the other day and I figured it was time to take a break from indoor work and do some more on the observatory.
Long story on the fun and frustration of hooking up the cables that open and close the shutter, I'll post that fix another time. For now, here is the dome functioning as it should.  Ok, I still need to make sure it rotates a full 360 degrees - both ways - without getting stuck.  When I got the rotation motors running a while back, it was getting stuck in one direction.  I'll get to that too!

Here is a video from the outside showing the shutter opening, some rotation and closing again.  I did grease the tracks also, so I'll have to remember not to lean on that now or mess up my shirt!

This next video is the inside view of the dome rotating and closing.  it has two small electric motors that drive 4 wheels with a rubber belt.  It seems to work fine, I was fearing that I would need to replace all those since they were slipping in the old location in Renton - but then again, I've learned and improved on this one from my previous mistakes!  
The cable winch or jackscrew can be seen at the back of the dome wall.  That is a real pain to get working, and I DID get it working without any kinks or binding this time. I think I may have had the cable too loose previously.  Just need to grease that up good too. 

I'm still hoping for "first light" sometime in the spring.  I have to tie up some cables in the dome that are hanging all over the place, then I think I can call that completed.  Next, is the rebar in the hole and pouring concrete. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Just a pretty video that came out earlier this month, but figured it was a good Christmas "ornament" type thing with the cool graphics.  Can never go wrong with Carl Sagan anyway.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sunny day - primed and painted. paint

Coat of primer.
After the cold spell of weather the last couple weeks, then a windstorm, we got a somewhat warm and sunny day that was in the mid-50s.  Warm enough to put some paint on the pier.
The thing is a beast to drag out of the hangar, but managed to "walk" it out and put on a tarp to paint.
First a layer of primer - the pain said it wasn't needed, but couldn't hurt anyway.  Then I sprayed it with a 'textured' black paint that gives it a smooth but bumpy texture.  It turned out nice!  The second photo doesn't show the color too well since the sun was behind a tree and was getting dark.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Motors installed and pier constructed.

Power supply (right)
Dome control (with open door)
Now that there is power to the observatory the motors for rotating the dome were installed.   The two motors were mounted as well as the power supply box and the dome control circuit.   I put the to electrical boxes in the same orientation as they were in the old observatory - mainly since the wires were already cut to right length to reach both motors from that location.
One of the motors. 
Last weekend one of our neighbors that I met in the local EAA group helped me weld together the parts for the pier.   He had some good ideas also that he contributed to the construction.   He had some scrap metal with a 90 degree bend in it that was a very nice fit (after cutting to shape) which worked out very nicely for a support on the top of the pier.  This will easily allow a wrench in under the mount to tighten wedge onto the top of the pier and make needed adjustments if needed later.   I should add that a plasma cutter is one of the coolest tools. Ever.  I got a chance to try his out, and it was amazing how easily it cut through solid steel.  It's like "lightning in a hose"!
I bought some primer and paint for the pie
r, so next thing is to paint the thing to keep it from getting rusty.

Very solid pier.  I don't think vibration should
be a problem - just dragging it out will!  (ready to paint).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hi, I'm Tom...and I'm a telescope hoarder.

Usually when going to Goodwill, there is often some piece of garbage refractor "Trashco" or similar there for sale.  Often missing something critical like a focuser or even the objective lens.  These things should be put directly in the dumpster rather than on the floor to sell.
Someone will buy it for their kid and wonder why they can't even see the moon through it, or even keep it pointed if there is a view that can be seen.
I was at Goodwill the other day looking for some socks, or something useful.   No, not used socks, but some nicely priced 6 pack or similar.  I walked past the furniture and this caught my eye.  $39 for an 8 inch home-made Dobsonian telescope!  I looked it over and it appeared to be nicely constructed, focuser was nothing fancy, and collimation wasn't too bad, but needed some tweaks. The mirror looked filthy, but it looked ok.  I drove home with it hanging out the back of my Toyota and put it in our hangar and check it out.
A total of 25.5 inches of aperture simultaneously sucking
The mirror was filthy, so I cleaned it up the best I could.  It could use a re-coating for sure, but it was usable.  We had some clear cold nights (rare when a telescope is brought home!).  I checked out the Double Cluster, M-1, Alberio and M42.  All views looks quite decent despite clear but poor seeing that night.  I compared with the 17.5 and clarity was similar but not as bright obviously.
I'm pleased with the find, and this is actually portable too!
Easy collimating screws.

Before - gunky and dusty. 

After - much better!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Comet landing.

A break due to power outages and 2 full days of cold weather - causing me to miss some shows to record about the Philae landing on the comet.  Anyway, I did stream NASA TV through my iPhone the other day on the way to work and heard the excitement when Philae confirmed the landing on comet 67 (I won't try to spell out the "official" name of that ice ball!).
An arm's distance view of a comet.  Wow!
Once there was confirmation of landing, I did shout a "Woo hoo!!" when hearing the ESA team cheering. This stuff to me is so much more exciting than what most people get thrilled about - football.  Bleah!
Today it seems that Philae has gone to sleep due to landing in a dark area and running down the batteries due to a lack of light on the solar panels.  It seems that the general public says "what a failure!" but the space geeks all know this was a historical moment in space exploration. We intercepted a comet, going 41,000mph, 317 million miles away to gentry -drop- a lander on the surface.  Freaking amazingly awesome coolness if you ask me!
The surface mission was shortened, but data was sent back to Rosetta.
Congratulations to the ESA Rosetta team.   Well done!

