Category Archives: Observing Reports

A journal of the visual and photographic astronomical observations of Jim Johnson.

M31 and M81/82 LRGB (Farm XI)

I was not happy with the quality or quantity of the previous night’s M31 and M81/82 data, so I made some slight changes to the NINA script and re-ran it on both targets. This time my data turned out much better. The increase in autofocus exposure time fixed the focus issue that I was experiencing.

No setup was needed. Startup at the scope, which consisted of bringing up Gemini II, and turning on the laptop, took only two or three minutes. I was inside for connecting devices and starting/monitoring the sequence.

Other than to look at the forecast low temperature, which was 24 degrees, I did not check conditions. The sky appeared dark and still. I did not notice any clouds while monitoring the session up until 2200.

The session ran nominally all night with good guiding and good star HFRs.

I woke up at 0445 and could see that the scope was pointing toward M81/82 as expected. I did not check the imaging laptop. I found the scope parked, camera cooled and the flats panel closed when I re-emerged from the camper at 0645.

The take for this session was:

M31: Total integration time: 04:43:30.
L: 99 x 60s = 01:39:00
R: 41 x 90s = 01:01:30
G: 46 x 90s = 01:09:00
B: 36 x 90s = 00:54:00

M81/82: Total integration time: 04:54:00
L: 72 x 60s = 01:12:00
R: 52 x 90s = 01:18:00
G: 16 x 90s = 00:24:00
B: 80 x 90s = 02:00:00

I rejected the last couple of frames due to brightening sky as dawn approached.

Total take for session was 09:37:30 = 9.61 hours.
Session duration was: 1830 to 1815 = 11.75 hours.
Efficiency = 9.61/11.75 = 81.8%.

About 20 autofocus runs occurred through the night, which is somewhat less than the night before, but still seems like a lot after getting autofocus to perform better. Given that Doug’s focus was changing very little over several hours and that mine was triggering a lot of autofocus runs, I suspect that my focuser was slipping through the night. More investigation is required.

In spite of the “excessive” autofocus runs, the session efficiency turned out fair at nearly 82%. To be sure, having good star HFRs for the entire session was worth the cost in autofocus time. This resulted in me rejecting only ten sub exposures during Blink and SfS analysis.

M31 and M81/82 LRGB (Farm XI)

My targets for this session were M31 and M81/82, both in LRGB to complement the Ha data that I captured at home earlier in the week. I captured some good data on both targets, but due to focuser issues I probably didn’t get as much data as I would have liked.

We arrived for Farm IX at 1420 and began setting up camp before setting up telescopes. Set up went nominally and there was plenty of time to grab dinner after setting up camp, and before the sky was dark enough to start working at the scopes.

Sunset was at 1644 and astronomical dark arrived at 1621. Expected conditions were below average seeing that was to improve to average at around midnight. Transparency was to be average throughout the night. Low temp of 19F, and frost was expected.

Start up was nominal as well. Dusk activities, to include initial main camera focus, polar alignment, guide camera initial focus, PHD calibration and PHD GA run all went well. I took some test exposures in L and RGB to determine how short of an exposure in the Farm’s Bortle 4 sky would still have a comfortable 300-800 ADU separation from the left histogram edge. I selected 60s for L and 90s for RG and B.

I initiated the NINA sequence at 1755. Flats in LRGB were captured by 1805, and the sequence was waiting for astronomical dark to arrive at 1821.

I noticed that my first M31 images looked a little soft, and I was getting average HFR well above 3. Really bad looking autofocus charts led me to suspect that cause was the 3s autofocus exposure setting that I adopted while transitioning to filter offset focusing, I paused the sequence, and increased it to 6s. I resumed the session, and then I was getting tighter stars and the average HFR was at the 1.7-ish level that I usually get.

The session appeared to run nominally until just after midnight, at which time the main camera images went wildly out of focus. I physically examined the focuser and saw that the drawtube was fully extended. I then disconnected the focuser in NINA, physically ran the drawtube all the way in, reconnected the focuser with a “Set to 0” instruction, and then instructed the focuser to move to the 3210 position, which is the near perfect focus position. I invoked an autofocus run which executed successfully. I restarted the sequence and it appeared to operate nominally.

I left the session on its own at 0200, and checked it again after waking up at around 0900. I found the telescope parked at CWD and the flats panel was closed. Examining the capture folder I found that capture ended at 0617, which was consistent with the arrival of astronomical dawn.

Analysis:

On closer examination of the M81 capture, I found that no B was captured, and that the images went slowly out of focus over the span of about 8 sub exposures starting at 0437. I inspected the focuser and found that the drawtube had once again fully extended.

Efficiency:

M31
L: 73 x 60s = 01:13:00
RGB: 16 x 90s each filter = 01:12:00
Total integration: 02:25:00

M82:
L: 114 x 60s = 01:54:00
R: 32 x 90s = 00:48:00
G: 64 x 90s = 01:36:00
Total Integration: 02:18:00

Total integration time: 04:43:00
Total Session time: 1821 to 0612 = 11.9h
Efficiency = 4.0/11.9 = 40%

I found 32 interruptions in guiding, many of which were probably autofocus runs. The system seemed to struggle with focus throughout the night. I suspect that the cold may have been the issue, but I do want to check some NINA autofocus settings.

Thinking about autofocus issue, it occurred to me that the awful looking autofocus curves could be the result of the autofocus exposure value being too low. I checked NINA and found that was 5s, and that value has worked well at home. I increased it to 8s, and will check it during the next session.

Conclusions:

The reason for the not having any B images is that an out of date sequence was loaded when I restarted NINA just after midnight to recover the session. Just prior to starting the session, I noticed that the sequence line that I had intended for B was set to G. I changed to B as originally intended, but I did not save the sequence.

The high number of guiding interruptions surely contributed to the very low efficiency for this session. Further investigation is need to determine what was really going on.

Update: The autofocus runs in the 12/15 session looked perfect after changing the exposure from 5s to 8s.

Lessons learned.

Save the NINA sequence after making changes, append the file name to indicate the version number of the sequence. This will provide for better troubleshooting after NINA has been closed. And it will ensure that the updated sequence can be loaded if the session needs to be restarted.

To Do list

Capture M81 with 32 R and 64 B to match the 64 G that were captured.

Check NINA autofocus settings.

M31 and M81/82 in Hydrogen Alpha

My objective for this session was to capture M31 and M81/M82 in Ha. This was my first Ha-only session since discovering that filter offset focusing doesn’t work for Ha and broadband in the same session, because correct focusing of the main camera throws the guide camera too far out of focus. Ironically, filter offset focusing caused much difficulty in getting the session started, even though I was only using one filter for the entire session. In the same line of thinking that led me to change RGB exposures from 120s to 60s, I wanted to try changing Ha exposures from 7m to 5m.

