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Planning a New back garden Observatory. Will document and solicit advice / feedback in this thread.


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Good afternoon everyone, my name is Steve and I am an amateur astronomer based in West Yorkshire.

Due to a number of circumstances, I have decided that this will be the the year that I finally bite the bullet and put together my back-garden observatory.

I intend to use this thread to document my project,  to help gather my thoughts and clarify requirements, and, hopefully, as a way to gather advice / feedback from your good selves.

I am by no means skilled when it comes to DIY, building, or the technicalities of remote observation, I have only ever owned one telescope... the one I still use today that I started this hobby with many years ago. But,  I am getting older now and standing out in the cold setting my mount and scope up and freezing whilst I squint through an eyepiece, despite still giving me great pleasure, is getting harder and harder :)

So here we are.

My ultimate desire for this observatory has three founding principals.. 

  1. I Must be able to Control everything from the comfort of my house :)
  2. I must be able to view both Solar system objects, and Deep sky objects in real-time, or near real-time video on my PC desktop monitor screen.
  3. I would also like to be able to capture at least passable images of said objects, when the fancy takes me.

To consider this project a success, I am telling myself I must fulfil these three criteria.

With this in mind, and after conversing back and forth with the very helpful Steve at Pulsar Observatories,  have just placed my order deposit for one of their 2.2m full height domes.

The full order from Pulsar will be...

This will form the basis of my remotely controlled Observatory, I will be running a main power conduit, and a data conduit from my house to the observatory (not far really, approx. 8-10 meters from the back of my house to where the obs will be situated.
There will be a a dehumidifier in the Obs to control humidity.

(When I say... "I"... I actually mean my pet-builder.. a good friend who is going to help with all the construction work)

 

At present I own the following astronomy equipment

  • Skywatcher explorer 150p
  • EQ5 synscan got mount

That's it! I have been looking at the sky all theses years just using my trusty first and only Telescope :)

I am painfully aware that I am going to need to purchase a lot more equipment... so be it!

As far as I can tell... to achieve my goals in simple terms to start with... I am going to need at least the following...

  • A telescope with Camera combination suitable for Planetary and lunar Video observing.
  • A telescope with Camera combination suitable for DSO Video observing.
  • A video finder scope?
  • Auto focusers for both video viewing scopes?
  • A mount that can cope with both scopes, one piggybacked on the other I would assume. 
  • A way to perform tracking whilst observing?
  • Equipment in-observatory to connect al the various bits of kit together  and power it all.
  • A way to control all the equipment and observatory remotely.
  • A way to connect my in house desktop, to whatever is controlling everything (if not directly?)

Likely many other things that I either haven't thought about, or have misunderstood.

 

So. I guess my first question would be... what have I missed?

 

 

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First real update in a while. Work Started today. Plan was to start on the footing trench for the repairs / upgrades to the Patio, and start to remove / excavate the area of existing rubbish pati

Good afternoon everyone, my name is Steve and I am an amateur astronomer based in West Yorkshire. Due to a number of circumstances, I have decided that this will be the the year that I finally bi

Not many updates since the last, it's just been lots of digging and ground work.   That changed today as we were finally ready for the Concrete.   Now... we wait...  

Posted Images

Welcome! Straight in at the deep end, it looks like! I won't comment on telescope/camera selection - there are others who can cover that much better than I.

Piggybacking is fine but does usually put you into quite an expensive category of mount - think Mesu, CEM120, Losmandy, 10micron etc, £3-4k and up - if your scopes have "reasonable" aperture. Consider if you'll be doing both year-round or sticking to planetary/lunar in brighter months or not, e.g. swapping scopes every 6 months rather than piggybacking.

I'd strongly recommend getting some of the software and e.g. motor focus, guide stuff as soon as you can so you can learn this stuff better before planning for the obsy version. These are often heavily reusable bits (dependent on budget for future scopes, of course). If you're going to use KStars/Ekos that's free but has a learning curve. SGP et al also have learning curves of their own and are ££. Get some, try others, set up your current setup and see if you can get "everything but the dome" running. Learning that is going to take you months (especially with this cloud) and will help inform what you do for a final setup in terms of scopes, software, focusers, etc etc etc.

