Star Gully Design Considerations
Especially when compared with the plans for Starlight Basin
Observatory, it is clear there are some compromises I made with
Star Gully Observatory. Here are the ones I conciously made as I
was designing it:
- Space is at a premium. The 8' x 8' profile is enough space to
store Equinox, and for me to be inside and observe with it.
However it is not even big enough to allow the telescope to swing
fully in every direction (Equinox's swing radius is ~52", and
the walls are only 48" away from the center of the structure where the
- The low E-W walls are a compromise to make up for not being
able to fully swing Equinox, so I lose some protection from
light and wind. By not fully lowering the roof panels, I can protect
myself somewhat, but restrict my observing closer to zenith.
- The high N-S walls cut-off my sky in those directions, but the
north is dominated by a light dome from Logan, and I seldom observe
below Polaris, which I can still see. There is a light dome from
Ogden and Salt Lake City in the south, but I often venture into this
part of the sky, particularly in the Summer Milky Way. I think I can
get targets I might normally go after as they rise in the SE sky.
- Certain design requirements for Starlight Basin
Observatory were not possible with Star Gully
Observatory, notably having a full size entry door and being able
to stand upright inside.
- Because I was trying to conserve money, the materials used in
Star Gully Observatory were not the materials I would have
normally chosen for a permanent structure. In particular, the
observatory is skinned with 1/4" OSB sheet, with no siding and only a
layer of exterior paint; the walls and roof studs are all 2x3 lumber
rather than 2x4 lumber; the roof panels are PVC panels rather than
metal panels; the frame of the floor is not treated wood (though it is
covered with a layer of Tyvek, and raised above ground level
on cinder blocks).
Once it became clear that the construction of Starlight Basin
Observatory would not be seriously under way until Spring 2010, we
began to imagine what could be done easily to provide observing over the
winter of 2009-2010. Whatever solution we came up with had to provide the
For posterity, here are a few of the ideas we considered:
- Equinox had to remain set-up and protected from the
- The observing area had to be free of snow, or at least easy to
clear of snow in very short order.
- A small Rubbermaid garden box (usually meant for shovels and
rakes and such) that
would fit Equinox, next to a tarp staked to the ground that
coule be peeled back to remove snow from a bare patch of ground.
Abandoned: We weren't sure you could "peel back" a thick fall
of snow without shoveling, and we were pretty sure pocket gophers and
the like would make their home under the tarp all winter.
- A tent of tarps over a rope between two poles, with
Equinox underneath. Abandoned: We weren't sure we could
close off the ends to keep the snow out and off of the scope, nor were
we sure such a structure would hold up to the winds comeing through
with a storm.
- A light geodesic dome skinned with tarps, like people build for
greenhouses or Burning Man. I could simply flip the dome over onto the
snow when I observe, then put it back over the scope when I'm done.
Abandoned: We weren't sure I could easily stake it and secure
it to the ground during winter.
- A 4x4x8 box that holds Equinox horizontally in storage.
The box would completely unfold flat on the ground to form an
Abandoned: We weren't sure unfolding onto the snow or bare
ground could be made to work.
- A wire dog kennel, with the sides covered in tarps.
Abandoned: There was no way to open the kennel to the sky, and
they cost $300 for something about 3'x5'. It was the discussion about
this option that put us directly on the path to the current concept.
Plan & Materials
Construction started 25 October 2009. The basic frame was built in one
day, painting took another day, and erecting the structure took a third
day. Figeting with the roof support lines, the door, and the trim took
several days of tinkering over the course of a couple of weeks. The site
is located just east of the footprint of Starlight Basin
Observatory. The total cost of materials was $500, not including the
paint and interior floor mats (UPDATE: $600, if I include the added cost
of the counterweighting system that was added on).
The 8'x8' size was chosen to minimize the amount of cutting that had to be
done to expedite construction from dimensional lumber. The basic plan was
worked out on three sheets of paper at Lowe's in Logan on 24 October 2009,
as I was buying materials (as soon as the inspiration struck, we got on
it!). Those plans are shown below; everything fit in the back of my truck
in one load.
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