The sequence that I assembled during the early afternoon was straightforward. All imaging would be 5m exposures through the Ha filter. The default autofocus filter was changed from L to Ha, and only one autofocus run was called for, and that was just before the first light frame was captured. Any refocus for the remainder of the session would be as a result of HFR increasing more than 5%. The rotation for this session was set at 30 degrees. M31 was the first target and it would be starting just before the meridian and continue until 0000. After a park/unpark pair to get the scope ready for return to the eastern hemisphere, the next target was M81/M82, and that target would continue until dawn.

Sunset was at 1646, and the end of astronomical dusk was 1820. The moon is close enough to New that it will be rising in the dawn and the waning crescent will not be a factor. Astrospheric was calling for below average seeing improving to average seeing.

I ventured outside at 1520 to uncover the scope, attach the imaging train and flats panel, and connect the power and data cables. This only took a few minutes. At 1610, I was back at the scope to power up. I came back inside to establish ASCOM connections to all of the devices in NINA.

With regards to startup activities, I elected to retain the previous session’s polar alignment. Because of the Ha filter’s much lower transmissivity,  slightly modified approach was used to focus the main and guide cameras. I first acquired and zoomed in on Polaris using the L filter and .5s exposures. Then I switched to the Ha filter with 10s exposures and went outside to focus the main camera. This stage of focusing took about a minute of outside time. I came back in side to prepare for focusing the guide camera by slewing to meridian/equator and waiting for the sky to become dark enough. Once dark enough the trip outside to focus the guide camera took about another minute. I came back inside to initiate the PHD2 calibration and GA runs.

Calibration completed nominally. GA returned hi-freq star motion of .26” and PAE of .5’. I observed the Dec plot line during the GA run, and noticed that the reported PAE varied with each plot’s variance from 0, or no error. At 0 error, PAE was 0, and the PAE was larger or smaller depending on the error of each individual plot.

I initiated the sequence well before the sky was dark enough to begin imaging. As the sequence approached the end of the built in the wait time, I monitored the physical progress of the flats panel and the initial slew.

The panel performed flawlessly, but the slew was putting the scope on the east side of the pier, which was a reach back into the eastern hemisphere. The scope was coming close to the pier, so I stopped the slew and reset the M31 target portion of the sequence, and restarted it with the scope already pointing toward the eastern hemisphere. This time it slewed correctly.

Next the sequence attempted to center the target, and that failed. It then stepped right into the first autofocus run, which also failed. I suspected the focuser, so I reset the M31 target in the sequence, and I reset the focuser ASCOM connection, both to no avail. I continued to fight the problem until I about 1930 when I noticed that the focuser was making an adjustment after the autofocus run, then I realized what was going on.

Although I was smart enough to set the default autofocus filter from L to Ha for this Ha-only session, it didn’t occur to me to turn off offset focusing. Because it was left on, NINA would add the offset steps after every movement of the filter. This would throw the main camera too far out of focus to complete plate solving to center the target or to complete an auto focus run. After turning offset focusing off and restarting, I monitored the sequence start up, which went flawlessly. At 1945 I left the session on its own for the balance of the evening.

I checked the session at 0550 and found it capturing M81/M83 as expected, and the session was performing well. Guiding was 0.75” RMS, star HFRs were 1.81. Even though I had forgotten to check the minimum ADU value at session start up to ensure separation from the left side of the histogram, I found it at a comfortable 370 ADUs. The session was set to complete at 0612.

After the session completed, the scope parked, the camera cooled, and the flats panel closed.

Take:

M31: 49 Ha x 5m for 4:05
M81/M82: 69 Ha x 5m for 5:45
Session integration total: 9:50
Session total: 1945 to 0615 = 10.30
Session Efficiency:  9.9/10.5 = 90.5%

Analysis

The initial slew of the scope to the wrong hemisphere requires additional investigation. Perhaps the mount safety eastern safety limit is set too wide. It probably make more sense to be very conservative here rather than have a permissive limit. Solution: Reset mount safety limits and used a more conservative eastern safety limit.

Session efficiency was great, but this was with just one filter. I detected only five autofocus runs. More sessions with seeing and star motion information are required before any conclusions can be drawn.

Conclusions

The observed relationship in GA between the variance of each Dec plot and the PAE tells me that the overall trend of the Dec plots is the only important polar alignment indicator. A flat trend is great. One that slopes up or down just a little is good. One that slopes up or down a lot is bad. Simple. Observe the trend and go with one that is great or even a good one.

To-Do List

Check the eastern safety limit.

Overall and in spite of the rough start up, this was a good session. Learning how to properly set up focusing for an Ha-only session was a significant advancement in my craft. It may be a while before I am able to process this data.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31) - 2023-12-15 - Hydrogen Alpha
M31 in Hydrogen Alpha

The Worm Moon

My objective for this session was to shoot two two-panel mosaics of The Worm Moon in two runs. The first run would be at a 50% histogram, and the second would be at a 75% histogram. The two panels for each run will be stitched together in processing.

I had hoped to shoot this target last evening, but gave it up due to expected weather conditions by the time the moon had ascended above the trees at 2100, and I was very tired.

This morning I woke up just before 0400 and could see a bright moon hanging in a cloudless sky above the cottage. The scope was covered and had no camera attached, but it seemed that if I proceeded without delay I could complete my objective before loosing the moon behind the cottage.

The equipment for this session was G11/NP101/ASI178. The temperature was 40 degrees and the relative humidity was 68%. There was an occasional moderate breeze, and the sky was crystal clear. The Astrospheric forecast was for average transparency and poor seeing. I could detect the unsteady sky on the live FireCapture display. I was wearing a medium coat, but as expected, I was quite chilled by the end of the session.

I walked out the door to begin my work at 0413. Uncovering the scope, adding the camera, bringing up software and acquiring the target were complete by 0420. The shutter for all four runs was 0.082ms. The gain for the 50% histogram was 284, and for the 75% histogram is was 315.

I completed the four runs (2 panels x 2 histogram settings) by 042, but I noticed that I had not unchecked Debayer after I finished focusing. Not knowing if this setting degraded the data or not, I elected to re-shoot the four runs just to be on the safe side. I was finished with the second attempt by 0436, and I shut down the session.

The camera was removed from the scope and put away, and the scope was covered, and I was back in the house by 0442.

This session illustrates the value of practice. I could not have completed this session – from walking outside, setting up and starting up, shutting down and putting away – in 30 minutes without being well-practiced at my craft.

