Hey, kids! Do you like science?

BRO is on it’s way! We’re going to Burning Man!

The trucks are loaded. Everything’s ready to roll. The crew will work in the night time, sleep in the day time, and we are definitely on our way home!

Visit the Black Rock Observatory at Burning Man 2014, at 12:00 and 5000′, beyond the Temple.   And see the Mars Rover Art Car! We will be in deep playa. Head out from the back of the Temple and you’ll see our domes in the distance. The view of the heavens will be magnificent from there!

Fantasy writer and uber-podcaster Steven R. Boyett did these two commercial spots in the style of 50s instructional films for the Black Rock Observatory at this year’s Burning Man. Give ‘em a listen, and visit the BRO on the Playa this year!


Kickstarter Launch

>>>>>Check out and share our Kickstarter page! Share this link: http://kck.st/1q79SUW <<<<<<

Wow! What a wild ride! Our Kickstarter is 47% funded in just over 2 days! Here we go!!!!

We’re building an astronomical observatory for Burning Man 2014 and beyond, complete with giant telescope and science exhibits! The Black Rock Observatory will be a mobile observatory dedicated to the celebration of art and science and built to show the public the joy, immediacy and beauty of our solar system and universe.

The observatory consists of two 21’ domes designed by 2013 temple architect Gregg Fleishman and built by the Desert Wizards of Mars. At night, participants will be invited from miles away by high powered lasers pointing out planets and distant targets from an open sky planetarium. Our 20″ telescope will resolve the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and five of its moons, Martian polar ice caps, outer planets, and distant galaxies and nebulae! We also have an extensive daytime program in store including meteorites, white light and h-alpha solar telescopes, pinhole viewers and a radio telescope.

Our planetarium will be a place where travelers can rest their weary feet and dazzle the brain. An outpost for the curious and intrepid, we want to give the sky back to those who have forgotten it belongs to them. We want to give them views of the night sky they can explore again after Exodus by simply looking up and connecting.

Please check out and share our Kickstarter – funding ends July 17th!


Renderings and Kickstarter

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Black Rock Observatory on playa. Rendering by Kerry Harwood.

We have new content for your brains! From renderings of the dome to telescope news and fundraising, things are starting to get really exciting. As we approach our launch date and the Burning Man gate, our focus has shifted a little from planning to fundraising. We’ve had hundreds of hours of meetings and thousands of hours at personal computers. We’ve contemplated and surmised, dreamed and wished; its time now to start making this thing real. There’s still much virtual and desk work to be done, many legal and economic loopholes and regulations to follow and fondle, but here comes the fun part. We’re lucky to have convinced Kerry Harwood of Harwood Visuals to work on some 3D renderings of Gregg’s design to include in our Kickstarter video. He’s taken some time to give us some still images that provide a sneak peak of what the video might look like and for me, they are just amazing to look at. This thing feels real already and we’re just really getting started. Kerry’s talent is evident and we’re fortunate to have him on our team. The people that have volunteered their time on this project are a constant source of inspiration for me and I’m lucky to work on a crew with so many  amazing talented people, but then I guess that’s what Burning Man always feels like.




TinMan and his amazing walking machine. – photo by Philippe Glade

I’d like to also take a minute to welcome the TinMan to our team. He’s working on making our beloved orb rotate so as to provide an unobstructed view of the heavens. He’s also going to be bringing his iconic dome structures to join us at the Observatory. He uses the same geometry as our architect, but he uses metal instead of wood, so we’re going to be the Small Rhombicuboctahedron center of the universe for 8 days. Archimedes would be proud. A very special thanks to the TinMan for driving all the way from Sacramento to L.A. to help Gregg Fleishman move his studio.

A few weeks ago, I kidnapped our dome model and drove North away from the city lights to escape the light pollution. I wanted to experience stargazing through the dome and I couldn’t wait until August to do it, so I set up my camera inside the dome and took a series of 30 second exposures and processed them into a video and then still images. It was an amazing night of silence and contemplation among the stars that I won’t likely forget anytime soon.


