IN the quaint seaside community of Gloucester, Mass., on Cape Ann, one gray clapboard house stands out from the rest. It has a big white dome rising from the top, with a sliding shutter that opens to the sky and a powerful telescope inside. “My wife got an ocean view and I got a view of the sky,” said Dr. Mario Motta, 55, a cardiologist and astronomy enthusiast, of the house they built three years ago.
At a time when amateur astronomy is becoming increasingly popular — thanks in part to the availability of high-tech equipment like digital cameras that filter out light pollution — Dr. Motta and his wife, Joyce, are among a growing number of Americans incorporating observatories into new or existing homes. Manufacturers of observatory domes report increasing sales to homeowners, and new residential communities are being developed with observatories as options in house plans.
“As the baby boomers and wealthy tech types retire, they want challenging hobbies like astronomy, and have enough cash stashed away to afford to build their own observatories,” said Richard Olson, president of the Ash Manufacturing Company in Plainfield, Ill., which makes steel domes for observatories. His customers used to be limited to academic and research institutions, but within the last five years, he said, homeowners have begun making requests, to the point where 25 percent of his sales are to people like Steve Cullen, a 41-year-old retired senior vice president of the Symantec Corporation, who is building a home and observatory on 190 acres in Rodeo, N.M.
Mr. Cullen said he chose the location because it has “some of the darkest skies and clearest weather for space photography in the U.S.” (Most sophisticated telescopes now allow for the addition of digital cameras.) He expects the total cost of his observatory, which is still under construction, to be close to $340,000, including a $225,000 telescope, but his is a high-end project.
Most home observatories have between $10,000 and $40,000 in equipment, including telescopes, computers, refractors, filters and tracking mechanisms, according to astronomy equipment retailers. The total budget for an observatory can range from $50,000 to more than $500,000, depending on how technologically advanced the equipment and the size and complexity of the structure.
Dr. Motta also photographs deep space from his home’s observatory, posting his images of distant galaxies online and publishing them in astronomy magazines and journals.....