I noted the shape of the 50% and 75% histograms, and compared them to the previous session’s 30% histogram. Now I believe that I understand why there were muted colors and contrast in the previous session. In all three histograms, I could see a sky fog peak at the left edge of the histogram, followed by a wide hump to the right that included the entirety of the moon’s pixels. The lunar hump in the 50% histogram was wider than the lunar hump in the 30% histogram the night before. The lunar hump in the 75% histogram was even wider. I think issue is that the narrower 30% hump has less dynamic range, and that is what caused the muted colors.

Trying not to clip the whites in a lunar closeup of Aristarchus two sessions ago is how I ended up capturing with a 30% histogram in the first place, and that seemed to work well for a lunar closeup. Then I tried applying result that to the full disk of the moon on the next session and ended up with the muted colors.

I hope that by having data collected on the full lunar disk with 30%, 50% and 75% histograms will help me settle on an exposure that balances between clipping of whites, and enough dynamic range to bring out the colors.

The image selected for publishing with this report is the one shot with the 75% histogram.

The Worm Moon - 2023-03-07 09:37 UTC

The Moon – Practice Session

The objective for this session was to conduct a practice session for capturing The Worm Moon tomorrow night.

The equipment used was the G11, TV NP101is, and ASI178MC. Changing telescopes, setup, power up and connection to devices was without problem. The capture session was managed remotely.

The temperature was 45 degrees and the relative humidity was 48% when the session began at 2030. There was no discernable breeze. Astrospheric forecast transparency and seeing as Below Average. The degraded seeing was not apparent in the live display at the working image scales for this session.

I performed a PoleMaster alignment, because I had removed the Meade and replaced it with the Tele Vue. Even with a fresh alignment, I was getting considerable drift over the course of several minutes.

I captured the full disk of the moon in two separate panels that were to be stitched together in processing. For each panel, 2000 frames were captured in FireCapture with 1.1ms exposure, gain 251, and 30% histogram. The length of the session was less than ten minutes.

The only follow up action is to do another PoleMaster alignment at the start of the next session.

Images have been processed and posted. I used a low histogram for processing lunar closeups of Mons Rumker, Aristarchus Plateau, and Marius Hills in my previous session, and the images seem to have turned out just fine. For some reason, this image was very difficult to get levels and curves adjustments correct, and even with that the colors and contrast seem muted.

The Moon - 2023-03-05 00:31 UTC

The Moon – Mons Rumker, Aristarchus Plateau and Marius Hills

The objective of this quick session was to capture my three most favored volcanic lunar features while the just after the terminator has passed them. These features are Mons Rumker, Aristarchus Plateau, and Marius Hills. Shooting these three targets in color is what I bought the ASI178MC for, and the confluence of weather, lunar phase, and my ability to get to the telescope finally occurred last night.

The temperature was 45 degrees and the relative humidity was a reasonable 65% when I went out to the scope at 1900. There was an occasional slight breeze. The Astrospheric seeing forecast was for Below Average conditions, and indeed I could see the live display image being tossed about.

The equipment for this session was Losmandy G11, Meade LX850 (12″ f/8) and ZWO ASI178MC. Setup, power up and device connections went smoothly. I did not check polar alignment. No issues were encountered that require follow up.

This was a quick session that lasted only fifteen minutes, which was just long enough to shoot the three targets.

Seeing was largely overcome by shooting 5000 frames of each target. Instead of Registax wavelet sharpening, I used BlurXTerminator AI sharpening, and I am very happy with the result. I was prepared to try NoiseXTerminator, but the images were already as smooth as butter.

The Moon - 2023-03-05 01:06 UTC - Marius Hills
The Moon - 2023-03-05 00:59 UTC - Aristarchus Plateau
The Moon - 2023-03-05 00:59 UTC - Mons Rumker

The Moon and SCT Guiding

My objectives for this session were to do some lunar captures using planetary techniques, and then to start working on getting the Meade prepped for DSO imaging. The lunar effort went very well, but the DSO effort did not work out at all. In short, DSO imaging at SCT focal lengths seems very hard at the moment, so I am going to do some reading and devote a couple more bright lunar night sessions before giving it up.

The lunar setup was G11/LX850/ASI178MC with no PowerMate. For the DSO work, I removed the ASI178 and replaced it with the ASI6200.

The temperature was 52 degrees at session start, and the forecast was for moderate humidity. The temperature had dropped to 45 degrees by the time I ended the session at 2040. There was no discernable dew on any surface. The Astrospheric forecast was for above average transparency and below average seeing. The lunar image in the display looked better than forecast.

The lunar imaging went well, and there were no problems.

The DSO session started well. I was able to get a NINA profile set up for the Meade without any difficulty. All accessory devices connected without a problem. I follow this with cofocusing the main and guide cameras which occurred without a problem.

I got stuck at calibration. I had difficulty maintaining a guide star, probably because of focus. It seems that when large turns of the focus knob were required to have any effect at all, and I could not get the FWHM below 7, and the stars never did look sharp. I believe that these effects are caused by the long SCT focal length.

The Moon - 2023-02-28 23:12 UTC - Crater Deslandres
The Moon - 2023-02-28 23:10 UTC - Ptolemaeus Alphonsus Arzachel
The Moon - 2023-02-28 23:14 UTC - Dawn at Crater Clavius
The Moon - 2023-02-28 23:16 - Rupes Recta
Moon - 2023-02-28-2319 - Montes Apenninus
The Moon - 2023-02-28 23:20 UTC - North Eastern Mare Imbrium

Equipment Set Up and Monkey Head Nebula

I had hoped to do a complete post-WSP set up and step right into imaging the target component image to go with my stars component image that I made before WSP. Even though I was able to set up and step right into imaging without any issues at WSP, that wasn’t the case for this session. I was not able to attempt to image Monkey Head before clouds started rolling in.

On the positive side, the weather was warm for an extended scope-side session. Temperatures were in the 60s, but the RH stayed reasonable. I felt dew in the grass, but not on the metal table. There was an occasional slight breeze from the south. I was comfortable in shorts and a light jacket.

Equipment setup of the G11/NP101/ASI6200 was a snap. I took my time and was finished in about 45 minutes. The problems began at power up. I noticed that on one of the four USB hub ports were lit. I could not get the other accessories to connect. I eventually ended up replacing the hub, and that cleared the problem. The power board got rained on while packing up at WSP, so that may be the cause of this problem.

My next problem occurred while trying to capture Flats. The RGB filters worked with the settings that I have been using since last summer. For some reason the Flats Wizard could not reach the right exposure in five attempts, or with would step past the right exposure. I spent 45 minutes on this before I found the right combination of initial exposure and step size for subsequent attempts.

