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First Light on a Monday night

First Light on a Monday night

Stardate: 23012012

First Light with the Starlight Xpress M26C

SX-M26C

Finally the good weather has arrived, so I setup the telescope on the deck with all the accessories, power supplies and laptops I could muster.

I was determined to figure out how to do auto-focusing with the MicroTouch Wireless Autofocuser from Starizona.

FocusMax is the software I was trying to get to work with Maxim DL. It’s freeware, and can be downloaded from here.

It did seem to work really well and is undoubtedly superior to manual focusing – especially when using hyperstar (as you can’t view through the eyepiece) , but the effectiveness of the whole thing rests on having good tracking – or better yet, autoguiding.

The software utilises a subframe analysis using MaximDL, and the subframe only covers a few pixels, so if your alignment and subsequent tracking is off, you find the star tends to drift off the side of the subframe before FocusMax can create a V-Curve. I did get the guiding kinda working, well, enough to get it focused, however I really need some more practice with the PHD Guiding, which is what I’m using for guiding using the lodestar auto-guider.

I have a hunch that the trick to getting PHD Guiding to work is having a reasonably good alignment on the Telescope prior to fixing any anomolies with PHD, that way the tracking corrections are fairly small.

So, to recap – To get good pictures using the starlight xpress m26c you need too:

1. Have a good initial telescope alignment

2. Get auto-guiding working well using PHD Guiding (or at the very least an accurate telescope alignment)

3. Establish good focus using FocusMax

4. Then it’s easy!

I cheated a little bit, I had problems with the tracking, almost certainly because step 1 wasn’t done very well. I did, finally manage to get focus, then I used the hyperstar lens and camera and got some shots that way. The Hyperstar method is so fast that you can get away without tracking as you can get a good picture in as little as 10 seconds.

I took a few shots of the Orion Nebula, and saved the unprocessed photos, I did play around in Maxim with screen stretching and converting to colour etc, however I’ll have more of a session on the processing side, when Im inside and toasty warm. It was a bit nippy out at 3.30am.

Before packing up, I managed to do a bit of visual observing (and one photo) of Mars. It’s getting bigger, Mars has grown to 11½ arcseconds wide, on its way to 13.9″ when closest to Earth in early March. I found it a bit small, but I was using a 23mm eyepiece, and I was having trouble with Dew at the time. After switching to 8mm you could definately see the red colour, and a few surface differences. I think I could just see the polar ice cap, but I could have been wrong. I look forward to future sessions when it’s closer.

I’ll process the images after work, and post the images up soon.

I think I’ll be out again tonight! – the weather is looking great! (4pm now)

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Written by Andrew Kirk


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