Our scale model under the stars in the Sierra Nevada. – photo by Major Tom

I couldn’t help but wish that it was the full size dome out there, but that time will come. I’ve seen many astronomical domes over the past 20 years, but none have had the style and the stunning beauty of this dome Gregg has designed for us. Just more proof that just about any project can use good art. There’s still a badass quality I’m struggling to describe about it. Driving home that morning, I couldn’t help but think that we’re on to something special here.

Click for video

Click for video

The Kickstarter campaign is almost upon us, where we ask the world to vote us into existence with their money. We’ve finished gathering assets for the video and are preparing the rewards we’ll send our supporters when they for out hard-earned dough. The Big Ask. I’m confident we can successfully fund this project, but I need your help to do it. We need to get the word out as a team and together we can do this. We’re going to prepare a press release, many blog and social media posts and we’ll be sending emails as well in campaign to get this thing into the real world where it can do some good. There’s a ton of people out there to inspire and we can’t do it unless YOU help spread the word. So, here’s a sneak peak at some of those rewards. I’ve designed a graphic and simple logo that includes the Moon, it’s phases and our Black Rock City streets and our guest of honor, the Man. We’ll be offering t-shirts, hoodies and bandanas with this logo and perhaps a tank top if there’s enough interest.

Logo for Kickstarter rewards

Logo for Kickstarter rewards

There are some pretty awesome rewards in store for the campaign. We’ll be creating a pendant with Gregg’s dome design to announce your B.R.O. support to the world, we’ve got midnight tours of the American Museum of Natural History, customized astrolabe star charts, private star parties, 3D plans for the dome, meteorites and a special private observing session at Mt. Wilson Observatory plus many other great rewards to say thanks to those who help make this project a reality.Hoodie template (illustrator) BROroundneck_black_template01 As a reward for a donation of any size, donors can download a high resolution copy of one of my images of Laura Kimpton’s “BELIEVE” or Gregg Fleishman’s Temple of Whollyness or Charles White’s Mars Rover Art Car from Burning Man 2013: Cargo Cult.


In other news, we held our first fundraiser at Mt. Wilson Observatory and we all had a blast. We rented out the 60″ telescope and used the behemoth to view planetary nebula, planets and even one of my favorite distant galaxies. It was a great opportunity to get together with some L.A. burners (and some not) to discuss astronomy, history and Burning Man. Our project is starting to get a lot of attention and the Mt. Wilson group was buzzing with possibility and the excitement of a great night of observing. In all the years Ive been going up the mountain, I’ve never seen the marine layer come in and block out the city lights. Although the atmosphere was scintillating like crazy, the added contrast because of the darkness was a thing to behold. The dust lane in the Sombrero Galaxy jumped out at me and hints of dust and cloud detail teased itself out of the dark. It’s like getting to see an old friend but never this close or this clearly.

That about wraps it up. Our Kickstarter should begin within a few weeks, so keep an eye out for it. We have the chance to do something truly special here. I know that if we pull this off, aside from my family, this will be my greatest accomplishment. I’ve dreamt of running an observatory in a great city since I was a kid. Distractions and real life get in way. I abandoned this dream long ago on the side of the road. My math skills, my economics and my self confidence were broken and Im still working on it, but when I saw Black Rock City for the first time, I knew this was kind of place that wants you to live your dream. It dares you to live your dream. F#*k that. It demands that you live your dreams. So, here’s mine. Wanna help me build it?  



It’s all happening!

The Moon, Jupiter and the Internation Space Station through the dome model.

The Moon, Jupiter and the Internation Space Station through the dome model.

Gregg surprised us last week by having a 1:6 scale model cut and inviting us to his place for a build. We all knew we we’d be building a model eventually, but this was a fantastic surprise and my anticipation grew all week. When I arrived at his place, it was a feast for the eyes. Amazing wooden structures and geometric models surround you. Gregg Fleishman’s signature style was everywhere I looked. Having admired his stunning work on the Otic Oasis, the Pistil and the Temple of Whollyness, not to mention his furniture, I was thrilled to be standing there examining what looked to me like decades of work. There were a thousand shapes that wood never had a dream of becoming. It was like the Kama Sutra for Birch trees.