Moving on to polar alignment, the PoleMaster application kept locking up. Restarting the application did not clear the problem, but restarting the computer did. I think that somehow the USB hub, or maybe the computer USB connection that I will describe later, was the cause of this.

While trying to focus, I kept hearing the USB connect/disconnect chime in the background. I found that the computer end of the cable from the hub was loose. Once I had it set I had to be careful not to move the computer, which was difficult while getting the display so that I could see it while focusing.

Calibration completed without an issue. Total RMS was about .9”, which is typical for me. I’d like to spend some time in the future to get this down.

By the time I worked through these problems, high clouds were starting to roll in. Before ending the session at around 2130, I attempted a remote desktop connection to the laptop with my phone. I could see on the phone that the computer was available for a remote connection, but I could not remember the computer password.

Todo list:

  • Check the hub to see if it is really dead.
  • Check the computer end of the USB connection. Is it the port or the cable? Can it be tightened up, or do I need a new cable?
  • Look up the remote computer credentials and see if I can establish a remote session with my phone.

Todo list results: Both hubs checked out fine this morning, and so did the USB connection. Something to keep an eye on.

Observing Report – 2023-02-17 – WSP Night 5/Horse Head and Flame Nebula, Leo Galaxy Triplet, and Omega Centauri Globular Cluster

My objectives for this session were to shoot Horse Head/Flame Nebula, Leo Triplet, and Omega Centuari. My only test objective was to image an emission nebula (Horse Head/Flame), a galaxy (Triplet), and a stars only (Omega) target to validate my planned exposure times in a dark sky site.

The temperature was in the upper 80s at the beginning of the session, and RH was 65% and rising. I felt a very occasional and light breeze. Dew formed on equipment cases, the metal table, and on the telescope and mount. The optics stayed clear under a fully on dew heater.

Power up, start up, initial focus and polar alignment were all nominal. I had planned to take flat frames at dusk, but I had difficulty getting the cardboard tube over the telescope dew shield, so I gave that up.

Horse Head/Flame (IC 434)  was shot from 1945 to 2300 and Leo Triplet was shot from 2300 to 0200. Both captures were 120s subs (L x 30, RGB 10 each). Omega Centauri was shot from 0200 to 0130 (L: 100 x 20s, RGB 30 ea x 20s).

The only issues I encountered is that I had set up the Omega capture for 120s subs when I meant to capture 20s subs. I halted the erroneous run after the first sub, so not much time was lost there. I had some trouble restarting the sequence after correcting it. I also had to wait for the target to transit behind a light post, about 20 minutes.

The only to-do item that I have is to p  ut a looser cardboard tube on the flat panel box.

Session was over by 0145. Temperature was 72 degrees, and RH was 90%. It was a soggy night, but I really enjoyed it.

Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) - 2023-02-18 - Winter Star Party
The Horse Head Nebula and The Flame Nebula - 2023-02-17 - Winter Star Party
Horse Head and Flame Nebulae
The Leo Triplet - 2023-02-17 - M65, M66, and NGC2638
The Leo Triplet

Observing Report – 2023-02-16 – WSP Night 4/High Winds

My objectives for this session are the same as the past two nights, which are to image an easy target early as a warm up for imaging Omega Centaur after  midnight. And like the past two nights, the winds and an overweight payload have caused too much flexure in a tripod that is too light.

Autoguiding and exposures longer than 5s were impossible, so I gave up.

Better conditions (no clouds, above average transparency, and excellent seeing are forecast tomorrow. I will carry these objectives into the WSP Night 5 session.

Observing Report – 2023-02-15 – WSP Night 3/High Winds

My objective for this session was the same as last session, which was to image an easy target early as a warm up for Omega Centauri and maybe a couple of more targets that are not accessible from more northerly latitudes. As was the case for WSP Night 2, high winds made accomplishment of these objectives impossible.

I used the same setup as the previous session – G11/NP101/ASI6200. I also accepted the polar alignment from the previous session. I was not able to complete guide camera focus or calibration the night before, but I was able to work through them this time.

After trying multiple methods, PHD kept throwing calibration errors. I eventually accepted the calibration and moved on. I was getting RMS errors of about .60” for Dec (2x what I usually get) and about 3.50” for Ra (about 4x the usual). The scatter diagram confirmed this result, and suggested that stars would be highly elongated along the Ra axis. Even the shortest duration test shots further confirmed this result, so I gave up trying to image.

Next I tried imaging with the EOS 60Da. In setting it up earlier I discovered that the adapter that mates the camera to the ball mount on the wind up tracker was not in the camera bag. I decided to try a series of short, unguided exposures with 60Da and the 14mm f/2.8 lens. I pointed the camera at the intersection of the south point on the horizon and the meridian, and set up a series of 8-second exposures at 9 minute intervals. The images (all were individual, unstackable frames) were interesting in that I could watch the progression of the southernmost viewable objects rise, culminate on the meridian and set again. Passing clouds and heavy winds resulted in images of such low quality that I will not publish them.

There are a lot of objects with NGC and C designations in this area. Most were not visible and even the best ones were very low quality. I continued imaging until Eta Carina culminated at 0134, at which point Omega Centauri came into view from the east side of the frame. While it was neat to watch the progression, the images were nothing to look at.

The winds had picked up quite a by the time I was shut down at 0145.

I cannot be sure, but I believe that the flexure of lightweight tripod caused by high winds and a heavy payload was the source of my guiding problems. I purchased the GM8 mount with the lightweight tripod to support the NP101 scope. I think that even this setup would not have guided adequately in the winds that I experienced during this session. To make matters worse, my equipment stack on top of the lightweight tripod for this session included the G11 (2x the GM8 weight), a set of dovetail plates and rings that weigh about 10 lbs, and the camera/focuser/OAG package on back of the scope weighs nearly five pounds. I have successfully used this combination for imaging in non-windy conditions, but it was not able to hold the scope steady under last night’s winds. I checked the scope’s stability with a gentle shake this morning, and it was obviously flexing.

As a remedy, two things come to mind. First is to always use the heavy weight tripod that I bought with the G11 to carry this payload but even this tripod might not be able to steady the scope under the winds encountered last night. The next item that comes to mind is an observatory tent. An Explore Scientific sales rep stopped by and mentioned that they sell one for about $260. This would open the range of conditions under which I can image.

I encountered no other issues that require attention today.

Observing Report – 2023-02-14 – WSP Night 2/Visual Targets

While my objectives for this session were to image an easy target early as a warm up for Omega Centauri at culmination, the weather forced me to resort to limited binocular observations instead. The sky was about 50% cloud covered with fast moving clouds, and the winds were 15 to 20mph. Temperature was in the low 70s and dew did not appear on anything.

