Left Navigation

The 3towers Observatory:
The History of a Modest Suburban Observatory

by Tim Hunter

II. The Radium Observatory

My second observatory was a home observatory and consisted of a Hexa Dome that housed a 10-inch Meade LX 200 telescope. The Hexa Dome came as a kit and contained a dome constructed out of polyvinyl piping and canvas. It was approximately 7 feet tall and 7 feet wide. The dome rotated quite well on a polyvinyl track. It had a wide canvas flap that was pulled back for observing, and the dome sat on a base constructed of plywood. This kit is no longer on the market, but it served my purposes quite well. I put it together in a week end and bolted it to a 10 foot square concrete pad which was wired for electricity. The telescope sat on a metal pier constructed for me by Frank Lopez of Stellar Vision.

The Meade LX 200 was quite good optically, and I added a Meade CAT digital setting circles to it. It did not have computer controlled pointing, but it was possible to use the digital setting circles to point to any one of thousands of objects in the sky.

The observatory was named the Radium Observatory, because I am a diagnostic radiologist. Years ago at the Motor Vehicle Department, I applied for a set of vanity license plates. I wanted plates with "X-RAY," on them, but it was already taken. While standing in line with many people behind me, I could not think of anything else to put on the plates but "RADIUM," which I have had on my license plates for years.

Radium is not really an appropriate term for me, because I interpret X-rays and do not give radiation therapy. In any event, when I was constructing the Hexa Dome, I had a set of spare license plates which were all that remained of my former 1976 280Z. It had met a sudden, untimely death, which is another story, and I salvaged the license plates from it. I decided to mount the license plates on the small door to the Hexa Dome, and, therefore, named the observatory the Radium Observatory.

The Radium Observatory sat next to my car port near my garbage cans. This location turned out to have very good seeing. Of course, it was not the site I would have freely chosen. It was chosen because I could extend the wooden fence hiding my garbage cans to also enclose the observatory to keep it from direct view of the neighborhood. This was required by the homeowners association. The covenants in the area prohibit visible free standing buildings, such as tool sheds and observatories.

I was quite happy with The Radium Observatory and used it for several years until I replaced the Hexa Dome with a ten foot Home Dome. The canvas fabric on the Hexa Dome began to rot and could not easily be replaced. Home Domes had just come on the market, and I was able to get a great price on one. The Home Dome is much more substantial than the Hexa Dome, and it has far more room. It barely fit on my 10 foot square concrete pad.

Home Domes are constructed out of fiberglass and consist of a solid dome with a large 36 inch shutter. The dome rotates on a base, the height of which can be chosen according to your needs. The dome rides on rollers in a track set on top of the base. It can be moved by hand without much trouble. It is also fairly easy to open the dome shutter by hand, but it is somewhat more difficult to close the shutter, because you have to reach overhead to grab a handle on the base of the shutter and pull on it at an awkward angle. Newer models have electric shutters which can be opened and closed remotely.


Page 1 | Next Page
Back to top