Some of the software I use

Hi Everyone,

I had a gentleman reach out to me new to the hobby asking what software I use so I thought I would share this with everyone else, I hope this helps those starting out find some of the tools out there, these are all worth looking at and becoming familiar with.

 

Hi “changed for privacy”,
Thanks for contacting me, I will try and cover everything for you as best I can. Where to start???

 

Mount connection:
I use an EQDIR Cable and these can be found here: http://www.firstlightoptics.com/astronomy-cables-leads-accessories/hitecastro-eqdir-adapter.html or you can make your own by purchasing one of these TTL-232R-3V3 from here http://www.ftdichip.com/Products/Cables/USBTTLSerial.htm and following these instructions http://eq-mod.sourceforge.net/eqdirect2.htm more vendors can also be found here: http://eq-mod.sourceforge.net/vendors.html.

 

ASCOM:
Ok so that is the physical mount connection to run your mount from a PC. The next thing you need is ASCOM standards software from here: http://ascom-standards.org/ specifically you want  this http://download.ascom-standards.org/ASCOMPlatform61SP1.exe, this software is an interface platform for Astronomy equipment to connect to and simplifies the way companies need to write their code. Just download and install.

 

EQMOD:
Next you want EQMod, this software is the driver that allows Planetarium (telescope control) software to actually control the mount, the whole suite of software can be found here http://sourceforge.net/projects/eq-mod/files/ but you specifically want this download http://sourceforge.net/projects/eq-mod/files/EQASCOM/EQASCOM_V127l_Setup.exe/download

 

Planetarium Software:
I use Cartes Du Ciel to control my mount and it can be found here http://www.ap-i.net/skychart/en/start, have a good read of the doco as there is just too much to go over in an email, plus there are a bunch of sky map updates and data that can be downloaded and installed.

 

Those four components alone will allow you connect your mount to a PC and control it (Slew, Sync, Park etc). The next part is around guiding and actually controlling a camera:
PHD Guiding:
There are two options here, PHD the original or PHD2, I use PHD2 as it has heaps more features and seems to be more stable, it can be found here http://openphdguiding.org/ again heaps of doc on how it works.

 

Imaging Camera:
Now this one depends on your camera, I use a modified Canon EOS 600d from Central DS (http://www.centralds.net/cam/?p=1687) so I use Backyard EOS (http://www.otelescope.com/index.php?/page/index.html) or APT (http://www.ideiki.com/astro/Default.aspx) and I am just starting to dabble with Sequence Generator Pro but this is something to work up to if you are just starting out.

 

General Utility:
A handy tool I use is AstroTortilla (http://sourceforge.net/p/astrotortilla/home/Home/) as this helps you find out exactly where you are pointing at and corrects the mount position to the target you wanted to slew to.

 

Image Processing:
There really isn’t any tool better than PIX Insight, it is expensive and takes a while to get the hang of but once you do you will wonder how you ever did without it. It can be found here (https://pixinsight.com/), the other handy tool is Deep Sky Stacker (http://deepskystacker.free.fr/english/index.html).

 

Have a look at Harry’s Astro Shed (http://www.harrysastroshed.com/) as he has some great tutorials on Pix Insight.

 

I think that covers it for the moment. Let me know if you have any other questions?

 

Cheers
Anthony

QLD Astrofest 2015

Hi Everyone,

Well I am back from my trip to QLD Astrofest 2015, it was great year this year with very little dew, no fog and no clouds so everyone was very tired at the end of the 10 days (a good sign people were busy gathering photons :) ).

I have processed a couple of images from my time there and even stretched myself a little and tried a mosaic of Rho Ophiuchi that turned out far better than I could have hoped for.

I also have some more images to finalise and will post them as soon as I get a chance along with the steps I used to process them.

Rho Ophiuchi Mosaic

NGC1365

Fornax Galaxy Cluster

Star Trails

Looks a little funny one screen so best to download to view properly

I hope you enjoyed the images.

Cheers

Anthony

 

 

Been A Long Time

Hi Everyone,

It has been a very long time since I have had a chance to get out and image let alone update my blog. In that time a lot has changed so I will try and bring you up to speed.

