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Chance To Snap Up Your Own Observatory

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the perfect-for-spotting-wales dept.

Space 62

Hugh Pickens writes "Like to own your own five-story observatory equipped with a 12" Meade Schmidt Cassegrain catadioptric telescope and a 20-inch Shafer-Maksutov telescope — the second-largest of its kind in the world? Well, there's one for sale at Marina Towers in Swansea, at an observatory that could be Wales' largest telescope. The Swansea Astronomical Society moved out two years ago, blaming increased rent and other costs. So the city council has asked interested parties to submit their proposals and financial offers by the end of March. Brian Spinks, the chair of the society, says the extra rent and running costs meant the society's members would have had to find around £40,000 over the next 10 years. 'The members can no longer be expected to finance such a public presence from their annual subscription. If we had to find £40,000 over the next 10 years it would kill the society.' The observatory was built in 1988 and includes a domed roof, an access tower that houses a spiral staircase, a stained-glass roof by artist David Pearl and panels of carved poetry by Nigel Jenkins. 'We'd like to see a mixed-use development that incorporates features of the existing observatory building,' says Coun Gareth Sullivan, Swansea council's cabinet member for regeneration. 'Bringing the observatory back into use would add even more vitality to the promenade.'"

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Awesome... (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628748)

What kind of seeing do you have there?

Re:Awesome... (2)

Freddybear (1805256) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629012)

Probably lousy seeing due to proximity to Swansea, and made worse by the "new lighting" on the "promenade between the observatory and Civic Centre".

Re:Awesome... (1)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629480)

And don't forget the clouds. This is Britain, after all.

Re:Awesome... (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629222)

They sell old ICBM silos in the US cheaply, this should be cheaper due to it's location.

Just for grins... (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628772)

Are you using the scopes primarily for photographic or visual research? If it turns out you can't keep them, would you at all be interested in having them set up in an observatory in the U.S. in a great location (high altitude desert, with great seeing) with the promise you and yours would have plenty of scope time over internet?

Re:Just for grins... (2)

RDW (41497) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629092)

At least one of the telescopes already seems to be in operation elsewhere:

"We are lucky to possess a fine observatory is situated at the Fairwood playing fields of the University College of Swansea; which is equipped with a 12" Meade Schmidt Cassegrain catadioptric telescope. Regular observing evenings are held at the Fairwood site...Please note that the Society no longer has any involvement with the Marina Towers Observatory on Swansea Bay"

http://www.swanastro.org.uk/ [swanastro.org.uk]

Looks like these astronomers would rather get on with looking at stars, rather than playing games with a local council that has decided to put the squeeze on them over rent at the Swansea Bay site (which they have already vacated). They'd probably be happy to continue to contribute to public education by running events at Marina Towers, but not if they have to bear the greatly increased costs the council has now decided to levy.

Re:Just for grins... (2)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#38632636)

Why not sell observing time over the internet? I'll bet there would be folks interested all over the world who would be willing to rent observing time over the internet. Just put a decent digital camera on the scope and interface the scopes to a network server. Allow folks to do some interesting work on both scopes when you're not using them for viewing. Check the online rates for telescope time, figure what, perhaps a 25%-50% rent out, and you should have more than enough to cover you costs and still put a little money aside for improving the observatory and have 100-150 nights a year of observing left over.

By the way, put a 105mm ELD refractor on the 20 inch as a finder scope (Orion has fair sized ELDs for a great price.) Put an image intensifier and a webcam on the 105mm to allow your internet users real time searching for deep space objects and your online users will be very happy. Oh and an automated filter loader to allow creating those beautiful synthetic colored images. Your initial outlay of cash would be what $10,000? Figure with a little advertisement in the popular science and astronomy magazines, you could recoup that in about 6-8 months and by your second year start making a profit.

Re:Just for grins... (1)

blackair (1967466) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638076)

That is actually a very cool Idea. I could see a good portion of us space geeks and those from spacehack.org reserving time.

40,000 over 10 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38628780)

Thats a few fundraising drives a year....

