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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make an Observatory

In August of 2019, I decided that I wasn't going to let my physical disabilities stop me from doing astronomy again. (For those who don't know me, I now use a wheelchair after being hit by a car.) Over the past few years, I had scraped together various pieces of used and discounted astronomy gear. I then got some motorized dollies so that I could move them around. It all seemed so promising; I had found a way to do astronomy again and I was encouraged by some early success.

Then two major setbacks occurred. Both were disheartening in different ways. The first was some trouble with neighbourhood thieves.

It was 1:20AM and I went inside to use the bathroom. I came back out and a random thief was long gone with my tablet PC. There had been an alarming number of thefts from people who combed the neighbourhood looking for "opportunities." After a few more thefts and attempted thefts that summer, I seriously doubted if I could continue astronomy the way I had planned.

The second major setback was the city’s decision to do street lighting upgrades.

The streetlamp across from my house was “upgraded" to be about 5X brighter than previously. As it was pointed directly onto my front yard, night was turned into day. This wasn't just light pollution, it was a photon bombardment. I debated contacting the city, but I was not optimistic that they would do something for me. I realized that if I was going to continue, I needed a new plan.

At times like that I often go back to the 90's classic song Tubthumping.

I decided that my best option was to build an observavory in my backyard, where the light incursion from streetlamps was much less. The backyard location would also deter thieves, and allow me to get up and running more quickly for observing sessions. I bought some plans from Skyshed to build an observatory. But the SkyShed plans weren't quite right for wheelchair accessibility so they had to be modified.

And with a little help...

...from my friends... started looking like...

an observatory!

Everyone who worked on the project was completely new to building an observatory. But, what we lacked in experience, we made up for in enthusiasm. Sometimes, we had to redo things two or even three times. The nails that were pulled out and used again, albeit a little bent, gave rise to the observatory’s name: The Bent Nail Observatory.

The Bent Nail Observatory is a monument to friendship, to finding a way to make things work, and to optimism for the future.


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