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All Sky Camera

I’m pretty satisfied with how the camera set up is working now. It will run all night OK and I’ve sorted out some reflections I was getting off the dome.

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eFinder update

The eFinder project progresses.

Had some clear skies for a couple of hours so tested the William Optics scope, cameras and plate solving routine. Success!

The Raspberry Pi HQ camera needs to be binned 2x2 or 4x4 to get good sensitivity but then it manages to capture about 20-30 stars in a 5 second exposure. The ZWOASI 120MM-S manages  the same in 2 seconds.

Here’s a shot of the WO scope, RPi HQ camera and RPI

IMG 4060

and here’s the new hand controller. It has the ScopeDog functions (on the right) plus the new eFinder on centre and left. Its currently displaying the calculated delta in Azimuth and Altitude from solved position to target position, in arcmin.

IMG 4061

 

electronic Finder project

Browsing on Cloudynights (‘CN’) I came across someone who had made an electronic viewfinder, using a CCD, Raspberry PI and small guide scope. The clever bit was to use plate-solving to workout where the scope was pointing.

Now I had just about all these parts going spare, what I didnt have was enough built in knowledge of Python and the inner workings of the Raspberry Pi (RPi) operating system. Definitely a Covid ‘lockdown’ project!

I’ll start a full description on a fresh page in my ‘equipment’ section, but here’s a brief synopsis of progress so far.

Built protoype with…...

SVBony 50mm guidescope (now replaced with William Optics)
Raspberry Pi HQ ccd (ZWO ASI 120MM-S on hand if more sensitivity needed)
Raspberry Pi4 running Astroberry/Kstars/Ekos
Small 16x2 line red character display with buttons.

About 400 lines of Python writen so far to read the Nexus DSC, capture images, plate-solve them, and convert the result into the necessary scope adjustment. Yet to do is send the scope adjustment to ScopeDog (telescope controller)

Its all tested in the workshop (using library star field images) and now I need a clear night to test the capture and plate solve on real star images.

Finally had to buy a Windows PC!

I’m a committed Mac & iOS user. I like the seamless integration and generally they look after themselves by way of updates etc.

Getting astronomy software for the Mac can be difficult. Up until now I have managed OK but I really like the AllSkEye  software for driving my All Sky Camera. It has lots of features and even includes a meteor detection option. Its Windows only though.

Looking around I was attracted to the mini-PCs now available, especially on Amazon who frequently have promotions on certain models. They’re Chinese which I didnt want to buy, but then a lot of my Apple products are made there too. I took the plunge and bought an AWOW mini-PC for £179 inc. a 128GB SSD & Windows 10 home. Delivered next day and set up within an hour. Its amazing! I access it via VNC Viewer from my Mac and so it doesnt need a display/mouse/keyboard. It runs off 12V so can easily go on field trips.

Screenshot 2020-12-11 at 16.07.58


All Sky Camera continues….

Had a few nights to test the camera. All is Ok except…

Condensation on the inside of the acrylic dome.

Investigation showed rain and dew was getting in past some of my ‘seals’. Easily fixed with more attention and some silicone sealant. I noticed that the low power dew heater setting doesnt seem to be effective. Its only about 0.6W which is much less than the camera and RPi, so not worth it. Instead I installed a small fan and used the now redundant relay to switch it. Also Installed a desiccant capsule.

The Indigo Sky server stops running on the Raspberry Pi after about 4 hours.

No idea yet while this is so, Much more investigation needed. The Indigo_deadlock_detector.txt file is empty, so no help there. I suspect its down somehow to the QHYCCD camera with its known dodgy firmware.

All Sky Camera

I’ve had an old QHY5L-ii-M CCD lurking in a box for years. Having spent too many evenings at Kelling Heath this year waiting for clouds to disperse (they didnt!), I thought I should make an ‘all sky camera’ so I could view the sky from the warmth, and I’d like to capture meteors with it too.

On digging out the camera, I was amazed to find I also had a suitable lens. So all I needed was a box, acylic dome, dew heater and a long USB cable. Or so I thought.

Some quick testing of the camera reminded me that it is a temperamental beast with poor drivers. The most reliable drivers appear to be the ASCOM variants, but even these weren't stable enough with the applications I wanted to run.

Mainly I wanted to use AllSkEye which is purpose written for whole sky imaging, capturing and processing images all night if needed, and even featuring a meteor detector!

This wouldnt work with the QHY5L for more than a few minutes before crashing. The AllSkEye creator (Mike Poelzl) responded to emails and suggested I use a Raspberry PI (RPi) as an Indigo server out in the camera box.

