365DaysDate: April 10, 2009


Title: Build it and They Will Come: Tale of an Observatory

Podcaster: Ted Judah

Organization: The Sonoma County Astronomical Society Website
Ted Judah email:

Description: Last fall I was given permission to convert an old barn on a dairy ranch into an observatory. The retired dairyman that owns the ranch, (my father-in-law), has long been interested in astronomy. This is my personal story of not only the planning and building of the observatory but also things to consider when building one.

Bio: Ted Judah is a total amateur. Amateur astronomer, carpenter, surfer, artist, designer, photographer, musician, cyclist, husband and papa.

Today’s Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the Physics Department at Eastern Illinois University: “Caring faculty guiding students through teaching and research” at


Hi! My name is Ted Judah and I’m building an amateur observatory.

As long as I can remember I’ve been interested in astronomy.

My dad had something to do with it. He was true science geek – thin black tie, pocket protector –very smart. He grew up building ham radios and telescopes. And he became an electrical engineer. He was once, literally, a rocket scientist. One of my earliest memories as a kid was my dad and I, armed with sleeping bags and a bowl of popcorn, laying out in the yard one warm summer night to watch meteors. We saw several every minute…

Today my interest in astronomy is still strong. I am a member of the Sonoma County Astronomical Society. We do public outreach events and host star-parties for local schools in Northern California. In addition we have a program that awards telescopes to school kids who write astronomy essays.

I am at an age now that almost everyone I know has children – Plus, I married into a large family and I now have numerous nieces and nephews. That is why for this International Year of Astronomy I’m excited about sharing the observatory and the wonders of astronomy with all the kids I know.

And the adults too!

This is my daughter

She’s not even three yet.

I can’t remember how the idea of building an observatory came about. I think it was my wife’s suggestion.

What’s your name? He he Linda Judah. I’m a teacher and a mom.

Linda suggested that her father David would be open to the idea of building an observatory on his property – A dairy Ranch.

My wife explained that when she was a little girl she would draw dream houses and would interview her parents for what to include in her drawings…

So your dad has always had an interest in astronomy?

Yeah, In fact I think we were in school when we got him a telescope for Christmas…

So, David, my father-in-law agreed to let me convert a small, dilapidated old barn into an observatory. The ranch is less than 20 minutes from the relatively light-polluted skies where I live.

It was originally built, I don’t know – a long time ago. The floor and foundation was rotted into the ground, the roof leaked and the whole structure was leaning downhill.

About the only thing I could save was the redwood boards that make up the siding. The rest would have be rebuilt. I spent much of my spare time working on it –planning and building.

Over the course of several months, I poured concrete footings that would support the building. Near the center, I mixed and poured a concrete block that is buried firmly in the ground to support a telescope. This telescope anchor is completely isolated from the rest of the building so that vibrations from people moving around inside won’t cause the scope to wobble.

Next came the walls and a few setbacks…

cow damage.

After I built a barbed wire fence to keep out the cows, I constructed the roof.

Rather than a observatory dome I built a traditional peaked roof to match the original building’s architecture. This roof is built on wheels that roll on tracks. The roof rolls right off the building and the sky above is revealed.

…it is really cool.

There are many ways to build an observatory. If you Google amateur observatories you can find hundreds of links that show how people have built their own.

There are so many creative designs out there and each one is unique to the specific needs of the observer.

So if you plan on building an observatory you have to ask yourself, why am I building it?

One reason is convenience. There’s an unwritten law that states the bigger and more complex scope you have the more time it will spend in your closet.
Having a scope set up and more-or-less ready to go is a big plus.

Interested in trying some astrophotography or contributing to science? I am. And having a permanently mounted telescope that is properly polar-aligned will make set-up much quicker.

An observatory acts as a shelter for your scope.

The observatory acts as a shelter for you! Having your body out of the breeze can make a big difference in keeping yourself warm while observing. Some people go as far as building a cozy warm–room in their observatories.

Another reason is that an observatory can shield you from neighboring lights. I’ve been observing at home before, with my eyes nice and dark-adapted when my cat triggers my neighbors motion-activated spot-light light. Blinding.

The outside temperature is often cooler than the nice, warm telescope you just carried from inside. So warm air currents will mess up the view till your scope cools down. Having a well–ventilated observatory can get help your telescope stay cool.

My wife had this good reason:

We’ll I think one really excellent reason for building an observatory is that you could get all the astronomy junk out of the house.

That would be good.

I couldn’t agree more.

But one of my main reasons for building this observatory is to share my love of astronomy with others.

Like my Father-in-Law Dave:
David: Well, It’s always been interesting to see what could be our world…

When completed, and the nights get warmer I hope to have a grand-opening star party. I’ll tell you how it goes in my next podcast.

Till then, Clear skies.

And thank you all for listening

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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