Firstly, I have not posted any images from last years Astrofest, I will be sure to do so soon as I have some of my best images from that event. I have just finished this years Astrofest (whata great week) and I have sold the EQ8 Mount. Why I hear you ask? While I loved that mount and it performed great it is just too heavy for me. I have since I last updated had a back injury (fractured my spine a while back) and am unable to set it up and pull it down without significant pain after the fact and given I do not have a permanent set up this was an issue.

So where am I up to now, I have down sized to the Sky Watcher AZ-EQ6 and must say I am very pleased with it, while it is not in the same arena as the EQ8 in terms of performance it is more than suitable for my needs and have managed to get some great images on it (I will also post these shortly). I need to update my equipment page as I now have some new toys, so I have upgraded to a GSO RC10 and am selling the RC8, I just wanted a bit more light grasp and this scope does that. I have also invested in a Celestron Off Axis Guider to go with it and a Moonlite focuser with Stepped motor. These combined on the AZ-EQ6 have resulted in some of my best images to date.

I am dabbling now with Sequence Generator Pro to see if I can get even better images and sharper more consistent focus through the night as well as some other bits and pieces such as APT (Astro Photographers Tool), this software a couple of years ago was pretty basic and not very intuitive so I went down the Backyard EOS path, I have since seen and purchased APT as there has been a lot of work done on this software and it looks great as well as being very stable. It is worth having a look.

I am going to be doing a full collimation of my RC10 as it was a bit off from the shop so will see if I can write an article explaining how I did it and how well it went! Wish me luck.

Well that pretty much brings thing up to where they are today, sorry for no posting for over a year (where does the time go???) I will try and be more consistent in future.

Cheers

Anthony

Dark Night Sky March 1st 2014

Hi Everyone,

Well it has definitely been a while since my last venture under the stars but I finally had a good evening and headed back up to my usual haunt. Seeing was not the best but far better than any conditions we have seen here in South East Queensland for a while so I took my chances and went out (any time under the skies even in average conditions is better than nothing).

So with seeing at around a 7/10 and quite a bit of haze in the atmosphere I decided to shoot the Hamburger Galaxy (NGC5128) as it was rising in the South East from about 10PM and had reasonable elevation from my location to not be limited by the atmosphere too much. Once high enough I managed to get 27 exposures of 300 seconds (5 minutes) at ISO 800 before the cloud rolled in at about 2 AM and ruined the remainder evening for me.

On a good note I have been wanting to test the mount out since December and the issues I had so this was a great opportunity for that. I made the adjustments to the EQ8’s RA Axis as directed by Rob at Tasco and the great news is this seems to have fixed any issues I had with the mount. It consistently tracked NGC5128 at 1 second refresh cycles with a deviation of only 0.25 – 0.5 of a pixel the whole time. This was the best performance I have had to date and considering I am guiding through a 70mm William Optics scope (540mm FL) piggybacked on the RC8 it resulted in good round stars in the final image (at 1600mm FL). I really need to look at a decent off axis guider for the RC8 to get even more accurate guiding.

The main issue I have with the image is that the focus was a little off and resulted in a “soft” image over all, again I think it is time to look at a Moonlite focuser with a stepper motor to assist in obtaining a crisp focus.

Anyway here are the image details:

  • Lights:   27 * 300s @ ISO800
  • Darks:   20 * 300s @ ISO800
  • Flats:     20 * 1/4000s @ ISO800
  • BIAS:     20 * 1/4000s @ ISO800

The equipment used was:

  • EQ8 Mount
  • GSO RC8 Scope
  • Baader UV/IR Filter
  • Central DS 600D Camera (With Backyard EOS)
  • Guiding with a William Optics ZenithStar 70mm APO and
  • LodeStar Guider Camera.

Subs stacked in Deep Sky Stacker with respective Darks, Flats and BIAS frames, the resultant image was processes in PixInsight using the following steps:

  • Dynamic Crop
  • Dynamic Background Extraction
  • Colour Correction
  • ATrous Wavelet transformation Noise Reduction
  • Histogram Stretch
  • Saturation Stretch

The final image output was detailed in Photoshop using layer masks and smart sharpening to enhance the dark lanes in the galaxy and saved out as JPEG and TIFF formats.

