Vanishing Point Observatory
Vanishing Point Observatory
Click on images for larger views
After a multi-year planning and construction effort, I
now have a permanent observatory on the site of the
Orange County Astronomers
Anza observing site at about 4300 ft. elevation
only a dozen miles from Caltech's
Palomar Observatory. It takes about 2 hours to get to
it from my home in Cerritos.
The observatory is located in a small complex of member
observatories. In addition, 3 more member observatories
and the club's observatory are located nearby. It's
interesting that in this collection of observatories,
only a few follow the same basic design and even in
those cases each one has unique features. This was very
useful to me as it allowed me to see many different
design examples in one area so that I could pick and
choose features for my own observatory.
Vanishing Point observatory is located on the southwest
tip of the section of flattened hillside allocated by
the club for observatories. Because of terrain and light
pollution constraints as well as proximity to the
neighboring observatories, the structure is not oriented
with N-S/E-W walls, but instead has one corner pointing
slightly west of north. Light pollution is worst towards
the west and southwest. The photo at left shows the
view to the southwest where numerous new houses have
been built, and the glow of San Diego's lights
silhouette the local hills.
The observatory has a roll-off roof over the observing
area, and an enclosed "warming room" section for
monitoring scope operation, storage, and sleeping. The
roll-off roof is made of corrugated sheet steel screwed
to a frame made from welded square cross-section
tubing which rolls on an inverted "V" track. The roof
and track are sloped so that the roof rolls off by itself
and is pulled back with a 12V winch to close it.
The instrument setup consists of a Losmandy Titan mount
carrying a side-by-side saddle. One
side holds a Borg 100ED or Borg 125EDF2.8 for 6x9 and 4x5
photography along with a Mini-Borg 45ED and SBIG
STV guider plus 50mm finder and red-dot
The second saddle position holds an
Astro-physics 155EDF for 6x7 photography,
a 200mm Schmidt camera for 6x6cm photography, or
any other scope/camera which can be mounted on
a Losmandy-compatible dovetail plate.
A C11 can also replace the double-saddle setups
for visual applications or video photography.
The telescope pier is isolated from the building slab by
a foam-filled gap. The height is a bit higher than
would be normally chosen for open-air use, but was
specifically calculated to give the
scopes a low horizon in the directions most favorable
for viewing, yet still allow walls to be
high enough to block a direct view of neighboring
lights by someone walking around the scopes.
The observing area includes a desk area (see photo at
left) under a fixed roof section to minimize dew
formation on charts and books.
Red LED's are used for indirect lighting when long exposure
imaging is not in progress.
Walls in the observing area are open 2x6 studs on the
inside to minimize cool-down time in the evening. The exterior of
the entire observatory is painted white to minimize
daytime heating by the sun.
The warming room is heavily insulated, and due to the
building orientation is minimally exposed to direct
sunlight in the afternoon. It includes a window to the
observing area but is also cabled to the scope to allow
for monitoring the autoguider or remote control of the
An 802.11b wireless network provided by the OCA
allows for web and email access via the club's satellite
internet link too -- all the conveniences of home except
for plumbing, which is provided by the club in the
nearby club house (Anza House)!
In 2011, the wireless network was augmented with fiber optic connections between the
private observatories and the satellite connection, improving the connection reliability
and speed of the intranet. Two member observatories are also now feeding their sky condition
monitoring data to a server for both on-site monitoring by all members and
off-site access by members planning
trips to the OCA site.
I am very grateful to the OCA for providing the
site and infrastructure to support the observatory, and
numerous club members -- especially Gary Schones and James
Thorp, for their support, advice, and labor without
which this project would not have been possible. I also
want to thank my wife Jean not only for support and
encouragement but also active participation in the
design and construction of the observatory!