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We're building a real astronomical observatory for Burning Man 2014 and beyond, complete with giant telescope and science exhibits. Read more

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Funded!

This project was successfully funded on July 17, 2014.

We're building a real astronomical observatory for Burning Man 2014 and beyond, complete with giant telescope and science exhibits.

About this project

 

 Showing the universe as art is an admission that the truth is sufficiently beautiful and that it deserves our attention. The Black Rock Observatory will be a mobile observatory dedicated to the celebration of art and science.

Our 1:6 scale model, under the stars by Major Tom
Our 1:6 scale model, under the stars by Major Tom

Rather than build an observatory for research and measurement, we choose to build one for the public as art and a celebration of science. As modern astronomy moves ahead, the telescope is seldom used visually. Cameras and spectrographs have separated us from seeing the universe with our own eyes. We intend to show the public the joy, immediacy and beauty of our solar system and universe with telescopes.  

Black Rock Observatory and the Mars Rover Art Car at Burning Man
Black Rock Observatory and the Mars Rover Art Car at Burning Man

The observatory consists of two 21 foot domes built with interlocking CNC cut plywood and inhabited by instruments for viewing and sensing the universe. Balls viewing spheres from orbs on a globe. The sphere is the universe's answer to the form problem. Orbs above; orbs below. Echoes of the outer planets, the domes lie in a remote space requiring skills, effort and patience to reach. Eyeballs and color coded lasers fondle the planets overhead while 'zards, 'nauts and 'bots conduct experiments below. 

1:6 scale model complete!
1:6 scale model complete!

At Burning Man 2014, on the outer playa, curious Burners will  approach spherical structures with a strange but familiar form. Two globular domes designed by architect Gregg Fleishman will beckon like plywood planets of Finland Birch. They’ll discover a telescope 10 feet tall where they can view planets, distant nebula and galaxies. Participants will rotate the dome manually and work together for an unobstructed view. At night, they’ll be invited from miles away by high powered lasers pointing out planets and distant targets from an Open Sky Planetarium. Like bubbles in the fabric of space time, structures on a sheet beckon.

This year, the Desert Wizards of Mars are teaming up with Jedi master architect Gregg Fleishman to bring the citizens of Black Rock City a place to contemplate their place in the universe. We're creating a gallery for time, physics, astronomy, geometry and symmetry. Gregg has been experimenting with slotted plywood construction for over forty years. His use of cubic symmetry allows him to build complex structures made completely of interlocking wood, with no nails, screws or metal fasteners of any kind. Fleishman uses geometry like a wizard to bring beautiful forms, elegance, sustainability and portability together into his amazing designs. His workshop looks like the Kama Sutra for Birch trees. His structures are gorgeous to behold, easy to assemble and they last for years. 

Gregg Fleishman's Temple of Whollyness
Gregg Fleishman's Temple of Whollyness

 Gregg's Burning Man evolution started when he designed and built the first structure in the Walk In Area, the Otic Oasis, at Burning Man 2011, offering citizens a refuge from the din and a quiet space to replenish themselves. His Burning Man journey then led to the Pistil within the Man base in 2012, comprising the very center of the city. It was a means to ascend and to understand Fertility. Echoing this movement, he built a pyramid in 2013. Last year's Temple of Whollyness served as our spiritual center at 12 o' clock on the map and the apex of our city. Gregg created a truly sacred place where our community could come together, meditate, pray, pay tribute and let go. Gregg Fleishman's art made a pilgrimage from the city to the temple and is now continuing on into the white-out void of deep playa and into quiet black void of deep space. 

photo by Roy2K
photo by Roy2K

The shape of our dome is a 26-sided Archimedean solid. The Small Rhombicuboctahedron is made up of 18 squares and 8 triangles in its spherical form. It was first identified by Archimedes, but never drawn until Leonardo da Vinci drew the image below left in 'De Divina Proportione', printed in 1509. 

