A home observatory is a dream for many amateur astronomers, but it is a real boon to have one. Having your equipment ready to go at a moments notice, and being able to cover it up at the first sign of rain makes your observng so much easier.

On the page here I will tell you about my observatory, the equipment in it. How it all works together. I’ll also document some hints and tips, and things I have found out along the way.

An observatory is not a ‘done once’ project, it’s constantly evolving. As interests change, technology changes, equiment fails. It’s a never-ending story.

There are probably three main types of observatory structure in common use by amateur astronomers. All have their plusses and minuses - in the end it comes down to personal preferences (and depth of pockets).

These three types are the dome, the shed (with roll-off roof), and the run-off shelter. At the end of this article I will do a bit of a comparison between these, and note a couple of other alternatives.

Current observatory

My SkyDome

My SkyDome

Since our move to Orkney the dome is not currently erected - hopefully this will happen in Spring 2023.

My current observaotry is a dome (a 10 foot diameter SkyDome) which was erected in 2015. I purchased it second hand from a local astronomy buddy. There was some effort involved in breaking it down in his garden, transporting here, and re-erecting. Luckily it all fitted in one of the big Transits.

The installation is a little unconventional. I was not sure where to put a pier, and I quite liked the idea that the scope could be taken out and set up elsewhere if needed. So I took a page out of John Fletcher’s metaphorical book, and laid out three deep concrete pads with a small paving slab on top of each. These are the bases for the tripod. Then I laid paving slabs around the peripehery of the dome (these had less heavy foundations). The dome base is bolted down onto these to assure it won’t blow away. Getting the slabs properly level is importatnt to make sure the dome will run nicely. I then made a floor by laying 2x4 joists across the width of the observatory, and covered these with flooring T&G chipboard. Cutouts were made to expose the pads for the tripod.

Originally the telescope in the observatory was a Meade LX200 ‘classic’, but in 2019 the RA drive failed, and so I have replace this with a second-hand Lormandy G11 mount and a second hand Celestron C11 XLT.

Previous obsertory

Before I had an observatory, I used to set up my equipment every night in the back garden, or head out to a dark observing site. With a small dobsonian type telescope this is not too much of a chore, but setting up and aligning an equatorially mounted scope can take a while and can be off-putting after a long day at work.

When moving to our house in Worcestershire, a place without much light pollution and a space in the garden for an observatory were high on my shopping list.

My first observatory was a fairly traditional run-off roof affair. I built this from scratch with a central pier made from concrete blocks, topped with a paving slab to hold my 20 inch Dark Star dobsonian telescope. It might sound strange having a big dob in an observatory, but it was 1) heavy - so you did not really want to have to lug it out everytime you wanted to observe, and 2) being a truss-tube dob, there was always some element of re-collimation needed every time it was set up. So having it permanently set up meant it would get used a lot more. The roof rolled off on scooter wheels, running on L channel. The roof was bitumen corrugated sheets from Wickes, which pretty much self supported themselves.

Old obsy, closed

Old obsy, closed

Opening up

Opening up

Telescope ready to go

Telescope ready to go

Thoughts on types of observatory

Here are some pluses and minuses - from my point of view anyway

Plus Minus
Dome It’s a dome Restricted view of the night sky
Good protection from wind Need to move dome to follow objects
Quick to get going and close up Maybe not a DIY job
Efficient use of space in the garden
Usually fibreglass, so lasts well
Roll of roof shed Full view of the night sky Limited protection from the elements
Can be quick to open up Roof can be heavy to move
Easy DIY job Not many commercial offerings
Good for remote controlled imaging Usually made of wood, so needs regular maintenance and maybe limited lifespan
Roof needs to cover someplace when open, which may be dead space
It’s not a dome
Roll off shelter Can be small and compact No protection to observer or equipment when open
Easy DIY job Ground level runners can stick
Can be cheap Not a dome
Good for remote controlled imaging

Some other peoples observatories