Wishing Star Observatory

All amateur astronomers wish for the convenience and versatility that only an observatory will provide.  After years of planning and spousal negotiation the Wishing Star Observatory has become a reality.  I'll present development in timetable format:

2002 through Fall 2005 - Various locations have been studied, chosen and then later rejected for one reason or another.  By integrating the observatory with a raised deck, the spouse finally gave me the go-ahead for an ideal site pretty much in the middle of the back yard.

September 2005 - After considerable lobbying with local utilities and government the three nearest streetlights have been changed from Cobra Head to full cut-off fixtures.  What a difference!  My yard is now fully shielded.

April 2006 - Given the proximity of neighbors, a dome is the only way I'm going to be able to protect my night vision.  And here in Barrington Rhode Island a full shelter will be most welcome in mid-winter.  I'd originally planned on buying a Sirius 11˝-foot dome.  Their design and quality are superior.  But the Sirius price almost doubled over the course of my prolonged planning and had become prohibitively expensive.  The 10-foot diameter Technical Innovations Home Dome was only half the cost of the Sirius, and given my 14" Meade LX200GPS, I figured that 10-foot would be just about the right size to also fit small astronomy classes.  But as the spring of 2006 came along my observatory funds had been depleted and the Home Dome was also now out of reach.  I proceeded with various deck/observatory layouts, planning on constructing my own dome.

And then along came PolyDome, with their anouncement that they'd be manufacturing an 8-foot polyethelyne dome (the Explora-Dome) for the introductory price of an astonishing $395!  I got my order in so fast that the Internet sizzled.  

Replaced worn and cracked 50-year old door that will lead out to the new deck.  And then installed a new screen door that locked so that we could have ventilation during the summer but wouldn't forget and go walking through the door and sailing out into space.

Here's what we started with.

After having repeatedly consulting with some architect friends the design solidified.  And here's the result of 6 months of planning:

The Building Inspector scratched his head over this one, but the permit was eventually issued.

Rear porch demolished.

Rear landing demolished.

I lasted about 1/2 hour before my son took over for the rest of the day.

The first truckload of Explora-Domes pulled up, oh happy day!

Carrie tried it out for size.....

I'd been cautioned that the foundation layout is critical.  So I laid out batter boards galore.

Because of the irregular shape of the deck and observatory 13 footings were required.  And Code required that they be dug at least 42" deep!  The rental post hole auger was a godsend, but after a day of digging the footings I'd been knocked on my can multiple times and felt like I'd been 10 rounds with a gorilla.

This is a circa 1950 Sears mixer I borrowed from a neighbor - for more than a month of pouring.

I lost count of the number of bags of ready-mix used.

Now it's time to work on the pier foundation.  It's 6' deep and on bedrock.

The 18" culvert pipe goes into the hole.  The welded up reinforcing bar goes into the culvert pipe.  The steel pier will go on top of the concrete base.

Many many bags of ready-mix later................

The whole summer was devoted to digging and pouring. Now the structure goes up relatively quickly.  Below is status on the AM of 10/03/06:

Here's PM of 10/03/06

Things were slow in the office on 10/04 so I took the afternoon off to do a bit more work.  The deck leading out to the observatory already has a half-dozen joists in place.  And the beams around the observatory structure are now in place and ready for floor joists as well.

And here's where we're at after the Columbus day weekend.  "Framing is complete except for some blocking still to be done on the main deck.

Tomorrow the Building Inspector will be here, and then comes stairs to the deck, the decking, and the observatory floor & structure frame.

I passed the inspection and things are moving quickly now.  

19 Oct 06  The decking is down and most of the floor is down.  The 400# top pier section is installed and aligned, and Dave helped me mount the 14" this evening so that I could confirm correct observatory wall height while still being able to view at my lowest horizon.  Once the floor is finished the walls are next.

22 Oct 06

That's the walls sitting on the deck.  

Walls are half done on afternoon of 10-25-06

By evening of 10/27 the walls are complete, the 2X8 roof support beams are in place, and the first 2 sections of 3/4" plywood roof are in place.  (The center beam was there just to swing the cutout radius.  Rain's forecast so the timber was placed on the beam to provide runoff for the tarp that will be used to cover the structure.

Halloween, and now the double 3/4" plywood roof's on.

Here's an interior view thru the door.

Here's the structure on 11-11-06 with the dome ring fabricated & mounted, the dome rollers installed, and the first coat of rubber roof painted on. 

Unfortunately the roof didn't cure before the rain came, and most of the water soluble roof coating washed off.  We had a cold and rainy week where little work could be done, since the roof is the "critical path" element in the work schedule.

The weekend of 18-19 Nov was dry.  Thank goodness.  There's a new coat of gray rubber on the roof, topped by a coat of white rubber.  It needs another coat or two, but the forecast is workable for the earlier part of the coming week.  

As you can see tar paper has been added, drip edges have been installed, and I've made a start at the vinyl siding. I hope to be ready for the dome by the 22nd.  