Drawing from this geometry, Gregg has designed a place where we can open up to the universe but also a building system that will allow our domes to stand 15 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter, yet still pack down within 8' x 4' x 4'. While Burning Man is our primary mission, the dome can be built in less than a day and taken down in less than an hour, allowing us to rebuild the dome at festivals, science outreach events, star parties, observatories and city parks where we can bring the wonders of the universe to the people. 

Gregg has lived in Culver City for almost 50 years and is contributing his skills to four projects on the Playa this year. His groundbreaking construction techniques are perfectly suited for the conditions of the Black Rock Desert and his creations look stunning there rising from the dust. His work has been shown in the Museum of Modern Art (NY), Yale University Art Gallery, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many more.

Seraphim - photo by Curious Josh
Seraphim - photo by Curious Josh

The Desert Wizards of Mars are a collective of artists, scientists, engineers, makers and doers based in Los Angeles with members in Nevada, Arizona, New York, Germany and all over the universe. The group constructed the Los Angeles C.O.R.E. project Seraphim and they also also built the regional effigy, The Human Spirit for the inaugural L.A. regional burn, BEquinox  in 2013. Many of our members helped build the L.A. C.O.R.E. project, SCARAB truck and Chronos at Bequinox: Mythos 2014. 

MRAC broadcasting the burn back to Earth.
MRAC broadcasting the burn back to Earth.

In 2013, The Desert Wizards constructed a tribute to the Mars Rover Curiosity's landing on the Red Planet: the Mars Rover Art Car. Named 'Dustiny', it landed at Black Rock City during Burning Man 2013. It was permitted in the inner circle on burn night to officially broadcast the burn over the internet for the Burning Man Organization, much like a real space probe would report back from another world. The Wizards made it possible to view the burn from anywhere on the globe, transmitting our signal to our family who couldn't make the trip with us, saluting all those at mission control that couldn't make it. We made a ton of grilled cheese sandwiches, too. 

The Mars Rover Art Car
The Mars Rover Art Car

The Mars Rover project was successfully funded on Kickstarter in April 2013 and was chosen as a Kickstarter Editor's Choice. We were stoked! It was covered by CNET, Laughing Squid and more. We're asking our community to put their faith in us again in 2014.

The work of Gregg Fleishman and the Desert Wizards at L.A. Decompression
The work of Gregg Fleishman and the Desert Wizards at L.A. Decompression
The Human Spirit at BEquinox 2013
The Human Spirit at BEquinox 2013
                             
Desert Wizards at BEquinox 2013
Desert Wizards at BEquinox 2013

We’re going to build our giant telescope from the ground up just for the citizens of Black Rock City. Dust!? We got this covered. Our telescope will resolve the Galilean Moons of Jupiter, the Rings of Saturn and 5 of its moons, Martian polar ice caps and the outer planets. We'll be exploring faint galaxies many thousands of times too dim to view with the naked eye and distant nebula where stars are being born from coalescing hydrogen gas. Our telescope is a design created by Isaac Newton 346 years ago in 1668. His telescope was 6 inches wide and 2 inches in diameter (not bad Newton). Ours will stand 9 feet tall and 20 inches in diameter; it will provide views that will expand minds, widen perspectives and open consciousness. Viewers will take home memories of distant vistas reserved only for a select few. 

Photons are particles of light. They travel at 186,000 miles per second. Right now, there are beams of light, with photons that left a galaxy millions of years ago, rushing toward Burning Man at light speed just to meet you there. Particles of light with your name on them have traveled unfathomable distances at the fastest of all speeds over epochs and over eons of time through the vacuum of space to just to meet YOU at Burning Man. Holy. Crap. Are you going to be there?

