Bertha's Arrival


It was about time to show Bertha in her new home. Sitting atop her 11' pier and on her wedge, she's ready and should be able to view the great adventures of the sky. I say "should" only because the art of getting a solid polar alignment is being far more difficult that I expected. When installing the pier, I used a laser level to align the angle of the pier with Polaris, and verified the alignment with a compass adjusted for the 12 degree offset from magnetic North. I was expecting a very easy alignment, but that certainly isn't the case.

What I'm discovering is that I can't seem to move the wedge far enough to align the scope on Polaris, which of course throws everything off. I'm hoping for clearer skies soon to try again, so that I'm able to capture the astroimages I'm dreaming of sharing. Any advice on polar alignment, please let me know!

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First Light!


Yesterday was an exciting day for the observatory. The carpet was finished on Saturday, so on Sunday I was finally able to install the rest of the pier and get Bertha INSTALLED! Last night was officially First Light, with Andrea and I observing Saturn and several of the 28 moons at 11:24 PM. I'm working on getting some new astrophotos to post, but at least we're finally up and operational. Yeah!

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Painting the Space Ship


As the observatory began to take shape, I entered it one evening before the walls were painted to see what ideas might come to mind in terms of how we should paint the interior. When I closed the door, I discovered that since it is an exterior insulated door, that with it closed, there was no sound at all from the house heard inside the observatory. It gave me the impression that I was really in another place, perhaps even another world. As hokey as that sounds, it seemed like the inside should be finished like a space ship, rather than "just" another room in the house. A Google session or two later and we came up with a plan.

Taking a hint from the International Space Station, we took some hints from images like these:

File:Interior of Harmony Node.jpg 

 

The result was an idea that Tanya, of Cook Varkony Studios, created which was to paint panels on the walls by taping off squares and using the metallic paint we bought for the room.

Tanya Painting the Panels
Tanya Painting the Panels
She made the panels in the first floor of the observatory and painted the same matching pewter color in the area on the second floor.

Getting us up to the second floor was now the challenge. After the walls were painted, it was time to install the spiral stairs. The process so far has been pretty straight-forward. First the center pole is temporarily installed and plumbed. Then the bracket holding the pole on the top is removed and each of the stair treads is lowered into place.

Spiral Stairs
Spiral Stairs
The hand rail in this picture is not in place. It still needs to be shaped to match the pitch of the stairs and then screwed to each baluster.

Fortunately Matt Green was able to help me again, as the treads were a bit difficult to install by myself. Although the directions said to install the wooden treads after the steps were installed, I changed it around and installed them first. It turned out to be a much better idea. I also discovered that the steel pier would be dangerously in the way, so instead of being a right-hand up set of stars, they are now left-hand up. I cut off the last baluster and will cut off the overhanging handrail to match as well, so people can sneak up the steps from the side.

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Pier Building


We're getting very close to getting Bertha in her new home and ready for action. Thanks to the generous help AGAIN from my friend Matt Green, the first section of the pier has been cut and welded into place. The design of the pier is a bit unusual in that it is very tall and cannot be anchored into the ground. The observatory floor is actually what would be the fourth floor of the house, and given that the walls are 12' tall, we had to build another level up from the third floor to be able to see out of the dome. Given that the scope is then 11' or so off the floor, a multi-segment pier was needed. The drawing below illustrates how the sections are tied together:

Observatory Design
Observatory Design

The pier is divided into three pieces. The top two pieces are from Pier-Tech. This is the Pier-Tech 2 / Pier-Tech 1 Telescope Pier Combo. The top section telescopes 20", while maintaining polar alignment. The section section is the Pier Tech 1 component, which is stationary. The maximum length of the Pier Tech 1 is 48", so we were 5'-6" short. Various material choices were considered, but I decided on 1/4" steel from Nivert Metal Supply. I ordered the steel on a Monday afternoon and they delivered it cut and ready to go on Thursday, with a 40' truck. The bottom portion of the pier is 8" x 8" x 1/4" steel tubing. To distribute the weight across the observatory floor, a 4' x 4' x 1/4" steel plate was welded to the bottom of the pier. I then drilled holes every 12" - 16" to secure the plate to the floor.