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (5, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628792)

That's a car, financed over 10 years instead of 5. Must be a pretty small society.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (3, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628812)

Replying to my own post... 80 members, so yeah, pretty small but only 500 funny currency symbols each over ten years each. That's just 50 per year. My guess is that their members don't want that kind of dues increase. I'd think they could have held birthday parties or some such and raised that money, though.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

folderol (1965326) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628864)

That doesn't include all the other costs built into the subscription. I've been a member of several small organisations over the years. The annual subs for each average at around ukp30.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (2)

devitto (230479) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628936)

Well, it would be hard to ask those not getting the benefit to pay, so maybe that's 100 members who pop in, maybe 3 nights a year, or 6 nights a years in pairs.
£4000 a year, for 100 members is £400 a member - with the commitment that you'll be able to find 100 such members for the next 10 years.
All in all, if the members don't / can't pay - or don't think it's worth the money, fair enough.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

tagno25 (1518033) | more than 2 years ago | (#38632600)

Your math is off. it would be £40 a member.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38629232)

Fucking rich urban Americans and South-East Englanders. In Wales the median income, if you actually include everyone rather than massaging the figures only to include those who have been lucky enough to find full-time employment, is tiny. 4000 GBP/year is, in fact, not much more than what the state considers (via means-tested allowances) what you need to live on excluding rent costs.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38636332)

Taffy tight bastards cannot keep it going =)

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38636710)

I wasn't aware that Wales was poor, being a product of an American public education :) All we know about Wales is that we saw the wedding of the Prince and Princess on TV and they make our street names and towns sound funny: Llanberris, Bala Cynwyd, etc.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

Doctor Memory (6336) | more than 2 years ago | (#38639782)

So where'd they get those scopes, then? Amateurs could crank out some 20" Newtonian reflectors, but they're not going to whip up a Schmidt-Cassegrain in the garage with some lens blanks and lapping compound. I'm not disputing the Welsh economic conditions, but at least a couple of their members had cash at some point. Astronomy can be a pretty pricey hobby, and people who pursue it don't tend to settle for just naked-eye observations, or an old pair of field glasses.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (3, Interesting)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628840)

4000£ "extra" a year may not sound like much, but for many small organizations it's a huge change in their budget. Sure, top earners may lose that kind of change in their sofa, but if your group is mostly average working people that money's going to be hard to come by. The economy of the past 3-4 years has not exactly been great for small organizations which rely on fundraisers and donations.

Heck, my town (of 40,000) in the US doesn't have a functioning dramatic theater that's available for community productions. In fact, there isn't one in the surrounding three towns either (total pop of 100,000+). To get a basic one up and running in one f our old warehouses, we figured it could be done - with lots of volunteer labor - for as little as $600,000. Of the 3-4 small dramatic companies in the towns mentioned, that's somewhere around 6x our combined annual operating budgets, and about 80x our annual surplus when we all have successful productions. Unless you've got a very wide appeal, or backing of a successful regional or national corporation that wants some exposure, niche endeavors are tough to keep funded.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628874)

It might be a big delta but it's not a lot of money. If you can't come up with 4000 pounds a year to support something with as much apparent value then apparently it's not actually worth maintaining.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628974)

You need to remember these are astronomers.
Even an astronomer gets a part time job at a community college he is considered to be a sell out.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1, Funny)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628988)

We're talking about a small amount of money that can easily be had through fundraising. If they can't find corporate sponsors for so little cash (per year that's a pittance) then they should try a shower, and maybe brushing their teeth.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38630398)

Even an astronomer gets a part time job at a community college he is considered to be a sell out.

Forget THFA, had you read even the /. intro you would have seen that this is an amateur astronomy club. They all have day jobs; this is their hobby, not an occupation.

Keep your community-college trolls to yourself.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (5, Insightful)

smolloy (1250188) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629002)

The site they're moving to -- the Gower -- has much darker skies than the glare of Swansea. So, yeah -- they've decided, probably for good reason, that it's not worth paying that much extra for light polluted skies, when they could maintain their costs and increase the quality of their experience.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (4, Insightful)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629066)

That goes both ways. This sounds like a fantastic facility that is often made open to the public, that is completely maintained by the members, and which they pay to use. The community benefits enormously, and from the council's comments, they know it.

But because they've got some greedy assholes in charge now, they've decided to increase the rent by a factor of 20x over 10 years. And what determines the fair market value? I'm certain the improvements made over the years, paid for by the members, are a big part of it.