For the geeks: our telescope is a 20" f4.5 Newtonian telescope on a Dobsonian mount. If everything goes well, it will track targets and have GOTO capability. We'll also be bringing a menagerie of smaller scopes and we invite our fellow astronomer and star gazing types to set up their gear, too if they'd like. Monday after gate is a New Moon, which will allow for great viewing conditions of deep sky objects. We'll have Mercury low after Sunset, Saturn and Mars set at about 10:30pm PST, Neptune and Triton are at opposition on the 29th (perfect viewing) and yes, I know you were wondering, we will indeed be able to spot Uranus (or your friend's if they're not careful). We will also show you nebulae, globular clusters, planetary nebula and far away galaxies. 

We also have an extensive daytime program in store for participants including white light and h-alpha solar telescopes, pinhole viewers and a radio telescope. 

Citizens will notice lasers from deep playa pointing out at the stars, then drawing the constellations. Upon further examination, they'll see a group of interlopers resting around an astronomer indicating constellations and asterisms with high powered lasers. Tales of mythology, comedy and astronomy ring out over the playa. Every sort of speaker from Physicist to Philosopher will wonder aloud about the mysteries of the void and pontificate on the beauty of the cosmos. It's a planetarium show without the ceiling. 

Our planetarium will be a place where travelers can rest their weary feet and dazzle the brain. An outpost for the curious and intrepid, we want to give the sky back to those who have forgotten it belongs to them. We want to give them views of the night sky they can explore again after Exodus by simply looking up and connecting. 

As we are Black Rock Observatory, it's only fitting that we have a black rock on display. Nickel-iron meteorites will be displayed for participants of our great city so that they may touch and hold the oldest thing they've ever clutched and bask in the age of the Solar System. Citizens will feel the weight of 4.5 billion years in their hands. These black rocks hold the keys to the chemistry of the early solar system and they may be the end of our future, too. They might just kill us if we don't pay closer attention. These octahedrites formed with the Solar System 4.3 billion years ago but are just now finally getting tickets to Burning Man. 

Visitors to Black Rock Observatory will touch and fondle meteorites. Why? Because, they're metal space crystals of doom forged in the outer solar system and they are awesome. A meteorite hovered just out of reach in the center of Black Rock City last year; this year, you can get all creepy with it. 

Nickel-Iron meteorite from Gibeon, Namibia
Nickel-Iron meteorite from Gibeon, Namibia
Scale model in the Sierras - photo by Major Tom
Scale model in the Sierras - photo by Major Tom

We need your help!

We have a great design, an amazing crew of veteran burners, more space geeks than we can handle and the track record to make this happen. The only element remaining is the funding. We need money. We need your money, even if it's only a buck. We can make this happen, we just need your help to do it. No bucks: no Buck Rogers. 

Please share this with your friends and donate at a level that you're comfortable with. If we are even one dollar short of our goal when the time is up, we get nothing. We have a really amazing opportunity to bring astronomy to the playa in a new, artistic and fun way and you can make it happen right now.  

  • Our original goal will enable us to show participants the wonders of the universe and the depths of the cosmos, but with your help, we can do so much more! If we can reach $23,500, we can add an amazing solar telescope to double our effectiveness, expand our daytime program and offer views of the Sun in spectacular H-alpha light that will FREAKING BLOW YOUR MIND.
  • $25,000  we'll add, a radio telescope to view radio targets through clouds and dust, making our observatory WEATHERPROOF! , plus we can add a dedicated white light solar projector for viewing sunspots!
  • $30,000 If we can raise this, we'll be able to outfit our telescope with state of the art closed-loop digital encoders and motors that will allow our giant telescope to locate and track over 10,000 objects automatically providing more views in less time. We have plans for building out the open sky planetarium with chairs and lasers if everything goes well, so come along on this journey with us, the sky is the limit! )'(
  • $40,000 We have a great observatory planned where you can explore and experiment, but if we can get to $40,000, we can fully realize the project as we originally envisioned it. At this level of funding we can create a new kind of public observatory that could touch the mind and soul like the great science centers of the world, but ours will be mobile! We'd be able to obtain a trailer for transportation and storage to lower the cost of travel and mitigate the cost of renting transport to maximize your investment. The cheaper our operating costs, the more schools, festivals and events we can reach with this project. 
Our Sun in beautiful H alpha light
Our Sun in beautiful H alpha light

 We have the opportunity to bring space to the community in a way that has never been seen before. Join us on our adventure!

