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Having access to a nice shop has it's obvious advantages. I was looking at some images of the Milky Way and decided to make a back-lit ceiling for the DarkSky Mobile Lab. Unfortunately, it was more problematic to mount a big back-lit ceiling without sacrificing inside height. So I went back to the drawing board and designed a smaller back-lit frame - I like the outcome, but I need to work on diffusing the light better...

 

It all started like this: I took a Milky Way map image and created paths using VCarve and

cut out the hole pattern on a sheet of 4 mil PVC. If you look closely, you can see there are a number of holes that don't readily show up in the image - I think in all there were over 1000 holes cut by our ShopBot. The point was to approximate the Milky Way by hitting all the major identifiers - I probably could have gone with a higher resolution, but that would have taken several hours to cut... since this was a proof of concept, I just went with the resolution you see here. The sheet size is 52"x108" the actual pattern size is in the neighborhood of 48"x80".

 

The result was rather nice - but a bit too unwieldy to mount in a trailer that bounces down the road...

 

So I made a smaller version (24"x48"). The smaller version came out really nice.

 

Here's the 24x48" version at my workbench.

 

 

Need to work out better light diffusion - the LED strip in this frame is RGB so any primary color, or any combination of the 3.

 

 

Depending on the angle you can see the LED's directly through the holes at the edge.

It really doesn't matter for a first attempt - I now know I can build these better and have a lot of ideas. I've considered making Seasonal Star Charts in this format. That's on the table now, but it'll all have to wait until we get back from NEAF 2018!

A couple of years ago I accomplished a life-long goal of owning a good telescope. I setup my 12" Newtonian on the grass at our local community park and spent a couple of hours getting ready for a night of observation...

 

I was looking through the eyepiece, and making sure I had everything ready when I get a tap on my shoulder. I look up and there's a rather intimidatingly large local policeman staring back at me... I was thinking "oh, he's going to make me tear down all this gear and move it!". Instead he asked if he could come back after it was dark and look through the scope! I was so relieved I wasn't going to be asked haul a couple hundred pounds of gear back to my car.

 

Officer Moore came back late that night and we looked at Saturn, talked about our mutual interest in stargazing and that was the turning point for me. I realized I wanted to share telescope time with anyone interested. Soon after, I bought a much higher-end telescope and mount and started DarkSky OnDemand. The idea I had of sharing telescope time, morphed into providing high-end resources to educators.

 

Over the next two years I developed the DarkSky Mobile Lab. It started as a simple metal frame and evolved through many great failures and learning moments into the DarkSky Lab we're showing at NEAF 2018 in Suffern, NY this April. The Mobile Lab has all the computing power necessary to do phenomenal observations - we're using Prism software from Hyperion-Astronomy which really kicks it up to the next level.

 

The lab is really a technology demonstrator - we can take it to the field or to a school and show students what photographing the night sky can be. We also are working to build a network of private observatories and other resources that DarkSky will provide to Educators at no cost. Our focus is on under-served communities where the schools struggling just to keep the classrooms lit. Our resources will help inspire the next Einstein, Hubble or Hawking. You know they're out there waiting in the wings... We want them to begin a life of exploration and discovery and we want to be one of the tools educators can use to help light that fire of inspiration.

 

Office Adam Moore & DarkSky Administrator Ed Anderson

I've spent the past few weeks here in the shop, getting the DarkSky Mobile Lab ready for the North Eastern Astronomy Forum (NEAF 2018). There's still a lot remaining to do, but I have my checklist - which seems to be getting longer each day.

 

It's going to be really exciting to show the Mobile Lab for the first time. It is a working platform, but also a proof of concept: that a mobile telescope platform, fully configured for deep sky imaging (as well as planetary and solar) can be taken just about anywhere there are open skies and get to work with the business of Astronomy Education.

 

Yesterday I spent the day repairing LED lights that have started to act strangely. I took the lab out to Kansas from Pennsylvania last year for the Eclipse and the 5500 mile journey took a lot out of the trailer; bouncing all over the place no matter how carefully I tried to drive. So I guess that was my shake-down cruise. Now, all the things that were loose, flickering or otherwise not behaving have been fixed (I think).

 

So April 20 I'm heading to NEAF to setup for the Conference on the 21st and 22nd. Hopefully it will all go smoothly because of the preventative maintenance and other prep-work I'm doing now.

 

If I get another break, I'll add another quick rundown of what's going on here at DarkSky!

 

Until then... Dark Skies to all!

 

-E DarkSky Administrator