Well, I live in the Bombay Hills now.
It’s been a wild few months, with renovations happeing around the place. I’ve been wallpapering, and I built an entire Home Theatre room in the double internal garage.
The astronomy hobby hasn’t been forgotten. Far from it in fact, one of the reasons to move out here was the clear dark skies, high altitude (~250m) and lack of pollution and planes flying over every five minutes! – The old place was in the flight path for the airport!
It’s a lifestyle block, about 3.5 acres and I have an old building out in the middle of a paddock that will be ideal to use as an observatory!
It needs a lot of fixing up however.
I’ve still got the old place, it’s currently being rented out. The old observatory is still there, as it’s not really possible to move it. However I have plans to relocate the dome here soon.
So in the mean time I’ve doing a little astronomy the hard way by setting up in the field and taking it down at night. It’s a bit painful but until I get the observatory built, no real option.
Here’s some pics of the new place if your interested, click the flickr logo below.
Well, this post is a few days late, but on Thursday I did some testing on the Lodestar autoguider.
I can now confirm that the cables, camera and mount are all fine.
I increased the amount of guide correction using the hand controller, did a quick align with the telescope and used manual controls in the lodestar software to correct in both declination and ascension axis. I could see the lights (red for one way, green for the other) light up on the lodestar, and I listened very carefully to the motors as I got my partner Sheryl to click the buttons and it was definitely moving.
I must need to play with the software settings a little, which is fine. I just had to eliminate the possibility of a hardware problem first.
In addition to troubleshooting the autoguider, I had a quick go at imaging Jupiter thru my planetary camera.
Unfortunately it was cloudy with fine patches. But not really enough fine patches! I did manage to get a short video, which I’ll try and process, but the conditions were pretty bad.
Went to bed at midnight, so it was an early night.
Managed to bang my head on the counterweights! Ouch! I’ve got a nice cut on my forehead now. 🙁 and this picture is 3 days later. Who says Astronomy isn’t dangerous…
Tonight’s priorities are based on getting more familiar with the gear and getting some of the fundamentals down pat.
1. To setup a good alignment for reasonable goto performance and tracking.
2. Get the autoguiding working properly
3. use FocusMax and make it work consistently
4. Try out my imaging source DBK 31AU03.AS camera and take some pics of Mars
How did I go?
2. Not good – more on this later.
3. Success – telescope tracking was good enough to make it work.
4. Success – I got a video of Mars – well, a round orange blob anyway.
What was the problem with the Autoguiding?
I have a suspicion I may have damaged the guider cable which goes to the mount. It’s seems quite flimsy the way it’s attached. I had problems getting the telescope control to work. The Camera itself worked fine, and I got some really good low noise pics, but the telescope control was a different story.
I spent half the night troubleshooting with no real solution. I need to look into this in more detail. I found some posts on the web which may help – I’ll read thru them.
A forum topic on Stargazers Lounge about Guiding problems
and a troubleshooting an autoguider article. Google is awesome.
I’m not sure if it’s a cable problem, or a software problem – so more investigation required. When I figure it out, I’ll post my solution.
On a good note, my new camera worked really well.
I just need to figure out Registax now and see what’s involved in getting a good image out of 1000 frames.
I saw a meteor!!!!! – At the end of the night, red streak low over the neighbors house. Very cool.
I also got a satelite trail thru one of my pics earlier on. Not that exciting, well not like the meteor but first one I’ve seen so there you go.
Up till 4am again, but I’m hoping for better luck tonight. Sleep can wait till it’s cloudy.
First Light with the Starlight Xpress 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)
Its been a while since the last update, so here’s the latest.
The observatory has had a small crack in the fibreglass dome, it’s been there since I had it, and it was held together with a metal brace inside.
So with a little help, it was fixed. Here’s some pictures
it needs a repaint which I’ll do this week but it’s all good.
Not much observing happening however, the weather has been rubbish.
I did however enter the Auckland Astronomy Association photo competition. I didn’t win anything 🙁 but Rolf Olsen did but, fantastic images from him!
here’s a link to the entries http://www.astronomy.org.nz/pages/Documents/AAS%20Astrophotography%20Deep%20Sky%202012.pdf
and finally, what’s all this about moving?
Well, I’ve bought a new place in Bombay – it’s a small lifestyle block, and I have big plans for an observatory there – we move in 6 weeks.
Winter is a great time to do Astronomy! It gets dark early, the temperatures are great for the optics and camera, and despite the cold, the skies are often clear.
There has been some fog around lately which has stuffed things up a little, and we’ve also had a full moon which has caused a bit of consternation, however I’ve managed to resolve a few of the issues from the last update, managed to try a few new things and produced a few nice images in the process.
Issues from last time:
Dew strap issue sorted, filters tried – and they work great, especially the narrowband nebula filter
Flats – I made a flats box! based on Lorenzo Comolli excellent article, I procured the opal acrylic and surround (corflute) from Anythng Acrylic, bought the LED’s, resistors, switch, and potentiometer from Jaycar. It worked out to a pretty cheap $60 all up. The electrical stuff was easy enough to put together, but I had some major problems with the glueing.
Just to recap – flats images are vital to creating well calibrated images.
Mounting the whole thing on a tripod and using it to get flats was a bit of fun in confines of my 2.4m2 observatory, but I got my flats images. It was frustrating however, so I did a little research to see if anything more compact was available.
That’s when I discovered the All Pro Spike-a Flat Fielder.
So realizing that the drama I went thru with my home built job would need to be done fairly regular, I bit the bullet and purchased one. It arrived today…. I’ll let you know how I get on with it.