The best thing would for the council to realize the benefit they gain from having a fantastic learning resource run for them for free, and subsidizing the rent - maybe an increase is fair, but not that much - is a win/win for everyone.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38630062)

They could probably raise that amount through a kickstarter page or some other donation related site.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628918)

Heck, my town (of 40,000) in the US doesn't have a functioning dramatic theater that's available for community productions.

Lucky you.

To get a basic one up and running in one f our old warehouses, we figured it could be done - with lots of volunteer labor - for as little as $600,000.

It only has to cost so much because of a lot of onerous restrictions placed by government. Otherwise you could kitbash it as you went from recycled materials and improve it as you secured funding.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

ErikZ (55491) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629554)

Really? You've done this before? That would be fascinating to read if you've posted the details anywhere.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38630032)

"Onerous restrictions" == "Health, safety and fire standards"?

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (2)

Garybaldy (1233166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38630166)

There are very few regulations for theatres. What regulations do exist are standard for pretty much any public building.

It costs so much because of all the electrics that need to be installed and the cost of all the instruments along with the dimmers and console. Those four things are the most costly (and required) when moving into a warehouse type space.

Flymen/rigger/electrician

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629114)

See, that's interesting, because the town my parents grew up in (Kerrville, Tx - pop 20,000 in a rural area) actually has at least two active theaters I can think of off the top of my head. One is the outdoor amphitheater (with lighting, curtain, etc) by the river with an attached indoor theater as well (http://www.hcaf.com), and on the other end of town they just built a very fancy, modern theater (http://caillouxtheater.com/)
 
You might look in to corporate sponsorship, Kerrville has leaned hard on the wealthy in their community to sponsor the arts. Your group might try getting in touch with their fund raising departments, or taking some city councilmembers out to lunch.

Re:40,000 over 10 years? (1)

Isaac-1 (233099) | more than 2 years ago | (#38630862)

One thing to remember about astronomy clubs is that excluding ones associated with universities the average member age is very old. If you go to the average club meeting it is rare to see anyone that does not have gray hair, many of these people are retired, and are living on fixed income.

Second-largest = big deal? (4, Informative)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628872)

My impression from perusing Wikipedia is that this Shafer-Maksutov telescope is the second largest mainly because it's just not that good a design for professional work [wikipedia.org] . I'm not an astronomer, though, by any means.

Any astronomers out there who could chime in on this?

Re:Second-largest = big deal? (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629090)

Apparently, it's not such a good design for a haircut either.

Re:Second-largest = big deal? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38629442)

Back when I was into this....

That particular type of design was good for near field viewing as the focal length is 'ok'. The contrast is not as good. But that is ok for looking at local planets and such. The upside is they are usually sealed and not as prone to dust settling on the main mirrors. They are usually better for quick setup as they are lighter (the tube is not as long).

For deep field you dont want too many mirrors involved and a bigger primary mirror. So these usually have excellent focal length and good contrast. But weigh a lot more.

The weight may not seem like a big problem until you are lugging 100 pounds worth of tube up some hill in the middle of nowhere. You start to look at the other designs and see if you are ok with it.

I own this particular style
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflecting_telescope#Newtonian [wikipedia.org]
I got too big of tube and the mirror weighs too much... I should have went with a shorter one like the style you pointed out. Looks sweet though. But takes about 4 hours to setup (cool off and collimation).

Re:Second-largest = big deal? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38630700)

I got too big of tube and the mirror weighs too much... I should have went with a shorter one like the style you pointed out. Looks sweet though. But takes about 4 hours to setup (cool off and collimation).

Out of curiosity, did you get a Dobsonian mount or another sort of Newtonian reflector?

Re:Second-largest = big deal? (1)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 2 years ago | (#38630912)

I think it goes something like this:
1) Any ordinary Maksutov of that size would take far too long to adjust to ambient temperature. It would also be heavy.
2) This thing will have a lot of Maksutov benefits while being usable and huge (meaning powerful) at the same time.
3) Professionals and others with more resources can get a Ritchey-Chretien (fuck you for not having unicode Slashdot) telescope or similar instead and indeed probably don't care for something like this.
4) However, for amateurs shortcuts like this one often make sense. A popular way of getting huge apertures is to grind your own mirror, for instance.