Sunday, November 9, 2014


"Power transfer is complete - we're on internal power with the launch vehicle at this time."  
-- Public Affairs Officer (PAO) Jack King (Apollo 11)

Power - the light comes on!
It's been a few weeks since any progress has been done on the observatory.  I blame the darkness now that daylight savings has ended, frustration with work, and the commute home in the dark.  Kind of a motivation destroyer.   We took 2 days off work last week and completed a very nice 4 day weekend, so I was motivated to get the power connected today.
All worked well the first try once the cable were connected and the outlet wired in.  Flipped the breaker in the house - poof - we have power!  No big blue spark or anything.
House power comes up through the conduit. 
The weeks of digging that horrible trench, laying conduit, cussing, bleeding, sweating and wondering what I got into - all paid off when I saw the light come on.  Yay!
I attached three more outlets (one on each wall) that will be wired in next from the white cable seen over on the right of the photo.
Soon, I'll hook up the dome motors and the controlling electronics.  This is another big step forward from the last observatory which I shamefully powered with 2 extension cords for about 10 years that it was in operation.  Like I said before, I've learned from my past mistakes and improve on this one.

Looks like a cozy shack doesn't it?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dome tightened and tarp free.

This afternoon I put in some more nuts and bolts around the inside of the dome where all the parts come together.   I had them all just finger-tight and had to loosen them and jiggle things around to get all  (ok - most) of the holes to like up.   All the holes were drilled by the previous owner of the dome, so it took some work to get them all lined up and bolted together.
It was another stormy day today with showers, wind and even a bit of thunder.  I was out there working on the inside during a heavy shower and didn't notice any major leaks, so I figured I'd ditch the ugly tarp and see how it goes.  I still have to squirt RTV in the seams and maybe try some foam sealant in some of the bigger gaps, but I'll need a dry day.
Tarp on.

Tarp off - after proving it was fairly water tight.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


I spent most of today (we had a nice sunny 70+ degree day on Oct. 19!) painting the observatory since this is possibly the last dry day for a while if the forecast holds true.  I spent about 6 hours painting the observatory and pretty much got it done.  I think the walls could use another coat, but for now it's fine.  Maybe in the spring (or if we get another dry day) I could put some more paint on it. 
The next task is to seal up the gaps in the dome, add some new screws and get it all tightened down and water tight.  Then the tarp will come off and we can call the main structure done.   Door still needs to be completed too. 
Traci was doing some work on the roof today and got a "low aerial" shot of it.  We designed it so it matches the house and the existing shed.

Front.  This was before the roof trim was painted.

Notice it matches the house and shed on the ramp. 

Siding - just a few short.

Oops.   Just 4 pieces short. 
I screwed up a cut on one of the 12 foot Hardiplank siding pieces.  WHY did I cut it to 43 inches when I did measure 73 inches?  I don't know, I just totally failed the "measure twice, cut once" rule - badly.   Anyway, even if I did cut it right, we only get 1 piece out of each 12 foot chunk anyway since it's slightly more than 1/2 the plank.  No matter what, it was still short 4 planks anyway.
At trip to Home Depot again with the Corolla "truck".  Twelve foot, fragile, floppy planks just won't drag behind the car nicely, so we had to improvise with some parking lot cuts to make it all fit.

Using the Home Depot public curb workbench.
These had to fit in the car behind me!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Full size door shortened to 4 feet tall.

Since we build the observatory low (yes, there is plenty of headroom inside) we had to make a smaller "Hobbit" door from a full sized door.   We looked for something at a window/door salvage yard nearby but they wanted a lot of $$ to cut the door.  Home Depot had steel doors pre-hung on a frame, so that was the answer - shorten it ourselves!
Reducing the door
The top hinges were in the right place, so those stayed.  The frame was cut down and reassembled to the 4 foot rough opening height of the door opening.  Then the fun of cutting the steel door.  To make a long story short, just look at this web site on how to do it.  Pretty much what we did, but used a chisel rather than a router.  
Door frame in place.  It's proper style to wear an "Astronomer"
t-shirt when building an observatory. 
It all fit nicely when done!  The frame was mounted and then the door fell right in place.  The doorknob holes will be filled/covered with a kick plate later.  A hole will be made for deadbolt on the top of the door - probably get an electronic keyless thing with buttons. More on that later - I'll have photos of the process when it happens. 

It fits perfectly!  

I stood on a chair, for this photo. It's a short door, but
plenty of headroom inside. 

Window and siding (most of it) done.

Last weekend we spent a bunch of time cutting the siding and installing around the window and the wall on the west side.  I did get some of it done after work, but the time is getting so short with the early sunset these days.
It was all pretty easy, but took some careful cutting to make the siding fit around the bottom of the window.  The dome is still full of gaps and will leak when it rains this week, I'll leave that up there until I get the sealant done and the rest of the screws installed to hold it together.