Walk before you try and run a marathon and avoid some expensive mistakes; you can do this stuff with your current setup plus a cheap camera, guidescope/camera setup, focus motor, and an eqmod cable. That gets you to electronic viewing without a dome etc with your existing scope. That'll give you a bit of a feel for it - both to see if it actually scratches that itch appropriately and to give you a feel for the important things.

Getting a Pulsar dome in and powered is a good chunk of the battle towards ease of operation for sure. You'd want a good solid pier, also, and plenty of concrete in the pad (most builders hear "pad" and start thinking how thin they can get away with - you can either do a deep dig for the pier and isolate it, or just make the whole pad good and thick to ensure a good, vibration-insensitive base). Once you know what your payload weight will be you can pick a mount - but that means picking (roughly) the sort of telescopes you'd be mounting, and adding a good buffer for cameras, guidescope (if required), and on-tube equipment like focusers, dew heaters, etc.

Lots and lots to think about, in any case!

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Hello Steve and welcome. I shall be following this thread closely to see how you get on and what you choose as we will be moving soon and I have similar plans albeit I have already built everything in my mind 🤦‍♂️ 

Just to satisfy my curiosity, have you tried remotely controlling your EQ5/150P?

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Morning!
 

I haven't controlled the scope remotely, no. 
 

Though I do have a modified sc90 that I picked up ages ago. And have, in the past, used it in conjunction with a free version of sharp cap to both take images of, and live-view objects.  I have a pic of the Orion nebula and one of m82 somewhere if you want to see what my current gear can do. 
 

discardedastro does make an excellent point though. 

In truth, the only reason I haven't yet begun to try to get remote observing working with my current scope,  is that I was unsure if I bought lots of equipment to make it work with my 150, then if I discover I need a new scope or scopes, if I would have to buy it all again for the new scope(s) if that makes sense. 
 

I’ll be honest... at this stage of my life... budget is sort of irrelevant. My father wanted me to enjoy my hobby as much as possible, and when he passed  last year unexpectedly from aggressive cancer, he left me enough money to ensure I could fulfil my long time dream of building an observatory without worrying too much about cost (within reason)

 

This project is as much for his memory as it is fir my enjoyment  

 

Tha said, I don’t want to just spend cash for the sake of it, so I guess I should first set about researching if my current scope will do the job with a suitable camera, and if not... what I should replace it with. 
 

any thoughts on the skywatcher 150 for video observing?

I’ll head to the relevant forum fir a look around. 

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Hi Steve and welcome, not only to the forum, but to the observatory owners club :)

I echo the comments about running the marathon... It's all too easy to spend money on stuff you don't need, or get all the gear and then find it becomes complicated to co-ordinate the equipment and you spend more time sorting out technical issues rather than imagine.   To start with use your existing equipment.  It will allow you to get to grips with the basics such as mount control and the software behind it.  Before splashing out on a nice CCD camera and filter wheel, pick up a cheap canon 450D or above with live view.  Purchase the 9 x 50 finderscope / guide camera packages that FLO or RVO offer for under £200 so you can become familiar with the guiding process.  The 150P on the EQ5 inside the dome should get you started for DSO's.  For solar system images you need magnification and large aperture, so the 150 would be pushed to work as a planetary scope.  You will get images of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, but adding barlow lenses to increase magnification reduces brightness and resolution, however upgrading the scope and the mount at a later stage can always be treated as a second phase of the project.  

For controlling the mount you will need some form of computer.  For simplicity a lot of us with observatories use an old windows based PC.  It doesn't have to be the fastest machine as most software is fine on hardware that is circa 10 years old ! Other systems such as a Raspberry Pi running Linux and INDI are a possibility, it all depends on what you are comfortable with.  On Windows, most of us used EQMOD as the "driver" and the ASCOM platform as the common interface between applications.  A £30 EQDIR cable is used to connect between the PC and the mount.  The PC also runs applications such as APT or BackyardEOS to control the DSLR camera, and if you have the dome automated, the software to control that too.  Then its a simple matter of remote desktopping into that PC from the one in the  lounge so you can do all your imaging from the comfort of the house.

