New Observatory

In 2022, I decided it was time to set up my own observatory. The plan was to have this be operated remotely and be located at our holiday place which is a reasonably short drive from our home – I would control the observatory remotely but as we are often there in the weekends, any observatory work would (hopefully) fit in with our families activities.

If you look at where to locate an observatory, there are 3 main factors to consider. Firstly you want plenty of clear nights with no cloud. Secondly you want excellent seeing or less turbulence in the upper atmosphere, this is especially important if you are trying to get the maximum resolution possible but is less important if you are imaging wider fields at somewhat lower resolutions. And lastly you want no light pollution and a very dark sky. These factors are why professional observatories are often located high on mountains, there is less atmosphere for the telescope to see through so the seeing is better, they are often above lower clouds and fog, and they are far from cities and the associated artificial lights.

My observatory location is located a total of 10m above sea level, and I suspect maybe the lowest observatory in New Zealand. It is subject to coastal conditions, but the night sky is a very dark Bortle 2, a major help for the faint objects I often image. While great seeing often occurs at high altitudes, you can also get good seeing near the coast. This is because the smooth ocean surface does not disrupt the air as it flows over it, so there was some hope that my seeing may be reasonable.

Given the environmental conditions I wanted the maximum protection for my gear and so decided on a dome observatory. A dome observatory also allows the observatory to close no matter where the telescope is pointed, a major advantage when operating remotely. This means that if something goes wrong with the mount, then the observatory can always shut and be safe from the weather. While a large observatory would be great, the site would not quite fit anything too large, so after a lot of research, I ordered a Scopedome 2M observatory in June 2022. Then started the work to try to plan a remote setup -resilient communications, power backups,  data transfer, weather monitoring, allsky camera, cameras to monitor the dome etc etc -a lot of work but a lot of fun.

Dome arriving on Hiab

The dome arrived just after New Years 2023 and was delivered to the site by a Hiab. One great feature of the Scopedome 2M is it comes assembled -I only had to install the base tower, and then the dome on top of this. This required installing a number of concrete anchors and sealing the base of the tower with silicone, but was fairly straightforward and went well. Once the dome and pier were installed, the electrical and networking was done, and I was then up and running.

Scopedome 2M installed

Given the environmental conditions, I did decide to invest in a small split unit heat pump for the observatory to tightly control humidity and to dry out the gear as quickly as possible after a nights imaging. I also decided to get a plasma air purifier attachment for the heat pump, which will help keep dust (and any salt spray) under control. So far I have not had any dew inside the observatory or on the telescope, even on nights when I would usually need to run my dew heater, which is promising.

The current setup inside the dome.

My first image taken from the observatory was an image of Gum14. There is still some work to do to optimise the dome and its ability to recover from any issues such as power outages or network failures, but is great to have it all installed and working.

Observatory in action from an internal monitoring camera. The light visible is from illuminated power switches.
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