We dream of an observatory complex made up of multiple buildings and recreation spaces: a large domed observatory to hold our main optical instrument, a larger roll-off observatory to house four to six more telescopes, six telescope and binocular concrete "pads," a main office and lounge, a classroom, an outdoor pavillion and grilling area, a play area, and more. Of course, before we can walk, we have a great deal of crawling to do. Below is an accounting of each project thus far associated with our evolving facility. These are found in reverse chronological order - most recent at the top.
Branched Oak Observatory is Growing . . .
Our first concrete pad
We are planning on pouring six 6'x6' concrete pads for the observatory park to act as solid level surfaces to support our portable telescopes and guest equipment. Two of the six pads will have concrete pillars for paralellogram binocular mounts.
We were very happy with the results of our first pad, but taken back by the sheer amount of cement needed. It took a whopping 31 bags to make the pad pictured. Now that we have the cement finishing process down, next time we will have a cement company come out to pour the remaining five slab forms, all during the same visit.
Building picnic table benches
We found these wonderful "convertible" park bench / picnic table kits on the internet. In each kit, you receive two heavy-duty plastic frames and hardware. To complete the kit you need to purchase eight pressure-treated 2x4s from the local home store. After about 20 minutes of construction work per unit, we had two fantastic park benches that could double as a small bench-table top. Both units back-to-back creates a complete standard picnic table.
We are so happy with the tables, we plan on puchasing four more units once the funds are available.
Creating signage for the facility
In an effort to create a professional and visitor-friendly destination, we have designed a number of clear and easy-to-read signs for the astronomy park. Featured prominently on most of the signage is our wonderful logo designed by Michael Sibbernsen.
The road leading to the observing field has been named Tom Schlender Ave., after the father-in-law of Matthew Anderson. Tom was an outstanding gentleman who was suddenly taken from the Schlender and Anderson families far too soon. Branched Oak Observatory is located on Schlender property.
Picking up a major donation
One of the most expensive parts of an observatory is the dome which protects the optical insturment from the elements. With that in mind, Branched Oak Observatory is truly fortunate. A group of astronomers in Omaha have been holding on to a high-quality 15 foot Ash brand dome. They have been waiting for an opportunity to either use the dome or see it find a new home. Each agreed that Branched Oak Observatory was the perfect place to see new life breathed into the dome. A sincere THANK YOU to Clete, John, Eric, and Al!
The next step is to source the funds to build the observatory bulding in which to install the dome. Pictured is the dome taken apart in sections and sitting in our transport trailer.
Creating roads and parking lots
After removing a number of trees at the new entrance of the park, it was time to create a road up to the observing site. We had a local rock and gravel company dump 6 tons of gravel along the path. Unfortunately, it did not go as far as we had hoped, and will need another 8 or so to get us over the bridge.
The last photo shows Matt Anderson smoothing over some rough areas in the future parking lot. When ready, we will be dumping approximately 30 tons of gravel to cover the entire area.
Creating an entrance
The path to the Branched Oak observing field had its own entrance off 98th street, but unfortunately is was very tight and mostly grown over. We elected to cut down quite a few branches and down some trees (most of which were already dead or dying) to open up the entrance.
In the future, we hope to put up some gates and a large park sign.
Creating t-shirts and uniforms
Matthew Anderson, the co-creator of Branched Oak Observatory, is also the owner of Anderson Custom Embroidery. His company is able to custom print and embroider t-shirts, hats, bags, etc. as well as print signs, mugs, keychains, and much more. Soon we will have an online gift shop where you can purchase any number of Branched Oak Observatory branded items. Procededs will go towards maintenance and program development of the observatory.
When visiting the park, you wll find all observatory associates wearing Branched Oak Observatory uniforms.
Pouring a binocular mount pillar
Parallelogram binocular mounts (see picture in next posting) are wonderful for providing comfortable wide-field views of the sky. Most attractive, however, is their ability to stay pointed at a particular object regardless of the up and down motion of the arm to accommodate views by observers of different height. The only problem is that a very tall, sturdy, and bulky tripod is required to achive "zenith viewing" from a standing position. These concrete pillars will be the solution.
We will have two concrete pillars, one optimized for jumbo 40x100 binoculars (and taller adults) and one for 11x80 binoculars (and shorter adults and children).
Dreaming and designing
One of the most enjoyable parts of any project is just dreaming about what could be. Pictured here you find a number of mock-ups of the observatory layout and entrance. If you look closely, you will see parking lots, a classic observatory dome, a roll-off observatory, bathrooms, offices, telescope control rooms, telescope pads, and more.
Front gate and entrance sign
One of the most important things to communicate to your audience is simply when your business is "open" or "closed." Although our website and Facebook guests are always well-apprised of our events and hours of operation, we may not have been as clear for the general passer-by here in Raymond. In an effort to change this, we have installed a new gate to the entrance of the observatory property. The new gate not only provides security, but will also let incidental visitors during the day know that we are closed, and "funnel" our guests into the property during evening events. To compliment the gate, we installed a very bold double-sided entrance sign.