Building the South Dome

Just after completing the first dome, in 2006, I began to purchase backup parts or “spares” for the telescope and it’s mounting. In 2007 I purchased a new Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) ST8xme camera to replace the ST9xe camera I’d been using. I decided to spring for the “class 1” chip on the ST8, and began using it in September of 2007. Not long thereafter I realized that I had an entire second setup other than another Celestron 14-inch telescope assembly. When I found one for a reasonable price on Astromart I decided to buy it and thus had two complete and nearly identical setups. Originally I figured I’d use the second rig for trips to dark-sky sites. That way I would not have to take the main telescope apart every time I wanted to observe somewhere other than my badly light polluted back yard. As it turned out, the second rig made exactly two trips to dark skies, and both times I ended up bringing both of the rigs anyway. I also began setting the second rig up on the driveway next to the existing dome. I had a “Scope Roller” contraption that allowed me to roll the entire rig out of one of the bays of my garage onto the driveway where I had painted spots indicating where the leveling bolts were to sit. It only took a few minutes to set the second rig up so I ended up using it in that fashion for about a year. In 2009 a local amateur astronomer, Norm Lewis, who was also a local TV weather man, offered his 10-foot Technical Innovators “ProDome” for sale on Astromart. The price was very attractive so I contacted him and immediately bought it. Norm helped me move the dome back to Baltimore from near Mt Airy, Maryland where he had used it for some years. Similar to the first dome I first had to break up and remove a big chunk of my concrete drive way (which had been poured twice and is over 8 inches thick). After opening the necessary space I built a 10-foot octagonal deck and then assembled the dome on that.

Platform for Dome #2

Here is the octagonal deck ready to receive the 10-foot dome. Note the central hole, through which I built a 12-inc diameter concrete pillar to anchor the mounting. Cars are going to have a tough time getting into the garage!

A freak early snowstorm slowed construction in early November, but by late November the observatory was complete. First light for the new observatory was in January of 2010. Like the first dome this dome currently houses a Celestron 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a Celestron CGE go-to mount. Each of the telescopes is controlled by a laptop in their respective dome, then linked via a home wi-fi net to my main computer in the study in my house.

A shot of the South Dome during construction, just after a freak November snow storm.

The main instrument for Rig #2 is the ST9xe camera originally purchased for Rig #1. It has a 5-position automated filter wheel attached which contains a set of Custom Scientific B,V,R, and I band filters and a “clear” filter. Because the ST9 has a chip with relatively few pixels (512×512 pixel array with 20-micron pixels) it can be read out a lot more quickly than the ST8 in the adjacent dome. So I tend to use this rig for objects which are brighter and will benefit from the faster imaging cadence.


This is a shot inside dome #2 showing the #2 C14.



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