Just before Burning Man, the folks in the San Diego Collaborative Arts Project invited us to their regional decompression event, YouTopia: Revelation Revolution and asked us to apply for a grant and we did. The observatory was running over budget, so I desperately needed the funds in order to avoid a huge personal loss that I had no idea how I was going to afford. I discovered the dome seen above would cost twice as much as the first dome and far more than we had budgeted for, because of supply issues. The wholesaler who supplies the imported Latvian Birch, the same wood used for much of Gregg’s structures, had run out of stock at just the wrong time and we were forced to pay retail price for all the wood comprising the entire second dome, not to mention the cost of the rotation mechanism. An hour after I learned this and about 7,500 heart beats later, SDCAP contacted me to award us the grant. The timing was perfect. Cosmic even.
Visit THIS LINK to watch the timelapse video.
Let me tell you, the folks that throw this event gave us the warmest welcome you could ever expect. Not only did they reach out and offer the help we needed to get to there and request our presence, but they gave us a perfect location at the top of a hill with beautiful views of the sky and an incredible perspective on the whole event. From the top of our perch in a larger valley, we could survey what seemed like the entire event, snaking down a creek in a gorgeous stretch of the La Jolla Indian Campground, just miles away from Palomar Observatory, a historic venue for astronomy. Big thanks to Meg and Paul for the best skies this project has seen so far and the chance to again do our thing.
The build went extremely smoothly this time. Largely because we had the master, Gregg Fleishman with us, who understands it all better than anyone, but also because we had learned a lot. 95% of the work was performed with 5 people, one supervising, in a leisurely pace. We completed the dome before dark. We had slept in and taken a long lunch. Granted, we weren’t in the remote, dusty desert, far from civilization in constant winds and blazing Sun, that definitely helped. Considering all of this, I believe we’re getting better at this. We can complete it with a smaller crew in a faster time and now’s the time to look to the future and what stops we’ll be making next year in this space adventure.
The people that came to see us at the observatory were blown away. I knew deep down all along that we’d connect with a certain group, but I’m astounded to see how big that group is. So many wonderful people made the trek up the hill to visit our observatory even under cloudy skies. Again, the meteorite was a huge hit. People really resonate with the age and the weight and the over all sculpture quality of the Rock. I’m contemplating another acquisition just due to the sheer impact of them, pun intended. We also brought one of Gregg’s Satellite structures and that is always amazing to see come together. They pack so small and yet deliver so much visual impact, play area and intimate space, it’s almost magic. And when you see one, you know Gregg is there somewhere and somehow, that just makes people feel good.
The clouds were relentless. We set up the Observatory on Thursday and never saw stars until Saturday morning just before sun rise. I stayed up all night Thursday and Friday waiting for the clouds to part. I had brought the observatory all the way out here and built it to show people the universe and I was determined but fading fast. I set my alarm to go off every hour that night to check for clear skies at about 3am. In one hour, it was clear as a bell. Only about 2 dozen folks stopped by before the Sun came up, honestly I don’t think anyone barely noticed that stars were out finally, but those who did were treated to an epic view of Jupiter. The seeing was fantastic, the transparency was superb and as I’ve mentioned before, our telescope is a monster.
The views were phenomenal. I literally skipped around and jumped up and down like a little boy. The skies at Burning Man were fair this year and since then, Ive had some great views at home in the high desert of L.A. County, but here in the heart of the reservation in this gorgeous valley, our project, our telescope shined like a bright shining star of amazingness. Anyone with decent sight was seeing almost a dozen individual cloud belts and zones on the surface of Jupiter with blue festoons clearly visible in the Northern Equatorial Belt. The Galilean Moons were visible, too and some were even giving up colors. Io was certainly tinged with yellow.
It wasn’t long before the Sun came up and put everyone to bed. I fell asleep that morning with my fingers crossed for just one clear night so we could really wow some people with great vistas. Saturday night was our last chance.
The day started out cloudy and overcast. It was a perfect time to walk around and enjoy ourselves at this amazing festival. The organizer do a great job and you’ll find 3,000 plus great folks there, all with something great to offer. As the day progresses, I could tell we were going to be open for business. The skies were shaping up to be perfect and perfect they were.
The chilly air over the Observatory was still and crystal clear. The Orion Nebula is one of the most beautiful deep sky targets in the sky and our telescope seems almost perfectly configured to view it. This star birth region is just awesome to look at and it appears bluish in hue. I enjoyed some of the best views of this target of my life on Saturday night. The looks on people’s faces were priceless. I heard more wow’s and expletives than you’d expect to hear near powerful scientific instruments, but that’s the way things should be.
It’s usually fairly easy to amaze with Saturn, even with a small telescope. It has rings and we love it. With the Orion Nebula, it’s much, much harder. If you drive the average amateur telescope out to a dark sky and stare for a while, you may barely make out the brightest parts of this gas cloud. People spend hours, night after night staring and staring trying to tease out tiny details with the frigid winter air freezing their breath to their ski masks and condensing the water vapor out onto your optics. I’ve spent many sleepless nights straining my eyeballs and freezing my other [parts] off to see what this telescope slams into your brain like a freight train. The beauty hurts and darn it, there goes the water works just thinking of it. Damn you, updates.
Please believe me when I tell you this telescope works. It’s awakened this old dusty amateur astronomer once again after years of trying to wring every photon from decades old, tiny, inadequate equipment. Sure, the views aren’t like Hubble, but the fact that I can slap someone in the face with a dim nebula instead of the bright Moon or a planet makes me very happy, and powerful. We have a gun and it’s loaded with galaxies and nebulae and planets and it’s pointed right at the public’s face. We have enough aperture (or firepower) to take people outside of the solar system and even our galaxy and that’s very special. Thanks to you.