 

Pier-Tech 2 Telescopic Pier
Pier-Tech 2 Telescopic Pier
Pier-Tech 1 Sub Pier
Pier-Tech 1 Sub Pier
Steel Tube
Steel Tube

 

This is how the pieces will look all together:

Total Pier
Total Pier

 

To construct the steel portion of the pier, we first had to cut off about 4" as I had not accounted for a gap of 2" between each section of the pier. My assumption was that the pieces would be bolted together, but the actual design suggests a 2" gap to allow for leveling and adjustments. Fortunately cutting through steel is not a problem for Matt, who brought his grinder and expertise.

Matt Shortening the Pier
Matt Shortening the Pier
We carried the 130lb steel tube down from the attic and outside to the driveway. We setup a portable work bench and Matt made it look easy. He cut through all four sides of the tube and then ground the edges smooth with a slight bevel to help hold the weld. We then carried the steel back up stairs and after catching our breath and hoping we wouldn't need to call 911, decided that was all we needed to do for one day.

On Thursday, Matt came back with his welding gear, and we began the adventure of welding the pier to the steel plate.

Matt Ready to Weld
Matt Ready to Weld
Matt was able to borrow a friend's portable MIG welder that simply plugs into a 110 outlet. Knowing that the process would kick off a bunch of smoke, I closed the door to the observatory and opened up the shutter on the dome. This gave us a great chimney effect and pulled the smoke right out of the room.

Matt Welding the Pier
Matt Welding the Pier

We had three problems to solve before we could weld the pier. First, all of the components from Pier-Tech are aluminum, and while there are some ways to weld steel to aluminum, those were not options for us. We solved this problem by getting a 12" x 12" x 1/4" steel plate to weld to the top of the steel tube and then we would sandwich it with bolts to the aluminum plate of the Pier-Tech 1. Matt was able to drill the holes using a magnetic drill to make the holes for the bolts. He also had the forethought to make a hole in the center of the plate so I could add sand later if needed.

Second, we had to align the pier to North, or actually on the North Celestial Pole. To do this, I taped a laser level to my camera tripod and locked in all movement of the tripod except for vertical adjustment. I then aimed the laser at Polaris, and then tilted the tripod down through the hole in the observatory floor above the pier, marking the line on the lower floor where the steel plate is located. I then double-checked the alignment by placing a compass that was adjusted for the 12 degree offset between North and the Celestial North Pole. The laser line was right over the mark on the compass, so I knew I was certainly close enough to make any other adjustments with the wedge once the scope was mounted.

The third problem was to make sure the pier was plumb, as any tilt would be exaggerated over the 12' length.

The Finished Product
The Finished Product
Using a 4' level, I held it against two sides while Matt tacked down the pier. Of course I screwed that part up, so Matt had to cut one of the welds and do it again. Fortunately he found enough patience to tolerate my goof and didn't weld my feet to the floor. We then lifted the steel tube and the plate onto a couple 2" x 4"s to keep the heat from the welding process off the floor. Matt expertly welded the pier to the plate and now it's ready to go.

I did a few tests of pier stability by placing a glass measuring cup half-filled with water on the top plate of the pier. I walked around on the ground floor of the observatory, and also on the steel plate. I saw a good deal of movement in the water, so I decided to go ahead and add the sand to the inside of the steel pier. I added about 3.5 bags of sand, and it is much more stable. The vibrations seem to settle down almost instantly now, which should prove very helpful when the rest of the pier and the scope are mounted.

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Giants in the Observatory


Things are looking up, literally, in the observatory. Today is the final day of sanding and touch-ups on the observatory walls, which is being done by Smith and Nelson Drywall.

Jared sanding the Observatory
Jared sanding the Observatory
Here we see a giant named Jared sanding the ceiling in the entrance of the observatory. Immediately to his left is where the half-spiral stairs are going. The square hole in the top of the picture is where the pier is going to come through the floor above and mounted onto another steel pier to be install at Jared's feet. The crew from Smith and Nelson have done an excellent job with the drywall in the addition and especially the observatory. There are many nooks and crannies that had to be dealt with in order to finish that area, and they did a great job. I can't wait to see it painted.

