Looking to the Southern Sky at DaltonSkyGazer Observatory.
I frequently receive emails asking me for feedback and information about my Explora Dome observatory manufactured by PolyDome. Since their original introduction to the public in 2006, PolyDome has become a very well recognized dome manufacturer within the amateur astronomy community. The 8 foot dome I own was bought used, one of the first prototype Explora Domes produced.
DaltonSkyGazer 8ft Explora Dome observatory sitting on a 10ft homemade round building with attached heated control room.
Explora Dome brings the cost and convenience of dome ownership down to a price range affordable to many amateur astronomers without sacrificing on quality. The Explora Dome has many accessories available, several found only in high end dome observatories. The accessories and offerings include various building configurations, roof panels, doors, even full dome automation hardware. One of the latest accessories offered is the aluminum wheel ring and upgraded wheel set which allows for extremely smooth and quiet dome rotation. The 8 ft Explora Dome is also available in several colors. A larger 11 ft dome offering, the ED II was introduced to the product line not too long ago.
Meade 12″ LX-200 GPS on pier in 8ft Explora Dome at DaltonSkyGazer Observatory
The Explora Dome is manufactured from polyethylene, a very durable and highly impact resistant material. I believe the material will hold up well to the outdoor elements, based on several years of ownership. Leaks have not been an issue in the 3 years my observatory has been up. The observatory has experienced hail and sustained wind gusts in excess of 60 mph on several occasions. I installed an interior tie down system to the dome which I attach when the dome is not in use.
The Explora Dome requires very little maintenance beyond a power washing once or twice a year to remove pollen and any mold which may have shown its face on areas not exposed to the sun. The cleaning can easily be accomplished using just a garden hose and scrub brush. I power wash the exterior of the observatory once per year with a mix of bleach, detergent, and water. The annual cleaning takes me about one hour to complete. The dome still looks practically brand new after three years exposed to the New England elements.
I live in New England where frequent heavy snow and ice storms occur in the wintertime. I was worried about keeping up with snow and ice removal. The observatory has been through several severe winters now, I have found that it sheds snow and ice remarkably well. I spend less than ten minutes each snowstorm clearing the observatory of snow or ice, it literally slides right off the observatory with little effort.
There are several benefits of owning a dome over a roll off roof observatory.
1. Dew heating system is usually not needed at all in a dome observatory
2. The dome protects the scope from wind
3. The dome helps to protect the telescope from indirect and direct light if you are located in a neighborhood
4. The dome sheds snow better than a flat roll off roof.
5. Come on…. :) A dome is just too cool! When we think of observatories we think of domes!!
My 8ft Explora Dome was installed on a custom built 10ft round building and includes a small heated control room comfortable for two people attached to the dome building. The dome area can hold about 6 people comfortably. The Explora Dome can be purchased with a round or square building option, or one can install the dome on any custom built structure they dream up. PolyDome even offers free blueprints with building instructions available for download at the Explora Dome website allowing you to build a 10 by 10 structure before you receive your dome. It would be very easy to modify this blueprint to create your own customized observatory plan.
I did have one occasion in the past where I needed support for the Explora Dome, customer service was fast. I had a minor issue with the shutter hanging up and binding which was responded to within 24 hrs. Dan from PolyDome provided a quick and lasting solution to my shutter issue, this issue was common to the first prototype domes. The fix took 5 minutes and the shutter has worked effortlessly since. Explora Dome also has a Yahoo User group online which is a very helpful resource for owners and perspective buyers.
Heated Control Room at DaltonSkyGazer Observatory
I believe PolyDome has revolutionized the dome observatory market with the Explora Dome offering. They have made improvements to the original design over the past few years, paying close attention to customer feedback. The 8 ft Explora Dome is a high quality and durable product priced at a range favorable to most amateur astronomers. I would highly recommend this product to anyone who is looking to build a dome observatory in the future.
If you are looking for a larger observatory you may also want to look at the Explora Dome II from PolyDome. The ED II is an 11ft dome, the largest offering from PolyDome.
Explora Dome Report Card
0 is lowest possible rating
5+ is highest possible rating
|Quality and Craftsmanship||4.7
|Features and Accessories||5 - There are many accessories offered for the Explora Dome. I would like to see them expand out some more, perhaps offering a secondary source for the dome rotation motor.
|Ease of Setup/Use||4.5
|Price||4.0 -The price of the unit is very reasonable. The price for shipping is a bit steep. Shipping is cheaper if one prearranges delivery when a truck is scheduled for deliveries to the nearby area. I would also recommend purchasing direct from a trade show when the dome is on display, making arrangements in advance of the show..
|Owners Manual/Documentation/Online Support||4.5
|Vendor Support and Responsiveness to Communications||5+
|Uniqueness of the Product||4.5 - It is unique in that it is a simple and rugged design offered at a great price point. It is also very easy to customize an observatory based upon this dome.
The Explora Dome is in a league of it's own for this price range. It is priced very reasonable, affordable to most amateur observers. The unit is built like a tank and I am sure will last a lifetime with minimal maintenance required.
Explora Dome II by PolyDome
The largest dome (11ft) offering from PolyDome
Image Courtesy of Dan@PolyDome