I added the ASI6200 to the G11/NP101 after dinner. Power up and connecting software to devices went flawlessly. Winds did not seem to affect the polar alignment, and I was able to obtain a sharp diffraction pattern for focusing the main camera. I was not able to focus the guide camera, because wind buffeting the scope created a large blob in the long exposure PHD images. That was as far as I made it with the telescope.

While waiting out the winds during the evening, I scanned the sky with the binoculars. Nothing serious, but decided to shut down at 2230 and nap until 0330 in hopes that conditions would permit an opportunity to image the Omega Centauri Cluster near culmination, which is about 15 degrees elevation for this location.

The wind was still blowing pretty hard at 0330 and cloud cover was slightly diminished. Either the wind or the clouds would have prevented a viable imaging session. The waxing crescent moon was at about 25% illumination, but should not have been a problem for imaging Omega Centauri.

Using binoculars, I observed Omega Centauri. From there and with your help I was able to star hop my way down to see the northernmost three stars of Crux popping in an out of the clouds low on the horizon. The southernmost star had not yet set, but was too far down in the muck to be seen. I was also able to locate Apha and Beta Centauri via star hopping from Omega Centauri.

While scanning Scorpius, which was close to the moon, I was not able to see the False Comet Nebula, but Tali al Shaula I and II caught my eye. This pair never ascends very high above the horizon at home, so I have not observed it before. I am interested in reading about it, and perhaps imaging it on another night.

There are no telescope/equipment issues to be resolved before the next session. I would like to set up the 60Da on the tracker to image some constellations of conditions permit.

Observing Report – 2023-02-13 – WSP Night 1/Visual Targets

Anticipating days ahead that I would be tired on the first WSP night after two days of traveling, and setting up camp and equipment on the day of arrival, my objective for the night was to focus (sic) on visual observing, and to get as far down my target list as I could before giving it up for the night.

The equipment for this session was G11 on the lightweight tripod, Tele Vue NP101is with a Panoptic 35 eyepiece. Set up was a little more involved than usual because I had disassembled the telescope, rings/dovetails, and other components for packing. Even so, set up during the day and start up as nightfall approached went flawlessly.

I did a scope polar alignment, and two-star alignment using the mount hand controller. I slewed to targets using the hand controller, and except for a few that were very close to the horizon all slews placed the target well within the field of view. The computer was not used in managing any part of this session.

I am not sure, but I attribute the “off” slews near the horizon to atmospheric refraction close to the horzon. I could have tested to see if the pointing error was in the N-S direction, but I didn’t think to do it in the heat of the moment. There may be a way (King tracking mode?) in the mount software that compensates for atmospheric refraction.

The temperature was in the mid-70s at the beginning of the session, and dropped into the mid-60s by the time I shut down. There were light breezes throughout the night. I began the session in shorts and a t-shirt. As the night wore on, I added first a long sleeve shirt and long pants, then a sweat shirt, and finally I swapped the sweat shirt for a coat. I was comfortable all night.  

The sky was clear throughout the session, but I noticed clouds staring to build after I had shut down and was walking away from the scope at about 0245. Even if fatigue has not ended the session, it would have ended a short time later than it actually had as a result of the clouds.

The sky was reportedly about Bortle 2.5. The winter Milky Way, near the meridian at the beginning of the session, wheeled westward toward setting. I could visualize how the winter Milky Way continued in a straight line that extended below the horizon, and would be rising just before dawn as the summer Milky Way was setting just before dawn. This was the first time that I had observed this phenomenon.

As for individual targets, I hit the some of the usual ones for a warm up. This included M42, M45, and several globular and open clusters in the Messier and NGC catalogs.

Most impressive were Eta Carina Nebula and Omega Centauri Globular Cluster. Both of these targets were viewed very shortly after rising. Eta Carina does not ascend much higher than it was when I saw it, but I will want to observe it again visually as it culminates. I see no point in trying to image it. The scope/eyepiece field of view was 4 degrees, and even so, the amount of field that it covered was astonishing. Even though it was low on the horizon,  was able to discern some detail in the nebula.

Omega Centauri was a similar experience. Low on the horizon when I observed, but its size was impressive. I switched to a Nagler Type 4 eyepiece and still was not able to resolve individual stars. In addition to my astonishment at its size, I found that it appeared somewhat menacing in the eyepiece. This object will ascend to a half-way decent 15 degrees at culimination, and I intend to image this target.

I did not note the time, but some time around 0100 I observed what was by far the brightest and longest lasting meteor that I had ever observed. It was about 45 degrees elevated from the horizon moving in a south to north direction passing off to the east of my location. It left a wide trail, and I could see an even wider green coma at the head.

I did not monitor the relative humidity and dew situation during the session. Optics and metal parts stayed dry all night. There was dew on the plastic equipment cases.

I had no issues that will required attention on the next day. I will engage in some effort to reposition the scope and to reconfigure for imaging.

Overall, this was an enjoyable session. It seemed that after a rather long interval of not using visual observing skills, they seem to be intact.

Process Tuning, Monkey Head Star Data, and Moon

My objectives for this session were twofold. First, walk through my new session startup workflow (focus, capture flats, polar align, and calibrate/GA run sequence) to see how well it flows in practice, and to see if I can complete these activities before end of astronomical twilight. The second is to capture some Monkey Head star data for an initial exploration of a processing technique that I wish to try.

The setup was G11/NP101/ASI6200 (90 degrees). I want to start annotating my camera rotation angle for the new technique that I will be telling you about.

Conditions were not too bad. Temps were in the high 20s, RH was 48%, and there was an occasional slight breeze. Astrospheric forecasts were Cloud Cover 0%, Transparency BA, and Seeing BA.

The session startup workflow went extremely well. One of the questions that I wanted to answer was: would doing focusing and flats capture ahead of polar alignment in the startup sequence delay polar alignment. Before this change, polar alignment was first in the session start up, and it was accomplsihed 35 – 40 minutes after sunset. This left plenty of time to complete PHD2 calibration before the end of astronomical twilight.

Sunset was at 1733, and my goal was to complete the session startup activities before End of Astronomical Twilight at 1904 so that I could demonstrate that I would not lose any imaging time to session startup activities . I was surprised to be able to see Polaris and Bahtinov mask spikes at 1745, just 18 minutes after sunset. Focus was complete at 1750, at which time I removed the mask and installed the flats panel. The NINA Flats Wizard got me through RG and B Flats by 1801. After removing the flats panel, I reconfigured for polar alignment. I was barely able to see Polaris, but I had to wait two or three minutes to see the other stars that were needed to polar align. In short, there was no time penalty for focusing and taking flats before polar alignment. I finished polar alignment at 1810, slewed to 0,0, and initiated calibration. Calibration completed without error, so I stepped into a GA run at 1811. I forgot to uncheck Measure Backlash, so the GA run took an extra minute. I accepted the GA recommendations and the scope was guiding at 1825, which was 39 minutes before End of Astronomical twilight.