 We've created some unique rewards for backers of all levels. Please donate at level that you're comfortable with and pat yourself on the back for being a patron of the arts and a citizen of Black Rock City. 

$1 Backer Reward: High Resolution Digital Photograph from Major Tom (scroll down for more)
$1 Backer Reward: High Resolution Digital Photograph from Major Tom (scroll down for more)
$15 Backer Reward: Digital Download of Kim Boekbinder's Album, The Sky is Calling
$15 Backer Reward: Digital Download of Kim Boekbinder's Album, The Sky is Calling
    

Spacey songstress, Kim Boekbinder, will give you a download code for her new astro-themed album at this level. The Sky is Calling journeys deep into the universe with dancey supernova beats and haunting orbital harmonics. See link to the music video of the single, and check out Kim's website for more samples. Video single: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCJzUiBZItk

Black Rock Observatory logo for Kickstarter Rewards
Black Rock Observatory logo for Kickstarter Rewards
$25 Backer Reward: Bandana
$25 Backer Reward: Bandana
                                       
$50 Backer Reward: Custom Astrolabe Star Map
$50 Backer Reward: Custom Astrolabe Star Map
$65 Backer Reward: Pewter Dome Pendant
$65 Backer Reward: Pewter Dome Pendant
                                                                               
$100 Backer Reward: Zipper hoodie
$100 Backer Reward: Zipper hoodie
$2,000 Backer Reward: A night with the Mt. Wilson Observatory 60" Telescope
$2,000 Backer Reward: A night with the Mt. Wilson Observatory 60" Telescope
     
$2,000 Backer Reward: Night with the Mt. Wilson Observatory 60" Telescope. This is Saturn and 5 of its moons through the 60" at Mt. Wilson by Major Tom
$2,000 Backer Reward: Night with the Mt. Wilson Observatory 60" Telescope. This is Saturn and 5 of its moons through the 60" at Mt. Wilson by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital photograph by Major Tom
#1 Backer Reward: Digital Photograph from Major Tom
#1 Backer Reward: Digital Photograph from Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital Photograph by Major Tom
$1 Backer Reward: Digital Photograph by Major Tom

Risks and challenges

Setting up an observatory in a remote and dusty environment is no easy endeavor, but with the quick setup of Gregg Fleishman's architecture, our team's experience in science outreach and the support of our community, we will be able to bring to the Black Rock Desert an experience that won't easily be forgotten.

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Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge $1 or more

    17 backers

    Digital Download of a Major Tom Burning Man photograph of Gregg Fleishman's Temple of Whollyness, Laura's Kimpton's "BELIEVE," or the Mars Rover Art Car + our thanks and dusty hugs on the playa.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $5 or more

    94 backers

    At this level, donors will receive one Black Rock Observatory sticker, a high resolution digital photograph of Black Rock City by Major Tom and our sincere thanks.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    108 backers

    YOUR NAME LASER ENGRAVED onto our prototype observatory dome destined for Burning Man 2014 + Digital Download of Major Tom Burning Man photograph

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  • You selected
    Pledge $15 or more

    6 backers

    Spacey songstress, Kim Boekbinder, will give you a download code for her new astro-themed album at this level. The Sky is Calling journeys deep into the universe with dancey supernova beats and haunting orbital harmonics. See link to the music video of the single in the text and check out Kim's website for more samples.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    147 backers

    Your choice of Black Rock Observatory Patch for showing your support, Black Rock Observatory Logo Bandana (great for a dust mask or space piracy) or Gregg Fleishman Geometry Poster Download.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $40 or more

    81 backers

    A quality T-shirt with the Black Rock Observatory Logo, see photo. Because DPW looks cool in those black shirts and why should they have all the fun? Blacker than the blackest void of deep dark space.