Indigo is like Ascom in some respects, but clearly aimed at controlling the many parts of an astrophotography set up. Running on the RPi I could connect to it via wifi, thereby eliminating the long USB cable requirement.

I had a spare RPi and it didnt take long to set it up with the Indigo Sky server software. A bit more learning and I was able to access the camera very nicely from AllSkEye and other applications running on my desktop Mac. Very impressed with the Indigo suite.

I went a bit further and added a relay board so that I can control the dew heater (off - 5V - 12V) as it does heat the camera box up, and control a homebrew motorised focus.

Here’s the finished unit

IMG 3978

Here’s the inside

IMG 3977

and here’s a image from my first night, complete with meteor!

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2020 Autumn Kelling

What a bad week, from a weather point of view. Really only one good night (Tuesday). Weather forecasts were all over the place and often gave false hope!

Good to see a large turn out though with perhaps 75% of pitches taken.

The rebuilt scope worked very well - much stiffer in winds. Pointing and tracking accuracy was excellent too. It was much easier to pack into the car, and I had room this time for my wife to come along. The new observing steps/chair was brilliant. Being comfortable while observing is so important - allows longer and more relaxed views of objects, which leads to better acuity and sensitivity.

I've taken to hiring a caravan recently. Makes the event so much more pleasurable, especially when cold and wet. I have it delivered and collected from the site. (Mustangs cant tow!)

Lets hope Winterfest in November is better. (edit - it was cancelled due to Covid lockdown, and it was cloudy all week as well)

IMG 3912 (1)

18” gets rebuilt - again!

Getting the 18” into the Mustang is a work of art, especially if I have a tent as well. Definitely no room for my wife!

So another partial rebuild has been done. This essentially makes the rockers removable and the truss poles are now not rigidly held as triangles.


IMG 3784

While I was doing it I stiffened up the support for the rockers, and improved the clamping for the poles. I’m hoping it will be a bit more stable in winds.

Also added an enclosed filter wheel to the back of the focusser. 

More photos here.

During lockdown I refurbished my workshop and added and modified a few tools. My work is definitely better for it!

IMG 3623

Built a new observing chair/stepss combo for use with the 18” ultracompact. The seat folds up and adjusts to three heights, and the whole thing folds to 80mm thick for packing into the Mustang. The three steps are close together and perfect for observing near the zenith with my 18”. Unlike my old metals steps - it wont rattle on the journey up to Kelling heath.

2019

After a year of retirement I’m busier than ever! Some major remodelling of the kitchen took priority and then some trees were blown down leaving space it seemed for a sunken hot tub and spa. The rest of the house needs decorating too.

I’m spending more time at Mustang meetings which is nice, and we had a great time in Texas for this year’s Texas Star Party. I didnt take my airline portable 10” this year as it is really too small now to do the skies there justice. I took my 100mm APO Mijauchi Binoculars and borrowed others’ scopes. 

Last year I rebuilt parts my 18” dobsonian to change the drive from a friction type to a classical belt drive type. Its not so elegant to my mind, but it sure does work a lot better, which is what is important!

The  new altitude belt drive.

I also upgraded to the newer Nexus DSC - its worth it!

In the last few weeks I’ve finished the restoration of the Ellison telescope. This involved making a replica mount from scratch, which was interesting. More details are here.

2018 At last an update!

If anyone follows my blog they will no doubt have given up by now. Two years without an update is bad.

Now I’ve retired there will be no excuses and I’ll try and keep this updated and relevant.

On the telescope front, the news is that the drive system Craig and I developed for our Dobsonians has been refined and now has a smart case with laser etched front and back panels. More info here.



I’ve been keeping up my attendance at the Texas Star Party and have now clocked up 19 consecutive years! In addition to running the Amateur Telescope Making program we’ve added a mirror making workshop for the last three years. I have acquired the greatest of admiration for those with the patience and skill to grind and polish mirrors.

Followers may remember my trips to Texas usually involved hiring a Mustang and my wife and I fit in a bit of a road trip around the star party. I can now enjoy the Mustang all year round now as I swapped my old Mercedes for a brand new right hand drive Mustang GT. The 18” telescope and camping gear fits in nicely too.

My dear friend Kieron McGrath had been fighting cancer for some time, and this spring finally lost the battle. He passed away while the Kelling Star Party was happening which was an event he enjoyed coming to. I plan to organise a tribute to Kieron at the Autumn event, which will include red wine in his honour!

A new activity for me now that I have retired is a bit of astronomy outreach. So far this has involved supporting a “space” themed activity at a Girl Guiding weekend. It was fun if not exhausting and I do encourage all other astronomers to get out there and spread the word.

© AstroKeith 2021