At 1904 I initiated the star capture sequence. NINA slewed to the target, plate solved, centered on the target, autofocused, and initiated the capture sequence. The capture sequence was 35 frames in RGB at 20s each channel, which executed nominally by 2015.

As a bonus round, I swapped the DSO imaging train for the planetary train with the ASI178 on the back to image the nearly full moon that had caught my eye earlier. Switchover was only difficult because of the cold. Temperature was about 27 degrees. I also had a brief fumble in that I forgot to flip the mirror. How quickly we forget! The lunar diameter barely fit within the height of the sensor frame when attached to the NP101, so I elected to capture in two panels that I will stitch together in processing.

Session was over and power shut down at 2050.

The Monkey Head Nebula (N2174) Star Field - 2023-02-04
Monkey Head Nebula Star Field (Nebula removed from image)
The Moon - 2023-02-05 01:47 UTC
The Moon

M35 and Equipment Tuning

Seeing unexpected clear sky shaping up in the late afternoon, I made a last-minute decision to uncover the telescope. My objectives were to determine at what time I could safely capture light panel flats without light leakage in the imaging train, and to determine where flats capture best fits into my workflow. Time permitting, and since the waxing gibbous moon was high in the sky, I would capture a stars-only target like M35.

The daytime temperature had been near 60 degrees and I did not spend much time at the scope, so I was comfortable outside without doing more than throwing on a coat as I went out the door. The temperature was in the 40s, and there was no dew on any surface during the session. I could not detect any breeze at all. Seeing was forecast to be below average, but that was not a factor at my image scale.

In order to test for light leakage, I took the first test flat at 1630 while the sun was still shining directly onto the telescope. I had wrapped the imaging train with a small tarp, but as expected I could clearly see evidence of light leakage. The next test flat was taken at 1700, and by then the telescope was in the shadow of the cottage. I could not see any evidence of light leakage. To be sure, I waited until just after sunset and took another test flat at 1730. It looked exactly like the first one, so I concluded that sunset or later is a safe time to capture light panel flats.

I proceeded to capture 30 x LRGB flats right after inspecting the 1730 test flat. My light panel setup (full brightness with two layers of t-shirt material) and NINA Flats Wizard settings were perfect. I captured the full complement of 120 frames in about five minutes.

Polar alignment was off by a slight amount. Running through the process and adjusting went off smoothly. It occurred to me to check the bubble levels, and they were off significantly due to settling. I don’t recall how long it had been since the tripod was last set up and leveled.

There was a small issue with calibration. After slewing to 0,0 I stepped right into calibration, which threw a backlash error. I had forgotten to nudge north before initiating calibration. When I gave the telescope a nudge north prior to repeating the process, it slewed 24 degrees east. I slewed back to 0,0 and retried twice with the hand controller and got the same result. I next tried with the Gemini.net ascom software controller, and got the same result. I restarted the mount, and that cleared the problem. I cannot think of anything that would cause this to occur.

Capture of M35 went well. I had setup a sequence to slew to and center the target, initiate an autofocus run, and capture 21 L, and 7 each RGB with an autofocus run after each focus run. This went off start to finish without a hitch, but intermittent clouds rolled through and ruined several frames. I will probably only process them enough to check how well a prominent dust mote gets flatted out.

Guiding was about as good as I have been able to get lately. Ra/Dec/Tot RMS for the longest session (42m) were .67”/.28”/.72”. Even with Ra being nearly 3x that of Dec, stars appeared round in the images. I would like to get Ra under better control, but that might night happen until Level 6 upgrade, which might help by itself, and GEM-Pro is available.

Even with the clouds, the session was productive. With practice, flats capture has become easy and fast, and I have a better sense of how Flats fit into my session start up. With respect to efficiency and how smoothly I am able to get a session started, I am at least back to the point that I had reached last summer, perhaps even better.

I somewhat later realized that while being close to focus from the last session, I would have preferred to have waited until after focusing before capturing flats. I took a few minutes to think about where to fit flats into workflow. Dusk sky flats doesn’t work because the telescope hasn’t been focused. Dawn sky flats doesn’t work because I do not want to create a requirement to stay awake until the sky gets bright enough. That leaves me with light panel flats capture needing to be incorporated into my start up, which I strive to have complete by the end of astronomical twilight (about 90 minutes after sunset).

My pre-flats routine was to polar align (about 35 minutes after sunset), initial focus, and calibration. There are two primary considerations in sequencing with flats capture inserted into session start up: 1) focus needs to be done before capturing flats, and 2) I don’t want to do flats after polar alignment because of jostling the telescope when removing the flats panel could perturb the polar alignment.

The sequence that I want to test next time is to monitor the main camera to determine how soon after sunset that I can see stars well enough to focus. I am guessing that it will be about 35 – 40 minutes after sunset. If that’s the case, then I can focus and capture flats without delaying polar alignment more than about 20 minutes compared to the previous workflow. With end of astronomical twilight being the goal for completing start up, I still have 30 minutes or more to complete calibration. I think that this is workable.

There are three things for me to work on before my next session. I had to use the home wifi for remote connectivity, because I could not connect through either of the Mango nano routers. I suspect that resetting them is all that is required, but I’d like to know why they stopped working after performing so well for several weeks. I would feel better about the tripod being level, so I want to straighten that out. And finally, and this is a hold over from measuring per filter focus positions, I want to take apart the focuser clutch to see if I can figure out why the focuser position for the same filter is always smaller on subsequent measurements. Since rain is likely to prevent me from working on it today, I will probably reach out to Ron at Moonlite to see what he advises.

M35 - 2023-01-30 - Annotated
An Annotated Image
Flats Exammple
Flat Frame Calibration

M44 and Equipment Tuning

My objectives for this session were to work on focus and guiding. I had not planned to try to image anything, but I decided to do a quick capture on M44 after I was through.

For focusing, I wanted to do some checks to verify that I had overcome the issues that I had last session. The issues and solutions were:

Focuser position was decreased by more that 100 steps after each refocus. I suspected a loose clutch, which I tightened as tightly as I could. I was still getting positions that were decreased by about 2 steps after each focus.

The guide camera was set parfocal with the guide camera while the L filter was in front of the main camera. When the R filter was rotated in and the main camera was refocused, the PHS guide star profile FWHM went from pretty good to really bad. The same happened when the main camera was refocused on the G and B cameras. I suspected that the focuser positions for the L and RGB filters were different, so I wanted to check that out during this session.

