I started planning construction of an observatory a week after I got my first telescope. I quickly learned that the 4 hours it took to setup and tear down my 11-inch SCT was a real drag on observing. My first few months as an astronomer I spent more time setting up and tearing down than I did star gazing. Not to mention the fact that I have about 150 lbs of gear.
My wife and I were simultaneously planning a new patio construction so I bundled the observatory in with that project, spent about 3 months planning and had everything ready to go. The start date for the project was July 6th, 2009. For the patio and stone work we went with Edge Landscapes out of Hartford County. They did an amazing job. In addition to the patio under our deck, I wanted to put in an observation area so that I would have a place to hang out and do casual viewing and tripod photography while the scope inside the observatory was busy shooting pictures.
We had already put in a big Gazebo on the deck next to the house, so I wanted the observation deck centered in the backyard and the observatory tucked away next to the propery line. The gazebo, the observation deck and the observatory would make three points and I decided it would be cool if they modeled Orion’s belt. That way when the aliens flew over, they would be like “look at that guy, he knows what he’s doing.” I had a plat of my backyard and a lot of engineering documents the landscape architect had given us, so I scanned these into the computer and found a picture of Orion. I resized the Orion picture to be in scale with my backyard and then I played with the design in photoshop over a few days and several hours. I finally had it setup perfect. I then spent another few hours measuring the distance and surveying the yard to mark the spots as best I could.
My wife really didn’t like the Orion’s belt idea, she thought it was stupid to plan your backyard landscaping around a constellation. She thought the design compromised utility in favor of quirkiness. I personally struggled with the decision and changed my mind back and forth 5 or 6 times. Ultimately I felt an overwhelming desire, a gut feeling, a need that the observatory and observation deck stayed true to the Orion’s Belt plan. My wife said I was crazy, but reluctantly agreed. When I told Travis our landscaper about my plan, I really think he thought I was crazy but I could also tell he thought the idea was kinda cool. Before construction began I setup my scope at the exact location where the star Alnitak would be. I put in a lot of time to get this position just right and once I had it figured out it felt perfect.
Travis started working the day I took the Mason Dixon Meteor photo and finished up about three weeks ago. Once he finished with the patio work I had another team of carpenters, Ivy and Gordan come in and start construction on the observatory. I bought plans for a roll off roof observatory from skyshed.com . The plans these guys have are incredible and only $50. I had Ivy and Gordan dig the hole for the pier exactly where my scope was the night I took the picture. Ivy and Gordan are still working on the observatory, but we are close to completion. We poured the concrete for the pier last week (3000lbs) and they just finished putting up the walls today. The sad thing is, I had contracted all this work before the picture and now I realize I have already hit my peak as an astro photographer ;). I’ve only used my scope 1-2 times since I got hit in the head by this meteor and I’ve passed up some great dark nights outside to instead sit in front of the computer and pour over Google Earth, trajectory data and eye witness reports. I really want to find this damn meteor so I can get back to astronomy.
The weird thing about all of this is the compulsion I felt to make Orion’s Belt in my backyard was so strong I couldn’t even understand it, but I did it anyway. It overwellingly felt like the right thing to do. I really believe that if I had picked any other place in my backyard to place my telescope I would not have taken the Mason Dixon Meteor picture. The same compulsion I felt to make Orion’s Belt, I feel in regard to finding this meteor. I can’t explain it, I don’t know why I’m doing this, I have much better things to do with my time, but for some reason it just feels like the right thing to do. It feels like the amazingly right thing to do.
About two weeks ago I bought a hikers GPS to help me with work in the field. The first thing I wanted to do with it was get an exact reading of where my telescope was the night I took the picture. I took the GPS out to my scope location for the first practical application (I hadn’t moved my scope since the picture was taken (over 30 days at this point)).
The GPS coordinates on this GPS are represented as decimal numbers for the longitude and latitude. I was surprised when I looked at the coordinates nearly 30 days after I had taken the original photo. The last 3 digits of the longitude were 777. I asked Rob Matson what cooridinates he was using and his were the same as mine. Steve Arnold had used a GPS on my scope while he was out at my house, but I hadn’t noticed. Steve’s longitude reading also ended with 777.