PETI Enterprises

Sagan's Lair Observatory

It begins with a dream and a drawing !!!!

In 2010 my wife acquired one of her lifelong dreams, a really good telescope, specifically a
Celestron CPC 1100. We quickly discovered that to truly enjoy it we would have to construct a home observatory. We decided on a dome rather than a roll-off. Dedicating it to the memory of Dr. Carl Sagan seemed "quite logical". I spent the winter of 2010 reading books and exploring web sites of fellow observers. I also spent countless hours using Microsoft® Paint to finalize my drawings for our observatory.
The plan was to constuct a 10' x 27' building that would include a 10' x 12' warm room and a 10' x 15' room that would include an elevated 10' x 10' observing deck topped with an 8'
explora•dome. This would require an 8' high pier isolated from the building.

Construction began in the late spring of 2011.

First light for the telescope in the observatory: July 10, 2011

This page highlights the construction from start to finish with text and photos.



On April 14,2011 our dome arrived. We were very fortunate that Dan and his wife from Explora-Dome dropped off our dome while they were on their way to the 2011 Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) held in Suffern, New York.
*



We loaded the dome onto a utility trailer with a couple large boards across it so the dome could be transported to our patio.
*


There it would sit for the next two months due to a very, very wet NE Ohio spring. Oh well, there was still lots of planning to do including lining up a good builder since I could not do all of the work myself. I served as a general contractor and "subbed-out" the excavation, building, electrical and concrete work with agreements to participate in the project. Everyone cooperated and I worked hard and learned a lot.
*


Finally, on May 12 we were able to break ground and scratch out the 10x27 footprint of the building.  I hired Troy Wagner and his crew from T&N Excavating Inc to do the work. They were involved in several phases of the project and I couldn't have picked a better contractor. They were very accommodating and understanding considering their first time involvement in constructing an observatory.
*


The builder I hired was Jack Davis of Interstate Construction in Alliance, Ohio.  Here he stakes out the post hole locations for the pole construction of the observatory.
*


Nine post holes 44 inches deep and 20 inches in diameter with drilled by T&N, a task I'm glad I paid for rather than try to dig them myself.
*


They also dug the 3x3x3 hole for the pier foundation.
*



But this is Ohio and it rained and rained and rained for about 3 weeks before it would be dry enough to have the holes inspected and pour the concrete for the foundation and pier support.  I estimate there was over 1,000 gallons of water in the holes which were pumped 3 times in an effort to keep them dry.  Again, there were some other things I could do to keep busy.
*


The garage filled with building materials and we had to park outside for a while.
*


As time grew near I was able to prepare the dome ring and roof support structure for the big day.
*


The 10 sets of roller wheels were easy to install. This picture also shows the heavy duty cage that was built to secure the bolts for the pier mount... more on that later.
*


I then laid out the aluminum roof support sections so they could be bolted together.  It is a somewhat expensive option, but, well worth the money; it is lightweight and very strong.
*


It was a little hard for a one person job on a very hot day, but, it was nice when it was finished.
*


I then built the structure for the pier foundation out of 2x12 lumber and screwed it together for easier removal once the concrete set.  I contracted a local fabrication shop, Hopple Fabrication, near Marlboro, Ohio to build my pier and top plates where the telescope would be mounted.  Steffon Hopple, the owner, is a very experienced fabricator and provided many useful tips including this "monster size" support system for the bolts.  It's about 3 feet long and uses 1 inch threaded rods for the 1.5 inch bolts. The 12x12 plate shown would be removed after the concrete set and would then be welded to the bottom of the pier pipe... more on that later. I made sure a corner of the plate pointed to tru north and was very level to make future steps more simple.
*


The concrete was ordered and T&N did a geat job with the pole holes and pier foundation.  Originally, I was going to use bags of mix like so many people do, but, my builder talked me into ordering from a redi-mix company and boy am I glad I listened.  We used 2  1/2 yards and had only a bucket full left over.  The cement truck parked at the end of the driveway and T&N used a skid-steer with a special bucket to shuttle the concrete and try to spare our yard from too much "damage". The crew took great care in making sure everything stayed level.
*




And then there was a pier foundation that will remain on this Earth for a very long time !!!
*





Laying out some of the lumber the evening before construction was set to begin.
*


AND NOW THE REAL FUN BEGINS !!!


