Locating the observatory
Where is the best place to locate an observatory?
How about La Palma in the Canary Islands? Only kidding. The most common location is, of course, a back-garden. Locating an observatory in most back-gardens is going to involve a degree of compromise especially if, like most, the garden has to be available for family use. Regardless of the limitations, careful consideration of all possible observatory positions will reveal locations that will still be the best possible on your site. Obvious considerations are placing the observatory far enough away from your house to minimise the nuisance of lighting from an occupied house and exploiting natural shade to minimise the interference of stray light from street lights or a neighbour's so-called security lighting (the lights that help burglars so they don't trip in the dark!). And remember the enclosed dome itself will shield you most of the time from light-pollution of this kind - simply look for positions where the nuisance local light source is restricted to the north-west, north and north-east direction from the observatory.
Ideally the observatory will have an open view from the south-west, south through to the south-east. Don't worry if you can't see any horizon just look for a location with the minimum obstruction - being unable to observe the first 30 degrees of altitude is no great disadvantage as the atmosphere in this region is dense and offers limited opportunities for good observing or imaging. If the site offers a wide range of positional options rate locations with southerly views over natural landscape (grass and trees as opposed to roads and concrete structures) as optimal even if man-made structures are evident at greater distances. Again, select for the best available and rate as optimal southerly viewing locations where natural landscape extends for the greatest range.
Frankly, unless your garden is the size of Northumberland it's unlikely you'll be able to encompass even this shortlist of optimal elements. But don't worry, we've installed a lot of observatories in very compromised inner-city locations. In some cases we've sited the observatory in terraced gardens that were not much bigger than the observatory and were surrounded by high walls - and the user was still thrilled with the improved views and maintained that the observatory boosted their enjoyment of astronomy a hundred-fold!
Can I fit a dome to a shed with a flat roof?
Sure you can. All of our observatories are available as dome and track only and it's normally a fairly straight forward task to install any of them on to a flat roof. If you have any doubts we can perform a technical survey - either virtually via digital photographs or by one of our technicians visiting your site (there is a charge for on-site reconnaissance).
We would like to place a full size observatory on the flat roof of our school - is this feasible?
The answer is normally yes, but with serious reservations. Obviously a full answer to this will depend on the strength of roof bearers and the large-scale aspects of the roof design and a close examination of the safety issue. We've found most schools select a roof-top location as a result of a consideration of the security issues. Generally, installation to the roof top of an occupied building is a bad idea. Occupied buildings are alive with vibrations and this problem increases with every vertical storey. Occupied building are heated - even if the building is well insulated - heat rises through the roof and conducts through the windows and rises up pass the telescope. The views provided by the telescope will be severely capped by the poor local seeing conditions that are a direct result of the roof top installation. This said, we have done a number of occupied-building roof-top installations to the complete satisfaction of the customer.
Site preparation before delivery
Do I need planning permission?
There may be special circumstances relating to your site that make a planning application necessary, but generally planning permission will not be required. The observatory is not a permanent structure (as defined) and has a rotating roof so it is questionable whether it should be regarded as a building at all.
How soon can the observatory be fitted to the concrete base?
We suggest that the concrete be allowed to cure before installing the observatory. We suggest ten days as the minimum interval between finishing the concrete base and fitting the observatory.
Observatory finish and colour
What is the observatory made from?
All our observatories are made from Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) other materials used for the construction of small parts include stainless steel and nylon. The construction materials are all selected to achieve the highest standards of long-life and performance with the minimum of user maintenance.
Can I get an observatory in any colour other than white?
Sure you can. We've produced observatories in a wide variety of colours. However there will be an additional charge of £150, as changing colours involves a lengthy process of cleaning our spray equipment, and there are strong reasons why you should avoid colourising your observatory. White is the ideal colour to reflect heat to keep the observatory cool. The high gloss white finish also prevents the fabric of the observatory from deterioration due to the ageing effects of solar radiation. And finally, white is beautiful, it's the colour and observatory should be.
How can I make the observatory blend in with my garden?
In our opinion, the least effective way to help the observatory blend in to ambiance of your garden, is to colourise the observatory. Colourising the GRP (glass reinforced plastic) will have a detrimental effect of the performance of the dome and instrumentation. See other FAQs in this section for details. The most effective method of blending (and the method employed by professional observatories world-wide) is landscaping.
This means turning the observatory in to part of the landscape by making it a feature of your garden rather than trying to hide it. This can mean as little as planting dwarf shrubs and trees around the observatory to more elaborate ground profiling to make the observatory a integrated part of your garden. Natural landscaping makes additional sense as select placing of miniature trees and shrubs around the perimeter of the observatory can help reduce the daytime temperature of the observatory and so avoid feeding heat into the concrete base for later release at night whilst observing. We take the view that our observatories are beautiful things - they make a statement about your values and interests.
The size of the observatory
I have a 8 inch to 12" inch SCT - what size dome do I need?
The 2.2m will be great for instruments of this size.
I have a 14 inch SCT - what size dome do I need?
The 2.2m will be fine for this size of instrument. However the 2.7 would be a better choice if you sometimes observe with other people - the extra space and wider slot would be more fitting for this larger size of instrument.