It turned out I had replaced the mounted filter that came with ZWO set with an unmounted filter to see if the unmounted filter would create less vignetting, and it does not help much. I checked the ZWO L filter against the Astronomik filter and found that the focuser position was about 80 steps different between the two L filters. I will be using the ZWO L filter going forward.

I focused the main camera with the ZWO L filter in the train, and co-focused the guide camera. I then ran the RGB filters through the path with an autofocus run after each filter change. The PHD guide star FWHM did not change significantly.

Next I moved to experimenting with the PHD P-PEC, min-move, and aggressiveness settings.  With P-PEC, I couldn’t get the Ra RMS less than about .9, which was more than 2x the Dec RMS, so I went back to Hysteresis. I played with min-move, and only seemed to make things worse. I did a GA run, and accepted the min-move recommendations and guiding got better, but not as good as it was for Monkey Head on the Ra axis. I increased the aggressiveness a couple of times and guiding improved.

I had not intended to shoot a target for this session, but with guiding going well, I could not resist a quick capture. On M44, I shot 12 RGB frames at 60s each.

The Monkey Head Nebula (NGC 2174)

Yesterday morning I saw what looked like halfway decent weather from dusk through about 2200 for capturing some test data in the evening, but I was afraid that I was going to miss the opportunity due to my mother-in-law’s birthday. I managed to get the scope set up, and to find some time to get an imaging session going, at which time it pretty much ran itself.

My objective for this session was to capture some calibration frames and some test data on the Monkey Head Nebula to check a capture change that I made and to check my processing workflow. Overall, I am pleased with the session. The problem areas were all related to focus. Some were bit of Jim silly-ness that I can easily avoid going forward, and I uncovered some technical focusing issues, most of which can be resolved easily.

Set up went very well at about 1650, about 30 minutes before sunset. The temperature was 41 degrees when I went back out to get the session going at 1750, about 30 minutes after sunset. There was no surface breeze at all. The seeing was forecast to be marginal, but I thought that it looked pretty good.

My first task was to shoot some calibration frames. Without too much difficulty I was able to get the Flat panel brightness set to deliver proper Flats, and I shot 30 Flats for each filter in the LRGB set, 120 frames total. I remembered shooting Bias frames last year, but since they are more than six months old, I decided to shoot another set instead of looking for the old ones.

I was able to finish the calibration frames, polar align, get an initial focus, and complete PHD calibration and GA run in just about an hour, which was before the end of astronomical twilight at 1853. I had to wait a few minutes beyond that time for the target to ascend above the trees.

Just a word on sequencing here. I was lucky that I found the main camera through the L filter to be in perfect focus (from the last session), but changing focus after taking Flats is not the right sequence. I need to add to my workflow to capture Flats after achieving an initial focus that is validated by an autofocus run. Doing Flats after polar alignment and initial focus seems to have an added benefit in that the sky is dark enough that I need not worry about light leaks in the imaging train ruining my calibration frames.

I set up NINA to shoot 45 Lum frames at 60s each, and 15 R, G and B frames at 90s each and initiated the capture sequence.

The first focusing issue that I had was self-induced. I set up NINA to do an autofocus run after every filter change, but I forgot to include a line for an auto focus run at the start of the capture run. Since the L filter was already in place when I started the run, there was no autofocus on the L filter. I realized the oversight several minutes into the run, but since I had just obtained a precise focus position with the Bahtinov mask, I decided to let the session run instead of interrupting.

An autofocus did execute after changing to the R filter. This is where the second focuser issue appeared, which was that the new focus position after the filter change was about 100 steps less than the one before it. This is a lot of steps, so the quality of my L frames were now suspect. Just in case, I added a line at the end of the sequence to capture another set of luminance images. This line of the sequence would execute after a filter change, so there would be a fresh autofocus run before shooting the L filter again.

The 100-step problem continued after the change to the G filter, after the change to the B filter, and after the change back to the L filter. As a result of this, the focuser position for the second L filter run at the end was almost 500 steps short of the initial L filter run. The stars for all of the runs looked pretty good, so the different focuser positions didn’t seem to indicate an out of focus position. The autofocus graph did reveal something interesting.

A normal autofocus run starts at a good focus position, backs the focuser out a certain amount, then takes an image and measures the FWHM (star size) and plots it on a graph with the focuser position. It nudges the focuser in a prescribed amount and then measures again. The FWHM plot begins as a downward (negative) sloping line. After about four iterations of this activity and as better focus is achieved, the slope of the FWHM plots will begin to increase from the initial negative slope toward zero, and eventually the slope will become positive on the other side of the best focus position. The finished curve is hyperbolic with maybe five plots on each side of the center, which is the “perfect” focus position.

Again, that description was for a normal run. The runs that I was seeing last night required maybe eight or ten plots to get back to the focus position. I attribute this to a loose clutch between the stepper motor and the draw tube. Because the loose clutch was slipping, each inward nudge was not moving the draw tube as much as it would have moved if it were tight, so more inward steps were required to get to the low point on the hyperbolic curve.

The third focusing issue was that the guide camera was in focus for the initial L filter run. The HFD numbers we bouncing around between the low 3s to low 4s.  After the change to the R filter (and subsequent autofocus run, I noticed that the stars in the PHD display were quite bloated, and the HFD numbers were in the low 6s to high 7s. I attributed this to the new focuser position. Guiding was a little degraded, but good enough. At this point I thought in for a penny, in for a pound, so I let it run. This condition persisted for the G and B filter runs, but the HFD numbers got better for the final L run. I concluded from this that the L and the RGB filters are not parfocal

The temp was 34 degrees and RH was 75% when I ended the session at 2230. There was light frost on the grass, but nothing else. I also noticed as I was coming back inside that a light fog had set in.  

I was set up to for about 1.9 hours of integration time with the LRGB. If I am able to use the second set of L frames in processing (LRGBL), then I’ll have something closer to 2.5 hours.

An overall conclusion that I have reached is that my guiding is good enough that I want to dedicate sessions when sky conditions are good to capture higher quality calibration and light frames for the purpose tweaking capture and processing. When sky conditions are good enough to work at the scope, but seeing and transparency are marginal, I will dedicate to guiding and focus tweaks.

Thinking through the focuser issues, all of them seem solvable, but I will probably need a night just to work on focusing to resolve them. Not getting an autofocus run before shooting the first L images is easy. I just have to remember to add the line to the sequence. As for the extra 100 steps the focuser was taking to get back to focus in the autofocus runs, I need to check the clutch, and that is easy to tighten. I have a step in my capture workflow to do this, but I was working off script last night. With the clutch operating properly I can measure precise focus positions for all of the filters.