Once you have mastered the basic setup, then you can look at upgrading the mount, the scope, and replacing the dSLR with a dedicated astro camera as your ability and experience grows.  A good friend of mine (and an SGL member) started off using his EQ6 and a basic scope which if memory serves me correctly was a 200P or an ED80... He now has a 200mm Ritchey-Chretien sitting on an EQ8 and a QSI 638 camera, and prior to that had a SW 10" quattro, which gave him no end of issues...The amount of data he puts in, often with 100's of single images to stack and grade has resulted in several images being featured in Astronomy Now and other mainstream publications.  The point is that he didn't do that overnight and straight off the bat.. it too time and it evolved as his experience grew and his budget allowed (hard to accept that his camera cost more than my car did !)

If you have yet to control your EQ5, then order an EQDIR cable form FLO, download ASCOM, EQMOD and an astronomy planetarium program such as Cartes du Ciel and then have a play.  There is something quite magical experiencing the action of moving a scope at the click of a button :) 

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Thanks for the advice so far!
 

Builder is coming round tomorrow to talk plans. 

I should stress that collecting data for post process imaging is the tertiary consideration,  the main 2 goals are for me to be able to view real time or near real-time images  on a screen (2 goals as I would like to be able to view solar system objects as well as DSO’s using one setup if possible.   (I believe this is referred to as EAA now days?)

and then down the line perhaps extend to long session astrophotography

That said, In the meantime, heading your excellent advice so far, I’ll start the ball rolling for getting familiar with

pc control of the mount
guiding
autofocus
real-time viewing
Required software


I actually have a cannon EOS 500d, with appropriate adapter for my scope (used it previously to image the Orion Nebula)

 

so, first things to acquire  if I am reading your suggestions correctly...

 

- A guiding solution.  (Apologies not familiar with what 9x50 means, but found this... https://www.firstlightoptics.com/zwo-cameras/zwo-mini-finder-guider-asi120mm-bundle.html#about_this_product
- An auto focusing solution. (Still looking / reasearching)
- laptop to control , I have an old windows laptop I can use for now

- software,  backyardeos , eqmod, stellaris my and ascom

- eqdir cable to connect mount to laptop

 

sound about right?

 

Edit, here are sone I’ve taken so far with my basic setup  just the mount, scope, a camera, and patience  

 

B634B4CF-FFEF-43BA-8D76-A5EEB5D691D4.jpeg

7C4F9555-F665-4DCA-A318-7E05D7B19F13.jpeg

F3D8C233-31A3-406E-8F63-812BB457762E.jpeg

F3A2C371-1866-4053-8E12-0E5EC02D704A.jpeg

Edited by Steve Loy
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13 minutes ago, Steve Loy said:

- A guiding solution.  (Apologies not familiar with what 9x50 means, but found this... https://www.firstlightoptics.com/zwo-cameras/zwo-mini-finder-guider-asi120mm-bundle.html#about_this_product

The 9 x 50 stock finderscope with the same camera https://www.firstlightoptics.com/guide-cameras/sky-watcher-9x50-finder-adapter-zwo-asi120mm-bundle.html

I'm not sure what you mean by live view in real time.  If you mean to simply do "visual" observing from your PC screen via a camera rather than traditional imaging where you take and stack images then most quality CCD astro cameras and software could do that, so the individual exposures are "stacked" in real time.

I don't do a great deal of imaging as I used to, but a typical session would be to open up the observatory, power up the mount and PC, target a bright start and check focus, then go back to the house and remote desktop into the observatory PC from the main PC in the lounge.  I would then select the target, frame it and once guiding is up and running start an imaging run.  After the first 5 min sup is complete and looks OK  I leave it running  and go watch some TV or do something else.  

One thing I do use is a webcam  in the observatory so I can keep an eye on the scopes position and to check no cables are getting tangled.

 

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ahh excellent thank you, must have missed that one  

Yeah, I mean instead of looking through an eyepiece at whatever the scope is pointed at, you attach a camera and look at the video output on a screen or monitor. I believe it’s referred to as video-astronomy or electronically assisted astronomy (EAA) now days 😊

if my research is correct this works for planetary and dso targets as well, because the modern cameras and software are capable of, like you say, stacking as you watch the feed, resulting in even faint dso being viewable on screen as you watch without traditional  post processing.

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Small update following a productive conversation with my pet-builder.

Thoughts and expectations laid out and he is more than happy that he can achieve what I need. 

We moved in here about a year ago, and the garden is the next big project. We have a large old patio area, and a large decking area (cleared of old decking) that is all in need of repairs and renovation.