Expensive build... (0)

bjwest (14070) | more than 2 years ago | (#38628934)

Maybe they should've thought of the future cost and rent increases when they spent (probibly more than £40,000) on that fancy stained glass roof and potery ensctibed wooden panels.

And with (as stated above, I didn't look it up myself) 80 members, that's less than a friggen 5 note per membrer a month. I think they were just looking for an excuse to disband and/or find a new hobby.

Re:Expensive build... (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629026)

I think they were just looking for an excuse

No need to find an excuse. They did not want t pay it so they already left.
As it is not owned by them, perhaps they did not pay anything for the first 15 years. The town then decided they did not want to pay for it and asked money.

Don't forget that it is owned by the town, not by the society.

Re:Expensive build... (1)

Capitaine (2026730) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629050)

They are always more or less motivated people in this kind of society. I assume that if the annual subscription should be raised by 50£ (about 77$), some may leave, leaving the whole burden remaining on the really active members, eventually leading to the death of the society. It is often hard to find enough motivated people to run a society.

Re:Expensive build... (4, Informative)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629058)

I think they were just looking for an excuse to disband and/or find a new hobby

The society didn't disband. they just moved out - 2 years ago. Check their webiste.

I'd guess that they simply found a better location. I wouldn't be surprised if Swansea promenade suffered a lot of bad light pollution and their website gives the impression that they've got a better location, elsewhere. Maybe even, for less money.

Although it might sound nice for Swansea council to say "yes, we built an observatory on the promenade", it doesn't sound like it' was particularly successful if it's been 2 years since the previous users left and it's still empty. You have to wonder whether it was built with utility in mind (carvings? stained glass?) for astronomy, or simply as a vanity project for the council to spend public money on.

Re:Expensive build... (1)

geniice (1336589) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629254)

Ah you forget this is Wales. The economy is something of a mess due to well various factors but Thatcher's reforms are probably a significant reason. The result is the area is on the receiving end of a lot of regeneration projects. These tend to have arts funding in the pot which results in random artworks being attached to the strangest things.

Alternatively it could have been a member dying and leaving them a one off payment or something.

I have an idea! (1)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629040)

It'd make a great location for a fish and chips takeaway or a pub!

Re:I have an idea! (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629980)

It does sound exactly like the kind of quirky property which Wetherspoon's likes to turn into pubs.

Re:I have an idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38632272)

There are already two Sppons in Swansea, both in far better locations in terms of foot traffic than the Observatory. In reply to GP post, there's really not enough passing trade for a take-away of any kind (and it probably wouldn't fit with the council's image for it either), and it's really a bit out-of-the-way to drive to; a local pub for the residents of the new housing builds around there might survive but it wouldn't get much footfall from further afield. It's on my old cycle route to the supermarket and I didn't know it was there, in spite of having visited it when I was in school. It's really cursed with a terrible location for pretty much anything other than just about scraping by. White elephant in the extreme.

Re:I have an idea! (2)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 2 years ago | (#38630170)

We have a place in Tucson called Sky Bar that operates a couple big (12-16") telescopes on the smoking patio every evening. There are also large screen displays inside showing various astronomical wonders. But it's also the world capital of astronomy, so there are plenty of poeple who work in the industry (including myself) to keep the bar stools occupied.

Typical Britain (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38629272)

This is just another symptom of tax-you-to-death Britain.

The town councils are one of the most self-interested and greedy organizations out there. They are in the business of telling you how to live your life, and letting you know what a naughty CO2 emitting person you are, while simultaneously emptying your bank account. In typical council fashion, they let an organization grow to a degree, then decided to see how much they could milk them for once they were successful.

This is the country that brought in a tax on church roofs ostensibly to pay for draining the rainwater in the storm sewer system:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/4387459/Rain-tax-means-churches-pay-many-times-more-than-neighbouring-businesses.html

Meanwhile, the citizens can't afford to heat their homes, live in drafty old buildings with barely enough hot water, and generally exist in misery. The famous British sense of humor is not a product of the culture or genetics - its a coping strategy.

Having lived in Britain, North America, South America and Europe, my advice to anyone in the UK - emigrate!

Chump change for Richard Branson . . . (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629406)

Why doesn't he rent the place and turn it into a publicity center for his pseudo-space flight program? You know, future passengers can sip champagne and chat and rub shoulders with other folks with too much money? Take a peek through a real telescope, that is looking at outer space!

