The 'Observatory'




    Due to the large amount of interest from people literally all over the world, I decided to put this web page together for those who wanted to know about this shed and what modifications I made to make it into a useble structure to house a telescope.

    PLEASE READ THIS: There are those that would be very squeamish to say the least to put thousands of dollars worth of equipment into a plastic shed and trust it to the elements. For those individuals, I understand the way you feel. All I can tell you is that it now has been up since the fall of 2002 and has taken the abuse of Michigan weather quite well. I also feel it is a smart thing no matter what type of observatory one has that you get a separate insurance rider on the scope and equipment just in case. The cost is nominal. If you are still disinclined, PLEASE MOVE ON and disregard this idea. My feelings are not hurt.

    After numerous times of setup and take down with a scope and tripod, I said to myself that there had to be a better way. So in the fall of 2002 I purchased a Big Max shed built by Rubbermaid. I bought it at Home Depot for $500. The reason for the purchase was two fold. First, I could not afford a lot of money for a dome type observatory or one with a roll off roof. Second, I wanted a structure that would be easy to remove just in case we moved or for some reason I lost interest in the hobby.  Having a telescope permanently setup is a great joy. It makes the hobby so much easier. I hope that in some way this information will be helpful to you. If your like me, on a budget, and leery about a extravagant observatory, then check it out. It just may be for you.

Planning and Foundation

    While a cement foundation would be best, because of the more permanent nature of it, I decided to go with a stone foundation. The shed sits on a 4 to 6 inch base of 3/4 crushed limestone. The grass sod underneath was removed and the underlying soil was packed down and the stone put down. Because the shed sits down and sinks into the stone a little, I have not found it necessary to anchor it down to keep it from sliding around in heavy winds. If put on a slab it probably would be a good idea to anchor the floor to the cement.


    Positioning the shed is important. Note the image at left. Since most of the action overhead at night takes place towards the South ( in the northern hemisphere),  I wanted one of the sides of the shed to be facing that way. The gables would just be to tall. Since most of the wind and weather come out of the west, I also felt that it would be a good idea for the doors to be facing the East.


    The placement of the pier is important also. Most will mount the scope with a wedge in polar mode. The Pier center should be moved accordingly so that the OTA is relatively centered in shed when it is closed. Note the image to the right.  The best thing to do would be to set up your scope on a tripod with wedge and measure the offset needed. Be careful not to place the pier to far over to the wall. You want sufficient room to observe all around the scope. I found that 20 1/2 inches from the south wall was fine for me. The floor comes in two pieces and is fasten together in the middle. This makes it difficult to put the hole in the floor in the center of the shed. This is ok though. I put the hole center in 32 inches from the west wall. It is enough room for my scope with the dew shield on to clear. This also leaves me with an extra big area in the northeast corner that is great for a microwave cart that I use for a desktop computer that stays out year round.

The Roof

The whole crux of an observatory is the roof. Here is what I did to get the roof to go on and off easily.

     The roof is made with two panels that the are put together with clips. Normally the roof will connect to the wall and lock into tab hooks that are molded into the top inside of the wall. I ground these down so the roof would not lock into the wall.



    In order to hold the roof in place while not in use, I purchased four tie straps that are used. One for each corner. Shown on the left. To attach it to the roof and wall I used spring toggle wings. The roof and walls have two layers. Do not go through to the outside. I purchased steel loops and washers from the local hardware store to complete the installation.



    Handles are a necessity. They are also held in place with spring toggle wings. I found the approximate position shown at the left to be about right. This also gives a nice intermediate support against sliding of the roof when taking it off. Since you start from the inside and then go out and around and slide the panel down to the side of the shed. 



    The center support is normally attached to the gable with a screw. I have not found this to be necessary. Once the roof panels are off, taking the center support out is easy. Just spread the gable from the support and pull it out. Note the image on the right.

The roof panel is very difficult to get in and out of the center support. I found it necessary to straighten the flanges on it with a pair of pliers. Start at one end and work your way all the way along the channel. This makes it easier to get the roof panel in and out. Don't worry, it does not let the weather in. Because of this, you will have to grind the sides of the area that receives the support into the gable. Note the images below.




    And that is it for the roof.


     The gable locks into the wall and is supposed to be screwed in. Here too I found this not to be necessary. I kept the locking tabs in place but did not screw it together. This allows me to take off the gables relatively easily if I want to get close to the horizon in the east or west. I must say that I never have found the need to yet. Perhaps you comet hunters may need to though.


    A REAL handy thing that can be done with the roof panels is that they can be used as wind dams. I made four 'S' clips out of 2x4's. Two are shown on the right. They mount right on the wall and hold the roof panel in place. To stop the wind from coming in from between the roof panel and the peak, I made two simple corner wind dams out of 2ft by 4ft masonite board shown below. The setup as shown would be for wind coming from the northwest. This has saved my imaging on numerous evenings!



    Last but not least, a good stepping stool is a must. This one isn't pretty but it works great. You will need it to take the roof off and on from the inside. It is great to sit on in front of the computer. The steps fold in so you can move around the observatory better. And the steps are nice for the different heights of the eyepiece. I consider it a must for this type of setup.


With the best of regards;
Chuck Domaracki