He is going to do all the repair work to the Patio and decking areas, and at the same time, install the pad base for my obs.

Essentially, the high level plan at this stage, is to remove a section of the existing extended patio (The red area)

Place the square obs pad in its place, set into the ground (raised about 150mm from ground level)

Extend the existing patio "behind" the pad to provide a walkway round the Obs (Green area)

Repair and prepare the rest of the patio / decking area for block paving, install steps etc.

Finished it should look something like the rough plan the missus put together this afternoon (she is as excited as I am)

 

scope area.jpeg

Garden.jpg

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Hi. 

It wont be raised, the section of raised patio in red is being removed.
Have looked into all relevant planning issues already, but thankyou for the concern :)

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Also be aware of any local planning regs about what distance your obs has to be from the boundary if running permanent power to it. Locally it would have to be 2 metres away but may be completely different where you are or not even apply in the first place.

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Steve,  all sound good... I'm a little confused at to the plans.  If the raised section is being removed and a low ground level base installed for the observatory then would there be a need for two sets of steps as shown, which to me seems dangerous as there is a chance  falling down one set of steps from the other.  Maybe amending the drawing like this, assuming the patio with the table on is raised a few feet.

Garden.jpg.dfc860df8c055334df3fe8c1ee17a9e9.jpg.76dc7a36ef7ff3cbc73ca440f73fb240.jpg

 

I have to agree with the comments from the other guys in that with the top of the observatory being 2m or less from the border it may be worth checking with your local planning department to see if any permission or permits are required given that according to Pulsars website  - Total Height approx 2.47 metres, which would exceed the 2.5m ridge height for an outbuilding within 2m of a boundary.

Whilst you think it may not require it, and chances are it may not, it's still better to check it out now at the proposal stage rather than have a neighbour complain and the inspectors come round and cause you grief later.  If it does breach the planning regs on a technicality, it may be resolved by moving the observatory a foot further away from the boundary to appease the planning officers and remove the prospect of formal planning permissions being a requirement.

On a different note, get your builder to install an additional duct between the house and the observatory with draw cables fitted.  You may not need it now, but if at a later stage you need to replace a cable, or need extra you have the ability to run them in without compromising or having to have the ground dug up to replace it.

Other than that, it looks like you are going to embark on a very interesting project that I for one are eagerly looking forward to following

 

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Posted (edited)

Hi

My apologies, perhaps I am not explaining myself correctly.

All of the current Patio area, including the bit that is to be removed, is currently all at the same height, and at Ground level with respect to the house.

You have to go down steps to get to the lawn as it is at a lower elevation than the house.

 

We are removing the red section of patio essential turning that peninsula into an L shape, and fitting the base there raised a bit of the ground to aid drainage.

The base of the obs will essentially be about 300mm below "Ground level" as defined in the regs.

Thus the top will be well below 2.5m

(I have checked all this with planning already)

 

EDIT - Added a rubbish pic to try to explain a bit better

The grey area is the current ground level that the house sits on, and the level of all the patio / decking area.

The green is the garden grass

the plan is to remove a section of patio represented by the red block, to make room for the obs pad to slot in at garden level the yellow slab

 

explain.png

Edited by Steve Loy
added a pic to explain
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1 hour ago, malc-c said:

On a different note, get your builder to install an additional duct between the house and the observatory with draw cables fitted.  You may not need it now, but if at a later stage you need to replace a cable, or need extra you have the ability to run them in without compromising or having to have the ground dug up to replace it.

 

The plan is to run a Power conduit and a separate data conduit underground (since we will be digging the whole thing upon to repair it all anyway... BUT... 

This is an excellent point, I shall bring it up with him! Thanks!

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32 minutes ago, Steve Loy said:

 

The plan is to run a Power conduit and a separate data conduit underground (since we will be digging the whole thing upon to repair it all anyway... BUT... 

This is an excellent point, I shall bring it up with him! Thanks!

Even if you never end up using is, it's always worth having it there just in case.  Who knows two years after its built you may install CCTV or some other equipment and struggle to pull another cable through an existing packed data conduit...  If you don't want to run two, then possibly increase the size of pipe used.  I'm sure your builder will be best to advise you

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Plus 1 for the larger diameter pipe. I have been looking into remote operation of my telescope and there are so many options it's mind blowing, malc-c I know links two pc's with a network cable, the ends of a network cable are easily added so you are just pulling a small data cable, but, if you choose an alternative route which uses usb connections you will struggle to get the moulded plug through a small conduit particularly if there are other cables already installed. 