All in all I am quite pleased with the image. As mentioned seeing and focus were a bit off and resulted in a “soft” image but other than that I think it has nice colour, good detail and a smooth finish.

As an aside if you would like any details on the processing steps taken please feel free to contact me and I can walk you through it.

I hope you enjoy.

Cheers

Anthony

Not Much News I’m Afraid

Hi everyone,

It’s been a while since my last post as the weather has been typical summer weather for the Sub Tropics in Australia (cloudy with a chance of Cyclone). Anyway in my last post back in December 2013 I mentioned I had an issue with my EQ8 mount. So felt it a good time to update on the matter.

What happened I hear you ask??? Well basically the RA Axis got stuck when it was nearing the meridian tracking up from the east; this became evident when I tried to park the mount back to the home position. Remaining calm I backed off the RA axis gears with the controls and reset the mount to home manually and started to track the object but to the west this time. I once again found the same issue after I did a meridian flip so was getting a little worried.

After some stuffing around I managed to get everything back on track and continued imaging for the remainder of the evening without event. :)

On my return home I spoke with Tasco support advising of the issue I encountered, we discussed the options of returning the mount to the service office however given the weight and size it was decided that I could adjust the gears myself and I was promptly sent a document on performing the adjustment.

So where is this at now? Well I have made the smallest of adjustments in loosening the RA Axis and have performed dozens of tests in the RA Axis and can now confirm the binding issue has been resolved. Having said that I have not had the opportunity to get the mount under the night sky to do an actual test but think with the adjustment made this issue will be put to bed and I will be back imaging without issues.

All I need now is a clear sky :)

Cheers

Anthony

Dark Night Sky 1st and 2nd Dec

Hi Everyone,

As per my usual journey for the new moon I made my way out to Blackbutt to see what I could collect from the summer time skies.

This trip I had taken some leave from work to allow me the time to stay for two nights. I am glad I did as this gives me that bit of extra time to image as I didn’t need to do a full set up on the second evening. Rob again joined me for the migration and was able to test out his new Alt-Az EQ6 mount and play with his new camera. A little more on that later.

As per my new strategy of imaging one target per evening I decided on Pleiades on the evening of the 1st Dec and the Christmas Tree Cluster on the 2nd Dec.

Pleiades:

  • 40 * 5 minute subs (~3.3 Hours in total) @ ISO 400.
  • 0 Dark frames (I did not get a chance to capture these during my time out in the field).
  • 40 * Bias Frames
  • 40 * Flat Frames

The equipment used was:

  • EQ8 Mount
  • William Optics Megrez 90 mm scope
  • Baader UV/IR Filter
  • Central DS 600D Camera (With Backyard EOS)
  • Guiding with a William Optics ZenithStar 70mm APO and
  • LodeStar Guider Camera.

Christmas Tree Cluster:

  • 19 * 10 minute subs (~3.1 Hours in total) @ ISO 800.
  • 0 Dark frames (I did not get a chance to capture these during my time out in the field).
  • 40 * Bias Frames
  • 40 * Flat Frames

The equipment used was:

  • EQ8 Mount
  • GSO RC8 Scope
  • Baader UV/IR Filter
  • Central DS 600D Camera (With Backyard EOS)
  • Guiding with a William Optics ZenithStar 70mm APO and
  • LodeStar Guider Camera.

The processed images are below, I hope you like them.

A quick review of the Alt-Az EQ6, this is a great little mount and performed really well for Rob, from my first experience of seeing one in action and using one I would highly recommend these mounts as they are a great price point for the equipment you get.

I wish I could say the same for my EQ8 mount, I did have some further issues with this and will post about them separately when I get a chance.

Cheers

Anthony

EQ8 First Run in a Dark Sky

Ok so last time I posted about the EQ8 and my first thoughts I mentioned there was a little free play in the Declination axis. Well now I have had a chance to give the mount a run I can indeed confirm the declination axis is loose “in places” and will likely need to be sent back for adjustments by an authorised Sky Watcher repairer.