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    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    23 backers Limited (1 left of 24)

    Customized Astrolabe Star Map for the dates of Burning Man or your birthday custom crafted by a Black Rock Observatory Crew Member and astrophysicist. See your special day artistically displayed with elements of the cosmos. See photo.

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    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $65 or more

    53 backers

    Black Rock Observatory Pewter Pendant based on an orthogonal view of our dome, Gregg Fleishman's interpretation of a Small Rhombicuboctahedron. A perfect way to keep this project close to the heart.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    39 backers

    A high quality zipper hoodie with the Black Rock Observatory logo made from the fabric of space-time by aliens. For those cold nights dancing under the stars on the playa.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $150 or more

    36 backers

    PACKAGE DEAL
    Black Rock Observatory logo Hoodie + Tshirt + Bandana + Patch + Wristband. As if you don't already look geeky enough. Fly your nerd flag high. Real high.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $250 or more

    5 backers Limited (20 left of 25)

    Real Nickel-Iron Meteorite - 4.5 Billion Years Old! Ancient Metal Space Crystals fallen to Earth, people! Get one. At least 50 grams of octahedrite with characteristic Widmanstatten patterns produced by cooling metal in zero gravity over millions of years. Awesome. Holy Geologic time, Batman.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $400 or more

    2 backers

    Dome Cut List - Own your own full size copy of the Black Rock Observatory dome. Explore and modify Gregg Fleishman's groundbreaking design in your own backyard! Plans only; wood, labor and batteries not included.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    0 backers Limited (4 left of 4)

    Black Rock Observatory Frickin' Laser! A laser engraved laser with the Black Rock Observatory logo laser-engraved right on the laser. Laser. 100+ mW of handheld laser beam reaching many miles away. Use to point out constellations or be the jerk at the Man burn. Explain to people laser is really an acronym. Alienate people at parties!

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $650 or more

    2 backers Limited (2 left of 4)

    Meteorite from Mars. Are you kidding me? Do they mean a real...YES, a real piece of the planet Mars! Mars has been hit pretty damn hard by big meteors, hard enough to knock chunks off and those chunks flew all the way to Earth. Boom! Martian meteorites. The real deal. Own a piece of another planet. Invest in Interplanetary Real Estate now!

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $800 or more

    0 backers Limited (2 left of 2)

    Midnight tour of American Museum of Natural History in New York (2 hours) by mysteriously handsome man of science and Black Rock Observatory crew member. Tiptoe past dinosaurs, artifacts, spacey stuff and science exhibits in the dead of night, ninja your way through science and shadows. You can pretend the laser security system is on and acrobat yourself all the way through if you want. See AMNH while its closed to the public. You want this. Shhhhh. Guards.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (3 left of 3)

    Sky Tour. Project Lead Artist will setup a telescope in your camp at Burning Man 2014 and give you a personal 1 hour tour of the night sky after sunset.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $1,500 or more

    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    Mars Rover Art Car Grilled Cheese Party. The Desert Wizards of Mars will conduct grilled cheeze experiments aboard the art car Dustiny in your camp at Burning Man 2014. Ray Cirino has created a super-efficient permaculture stove that can zap chz into melty submission in 30 seconds. Martian mutant vehicle galactic noms for your taste buds and best buds. Mmmmm. Space.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $2,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    A private evening At Mt. Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles, Ca with you and up to 24 of your closest friends . Spend the night at the observatory that discovered the Big Bang. Use the historic 60" telescope, the largest in the world from 1908-1917! Stand in the footsteps of Einstein, Hawking and Hubble. See distant nebula, planets and galaxies. 5 hours of telescope viewing you will not forget. Ever.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $5,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (6 left of 6)

    Black Rock Observatory at your event! We will build the observatory and telescope at your event and give you and your guests a guided tour of the universe. Must be within the state of California or within 100 miles of Los Angeles, CA or travel expenses will apply. Must redeem before May 2015.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States

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Funding period

- (30 days)