I have a 16 inch SCT - what size dome do I need?
The 2.7m will be great for this type of instrument. The 2.1m and 2.2m would not be suitable.
Access to my back garden is limited - will it fit through doors and other access restrictions?
The answer is probably yes. We've installed our observatories is some pretty challenging locations - to put it mildly! The observatories are all sectional in construction and are designed to be handled by the minimum manpower. On the rare occasion that a part cannot be passed through a door (say to a rear garden of a terrace) the individual components are light enough to be passed over walls and fences - even very high walls and not usually a problem.
Are Pulsar Observatories fully weather-proof?
Yes, indeed they are! Unlike foreign competitor offerings that require a rain-sheet or tarpaulin to be put over them to be weather-proof (perhaps in never rains in America?) - Pulsar Observatories are designed to be installed in any location regardless of the worst weather conditions. We have installations in Switzerland, Norway, and most other EU countries.
I’ve head it said that the chimney effect of warm air escaping through the open slot can spoil the seeing conditions above a dome?
It's a fact that all observatory structures will attract and cause convection currents, and the particulars of the design of the structure will determine how those currents will flow from and through the structure and the effect they fill have on the micro-seeing conditions measured at the telescope. But it’s incorrect to suggest the aperture-slit domes suffer from this situation more than any other observatory structure. And on the contrary, the aperture slit offers positive advantages in this area over other designs.
The Pulsar dome is manufactured from the latest fibre-weave reinforced resin and has a low total mass that allows for rapid cool-down even when fully closed. When the aperture slot is fully open, the air movement over the smooth surface of the dome and warm air rising from the interior (caused by a combination of higher ground temperature and the observers within the observatory) draws cooler air into the observatory evenly through the mid-point 360-degree dome ventilation. The air moving over the dome is smoothed by this process and allows the dome to present the minimum resistance to the air flow thereby causing little or no significant disruption to the boundary layer (the layer of air from around 0 to 50ft above the instrument installation.
How do Pulsar dome observatories compare to other observatories like the imported Sky Shed POD and the popular home-built run off shed?
Firstly they are very different types of product answering different needs. The POD/run-off shed is essentially a simple telescope storage solution and, unlike the Pulsar aperture slit design, is not designed to provide a high-performance functional environment for the instrument and the observer. The POD’s appearance is however somewhat striking (bizarrely, some models have been designed to glow in the dark!). Compared to the aperture slit design the plastic POD (made of the same static and dirt attracting material used for plastic buckets) and run-off shed provide no reliable protection for instrument or observer during use. The POD’s half shell design is not favourable to the local micro-seeing conditions and the structure suffers from sheer-wall effect. That is, air flow forced over this half shell is slowed by aero-dynamic effects that then breaks into eddys at the edge of the shell and meeting no resistence from an opposing surface the air drops down into the open structure and causes air turbulace for several meters around and above the POD and a complete break-up of vital laminar-flow over the observatory.
If I order an observatory now how long before it's delivered?
It depends on the model. We manufacture the observatories in the UK and some models are always in stock and can be supplied, essentially, immediately. For larger models, and custom finishes, the lead time typically varies from 6 to 8 weeks, though the recent restrictions have extended this to nearer 12 weeks.
Can I install the observatory myself?
Yes you can. Our observatory domes are designed for self assembly. We supply information to help you assemble your dome but it's as well to realise that although assembly is straightforward you will need a level of DIY competence commensurate with a larger home maintenance or DIY building project. You will need a range of tools and at least one able bodied assistant. We offer support and advice for your observatory build project - we're just a phone call away.
We can provide the customer with technical assistance on how to overcome the issue of water/moisture seeping under the observatory wall if necessary. We recommend a simple flooring system with rubber tiles and plastic membrane, which goes a long way to resolving this problem. We can advise on where these items can be purchased.
If I choose to order my observatory, what will I need to do before installing it?
You'll need to select a location for the observatory and prepare a concrete base to our specifications. It's not difficult and a home DIYer, competent in more serious projects, can do the work. Alternatively, you can employ the services of a local builder to do the ground work and lay the concrete. Many customers elect to do a bit of both - do the basic groundwork themselves and then get a professional to actually prepare and lay the concrete base. We will provide all the information you need to prepare the base for your choice of observatory. T
Caring for your observatory
What maintenance do Pulsar Observatories require?
Virtually none. The Pulsar range of modern observatories have been designed from modern materials used in the manufacture of high performance car body parts - the hard white surface will last for decades without any form of maintenance. Unlike the polymers used in some blow-moulded competitor offerings (similar to the plastic used for buckets) our GRP products do not attract dirt and dust as a result of becoming statically charged by wind and dry air. The GRP surface of the Pulsar observatory range does not become statically sticky and therefore is cleansed of bird droppings and other normal grime by natural rainfall. Of the moving parts most are self-lubricating or have sealed for life bearings. Such areas that require simple cleaning from time to time, such as the track, can be easily accessed from within the dome. Pulsar observatories can be installed in locations were external access would be difficult or dangerous as they do not require any kind of routine external maintenance.