To explain this is difficult but here goes: If I rotate the declination axis (via the motor not the clutch) stopping every 15 – 20’ and checking for any back lash I can find a point in the rotation where backlash is very minimal (basically Nil backlash). At that point I placed some tape on the axis to identify where the tight spot was.

I then proceeded to drive the axis around a full 360’ rotation repeating the 15-20’ stops to check the backlash. What I found was the further away I got from my marked ideal point I could feel more and more backlash come in to play (up to 180’ out). As I kept rotating past the 180’ point I could feel it start to tighten up again back to the idea point.

From this I believe the declination axis to have an out of centre worm wheel (maybe by only 1mm or a fraction thereof) but out of centre nonetheless. This would mean there is no way to adjust the worm gear any closer when in the loose part of the rotation as it will start to bind at the ideal (marked point) of the rotation.

Why is this an issue? What this translates into in the real world is it can literally take up to 2 seconds to engage the gears when driving between North and South directions. For example when I perform a “goto” to a part of the sky where the gap between the gear meshing is at its worse, the scope can physically be moved (rocked) back and forth. However my biggest issue with this is when imaging and guiding the rate of adjustments sent to the mount are so small that it can take up to 10 seconds to actually start driving the gear in a direction and by that time it is too late as the Sub exposure is ruined.

My work around for the moment and how I managed to get the image in this post is to have the polar alignment slightly off so the mount is only driving in one direction in Declination. However this to me this is not really a suitable solution.

I have contacted Tasco Australia’s service department and have been advised by them to check my set up process and follow the manual as written by Sky Watcher (which I have done), I have also been asked to perform a Motor Controller firmware update to version 2.09.04 (the mount was actually shipped with this version so no update was needed, I did however update the SynScan Hand controller). After following these instructions the problem still exists.

At this stage I have advised Tasco that there has been no change and am awaiting the next steps from them to advise what needs to be done. At this stage I am okay with the fact there “may” be a problem with the mount as sometime things just happen. What I will be interested to see is how Tasco and Sky Watcher handle my query moving forward and what their resonce is to the proposed fault as I see it? After all this is not a small investment in a mount.

Let’s see what happens and I will post more details as they come to light.

Cheers

Anthony

Dark Night Sky 2nd November 2013

Hi Everyone,

Once again I have had an opportunity to frequent my favourite dark sky location out at Blackbutt in South East Queensland. Seeing wasn’t the best but I have imaged on worse nights. All in all I think it was about a 7.5 out of 10. During this trip we had a new comer to the site, Rob. He is very much getting into Astrophotography but rapidly ramping up his skills and equipment, he too managed to get a nice shot of M33.

Now that I have the EQ8 Mount I have decided to take a different approach to my image capturing processes and the Library of images I am keeping. I want to try and measure the difference the new mount has made to the overall quality of my images.

I have also decided I will be targeting one object per evening and following this target for as long as the night allows. The aim here is to capture the highest quality images that I can given the limited time I get under the stars each month. Ultimately I would like to capture and process images good enough to print and put in a book or hang on the wall.

Starting with these new directions, for November I imaged NGC 253 for the entire evening of the 2nd / 3rd of November for a total of:

  • 17 * 10 minute subs (~2.8 Hours in total) @ ISO 800.
  • 13 * 10 Minute Dark frames (there was 20 but I seem to get light leak into the scope during daylight hours so 7 were scrapped).
  • 20 * Bias Frames
  • 20 * Flat Frames

The equipment used was:

  • EQ8 Mount
  • GSO RC8 Telescope
  • Baader UV/IR Filter
  • Central DS 600D Camera (With Backyard EOS)
  • Guiding with a William Optics ZenithStar 70mm APO and
  • LodeStar Guider Camera.

This time I also decided to try out PHD2 Guiding (Can be found here), I find this has a few little extra’s that make understanding guiding and tuning EQMod settings just that bit easier. For those that have used PHD by Craig Stark will find this to be a natural progression and easy to use as it is founded on the original PHD.

