At one time or another, every observer wants an observatory of one’s own. Even a very basic backyard observatory means that your telescope and equipment has shelter from the elements, and is set up and ready to go at a moment’s notice: no hauling gear, cobbling things together in the dark, or aligning and troubleshooting required.
These days, getting to a dark sky means travel, and often a family camping expedition. Now, Explore Scientific offers a way to have both a temporary observatory and portability, with their two-room observatory tent.
Setting up an Observatory Tent
The tent has two rooms, one to set up a telescope inside, and one to shelter in and stay warm. The rooms both measure 5 feet by 5 feet (1.5 m by 1.5 m), with walls 5 feet by 6 feet (1.5 m by 1.8 m) high. Those high walls are worth it, as they will not only block out the wind, but also shade the user from the light trespass of nearby campers.
The shelter room has two zipper flaps, which are lockable with a small airline padlock (not supplied). One flap is on the exterior, and one enters the observatory room. The entire setup is very similar to a temporary beach cabana. The tent has permanently installed coils to keep it rigid, meaning there’s no tedious threading of segmented tent poles like in other setups.
The tent sets up and tears back down very quickly, in about 10 minutes. It coils back up into a 27-inch (69-cm) diameter hoop in one quick motion. Weighing in at 19 lbs (about 9 kg), the tent isn’t quite in the human-portable, backpacking category, but can be easily carried for a weekend camping trip in a car or RV.
The entire enclosure is covered by a tarp, which can be deployed over both, one or none of the rooms, exposing them to the sky. There’s no tent floor included, and I’d buy a cheap $10 tarp for the floor and mosquito netting for the shelter vestibule to modify the tent. With a little reinforcement, I could even see this tent staked down as a semi-permanent backyard observatory shelter.
Pros – Setup and teardown for the tent was easy and intuitive. I’ve had larger and more expensive tents that were much tougher to assemble, and camping gear never seems to fit back into the sack it came out of!
Cons – The tent is a two-person setup, as even the lightest of winds turns the panels into sails. For this same reason, I probably wouldn’t advise users to ‘rough it’ under austere conditions in a gale force wind – but we wouldn’t be doing astronomy under those conditions anyway, right?
I can see this two-room observation tent as a great RV add-on for that next star party camping getaway. Once the family’s asleep, you could step out of the trailer, fold the tarp back, and swing the scope into action for a night’s worth of deep-sky observing. I wish I’d had one of these at the Nebraska Star Party a few years back.