The first of the 4x6 posts that are 14 feet long  are set... 3 down, 6 to go!
*


The rest of the posts go up and the skirt boards and perlins begin to appear.
*







The end closest will house the telescope. The 2x12's at the top will support the aluminum roof structure.  Jack is telling his wife he'll be late for supper.
*


The beginning of the roof over the warm room.
*


The end of day 1... there was much accomplished and we handled a lot of lumber. Now we can see how big the structure will be.
*


The roof joists over the warm room.
*


The interior wall studs begin to take shape.
*


More walls and a door opening.
*


An 18 inch deep trench goes in for the 100 Amp service connection from the house.
*


More interior wall studs and the ladder is leaning one of the boards that will support the floor joists for the elevated observatory floor about 5 feet above ground level.  Also the aluminum roof support has been installed.
*


Close-up of the aluminum roof support for the dome.
*


The observatory deck is nailed.  Later a hole will be cut to allow the pier to be dropped through the roof and floor to the foundation below.
*






The installation of the steel siding begins.   One side will be left open for now to allow the concrete workers to pour the floor.
*





Nick Vocila, a long time friend of mine who now works for Pauli Electric of Alliance, Ohio (my chosen electrical contractor) lays the conduit for the electric service.  Like everyone, Nick did a wonderful job and catered to all of my special needs which included a white light circuit and also a red light circuit.  Also, there was specific placement of numerous electric outlets including some welded directly to the top of the steel pier.
*




Then I had to back fill the trench.... every time it rains it still settles more. Keep all of the dirt near the trench, you'll need it.
*


The dome ring placement and the rubber roof surface over the warm room.
*



The next step was to place ground up asphalt as a base for the concrete floor which was poured the next morning.  Once again the crew from T&N were very helpful for this step.  I also put a layer of insulation around the pier block to help isolate the structure from the surrounding floor.
*







Jack Davis also came and placed 2 inch thick Styrofoam sheeting on top of the asphalt to allow for very good insulation for the concrete floor.
*


Then the crew of Chris's Custom Concrete came to install the floor.  They first placed the wire structure on top of the Styrofoam and then used the skid steer from T&N to haul the concrete from the street to the observatory, again to save wear on the yard.  Chris and his crew did a great job putting in the floor and the last man literally stayed hours to finish the surface to a perfect condition.  What a shame I planned to cover almost all of it with carpet.  I even got a little front patio out of the deal.
*



 





Steffon Hopple also delivered the 8 foot long steel pier he manufactured.  The 8 inch diameter tube had the square base plate welded on one end and a 12" round plated welded on the top end.  I will later describe the exact specs for the plate system I designed to mount the wedge and telescope.  The base plate shows the four drilled holes at the corners which will line up with the structure buried in the cement pier.   Steffon also welded an electric box and conduit near the top of the pipe so I could have a clean appearance for the 6 outlets at this location.  Getting the pipe off his trailer was the easy part.
*


After the concrete floor was poured it was time to install a steel door.
*


Nick Vocila of Pauli Electric started roughing-in the electric.....but would soon have to take a break.
*



I contacted Chris at CJ Signs in Alliance, Ohio and on very short notice he was able to provide the lift for the pier and the dome.  We first loaded the dome onto the back of his truck to make it easier to lift it onto the roof.
*


Chris then connected onto the pier and was ready for the lift of the 400 plus pounds of steel.
*


The pipe was lifted and then guided by Jack, first through the roof opening (easy because it was 8 feet in diameter) then through the hole in the observatory floor (not as easy with only 1 inch on each side of the 12"x12" base plate) then rotated and guided by me onto the anchor bolts on the pier foundation (easy because Steffon Hopple manufactured everything to very close tolerances). The pipe was leveled and then made secure with four 1.5 inch bolts and washers.  One corner of the base plate was designed to point north and also line up with the first top plate's holes so that wedge alignment would be simplified.
*












We were now ready to install the dome that weighed under 200 pounds, an easy lift for two guys if the roof was at shoulder height...this was going onto a nine foot high roof (don't let the angle of the picture fool you!!!) so the crane was needed.
*


I provided Chris with a target...
*


Jack guided the dome while I was underneath to set it onto the ring with the roller wheels.  The system is well manufactured and the installation was very simple and it fit like a glove.
*


The KING now had his CROWN.....
*


...and the JESTER entertained him.
*


Then Jack went back to closing the building with steel siding...
*



and Nick went back to roughing-in the electric.
*





A view of the pier from below the observatory floor and from above.  The pier had a 10 inch off-set to the south of the center of the dome based on our latitude and telescope placement onto the wedge.
*




Detail of the plate design at the top of the pier.  The two 12" plates have 3 matching holes drilled at 120 degree separation.  These are about one inch from the outer edge.  The top plate (not yet painted) was fitted to the bottom plate where I then placed the wedge and made reference marks for north and east.  The top plate was then returned to Hopple Fabrication where 3 additional holes were tap drilled to allow installation of our wedge.  An additional spacer plate was also needed to install the wedge. The threaded rods and bolts allowed for very accurate level.  The top plate was also painted black before it was returned.
*


On June 20th we had a "first light" of sorts... the power was connected and the lights under the observatory deck glowed for the first time.
*


