My Setup



Located in the south of County Meath in Ireland at 53d 25m 24.7s N, 6d 34m 25s West.

Basically, I have a home built garden shed style facility with the two sides of the roof being able to slide off to provide unobstructed access to the night sky.

Housing an equatorially mounted 254mm LX200 Schmidt Cassegrain and an 80mm Apochromatic Refractor together with two CCD cameras (Starlight Xpress HX516 and SXV-H9) and an 80mm guidescope. In addition I have a Philips ToUcam Pro webcam to work at solar and planetary imaging although this has recently been replaced by a more powerful Imaging Source DMK21AF04.AS camera. It was in November 2004 that I upgraded from the MX7C to the SXV-H9 and I added a True Technology motorised filter wheel. A whole new learning curve! My latest addition is a Coronado PST solar telescope which is also piggybacked onto my LX200. 

My latest enhancement was to upgrade my solar equipment by modifying the PST. I  attached it to a 120mm refractor and, with suitable filter attached and  greatly improved the resolution of my solar viewing and imaging as shown below.



Now all I need is a bit more sunshine!

I use a combination of several application software packages to link to this equipment, slew and track the telescope and take images via the cameras. These include: AstroArt 4, MaxIm DL/CCD, TheSky, FocusMax and Starlight Xpress Star2000                   

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The pictures above show various views of my setup. I normally use the LX200 for imaging but, as can be seen, I also can connect the CCD camera to the refractor which gives me a wide field of view. Depending on the target, I will either use the standard focal ratio of the scopes or insert a focal reducer as can be seen in the middle photo above. Care must be taken to avoid vignetting of the image by ensuring the correct spacing between the reducer and the CCD chip. I have both a 3.3 and a 6.3 reducer.

It can also be seen that I use the normal mounting position of the finder scope for the Coronado PST. I made a bracket which enables the PST to be securely mounted and therefore tracks the sun. The ToUcam Pro webcam can be seen attached to the PST in the photo above.

 My film cameras include a 35 mm Zenit B to which I can attach a 58mm, 135mm, or 300mm lens

 My first CCD camera was a Lynx PC which I bought in about 1991 and got me hooked on this passtime. I had been interested in astronomy since the mid 60's but CCD imaging was a new adventure. Towards the end of the 90's, I bought a Starlight Xpress HX516 then an MX7C and finaly the SXV-H9. As mentioned above, my most recent camera acquisition  was a Philips ToUcam 740 Pro webcam which is showing some promise for solar and planetary work.

I bought the camera and made a simple adaptor to enable it to fit into the standard 1.25" eyepiece holder on my scope. I cut a 1 cm section from a plastic tube and after cutting a hole in the end of a FuJi film container, I glued the tube into the end as can be seen in the photograph. After removing the lens from the webcam, the tube fits firmly in place of the lens and allows the camera to fit snugly into the eyepiece holder. The camera connects with my computer via a standard USB interface and I use both K3CCDTools and Registax to take the videostream and also process the images.

My Homebuilt Observatory

 My interest in Astronomy began in the mid 60’s with the purchase of a 30x30 tabletop refractor. The quality was dreadful but it fuelled my interest enough to buy a better one and eventually a friend and I built a  6” Newtonian reflector together with the equatorial wedge and drive electronics. That instrument kept me in touch with the heavens until the early 90’s when I decided that I would invest in a modern scope together with one of the new gizmos on the market – a CCD camera.

Up to this point, I had been going through the ritual of taking the scope and camera out of the garage and assembling them on my patio. The alignment procedure etc could take up to half an hour before useful imaging could be done and it was not uncommon to find clouds appearing shortly after that. Thus everything had to be disassembled and put away again. The cold didn’t concern me too much but the wasted time was annoying. Thus came the need for an observatory.

There are many different basic designs for observatories – dome, roll off roof, clamshell etc and each has its own benefits. In my case I wanted one to suit my garden and the space available and so I decided to base my idea on a standard garden shed, as among its benefits is the fact that they can be bought ready-made from local suppliers!

In my case, I bought a 10’ x 8’ shed. As I would be constructing my own sliding roof for the observatory, I specified that I didn’t need a window or a roof. As you can imagine this caused some raised eyebrows! The shed was delivered as a flat pack of four walls (including door) and a floor. The size of the shed is chosen to suit the equipment that will be housed. My choice of size was based on the fact that I wanted space for a table etc on which I could work. If I were to repeat the process now, I would most likely choose a smaller shed because now I operate the telescope from a separate control room. The photo below shows the completed observatory with the window of the control room in the background. 



As my telescope was going to be mounted on a pillar, I dug a hole about two feet deep and two feet diameter, filled it with concrete and then I used a concrete drain pipe filled with concrete standing vertically on that. When set, this would provide me with a firm base for the equatorial wedge.  


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I then carefully measured and cut a circular hole in the centre of the wooden floor of the shed, which I then slid over the pillar. It is important to leave a small gap between the floor and the pillar otherwise vibrations caused by walking across the floor will be transmitted through the pillar to the scope.


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For the roof, I constructed a frame using 4” x 1” timber, over which I placed black plastic sheet and then thin galvanised steel sheets. The black plastic was to reduce the possibility of condensation, which may appear on the inside of the roof, from falling on the telescope.  


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To allow the roof to slide, I made channels on the gable ends out of wood and used wheels on the underside of the roof as can be seen in the photo below.


In order to ensure that rain is kept out, I made one of the steel sheets overlap the other when the roof is closed. The bolts in the photo are to ensure that high winds do not lift the roof when closed.

The pulleys allow me to let the roof slide down to its open position in a controlled manner and with a minimum of effort.

To close the roof, it is simply pushed back up to its closed position from the outside. I also made an overlap on the steel sheeting to ensure that when the roof is shut, the rain can not fall down between the two roof sheets. This is shown below right.







As far as the actual scopes are concerned, I have a 250mm f10 Meade SCT with an 80mm Apochromatic Refractor and a guiding refractor piggybacked on it. I addition, I have two Starlight Xpress CCD cameras (HX516 and SXV-H9), a RoboFocus system and a range of software such as TheSky, MaxImDL/CCD and AstroArt 3 for controlling the scope and camera from the control room.

To nullify the problem of dew collecting on the telescope corrector plate and objective lenses, I made  “dew zappers” from the element of an old electric toaster. Running at 12 volts, they give me just enough heat to get rid of the problem.

These two photos show my scope setup with the guidescope, finder and piggybacked 80mm APO refractor.



My control room was "created" by converting the back end of my garage. It allows me to sit in comfort while operating the equipment via computer links.

The photos below show one part of my control room and also the view I have while sitting at the computer.


I can certainly say that having the observatory has enabled me to get much more out of the available observing time and hope that others will consider this type of venture a worthwhile project.

If anyone has any particular questions relating to this, just drop me an Email