Weekend Diversion: An observatory made for fire (Synopsis)

“Catch on fire and people will come for miles to see you burn.” -John Wesley

There's nothing quite like a fire on a temperate summer's night, as John Fahey will play for you in his rendition of a Mississippi Fred McDowell classic,

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed & Burning.

But I bet you never thought of combining the biggest burning festival with a 100% flammable astronomical observing party.

Image credit: Tom Varden “Major Tom” of Black Rock Observatory, via http://www.blackrockobservatory.com/. Image credit: Tom Varden “Major Tom” of Black Rock Observatory, via http://www.blackrockobservatory.com/.

That's exactly what the folks at Black Rock Observatory are doing, however, with their plans to build a wooden observatory complete with 20" telescope inside to Burning Man 2014 this summer.

Image credit: Kerry Harrywood, via http://www.blackrockobservatory.com/. Image credit: Kerry Harrywood, via http://www.blackrockobservatory.com/.

Go learn all about this amazing project here, and have a great weekend!

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What a brilliant idea for a portable field observation dome ! With a rotating base, yes, practical, methinks .....

It might seem a brilliant idea to you PJ, but I'm struggling to see the (scientific) point. I can see a rotating base being a useful feature, but confess I had always assumed the dome of an observatory was to provide weather protection, which this location appears to have littte need of. If the objective is to screen out ambient light, surely the only ambient light that matters is that from terrestrial sources near the optical axis. If it is already coming at you along the optical axis, there is nothing you can do about it by building an enclosure. Surely with this scenario two telescopes in the open with a pile of firewood represents better value than one telescope in an expensive combustable structure. (No exclamation mark Pa Deuce!)

Yes, weather protection is primary, blocking light is also as important, but I do not observe looking into the neighbors or the street lights. Instead of building the observatory in more traditional style, one can do away with the circular base wall with a semidome planted on top. That, in turn, does away with the problems of rotating the dome on a rail around the inside of the structure.
It is easier to run a circular track on the ground, with only the dome (note the dome shape in the article) on that track. As long as the diameter of the dome is great enough to allow movement around the 'scope, objective achieved.
I have little interest in the burning of effigies as the article promotes - we have enough pollution without adding more.

Hi there. I'm on this project and can address a few points.
1) The domes are portable but do not provide protection from the elements other than the Sun during the day. It will add shade for the scope, and a respite for people in the harsh desert floor.
2) The Dust environment will be mitigated by a 20" f4.5 mirror that we will used compressed air to keep swept. It is surprising how dirty the mirror can be yet still provide results.
3) We are not doing performance astronomy. We are however connecting people to the cosmos with their own eyes. Thus, the dome is part of the art, the look and feel of what Observatories are. We will not even enforce red light protocols, because we want people to make that connection with the Cosmos.
4) We will provide information about other astronomy groups where people can get a deeper experience. We are really using the John Dobson ethos of taking telescopes where no telescope has gone before to show people the wonder of the space around them.
5) We are NOT burning these domes. We will be using them for education and outreach to raise awareness of the Cosmos.
I hope that helps a bit. We are excited that we are brining this merge of art and science to the public and can't wait to see you at "home" if you are coming.

By Admiral Jet Burns (not verified) on 01 Jul 2014 #permalink

Pleased to hear they will not receive a charred end. Appreciate the art AND the intention. Unfortunately West Australia is too far to travel to appreciate the event even further.