Spotlight

She Gave Him the Stars!

The Krizak family has a home with heavenly views—literally. It’s thanks to the anniversary present Lori gave her husband in 2011. Knowing Paul’s fascination with space, she gave him a four-and-a-half-inch telescope—a Newtonian reflector. One thing led to another, and now there’s an eight-foot by ten-foot astronomical observatory in their backyard!

It houses a 14-inch telescope—a Celestron Schmidt cassegrain—mounted with a Gemini 2 computer for automatic object location and tracking and a Celestron Skyris 132 C camera. An eight-foot dome opens manually, remotely, or by computer for viewing, tracking, and photographing. The pictures are amazing!

Paul and Lori married and bought a home in Austin in 2007. In 2011 he was transferred to San Diego, where they lived in a rental in Sabre Springs. They kept watching property listings and found a home in Scripps Ranch where Lori’s parents, Rochelle and Alan King, had lived for more than 20 years. Paul and Lori moved into their home in classic Scripps Ranch in March 2013.

Paul began working on the observatory on January 24 of this year. He finished on March 29. “It wasn’t hard to do,” he said. “It’s more or less like a tool shed. It’s not uncommon to have an observatory in your yard. Lots of people have them…they have them ready made, but they’re metal, and when I showed a picture to Lori, she said, ‘Not in my yard!’”

Paul got information from websites and people telling him about the observatories they built. When he began construction, he ordered the dome from Texas, built to his specifications. It was delivered to his home in about six weeks.

He dug a four-foot-square and four-foot-deep hole for the foundation—he got help pouring the concrete—and built a concrete mount for the telescope (right). He put up walls, checked with the city about easements, and pulled an electric line out to the new construction. Lori stained the planks the same color as the fence, and the building waited for its top.

When the truck arrived with the dome, there was another dome in the truck on its way to another home observatory in California! Paul’s neighbors helped place the dome on the structure. It was a perfect fit! They had a party in May to celebrate the completion, and more neighbors came by.

Paul can control the telescope from his computer in the house, his smartphone, the computer in the observatory, or the handset connected to the telescope mount.

“There are a number of types of objects that you can see with a telescope,” Paul said. “The planets—Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn—the moon, and ‘deep-space objects.’ The telescope in my observatory is optimized for observing the planets, the moon, double stars, and globular clusters. Most nebulae, galaxies, and open clusters are obscured by the light pollution in this area, so I did not optimize the telescope to observe them. I observe those object types when I visit Mount Laguna, far away from the city lights.”

He has three other telescopes he uses: a ten-inch Newtonian reflector, which he takes up to Mount Laguna; a six-inch Schmidt cassegrain, his “portable” telescope, also used for observing the sun with a filter; and a three-point-one-inch achromatic refractor, used with his larger telescopes to help locate objects.

One of the most interesting things he’s seen is Markarian’s Chain, up on Mount Laguna, in his 10-inch telescope. “It’s really amazing to see a whole cluster of galaxies appear in the same field of view at the same time…I’ve also seen many comets, supernovae, satellite passes, and other transient events. These are really fun.”

He enjoyed watching Saturn while it was in prime position for viewing recently. It is now too low in the west to see well. Jupiter, the “king of the planets,” is out of season, he says, but Mars is coming back into the early morning sky.

Paul recommends www.sdaa.org to astronomy buffs for information and events. He wants to find out more about the largest telescope in the world now being constructed on top of the Mount Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. Paul invites teachers and scout leaders to see his backyard observatory with their classes and troops. You can contact Paul at [email protected].

Elinor Reiss