If you ask a group of avid astronomers what their priorities are on an equipment wish list, it’s very likely that most would pick their dream telescope and mount or camera, followed closely by an observatory. An easy train of thought to follow, because in an observatory your equipment is always set up and ready to use, so you can make the most of every patch of clear sky.
And when you have to assemble your telescope for every observation, there’s nothing more frustrating than spending 30 minutes setting up the instrument for an important observation, only for cloud cover to roll in. An observatory also protects you from the wind, which means you can look at the stars more comfortably and your telescope or camera won’t shake. An observatory also offers some protection from dew, so you can see or take pictures for longer.
The Explore Scientific pop-up observatory tent can be assembled by a single person
Before you embark on that dream dome or astro shed with a retractable roof, there are a few downsides to owning a static observatory that go beyond just the cost. Most of us have suburban gardens with pervasive light pollution and limited access to the sky (how many times has your favorite planet played hide-and-seek behind your neighbor’s tree or house?). Also, thermals from nearby buildings can result in poor localized seeing. Additionally, certain types of astronomical observation are site-specific – such as eclipses or lunar, planetary, and asteroid occultations – so you may need to travel if you want to see them.
When a static observatory is ruled out due to cost, lack of a yard, poor views, or the need to avoid streetlights, what do you do? The obvious option for the observer who needs to travel somewhere with dark skies – and let’s face it, many of us are – is some sort of telescopic tent. Canadian company Kendrick Astro Instruments is an established player in this field and Omegon is currently marketing a three meter wide octagonal bell tent observatory with a removable roof.
While Kendrick and Omegon’s offerings are relatively easy to set up for any experienced camper, those unaccustomed to spending time under tarps will likely balk at the challenge of pitching in the dark, especially when observing alone. Luckily, there’s a quick-to-deploy alternative that even those who don’t like camping can get by with. Just as importantly, it can be set up by a single person: welcome to the Explore Scientific pop-up observatory tent.
Delivery and first impression
The Explore Scientific pop-up observatory arrives in a single 70 x 70 x 13 cm shipping carton with a net weight of just 7 kg – making it a relatively lightweight and easy to store product. Inside the box you’ll find the main tent, an expansion tent (more on that in a moment), a top rain cover, a dozen guy lines with tensioners, as well as a dozen ground stakes (note: you’ll need to bring your own hammer). Both the main and annex tents are made from a double-stitched nylon-polyamide material that is said to be waterproof, UV-protected and blackout-coated. It certainly looks durable and is very opaque even to sunlight.
The allure of pop-up tents
Pop-ups, sometimes referred to as self-pitching tents, have grown in popularity as sun shelters or beach huts for kids, but they’ve gotten more sophisticated in recent years. Unlike a traditional tent that uses articulated poles to add shape and rigidity to the structure, a self-erecting tent like the one reviewed here has a molded spring steel wire frame sewn into the fabric that curls up in a circular motion when the tent is stored. Once you take the pop-up out of its pocket, simply toss it in the air and it will take its shape as it opens to full size. Now just anchor the corners of the tent to the ground, attach more pegs as anchors for the guy lines to give the structure stability in the wind, done.
Set up first
Both the main Explore Scientific observatory tent and the expansion tent and cover come in a plastic bag in the shipping box, so you may want to save the latter and spruce up its sides and corners with some tape or something so you have something to fix that Protect product when not in use. While it would have been nice for Explore Scientific to provide some sort of zip-top case with carrying handles to hold all of the pop-up observatory components, I realize these things are made at a price. Fortunately, such travel bags can be bought cheaply on Amazon or eBay.
Anyone with a bit of camping experience under their belt will find that the Explore Scientific observatory tent is almost ridiculously easy to set up, which is fortunate as no instructions were included with the test model. Luckily for beginners, the Explore Scientific website (explorescientificusa.com) support pages provide a four-page PDF version that you can read online or print out.
While it’s perfectly doable for an adult to set up the Explore Scientific pop-up tent alone in the dark with a headlamp lit, I’d recommend a test run with a friend during the day – especially when it’s likely to be windy. The guy lines are not attached when you purchase the product, so you must tie them all securely first during the day to save time and hassle when you reach your observing location.
The main tent
Looking a little like a child’s drawing of a house, the central part of the Explore Scientific pop-up observatory tent is almost a four-sided cube with walls 1.47 meters wide and 1.52 meters high, with the opposite gable ends having a maximum height of 1, 82 reach meters. On one gable end is a central zipped door, 0.91 meters wide and 1.06 meters high, with another door of the same size in the middle of one of the side walls. These door flaps can be rolled up and tied with strings at the top. There is no ground sheet, so your telescope’s tripod rests on the ground or grass.
The bottom four corners of the main tent have loops for the ground stakes, and there are another four loops four feet off the ground at the corners of the walls for the guy lines that you attach to four more ground stakes further away. Even on calm nights you’ll want to use the guy lines as they give the structure the rigidity to support the top rain/dust cover (the latter is conveniently oversized to seal out moisture and spray and has corner loops for a dedicated guy line). ropes).
I imagine the majority of Explore Scientific pop-up observatory users will only pitch the main tent. After I had pre-assembled the guy lines during the day, the first setup alone took only ten minutes. You’d think it would feel small, but at 1.47 meters wide and 1.52 meters high, it’s deceptively roomy. Coincidentally, the main tent has almost exactly the same internal dimensions as my former wooden observatory with wing roof panels, from which I successfully operated a 280mm Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a CGEM equatorial mount for a number of years.
The Explore Scientific pop-up observatory is best suited for catadioptric or relatively short optic tube mounting instruments on tripods
The extension tent
The extension to the main tent is to be used as a computer/operating room or as additional storage space. It also doesn’t have a groundsheet, so you might want to consider getting an old piece of 1.5-meter-square carpet or vinyl to stand on. The three-wall extension tent has the same overall dimensions as the main pop-up observatory and attaches to the outside edges of the gable end of the main tent (the one with the door) via a pair of three-centimetre-wide by three-foot-long vertical Velcro strips.
Is the pop-up observatory just as easy to disassemble and store away? Yes, with a little practice. I found it best to first collapse the structure into a two-dimensional, one-sided shape and give the frame a slight corkscrew twist while folding one corner to the opposite number. In this way, both the main and extension tents roll up to form discs just 70 centimeters in diameter for easy storage.
Because both the main and extension tents have 1.52 meter high sidewalls, the Explore Scientific pop-up observatory is best suited for catadioptric or relatively short optic tube mounting instruments on tripods whose height is the axis of their mount about one meter above the ground placed. As a result, low-lying instruments like Dobsonians will have fairly limited views.
However, if you are mindful of the orientation of your pop-up observatory, you can fold back one wall of the expansion tent and observe from there, so Dobsonian users can benefit too. Although I was initially skeptical of its effectiveness, I have used the pop-up observatory extensively in Spring 2021 for both imaging and observation, with great success.
At a glance
Dimensions when unfolded: 1.47 m × 1.52 m (1.82 m on opposite gable ends)
Weight: 7kg Price: £233
Ade Ashford has traveled the world writing about astronomy and telescopes and has been a contributor to astronomy magazines on both sides of the Atlantic.
https://astronomynow.com/2022/06/10/explore-scientific-two-room-pop-up-observatory-tent/ Explore Scientific two-room pop-up observatory tent – Astronomy Now