A garden observatory or not? That is the question…

BBC Sky at Night Magazine reviews editor Paul Money discusses the pros and cons of installing a permanent observatory in your garden.

Automated-observatory-dome

Come on admit it, most of us at one time or another have dreamed of having an observatory in the garden.

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For one thing it does make you feel like you are a ‘real’ astronomer. You can proudly state to friends, “come round to the obsey and I can take you on a tour of the Universe”.

Without doubt there are many plusses to having one: the slightest hint of cloud and rain, all you have to do is close the shutter or close the roof if it is a roll-on/off type.

There will be that one special event you crave to view. It’s then you discover your setup needs to be half a metre from its current location...

Then there is the added satisfaction of having all your equipment ready and set up to go without the hassle of dragging everything out, assembling it, making sure it’s working and powered up, polar aligning only to watch in despair as the clouds roll in just as you are ready.

No, with an observatory you can, if you’ve done it right, just walk in, turn on the power, wake the mount up from a hibernated or sleep state and within minutes, nay perhaps even seconds, you are up and running.

Plus, if you are as keen as our Scope Doctor Steve Richards, you can have many other things fully automated too – what a wonderful life indeed!

You need to wash your dome the old-fashioned way; hosing it down will make the inside wet. Image Credit: Steve Richards
BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s Steve Richards keeps his home observatory in tip-top shape. Read his guide to cleaning your observatory here. Credit: Steve Richards

So is there a downside? Well I have to confess I don’t have an obsey, but apart from possible cost and long-term maintenance (which happens with all astronomy equipment anyway) there are few downsides.

The key is whether you have the size of garden to install one.

In my case it’s not too big so an observatory would be a bit too intrusive but one day, when I have my mansion deep in the Lincolnshire Wolds, I hope to have one (or even more if I’m greedy).

I do have a spot I used to use for a permanently set-up but covered-over mount and that was good.

If you have a permanent set up, be it an observatory or mount, the one thing you can guarantee is that there will be that one special event you crave to view.

It’s then you discover that your setup needs to be half a metre from its current location, so you can’t use the observatory to view it!

Perhaps it is worth having a lighter grab and go set up for such occasions or perhaps for visiting other darker sites, and in the near future I’ll look into that aspect.

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Meanwhile, the latest issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine is out now!