Speaking of painting, Tanya, from Cook Varkony Studios, LLC, continues to spend her days and nights here busting her hump along with us to get the job done.

Tanya painting the night sky
Tanya painting the night sky
She and PJ have designed what will be a spectacular finish for the warm room outside the observatory. She and PJ painted the rich blue that I mentioned before, and then hand painted dark night-time clouds into it as well. Later today the "Disney Magic" will happen, as Tanya plans on starting her work on the stars in the ceiling as well. I can only image how truly awesome this will look. The walls will be finished with a designer technique to make them look like parchment, as in old star charts.

 

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Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star


We're making great progress. The team of PJ and Tanya from Cook Varkony Studios who are helping us paint the addition have come up with a great idea for the warm room. They're painting the ceiling in a rich, dark blue. To that they're going to add dark nightime clouds and then stars which will lead you from the staris right to the door of the observatory. Here's my wife and Tanya priming the ceiling:

Andrea and Tanya Priming the Ceiling
Andrea and Tanya Priming the Ceiling
The priming was very hard work, and both ended up looking like they had a case of white chicken pox all over them. The work was well worth it, as you can see by PJ's work on the ceilling.

PJ Paints the Ceiling
PJ Paints the Ceiling

The effect of the night sky with stars sprinkled all over should be amazing. I can't wait to see it. Plus, they're going to uyse the same blue finish in the observatory, which should tie it all together incredibly well.

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Stairway to Heaven



 I was seven when Led Zeppelin released "Stairway to Heaven", but the title of the song fits today perfectly. There are many images to add to show the events of the day, which I will do tomorrow, but it was a fun-filled adventure. The stairs and the boom (crane) truck showed up around 9:00. The adventure began with the boom operator struggling to secure footing for his truck in the ice. A crowbar and a sledge hammer did the trick, and he had sure footing for the side supports of the truck. Then came the debate over how to strap the steps to the winch. After those decisions were made, the stairs were lifted into the air and aimed straight for the window on the third floor.

Then came the challenge of how to get them through the window. I was impressed with the amount of testosterone flowing in that room this morning. That has to be what it was, as I can't think of anything else that would have clouded the judgement of so many men all at once. You see, there is one simple law that Newton wrote about some time ago, and that is that if you are holding something and let go of it, it falls to the ground. That simple little "fact" seemed to escape several people today, but truth, gravity, and the theory of relativity prevailed. Once the first strap was cut, the 700lb stairs did in fact fall into the waiting platform prepared, and they were safely brought into the third floor.

From there it took a lot of muscles, which were now pumped up by all the bickering, to move the stairs over and into position. With some clever placement of eye hooks and supporting 2x4s, the stairs were lowered by ropes to the second floor. Then came the adventure of securing them, getting the right headroom, and putting them in place. Along the way I noticed what seemed to be a design issue with the stairs. A quick searchon Google found this picture:

516200341449_stair3.jpg

Notice at the top of the riser there is an "L" shaped cut. This allows the riser to meet the bottom of the floor above. Well, that little triangle is missing, but will hopefully be "glued back" there by Lynn, the Stair Rail Master.


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No More Leaks!


It's raining like a monsoon here and I am delighted to say that the dome is dry as can be! The extra hour's time and additional tube of caulk seemed to do the job. The dome quadrants were sealed the first time around. The place it was leaking was between the dome and the base ring. The water would run down the dome and follow the curve of the base ring, which brought it right into the observatory. But with the gaps finally filled, we're dry and ready for more electronics to be brought in, including Bertha.

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First Rain


Although I spent an hour applying another tube and a half of silicone caulk to the dome, I still have some more work to do. The dome has seen its first snow, ice, sleet, and rain storm, and there are a few leaks.