The observatory was "domed" the night of Nov 27th.  Before the first snow.  There's still a huge amount of work to do, including fabricating a door, adding stairs and railings to both sides of the deck and latticework around the bottom of the whole structure.  The lattice work must be removable as I'm planning on using the underside for storage.

This structure really looks strange and it's becoming quickly apparent it needs the aesthetic touches that my architect fiend recommended early on.  This will include running a false railing around the structure to provide horizontal lines to make it appear less vertical.  Right now it's like a tower!

And bushes around the bottom will probably help too - although its too late to plant this year.  

The Barrington Times (our weekly local paper) has been pushing to do a story on this.  For the story that went to press the day before the dome went on and came out the day after it went on click the pix: 61129barrtimescoversm.jpg (383977 bytes)  

Here's the status as of Dec 12th.  Front stairs finished.  Front railing finished.  Skirt partially complete.  It's starting to look real.

But it looks better with a door (taken 24 Dec 06)

Door detail.

January 9, 2007.  The structure is finally complete - except for plantings which will have to wait until spring.
The 14" is already mounted and the pier polar aligned.

And finally railings are installed on the stairways to provide full compliance with local codes.  The observatory was blessed by the Building Inspector on 19 Jan 07.  

May '07 - Foundation plantings make a big difference.  The observatory looks very much like it belongs in the neighborhood now.

Close-up of plaque.


July 1, 2007 - the interior is complete.

And on the four hundred and twenty seventh day, he rested.



Pete Peterson


Wishing Star Observatory was written up in the Nov 2007
issue of Astronomy Technology Today magazine.  The
article may be found at Construction




2013 Dome Replacement

My flat roof had been sealed with white rubber paint, and over the years a few cracks allowed water to damage parts of the structure. Since roof repair was going to require some serious effort anyway an upgrade opportunity presented itself.  This was the condition of Kenny Conca's old Technical Innovations 10' dome before Dave and I purchased/disassembled it in August 2013.  This was the alternative dome that, when new, was out of my budget range back when Wishing Star was being built!

Note how the epoxy seams had turned black and rock-hard and ugly:

After disassembly and trucking it back to Barrington, the first step was a much needed power wash.

In an effort to reduce the neighborhood "footprint" and maintain my horizon over the dome shutter sill, it was necessary to reduce the 14" height of the base, shown here in its original installation.

Rich S came by to lend a hand, and this was our initial attempt at cutting down the base. Turns out that fiberglass can really eat up steel saw blades.

Take two. This time with an abrasive blade on the table saw. Cut thru the glass smooth as butter.

Off with the old 8" Exploradome that has served me so well for the past 7 years. The original base ring is still sound :P

After about 60 hours of chipping the ugly off and retouching chisel damage with new gel coat, Dave’s compounding the gel coat to restore the finish.

Work in progress. Wall sections replaced and old roof removed. New roof going on.

New roof going on, as of Friday, 9/20/13

Tuesday, Oct 8th - a final layer of gel-coat applied to the roof.

It's been 2 months now since acquisition of Kenny's old dome and the work has been very time consuming. The failure of the first roof was at the joint between the plywood and the drip edge. Nothing wrong with the concept, so new drip edges were cut.

Fairing the roof & drip edges....

Fairing the roof after 2 layers of fiberglass. The glass runs from the roof down the drip edges so those seams won't open up this time.

This brings us up to today, Sunday October 6, 2013. Here's Bill's wife loading the Exploradome to its new home......

Old owner, new owners.

Does Bill look happy or what? There's nothing like a dome on crisp clear frigid windy winter nights when the wind would otherwise make observing intolerable.

September weather was exceptional with every day a working day. Many many hours of work, as anticipated. But the new roof's about ready for installation of the dome base.

Wednesday, Oct 9th - the roof's completed and the base ring's being assembled, glued & lag bolted in place.

Before disassembly it was noted that the roller system wheels were a bit low and the dome scraped on the centering rollers making it difficult to turn. And some centering rollers were jammed. The centering rollers have been modified to remain free and the main support rollers have been replaced with slightly larger conveyor roller wheels that I've modified to fit. It was a late night modifying rollers but I think the dome will rotate dependably.

Thursday, Oct 10th - The dome support ring's been assembled over the base ring. Lookin' good.

Now Dave & I focus on compounding and waxing the last unfinished parts.

Friday, Oct 11 - Dave's been working for weeks refinishing the dome. Now it's time to assemble the dome quadrants.

It's going quickly now. Rich came by to lend a hand and the first dome section's mounted.

The two hemispheres are now up and positioned with spacing timbers to establish precise shutter spacing.

George arrived with his camera, and he's taken over the photo documentation. Everything's up with all parts flying in formation. Very good news - the dome rotates with virtually no effort at all! Much easier than the smaller previous dome, probably due to the fancy double bearing support rollers.

New & improved Wishing Star.  The replacement dome works flawlessly.


November 2013  While there's a whole heck of a lot more interior elbow room the overall visual impact on the neighborhood isn't noticeable.  The scope and computer reinstalled and checked out. Back in full operating mode at long last :P

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