Before I knew it, the crew had arrived and we were punching pieces out of plywood sheets and removing the masking tape backing that holds all the pieces together to sand the rough edges. The model was cut with a MotionMaster 4×4 table with a 2mm bit from ultrathin 3 ply Finland Birch. The model is 1:6 scale so 2 inches = a foot. It looks like the full size dome will be about 21 feet across and measure over 15 feet tall. It wasn’t long before we all had our heads down sanding and the sounds of the friction rang about like so many DJ’s scratching on. That Burning Man feeling started to coarse. That familiar collaboration feeling started to creep on me. There’s a Burning Man feeling that involves collaboration, work, community and release that hits me every time I’m near people like this. My brain and veins come alive and I’m drunk with possibility.


Our project went from vaporware to hardware in just a couple of hours. Seeing a real dome in front of you that looks like it Tronned out of Autodesk and into the real physical world is exciting. I felt a little like Neo after swallowing the interlocking plywood pill. When I sat in front of the Temple of Whollyness, it looked precisely and exactly like the 3D rendering. That feels like a incredible triumph of math to me, one that’s way over my head, I’ll admit, but inspiring to an almost painful degree. There are realities; we can understand the mysteries of the univers. Standing in front of this 1:6 model of the observatory gave me that same feeling, but I feel connected to it in a more important way. Executing math sculptures  with software and trees is the same magic early astronomers wielded when they predicted eclipses and equinoxes. I don’t know if the Aztecs had a profound sense of meaning, philosophy, time and space intertwined when they built their pyramids, but that’s what I’m feeling now. We may not have the longevity of some of those stone structures, but in the impermanent impression we leave, there is an unbreakable thread of truth and numbers. I’m not even sure what it is or even what it looks like, but I know it’s real.

We finished up the model while we all discussed and commented and we took a short time to enjoy the sight and exchange some “holy shit that’s cool”s before we sauntered off down a Culver City street to some great margaritas.

Gregg’s making some changes to the dome and we’re starting to raise some money. Work on our Kickstarter campaign has begun, so look out for that soon and we’ve arranged a night with a historic telescope at the Mt. Wilson Observatory. It filled up so fast, we’ll likely reserve another night. We’ll be using the 60″ telescope that Edwin Hubble used to discover redshift and the Big Bang  to view whatever we like. You can stand in the same place as Einstein and used the same equipment as Stephen Hawking did. If you’re interested in joining us next time at Mt. Wilson, email me at vardenphoto@gmail.com or join our Facebook group and you can donate to the project anytime by clicking the Support Our Work link or send your donation via payPal to DonationsBRO@gmail.com.

I really want to thank Gregg Fleishman, Tupa, Luba, Keith Split, Captain Everything, Krista An, Matt and Charley for this amazing model.

Thanks for your time and support. – Major Tom


New dome designs by Gregg Fleishman


Well, I’m just thrilled to show you these new dome designs from Gregg Fleishman, architect extraordinaire and the designer of The Temple of Whollyness at Burning Man: Cargo Cult. It’s an honor to have him aboard. He schooled us on geometry and blew our minds with math the night before he dropped these amazing domes in my inbox. We’re thrilled to have his guidance and I just can’t wait to build these structures. So for now, update those drawings above with these domes in your head while we work on new renderings.

Things are moving right along. We’ve been talking to some amazing people from around the world about this project. Since our last update, we’ve met with our Black Rock Astronomical Society collaborators in New York a few times via teleconference and the scope is turning out to be very innovative. We’ve added some folks from Hawaii to the roster, as well as a gentleman from Germany who builds observatories for a living. We’ve also been offered access to near real time data from Kepler and SOFIA, two of NASA’s amazing instruments. There are so many amazing opportunities on the horizon, I don’t even know what to do with myself.

Black Rock Observatory is turning out to be more than I could have ever dreamed of. There are just so many amazing people out there in this community willing to give their knowledge and work for no expectation of reciprocation. It’s inspiring. Thanks as always for your continued support. – Major TomGregFleishmanBlackRockObservatoryDome01


These are some pretty amazing people right here. Don’t trust ‘em, they look like trouble.



Black Rock Observatory, Burning Man 2014

Black Rock ObservatoryView10Black Rock Observatory, coming to Burning Man 2014!