The only other issue from last time was the colour conversion settings. It’s really easy for unbinned images. For MaximDL, simply use x=0 y=0 and 100 for all RGB values using the profile for the SXVR-M25C (because there isn’t one for the M26C. The problems come when you try and sort out values for images binned at 2×2. I haven’t been able to come up with settings that work for this yet…
I’ll just use unbinned images for now. FYI Binning allows you to use a 2×2 or 4×4 pixels as one pixel which increases the sensitivity but decreases the resolution.
I managed to take quite a few photos last time, however I had a problem. Most of them were Binned 2×2 and I couldn’t get the colour right, plus I really need to take multiple images and stack them in order to reduce the noise in the picture.
I had another go with the Eagle nebula, using a combination of images from the camera unfiltered, to using the Light Polution Filter and finally the Nebula Filter.
Not quite as good as this image, but I’m slowly improving on my image processing skills.
Anything else to report? – Well my friend Paul managed to wire up a second switch for the lights in the observatory, which makes life a little easier. This new switch is located where me and the computer are located, as opposed to the other side of the observatory where the door is.
It was recommended that I give PixInsight a go for image processing by Steve Lang who works in my building – he’s taken some amazing astro pics with his DSLR camera and an 8 inch RC telescope. So I emailed them and got sent a key for a 45 day trial. The program looks powerful but very confusing… I’ll need to figure it out.
I’m hoping to get out tonight, and take some pictures of the Lagoon Nebula – and use my new Spike-a Flat fielder!
– Kirk out.
We had a really clear night on Saturday. The mission Eta Carinae nebula.
The scope was realigned – an all sky polar alignment this time, what a difference! Easily the best alignment I’ve managed to get.
Using hyperstar, nothing can be seen thru the eyepiece, so I’m dependent completely on the camera output so I installed the hyperstar lens and the SXV-M26C camera, got the autoguiding working using Maxim and ran focusmax. Now the last time I used focusmax was a disaster, however – it wasn’t aligned properly then, and the selected star kept drifting out of the subframe. This time – no problemo! so I got a great focus.
I did have a little trouble with PHD Guiding – something about the stars not moving enough?! good problem to have I thought! using Maxim DL it seemed to cope OK, suspicion is that it’s just a PHD Guiding preference setting somewhere.
First target was ETA Carinea. Here it is….
That was just the start of it, I haven’t processed all of the images acquired yet, but i’ll post when I do.
I used Observer Pro on my Ipad to identify targets. I have got to say, this app is really really good, it shows you what astronomy objects are visible, when they are visible etc – can’t say enough good things about it. It rocks.
There were a couple of things that I need to sort for next time.
1. Dew heater strap wasn’t on the guide scope properly and slipped away from the lens part, when it inevitably fogged up – I started to get weird tracking on long exposures. This was because it couldn’t focus properly, it’s sorted now, but its a shame that I didn’t pick up on it earlier, there are a few images that could be better because of it.
2. I really need to calibrate my images using flats and bias frames – and darks as well, I don’t have a flats box, but I’ve found this article on how to make one. A good project for the cloudy nights!
3. Use of filters, I have a couple of filters which are ideal for this type of work, a light pollution filter and a narrowband nebula filter, I didn’t use them at the time. But I should have and will next time. The way they are fitted to the hyperstar assembly was a bit of a mystery, but upon further inspection, the threads have been discovered between the camera and hyperstar lens, so I’m all set now.
4. Colour conversion settings for Maxim DL – I’m having a bit of trouble on this one – I’ll need to research this online a bit more.
Despite these issues – and learning all this stuff is half the fun!, I consider Saturday night a success, it got pretty cold! but was a very enjoyable night and a good reminder about why I enjoy this hobby so much!
We’ve had a couple of fantastic clear nights out here in Manukau, so I trotted out to the observatory and fired up the scope.
Telescope alignment was something that really needed to be sorted as it wasn’t really required for the transit of Venus the other day, so I fired up the two star alignment routine and added an extra alignment star. The intention was to do an all star alignment, but it didn’t quite work out due to an unexpected power cut (Sheryl flicked the wrong switch!) however the alignment was pretty good.
Saturn was selected using the hand controller, and when it finished slewing, sure enough it was right in the centre of the eyepiece. Nice.
Next on my to-do list was get autoguiding working, so I used PHD Guiding, and it worked a treat. As suspected a good alignment is the key here.
I fired up the DBK imaging source camera and had a go at Saturn.
I posted this image on Facebook, and had some good comments about it. I must admit the first time you see Saturn in the eyepiece is amazing. Much brighter than the photo, but you can see some more details when it’s a little dimmer.
The next night I had another crack at it, but this time I used the 3 x Barlow. The image was bigger obviously but not really a significantly better result actually. The atmosphere and light pollution is a likely source. I will use my light pollution filter next time.
However the Observatory and Telescope are now operating really well, and I’ve got the observatory set up how I like it. The carpet was a really good idea, and I’ve got a Logitech Boombox connected to a laptop via bluetooth, which works a treat.
I’ve decided to have a go at some Deep Space Objects and use the hyperstar lens next time, see if I can get a good shot of Eta Carinae, this could be a bit optimistic, but I’ll give it a shot.
I managed to get a picture and a few videos of the transit of Venus.
The weather was very bad, massive amounts of cloud and it rained, however it did clear up for about 40 minutes. And I was ready.
and I manged to get a video
I used a solar filter over the telescope and used the DBK astronomy camera.
Worked quite well. There is some dust on the CCD I think, which was a shame for the video, I’ll clean that off now! Grr.