The warm room would be fully insulated (and heated in the winter).  First the ceiling insulation goes in...
*


then the walls......
*


then the plywood was installed on the ceiling and walls of the warm room.
*






The walls in the observatory area did not have any insulation to allow for ambient temperature control so the plywood went directly onto the wall studs.
*




A 30 inch wide staircase was the next order of business.  The stairs protruded about 36 inches into the observatory deck so a trap door would be hinged to the side-wall.  When closed we would have a full square floor around the telescope.
*





I prepared the walls and ceilings for paint by patching all the nail holes and imperfections in the plywood.  I didn't realize there were so many nails in the building until I had to fill them one by one.
*


This shows the installed patio door between the warm room and the observatory. During my initial planning I was going to install a solid door and a large window on this wall.  Jack suggested this set-up instead, indicating the cost of the 6 foot door would probably be less than building a wall and buying a door and a window.  I think he was right and I'm very glad I took his suggestion because it looks great.
*





With a five foot drop-off from the observatory deck to the floor below I needed some type of railing for safety.  I had salvaged some wooden turned spindles from our porch when it was replaced a year earlier.  With some sanding they cleaned up nice and were ready for some paint.
*





Some trim pieces to dress-up the hole in the observatory floor around the pier.
*


The trap door on the observatory deck.
*





Another look at the glass patio door leading into the warm room.
*


Next I applied a coat of primer over all of the wood.  It wasn't my original intention to prime the plywood, but, Jack and my wife really pushed for the idea; I'm glad I listened because the wood absorbed so much primer and paint it would have taken even more material than it did... almost 3 gallons of primer and 4 gallons of paint.  Again, I didn't realize how much wood was in the building until I had to paint it all.
*











The next step was to "cut-in" the color in the corners and around the outlet and electric boxes.  We decided the entrance and observatory area would be painted flat black; the warm room would be painted cobalt blue with a flat black ceiling.
*











The ceiling and the walls in the warm room get their first coat of color.  Note the electric box in the ceiling for a lighted ceiling fan in the warm room.
*





The observatory walls get their black paint.  Notice the lights, separate red and white fixtures; there are two red lights in the upper level and one above the glass door when you enter the building and one above the glass door inside the warm room. There is one white light in the upper level and one where you enter the building. The "basement" under the observatory deck is lighted and the warm room has a light in the ceiling fan and also two additional floor lamps.  Later I would also install an 8 foot track with six light fixtures for additional lighting in the warm room.  I also got fancy with painting the spindles.  I thought the complementary cobalt blue from the warm room would be a nice touch.
*





I placed a nice sticker from the manufacturer,  Hopple Fabrication, Inc., onto the pier.
*


I also placed pre-cut carpet treads onto the stairs and progressively moved each piece 1 inch towards the left as they go up the stairs in an effort to lead the person towards the center of the dome and avoid bumping their head on the exposed roof support structure.  If you're taller than about 5-7 you have to duck or suffer the consequences.  I plan on putting a padding around the wood in the near future.
*


An attempt to show the wedge on the pier.  I did some research trying to get the best bang for our buck in choosing a wedge.  Celestron had an earlier version of a heavy duty wedge, but, there were a lot of negative comments concerning the quality and functionality.  Our timing was good because Celestron introduced a new and improved wedge, the HD PRO Wedge.  It looked very good on paper so we ordered one.  When it arrived the first thing that impressed me was it really was HEAVY duty construction. The quality and appearance looked very impressive and once mounted it proved to be easy to adjust in all directions. It mates up perfectly with our Celestron CPC1100.  We have NO regrets in our choice of this wedge.
*



The observatory was finished off with carpeting, black in the observatory areas and gray in the warm room.  In the warm room we mounted shelves and rails for our Star Trek plate collection and models as well as other "space" related items.  We have a small computer desk that has a USB connection run to the telescope and WIFI and a wireless phone to keep in touch with the outside World.  As soon as we find suitable furniture we want to have a couple small couches where we can sit or sleep during those long night sessions that are about to begin.
*












 



Our dedication plaque to the late, great Carl Sagan, an inspiration to so many of us...
*



keep looking to the skies...... you never know what you will see...
*









BTW... we've already had our first visitor and if he can't make it back home, he's staying with us.
*




Now we need some clear, dark skies !!!
*
footnote:

After construction was complete, we realized we should have gone with our first instinct, to have a dimmer switch for the RED lights up on the observatory deck, not by the door when you first walk inside.  We wanted to have the dimmer switch moved closer to the telescope at a later time, but, then decided to purchase an IR switch that I was able to install myself.  We keep the remote up in the observatory.  I also found that a single ceiling light in the warm room was not enough to show off our trinkets, so I installed 16 feet of track lighting with 10 fixtures along two sides and one end of the room.

If anyone has questions about this project, PLEASE contact me and I will be more than happy to share the information I have and the knowledge I have gained...




Website Builder