The Desert Wizards of Mars, the group that built  C.O.R.E.  project, Seraphim and the Human Spirit for Burning Man 2012 and L.A.’s first regional burn, BEquinox, then wowed Burning Man 2013 with the Mars Rover Art Car, has a new project for 2014. Our “new nucleus” is now setting it’s sights on building a destination for astronomy and science outreach on the playa.

We want to bring space a little closer to Earth and show participants of Black Rock City the beauty of the universe they live in.

Join us for some fun in the desert and let’s show people just how amazing the universe is….

Black Rock Observatory early Sketch Up model



Minutes from 1st meeting


For anyone who missed our planning meeting on Thursday, here are your out of order and possibly incomplete minutes:

  • Charles has agreed to reprise his role as project manager extraordinaire and reviewed his credentials as astro-badass, for those who don’t know: Charles most certainly IS an astro-badass.
  • Tom will be assuming the role of ‘visionary artist.” Please contact me at anytime for any questions you might have at 661.435.6274 or vardenphoto@gmail.com or you can hit me up on FB.
  • We need a place to build this crazy thing! Charles is concerned that we need a flat base to build. I’ve been looking around and asking, but any input you can give would be greatly appreciated.
  • We decided that people calling us “BRO” would be acceptable, no need to change to B.R.City Observatory, we’ll own ‘BRO’, dude.
  • We ran through the main concepts for the observatory which you can find in our “Files” section.
  • Essentially, our plan so far includes:
  1. an observatory dome with 2 or more scopes for an astronomical viewing with a robust daytime program including solar telescope; the dome will likely be powered by collaboration
  2. an “open air” planetarium where we can give lectures and star talks aided by laser pointers and space jokes;
  3. a gallery of sorts to house a meteorite and other weatherproof exhibits.
  4. Equatorial Planet “Lasers” – Color-coded lasers mounted on equatorial telescope mounts that will track the planets through out the night to point burners to their celestial neighbors even while dancing. We’ve been offered a loaner laser from LazerGlow and 50% off from Wicked Lasers.
  • Scott shared concerns that we need activities that aren’t curated and we need everyone’s ideas on this – what will the observatory offer if it is unmanned? If we can manage to create a secure exhibit for a real meteorite, participants (should we call them ‘pants’ for short?) will be able to touch space with nary a docent in site. “Weigh yourself on the planets!” scales? Sundial? Solar System Scale Model?
  • We discussed a short list of targets for the scopes, essentially these: Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Mars, the Moon and deep sky objects (DSO’s) like the Lagoon Nebula (m8), the Trifid Nebula (m20), the Ring Nebula (m57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27)
  • We set a schedule for future planning meetings. We’ll meet on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays for a video conference on Google Hangout for now.
  • Scott suggested we look into Zoom for video conferencing; his team uses the services regularly with great success
  • With the BRO name solidified, Pat Rapp stated she could register BlackRockObservatory.com and DesertWizards.com and Phoenix offered her blogging skills to get us started. Both are now reserved and there’s a template blog page live at BlackRockObservatory.com this very moment. If you have anything to say or ideas for blogs or content, please sound off! We’ll need a lot of content over the next year, so don’t be shy.

Again, there’s a more detailed plan in a doc called, “Main Components, Ideas and Inspiration” in the Files section of this Facebook Group.I’m sure there’s some stuff in here that I forgot, please feel free to edit and add topics we covered if you like.

If you’re reading this, I can’t thank you enough. We have a chance here to give people that amazing feeling that we get when we listen to the philosophy and musings of Uncle Carl (Sagan). We can give them the incredulous wonder of viewing Saturn’s rings for the first time. We have the unique opportunity to give burners something huge that will be with them after Exodus, a chance most other artists at Burning Man don’t get. People all over the world will come to Black Rock City for an amazing week only to return home with fading memories of awesomeness, we can send them home with the night-sky as a trusted friend. The laser beams, amazing art cars, endless nights of dancing, dusty hugs, playa gifts and shirt-cockers will dissolve into memory, but when they look at the stars above them, they’ll remember the planetary views, they’ll remember that science knocked their socks off and they’ll take home the best swag anyone has ever gotten from Burning Man: their own universe. Thanks to everyone who believes in this idea. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.