Anyway here is the processed image, I am hoping next time to record the steps taken when processing so I can comment on this also and compare efforts. I hope you like this one.

Cheers

Anthony

Sky Watcher EQ8 First Thoughts

Hi Everyone,

Well I had my first chance to have a play with the new EQ8 mount, this wasn’t under dark skies or anything flash but I did find a few interesting things and thought I would share. So where do I begin?

Set up of the mount is a bit more effort to that of the EQ6 but for someone that is reasonably built it is still a on person job (just), while it takes a bit longer it is worth the extra effort for the results (in my opinion anyway). The only thing I don’t like in the set up is that the Azimuth and Altitude knobs need to be removed prior to the mount being put back in its case, not a big issue but annoying nonetheless.

As one would expect the operation of the mount is smooth and quiet and the motors are very responsive and feel very powerful, there is absolutely no backlash in the RA Axis and the clutches are rigid enough to provide accurate movement when driven by the mount but not too rigid that when pushing the scope around as the EQ8 allows with the encoders. As a side note EQMod is updated when doing a scope push as the Encoders feed this detail back to the software, you possibly knew that already but I found it really cool when I saw it in action (no more resetting everything just because of a slip in a clutch etc.). The only fault so far that I can find (and it may not be a fault) is there is a little backlash in the Declination Axis, I will see how this performs on 10 minute exposures at the next dark sky outing but from testing did not cause any problems (up to 5 minute subs).

All in all I am quite happy with my purchase to date and think this mount will take my imaging efforts to the next level. I can see from initial testing that guiding is more accurate and tracking is far more precise and smooth. In relation to my first test with guiding using PHD (and after a very rough polar alignment) that the mount managed to perform with an average oscillation Index of 0.24 and an RMS of 0.09. By comparison to my EQ6 that averaged an oscillation index of about .45 and an RMS of about .35. This was using the same guide scope and camera by the way so it is fair to say the EQ8 is a whole magnitude increase in performance, in fact the evening I tested this was quite windy so I suspect the oscillation Index is a bit higher then it could be due to that. See graph here:

Most importantly to note is that Sky Watcher are listening to the community and making changes to the mount even this early on in the release, the mount I have purchased could almost be classed as a version 1.1 mount given some of the things that have been modified. So what are these changes I hear you ask? well they are:

  • The Tripod Pier now has a travel limiting bolt mounted to prevent the collar from sliding up and hitting the mount head fastening knob. As pictured here:

  •  The Declination clutch leaver has been shortened to prevent it from clashing with the Declination motor housing. This was definitely a modification that was needed and a major oversight in the original shipped product. See the old lever (Top) and the New lever (Bottom Two):

   

  •  I also noticed that Sky Watcher have changed the cover plate on the Declination worm housing, this allows easier access to the adjustment screws for the Declination worm gear. The top image is the old plate the lower one is the new plate with the grub screws allowing access.

 

I haven’t seen anything else different that stands out but if I do you will be the first to know.

Lastly for those that are interested in the mechanic of the mounts, Gerard Dangl of www.dangl.at has plenty of images of the EQ8 with it’s covers off etc. showing the encoders and drive trains. Thanks Gerhard for the time and sharing the information.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions or things you would like tested?

Cheers

Anthony

 

 

SkyWatcher EQ8 Purchase

Hi Everyone,

A bit of a news update, I have taken the plunge and purchased a Sky Watcher  EQ8 mount. This was a big deal to me due to the cost but I was very fortunate to have purchased it from Peter down at AstroPetes as I got a great deal as well as great service (Thanks Peter).

Anyway I will be doing some testing and weather being good I am expecting first light on Saturday the 2nd November. One thing I can tell you is that EQMod does definitely work and the cables needed are very cheap and easy to make at home. When I get a chance I will put up a how to on this for reference.

I will also provide an update on the EQ8’s performance

Cheers

Anthony

Categories
Current Moon Phase

Third Quarter Moon
Third Quarter Moon

The moon is currently in Pisces
The moon is 22 days old