Astro Blog

Jose Bellas's Astronomy Blog.

Moving the observatory to its new home...

My friend Jim Wood and I have been working together to have a fully automated, remote, robotic observatory in dark skies for a couple of years now.

Just over two years later and after all the planning, testing, frustration, and sizable investment our observatory was finally ready to move to its new home at Stellar Skies in Central Texas.

I left South Florida with all the equipment and structure in a rental truck on a Sunday morning and made the long drive out to Texas. I stopped in Mobile Alabama on Sunday night and left for Texas on Monday morning. On Monday evening Jim and I met up along the way and we decided to stay the night in Llano Texas which is the last "large" town before heading out to the dark site.

On Tuesday morning we got out to the dark site and started the long mission of setting everything up and getting it ready to catch photons.

We arrived to a nicely prepared 12' x 12' deck with the poured concrete pier footing and electrical which we had a local handyman build for us.

Deck ready for observatory.

We worked throughout the day to get everything in place and by Tuesday night had the entire structure up.

On Tuesday night while finishing up for the day and putting everything away we received our first visitor at the observatory: 


Praying Mantis flying in to feast on all the bugs the light was attracting.

On Wednesday morning we got up bright and early. We got back to work at setting everything up but not to long after we realized we forgot a few things. We didn't feel that bad though because we had to drive out to Marble Falls Texas to return the rental truck anyway so we could just purchase what we needed at the local home improvement store while we were there.

We fell behind Wednesday with the drive to Marble Falls and having to wait for the local telephone cooperative to install our phone line and DSL but by noon Thursday we were back on track and burning rubber towards the finish line.

Observatory coming together nicely.

By Thursday night we were ready to open the roof under the night sky and start dialing everything in. It was on Thursday night that we received our second visitor at the observatory.

Another Praying Mantis drops in and hangs out on a contact switch while Jim and I work.

After a successful first night everything was really coming together nicely.

Friday morning we were hanging out on the deck of the club house while we remotely configured a few things in the observatory when we were visited yet again by another Praying Mantis.

It was around this time that after all these subtle hints Jim and I decided our observatory mascot should be a Praying Mantis and in turn our observatory should be called the Praying Mantis Observatory.

Our observatory mascot and name is chosen.

Friday night yielded another night of successful troubleshooting and testing. It also was the first night I met most of the other members of the dark site as many of them came out to enjoy the dark sky.

On Saturday morning it was time for me to fly back home to Miami but before taking the long drive to Austin where my first flight was leaving from I stood back to see everything we had accomplished in this marathon week of astronerd fury.

Finally ready to image remotely. :-) In the picture you can see the Stellar Skies all-sky camera mounted on our observatory. Click on the link to see skies we share.

I got settled in on the plane and had a great flight home. I watched Man of Steel on the flight, I don't fly very often so when I realized this flight had DirecTV I had to take advantage of that!

DirecTV on my flight home. It definitely made the flight home feel faster.

Even though I had something to entertain myself with I still stopped to look out the window.

With Astrophotography I'm usually looking up and marveling at the wonders above but this view really helps remind me how beautiful things down here are. Perspective is everything.

Finally being home and unpacked gave Ethan (my youngest) the opportunity to use my carry-on bag for something much more imaginative.

Even playing in a bag Ethan knows he better buckle up, safety first. ;-) He did that all by himself by the way, this is how I found him.

Now from home (or anywhere with internet) I can always login using my phone or computer and actually see the equipment or setup an imaging run.

Here is all the equipment waiting to get to work. The IR flood lights and monitors are turned off during imaging.

It was an extremely long week full of hard work but all in all a very successful week. We're glad we got this behind us and are really looking forward to using this observatory to its full potential.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

Clear Skies,

Jose Bellas