Little hut on the prairie protects telescope investment
For backyard sky watchers and stargazers, Nick Reed's nifty invention is heavenly.
Sitting out in a rural Osage cornfield, his tiny observatory looks like a funky shed.
But there's no dried corn or hay inside. It holds Reed's telescope.
Called a DobHut Observatory, it's designed for the amateur astronomer in mind. Want to watch a meteor shower at 3 a.m.?
Set the alarm near your comfy warm bed, then go outside at 3 a.m., open the doors of the DobHut and you're watching the cosmos in a minute flat.
Reed, a lifelong astronomy buff, saw a need and built his prototype, a 9.3-by- 9.3-foot shed, last winter.
The enclosure keeps the telescope optics at ambient levels. There's no lens fogging or adaptation time once the doors are thrown open. And you don't have to haul your telescope outside and set it up. It gives easy access to the scope and protects the instrument from the perils of nature.
The split-ceiling design allows a single person to peel back each half of he roof, exposing the stationary mount to the skies. A raised pedestal keeps the instrument dry and is separate from the floor to prevent vibrations.
Reed designed and named the shelter for Dobsonian telescopes, one of the more affordable and high-powered reflecting models used by most amateur astronomers. Invented by a fellow named John Dobson in the 1960s, the whole idea was to introduce astronomy to the masses. Backyard tinkerers could simply buy the optics as a kit and build their own.
Reed's own telescope is just such an instrument.
Reed did find that his DobHut isn't exactly portable, though.
As soon as he'd finished it in the late winter of 2010, he disassembled it, loaded it onto a snowmobile trailer and hauled it to Nebraska for the annual star party he attends while visiting observatories in Omaha and Lincoln.
"I thought I'd see if it was a dumb idea," he admitted.
It was a chore, he acknowledged. But it received rave reviews in the cornhusker state, so Reed launched a website upon his return and decided to commercialize his contraption.
Although DobHuts are designed to permanently sit on your property, Reed said it would be possible to install one on a trailer for portability.
Celestial objects always fascinated Reed as a youngster.
During his childhood, cereal boxes contained coupons to mail in for peachy prizes.
The young Reed, who preferred reading library books to studying, sent away for a telescope. He received a cardboard tube with plastic lenses.
He was smitten, even though the crude optics only afforded a slightly better view of the skies than his own eyes.
He read his step-father's "Popular Science" magazines and eventually ordered a 2-inch diameter single element lens, which he built a telescope out of. Then came a 6-inch model.
Fatherhood and a career eventually intervened. He made his trade installing flooring, looking down. Not up. He and wife Jean made their home in Park Rapids 25 years until he began "looking for property that would give me a nice wide vista."
That was south of Osage.
In 1976 he had his epiphany. He reasoned he didn't have expensive tastes or hobbies, didn't have an arsenal of guns or toys, so he "decided to get a decent telescope.
"I'm happy sitting out here," he said of his observatory near the cornfield.
Jean is supportive. She's been to Florida star parties a few times and usually accompanies him to Nebraska.
"She's long-suffering," Reed said with a smile. "She enjoys it."
But the couple mostly stays close to home. A downturn in the building industry has affected Reed's annual income, he said.
He has met Hubbard County astronomer Rick Johnson through a 2008 story the Enterprise ran.
Unlike Johnson, whose observatory is a high-tech model, Reed doesn't take astrophotographs.
Imaging is too complex for him, he said. "I can't remember how many windows Rick said he has open to image his stuff, but I'm overloaded by computers easily," Reed said. "It's a paradoxical phenomenon."
His DobHuts are low-tech observatories that can get anyone stargazing.