Observatory Construction The original Observatorio de la Ballona was constructed from June through October of 2004 as part of an overall backyard renovation project. The project included replacement of an old (circa 1927) garage, a deck, the observatory, and new landscaping. The more I became involved in astronomy and astrophotography, the more I wanted a permanent set-up. Too many nights went by when I did not get the telescope out because of the 30 minute set-up and take-down time.

We had remodeled our house five years earlier, but had left the original garage. It was in sorry shape, with peeling paint, termite damage, and tilted so that the front was six inches shorter than the back. With a promise of new landscaping and an attractive design, the observatory project was born under the umbrella of a remake of the back yard.

Researching what to build was a lot of fun. There are some great resources out there:

  • Bill Arnett's Amateur Observatories page is an excellent resource. It is well worth looking at every single link he has.
  • Technical Innovations' PDF book "At Home in a Dome" is a great resource even for a roll-off, as it has good advice on piers and concrete pads. (And it would be cool to have a dome someday.)
  • Sky Shed has excellent plans, with photos, advice, and kits. Wayne Parker is a real pro and is very helpful. I bought my pier from Sky Shed and am quite happy with the purchase.
  • The Yahoo! news groups are very helpful in general, and the good people in the Observatories group have been very helpful to me.

Since building this observatory, we acquired property in Lake Riverside Estates in southern Riverside County and built a larger observatory there. A full set of construction pictures can be found in the photo gallery.

Before Construction
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This is the garage before demolition, and a wde view of the yard after the garage was taken down. Demolition goes quickly.

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The observatory will be built roughly where the swing set is in this picture.

Observatory Construction Observatorio de la Ballona is a 9' x 7' roll-off roof observatory. Its size kept it under the maximum size for an un-permitted outbuilding. I decided on a roll-off because a dome, while very cool, would fail the "attractiveness" factor that my wife insisted on. I considered a couple of designs with the observatory on the garage, but that was rejected because of the difficulty getting approval from the building department.

The observatory was built by our general contractor, GDR Construction. Dave and Rick took the project, I am told, primarily because of the opportunity to build an observatory. I purchased plans from www.BackyardObservatories.com (CJE Construction) and from Sky Shed. The contractor modified the plans slightly for my needs -- I think the final was mostly influenced by Sky Shed, from whom I also bought my pier.

Construction is more fully documented on the construction page.

Completed and Operational The observatory saw first light on October 23, 2004.

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Compared to the before pictures above, quite a transformation. Danny did an excellent job with the landscape work, including the flagstone.

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A front view showing the closed and open roof.

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Looking from the back wall toward the house. I painted the interior blue to reduce glare and make it seem more like a dome. The roof has 4 inches of hard insulation (R-19 rated) and that has kept the inside temperature moderate (~85° F) even on hot sunny days.

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Looking into the observatory you can see the scope in parked position. The towel hanging on the wall is for taking flats. I have two light bulbs on either side that provide even illumination. Dew is a significant problem. Closing up on a typical fall night at 1:30am, everything in the observatory is wet. I run a small heater overnight that keeps the interior slightly above the outside temperature and it dries out nicely.

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Looking in the door, you can see the 8" pier, CGE-11 mount and other equipment. The red rope lighting works well, as does my white-box Intel P1.8, StarBound observing char, and the interlocking pad flooring from Lowes. I control the scope with NexRemote, using both Starry Night Pro 5 and The Sky 6 Professional. Generally, Starry Night is better for visual observing as it is easier to browse casually. The Sky is better for CCD work. The computer is networked and I use Windows Remote Desktop to control the scope from inside the house.

Page updated: 10-Apr-2011 3:59:23 pm CDT

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