". . . oh, space, yes . . . that's where we're going . . . yes . . . so that's what we'll see up there . . . ? . . . jolly good, yes . . ."

Plus he could score some good PR points by letting the astronomers use it for free.

"Virgin Promiscuous is committed to satisfying the needs of science . . . ", etc.

Re:Chump change for Richard Branson . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38630676)

Probably because Swansea is miles from nowhere. If you wanted a centre like that, it'd want to be in a more major population centre like London or Birmingham, or at the very least Cardiff.

Re:Chump change for Richard Branson . . . (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 2 years ago | (#38636742)

...where you can't see a thing because of all the light pollution.

Re:Chump change for Richard Branson . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38643488)

Same as the location of this observatory. Not that they'll need to have anything particularly obscure visible for a flashy publicity stunt.

What the heck? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38629430)

Is it time to start looking back over the last few decades and try to figure out exactly when western technological society died?

I've seen a number of signs and heard from several experts in finance and technology that in a few more decades, at most, we'll all be back to living as they did in the 19th century. Wait until all we all start scrounging in the woods for fuel to keep ourselves warm. Now that will be an eco disaster. Better to keep pumping oil, natural gas or build more nuclear power plants.

Stained Glass Ceiling? (1)

jageryager (189071) | more than 2 years ago | (#38629614)

An access tower that houses a spiral staircase? Why? A stained-glass roof by artist David Pearl? Why? Panels of carved poetry by Nigel Jenkins?

Maybe the Marina Towers in Swansea is a pretty good place to host a reception? Perhaps Swansea Astronomical Society is more interested in Astronomy than entertaining??

Wales? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38629642)

Where's this Wales? Is that like a small place in England?

Re:Wales? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38632134)

It's a province of Her Majesty

OB DS9 reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38629742)

'Bringing the observatory back into use would add even more vitality to the promenade.'

Yeah, but you know Odo will grumble about security concerns.

Swansea Council (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38631062)

I live in swansea and all i can say is this is typical of swansea council, They are greedy, corrupt and stupid.

Driving out useful tennants to leave facility like that empty can be added to the list of debacles which include asbestos in the public leisure centre, allowing hudreds of studio apartments to be built in the city centre that no one wants to live in and deciding the best transport policy was not to buy buses that could drive on the existing roads in the city centre but to buy extra long buses and re-lay miles of roads at great expense and inconvenience to everyone.

$6200 Annual Rent? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38631796)

I'd pay $6200 annual rent (GBP40K / 10 years) to live in an awesome pad, even if it meant living in Swansea. Though it probably costs a fortune to heat it.

Observatory for sale (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38632440)

Just to correct some of the comments. The Tower and Observatory are empty - no scopes. The 20 inch is, in fact, the largest of its kind in the world and there is unlikely to be anything larger due to the difficulty of making and supporting this kind of mirror. The buildings were built with European funding. Change of use will bring many problems - disabled access, lift needed, fire regulations.....

40 grand is *nothing*. (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#38635770)

This could be funded from the public purse with the smash that gets lost down the back of George Osborne's sofa.

My observatory is better, and cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38636218)

I live in the blue ridge mountains (elev 4200 ft) and have a 16" Meade Schmitt-Cassegrain and a 30" newtonian that I built myself. I pay almost no property taxes on my 340-acre tract completely with grass strip, and heating my house involves cutting down an older, failing tree on my property and dragging it back to the house.

Yeah, satellite Internet is slow, but I take it gladly for the peaceful, serene, and DARK environment.

Why would I want to pay some corrupt city council for a dilapidated observatory that they want $6200 /year to rent?

How about Yerkes for $8 million? (1)

An dochasac (591582) | more than 2 years ago | (#38636224)

During the heat of the property bubble, a New York developer set eyes on view of Lake Geneva from the grounds of Yerkes observatory. An $8 million deal would have preserved the 40 inch refractor [wikipedia.org] (The world's largest useful refractor) in exchange for the use of the land for condo development. The deal fell through when local residents objected to the condo development which gave the developer time to notice that the bottom fell out of the real estate market. I'd been wondering whether the deal would go through and then UofC or some other astronomical research organization would buy the land back from bankruptcy recovery firm for $1 million once the developer noticed that even the best real estate in Wisconsin won't support NYC prices.
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