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I’ll chat to my buddy and discus options. 
current plan is separate conduits for power and data. He knows his stuff, so I’ll deffo talk to him about future proofing it. 
 

I was planning on using a wired network cable to link the obs control computer to my in house machine. 

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A 6 ft fence I would be uneasy having it in an open view and an easy target ,I use APT for capture and has a new autofocus routine which is excellent, doesn’t control dome though or not that I’m aware of , deepskydad autofocuser works well and will fit your skywatcher 150 you can also buy a hand controller to manually adjust too .

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My tu’pence worth

  • USB powered micro/stick PC, you don’t need much CPU power to control a mount or capture images
  • wifi connection to allow upload to cloud storage
  • power/usb distribution e.g. Pegasus PPB, to
  1. power dew heaters,
  2. focus motors
  3. image camera cooling
  4. image and guide camera data transfer
  5. Mount
  6. the stick pc
  • run 2 separate conduits to the observatory base, 2 mains power+ 2 ethernet
  • run 2 separate conduits from near entry point of above to pier, 2 x power + 2 ethernet
  • PHD2 for guiding

This can all run off a 17Ah battery

Mains power required for dome rotation tho’, as far as I can make out

FWIW this setup works for me - bar any dome control

Sure I missed something tho

 

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  • 1 month later...

First real update in a while.

Work Started today. Plan was to start on the footing trench for the repairs / upgrades to the Patio, and start to remove / excavate the area of existing rubbish patio that will be going to make room for the obs pad.

Here are the before pics..

Before1.thumb.jpg.3b5e57f405f070a86f0547506d0896d2.jpg

Before2.thumb.jpg.7e173f226395fd695c22bbf0599a16b6.jpg

 

1945322191_Before3.thumb.jpg.bea14adf2d04c12b793d008461563bb5.jpg

 

We got a fair bit done between Myself, the missus (yep, she's happy to get stuck in) and my Builder-buddy.

Me after taking the flags off

Day1_patio_remove1.thumb.jpg.08ced4c14b1e6ad2fa9f43c10b5b7297.jpg

 

And after we had started removing the fill in material for the patio (looks like whoever built it used it as a skip... all sorts of rubbish under there!

Day1_patio_remove4.thumb.jpg.117af853c925555ad816088f7b9da623.jpg

 

About half the material shifted from where the obs will be, and the 1st part of the footing trench for upgrades dug, and this is the result.

Day1_backfillrubble.thumb.jpg.44805a82b8a4c9e4aafe52aa97aa81c7.jpg

373810657_Day1_Patiofooting.thumb.jpg.72dad9f6cfd21187605e40232a3b42ff.jpg

 

Builder will be back Saturday (he's helping us in his spare time as a friend), in the meantime, Me and the missus are going to finish the rest of the footings, and finish clearing the material from where the OBS pad is going.

 

I'm knackered, all dug by hand, cant get a machine in to our back garden, no access.

But will be worth it in the end. Once the ground work is done, these updates should be a bit more obsy focused.

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I have so many challenges with this, I don't know where to start...

1. I noticed as soon as you started the sun went in 🤣

2. What is that on the table? doesn't look like a beer to me.....

Looking forward to watching how you get on. You are miles in front of me on the obsy build but I am a little in front of you in the remote control setup. 👍

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No update today. Was just more boring digging and moving rubble. 
 

@M40 your not wrong, and it was snowing  today for a short time!

Its tea on the table, we had a bear when we were done for the day. 
 

managed to rig my new Ultrastar up to my skywatcher and a laptop and played about with starlight live the other night.  Interesting stuff. Bit of a learning curve but all good. 

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I think you have made an excellent choice in the Ultrastar, have you gone for colour or mono? I have recently landed a Lodestar x2 primarily as a guide cam but after lurking on the eea forums on the site I am now more concentrating on liveview and starlight live. Not achieved yet but I have started with the baby steps. Got everything set up the other night and just started with SLL and the mount battery gave up so kicked a few things went indoors and immediately ordered a power supply 🤣.

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