Welcome to Thunderstruck Observatory, my personal astronomical observatory.
Thunderstruck Observatory was completed on August 11, 2004. Located in my front yard, it is the ultimate in convenience.
The primary telescope is a 13.1 inch diameter f4.5 reflecting telescope, specifically an "Odyssey One" Dobsonian. It was built for me in 1982 by the Coulter Optical Co. It looks like a blue circus cannon. It is considered "moveable" but not "portable", as it weighs 125 pounds and is extremely awkward to move. This type of telescope is sometimes referred to as a "light bucket", since it's large diameter collects many thousands of times as much light as the "naked" eye.
The white telescope riding piggyback on the Dobsonian is a 4.5" diameter f8 Tasco reflector, currently being used as a satellite tracking scope. The red spotting scope is a 50mm 7 power scope made by Roger Tuthill.
The observatory is essentially just a shed, 10 ft. by 10 ft. square, with 6 ft. high walls and a corrugated steel roof. The roof is not attached to the shed, but is held up by four 4" wheels that ride on two extended top rails. When not in use the roof is chained to the shed at each corner. To open the observatory I simply unhook the chains and then push the roof away onto the "outrigger" rails. The process takes less than 60 seconds. The observatory has allowed me to leave the telescope set up all the time, always ready for viewing at my whim. If the notion crosses my mind I can be observing the sky in less than 1 minute. The observatory is not heated or air conditioned, so the telescopes are always at thermal equilibrium.
I sometimes call this place "the black hole", because the flat black paint on the walls and floor help keep the observatory darker than the night sky, even when my red chart reading light is on. And the 6 ft. high walls block my view of the surrounding world, creating the impression that I'm floating in interstellar space.
The hemisphere mirror is for seeing any bright meteors that would otherwise be out of my field of view.
When the roof is open the sky is my ceiling and I have the universe at my fingertips!
I had long dreamed of having a fiberglass dome, similar to My Kwajalein Observatory in the Marshall Islands in the 1980's, But I eventually realized that the roll-off roof design has some definite advantages and is better suited for my purposes here. For one thing, I can see the entire sky from within the observatory, instead of being limited by the size of the viewing hatch. And I don't have a real problem with light pollution here or wind (or salt spray!) so there's no need to block part of the sky. Also, it was MUCH cheaper than a dome, costing only about $500 for materials. (I got most of the wood from a friend with a sawmill!)
This view shows the outrigger rails for the roll-off roof, and the adjacent, preexisting building (my "office") containing my computer and a heater.
The telescope is mounted on a concrete pedestal which is isolated from the rest of the observatory, so people can move around in the observatory without vibrating the telescope.
This type of telescope has no motor drives or computers or camera attachments. It's specifically designed for visual observing only, a task for which it is extremely well suited. It's a big enough telescope to display bright images of things and details beyond the reach of a typical amateur scope. And having to manually aim and track with it quickly produces a knowledge of the constellations and a feel for the motions of the sky.
This telescope never ceases to amaze me with the wonders it can reveal. I used to dream of even bigger telescopes, but eventually came to realize that it would take several lifetimes to see everything this one can show.
The built in chart table is just right for my old National Geographic all sky star chart and Wil Tirion Sky Atlas 2000.
I've got FM, AM, shortwave, CDs, and lots of space music. And for meteor watching or just relaxing under the stars there's a real comfortable reclining seat from a Chevy van (not shown).
The young man shown here is my son, Hunter Orion Hampton, 8 years old at the time (now 9 and 1/2!). He and his sister, Cynthia Elysia Hampton, 15, provided much assistance in the construction. They probably drove more nails than I did!
Building this observatory is one of the best things I've ever done, and I should have done it years ago. It cost very little, and contains an old and inexpensive telescope. But it's solid and it's extremely functional and convenient. And for my purposes it's a "Universe Class" observatory.
Text and Photos © 2007 by Bob Hampton All Rights Reserved