The Dome
The Dome

There are only a few places where rain can enter the observatory. First, the two quadrants on each side are joined together with bolts, and I seem to have successfully caulked those joints as they aren't leaking a drop. However, where the dome meets the "Dome Support Ring" also known as the DSR, is where I still have problems. There's about a half-inch gap between each of the four pieces. I tried to get some caulk to stick in there yesterday, but I guess I wasn't successful, as the rain is running down the outside of the dome, curling around the DSR, and through the holes in the inside of the observatory. Fortunately, Joe from R. W. Buff, Inc., has suggested a caulk product that the siding installers use on larger gaps. He claims it will fill the void better than silicone, so I'm going to go get some tomorrow. Thanks to the fact that the drywall crew left the Spackle buckets behind, I have plenty of tools to catch the rain coming in the observatory.
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The Dome is Installed


I looked up the word, "friend" in the dictionary, and this is what I found:

friend–noun  

 

1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter: friends of the Boston Symphony.
3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile: Who goes there? Friend or foe?
4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.
5. (initial capital letter) a member of the Religious Society of Friends; a Quaker.

While I can't speak for the first definition, I can say without hesitation that Bill Dahlenburg and Matt Green demonstrated the second definition to me this Saturday. They gave up their day to work up in the observatory in the chilling wind to help me put together the dome.

Bill and Matt
Bill and Matt

 

The first part of the installation was to install the rectangular skirt, which makes the transition from the square walls to the circular dome. As it turned out, the walls were about as square as a quarter, so we had a heck of a time installing the skirt. It took us an extra two hours getting it together, with Matt filling the gaps with caulk for now. I still have more holes to patch.

Once that was complete, we brought up the four pieces of the base ring, and that went very well. Since it was pre-assembled, it went together very quickly and we knew we had it level. After a trip to the local hardware store for weather stripping and stainless steel lag screws and washers, we secured it tight to the octagon frame. Well, that was after we discovered that my cordless drill was too big, and my right angle drill battery was dead. But after we fixed that minor setback, we were okay.

The next major activity was to bring the four dome quadrants up from the ground. Given that they were too big to bring through any windows, we had to lift them up by rope from the ground. Fortunately Matt the brilliant idea to use a "C" clamp to attach to the dome piece and then tie the rope to that. Here's the view of him from the bottom as we're about to lift the first piece:

 

Matt from Above
Matt from Above

The plan was that Matt was going to lift the piece up from the bottom while Bill and I pulled up the rope. Matt came up with the idea of lifting it up the ladder, which he also offered to do, for which I was EXTREMEMLY grateful. Matt attached the first piece and Bill and I started hauling it up the side of the house. I had this vision that the clamp would slip off, the dome piece would come crashing down on Matt and knock him off the ladder. Fortunately, nothing like that happened, and thanks to Bill muscling each piece over the edge of the observatory, we successfully got each piece up the "mountain."

Matt and the Dome Pieces
Matt and the Dome Pieces

Now we had the adventure of trying to figure out how to put all of this together, four stories up in the air, with about a 20 mph wind, with frozen hands. Logic would have suggested we wait until next weekend, but that wasn't an option, so we made some adjustments to the method the manual suggested (yes, we were reading the manual) and built each side. It went together very well, thanks again to the pre-assembly, and before we knew it, it looked like a dome.

The real trick was trying to figure out what we needed to do before we put a piece together, as it's very hard to reach parts of it from the outside or inside. Fortunately one side of the observatory has a roof that you can stand on, so Matt went out there about four times while we rotated the dome so he could work on parts of it from outside.

In the end, we were rapidly running out of daylight and time, but the shutter went on perfectly. We stationed Matt out on the roof in case something went wrong with the shutter, but it all went together very smoothly. When I pulled it closed for the first time, Bill and I could hear Matt say, "Wow, look at how COOL that is!"

Finished!
Finished!

We climbed down from the observatory, turned off the flashlight, and had a beer to celebrate. Bill and Matt rushed home and Andrea and the gang and I rushed off to our daughter's first cheerleading competition. It was a long and very tiring day, but it wouldn't have been possible without the support and assistance from two very special people. Thanks again Bill and Matt - I hope we can share many nights seeing the the stars from the Bel Tor Observatory, or rather, Bertha Sees Uranus.

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