The filters not being parfocal will be tougher to solve that I had imagined last night. Let’s assume that I have the main and guide cameras perfectly and simultaneously focused with the L filter in the optical path. Also assuming the L and the RGB filters are not parfocal, the focuser positions for the filters will be slightly different. The guide camera, which picks off its light in front of the filter, will move with the main camera as it moves from the L focus position to the R focus position. If the guide camera were in focus at the L position, it would have to be out of focus when it arrives at the R position.

Putting the OAG behind the filter wheel is not an option. I hope to transition to narrowband imaging this year. Main camera exposure durations through narrowband filters are on the order of tens of minutes. Guiding could never work with that tiny amount of light falling on the guide camera sensor. Since guiding worked both when well-focused through the L filter, and it worked ok when at maximum out of focus experienced through one of the RGB filters, maybe I should find an average focus that works well for all filters. Another alternative might be to obtain a parfocal filter set. More to come on this one.

I have recently read about a new NINA plugin called Hocus Focus that is an auto focus improvement. Before last night I had decided to put that into the category of new things to try after WSP. Hocus Focus provides better focus by better management of how stars are selected for measuring and how they are measured. Given how important good focus is to good guiding, I am going to load it up and try it.

Guide Log Analysis

Session 1: Calibration run, abandoned because I forgot to nudge north before initiating. I was working off script.

Session 2: A successful calibration run

Session 3: GA unguided run

Session 4: 21m run while I was waiting for the target to ascend above the trees

Session 5: 52m L filter run

Session 6: 25M R filter run

Session 7: 25M G filter run

Session 8: 25M B filter run

Session 9: 52m 2nd L filter run

Overall:

I was looping 1s exposures. I would have preferred to have been at 3s, but I attribute this error to working off script.

Polar alignment error measurements (Drift tab) varied from .1’ to 2’ through the session. As opposed going from good to bad, or the other way around, the variation as all over the place between the high and low errors reported. As I suspected, PAE cannot be accurately measured, probably due to seeing. Taking the max PAE that I saw in any one session (2’), I can say that my PA was pretty good.

Seeing (RMS noise) and transparency (SNR decrease) seem to have worsened during Session 8 (Blue filter)

Unguided Ra in the GA run was 1.97” due to the worm periodic error. Through the well focused L filter, guided Ra in sessions 4 and 5 improved to about .55”, and maybe got a little worse when the seeing and transparency worsened.

Unguided Dec in the Ga run was .40”. Guiding through the well focused L filter in Sessions 4 and 5 improved RMS to .33”. Dec guiding through the poorly focused RGB filters was .56 or worse. It seems that I would have been better off not guiding on the Dec axis.

The PHD GA set the Dec limit was set at about .35”, but the seeing noise suggests that maybe it should have been set higher. I don’t want to conclude anything at this point because my looping duration was too short. I do want to pay attention to what I see as the possibility of PHD actually making RMS worse.

It is interesting to turn on the Scatter and SNR graphs, and watch how the graphs change through the sessions. Session 3 (unguided) shows Dec as no drift but with seeing noise exceeds the limit. The non-seeing variation in Ra is periodic error, which shows up as the wider left-right scatter. Sessions 4 through 6 show fairly good scatter. Scatter gets worse in 7 and 8 (unfocused, worse seeing), before getting better in 9 with better guide camera focus, but not as good as the other L filter session. I attribute the difference between the to L sessions as worse seeing. I still need to analyze the data in PixInsight. I am interested in seeing how the star size metrics changed through the focusing issues.

Image analysis: While not perfect, because the conditions were not perfect, the data are pretty good. Everything looks to be focused. I saw a little bloat late in the session due to deteriorating conditions. I also saw a little less noise in my RGB (90s exposure) frames than in the L frames (60s per exposure). In short, I think that captures are going well, and there are no further capture issues to work on before WSP.

The Monkey Head Nebula (NGC 2174) - 2023-01-24
The Monkeyh Head Nebula (NGC 2174)

The Monkey Head Nebula (NGC 2174)

My objective was to collect some data on the Monkey Head to test the effect of capture changes that I had recently made.

The setup for this session was the G11, NP101, and ASI6200MM.

Set up and start up went reasonably smoothly, but I was not at my best. I attribute this to having only two imaging sessions since Christmas. If nothing else, the setup and startup practice was useful.

At dark I polar aligned without issue.

I then opened PHD2 and deleted my profile. On attempting to establish a new profile, PHD kept auto-populating the pixel size field with the main camera sensor size instead of the guide camera sensor size. I could not force it to pick up the guide camera sensor size.

I had this issue a couple of days ago during a daylight test, but I some how got past it. Last night I wasn’t able to get past the issue, I was even worried that I might introduce bad data, so I decided to abandon the session and work on the issue during daylight hours.

New Profile Resolution

The resolution was to disconnect the main camera from the laptop when establishing a new equipment profile, reconnect it after the Dark Library has been build, and resume the session.

See procedure.

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae, and Equipment Tuning

Since it had been two weeks since my last imaging opportunity, imaging conditions (transparency and seeing) were marginal, and the Moon would be rising before the session ended, my objectives were to get in a practice run, try a new PHD2 Ra guiding algorithm, and capture some test images. For practice and test images, wanted to walk through PHD and NINA start up and start an imaging run on the Flame/Horsehead complex. The new Ra guiding algorithm that I wanted to try was Predictive PEC to see if it would improve Ra guiding.

When I went out to polar align, the temperature was in the upper 30s, RH was about 60%, and there was an occasional light breeze, which was projected in the forecast.

After polar aligning, I stepped right into calibration. A slight issue here is that I had deleted the old PHD equipment profile and established another one. I did not re-do the Darks library, because I thought that the old one was still valid. Just to be sure that everything is synched, I will establish another new profile and re-do the Darks library.

I got a great looking calibration graph, so I moved on to GA. I let it run for over three minutes before stopping it. I was surprised by the Dec backlash measurement, which was below 700ms, and I got a great looking backlash graph. I attribute this result to the one-piece worm block that permits much easier backlash adjustments.

From there I stepped into guiding, and let it run while I had dinner. Maybe 40 minutes. From memory, RMS numbers were about .75” for Ra and .55” for Dec. Total was less than 1”, which even with marginal seeing favorably compares to my image scale of 1.11″.

As for improved Ra guiding, the bad seeing made it difficult to say how much of a difference P-PEC actually made. My Dec was worse and I attribute that to bad seeing, and Ra was slightly improved, but better seeing, it seems, could have shown more improvement. Ra and Dec RMS values were closer to being equal and stars were rounder.

At 2025 I began an image run on Flame/Horsehead of 45 frames per filter, 60s per frame.

I concluded the session at 2250. The temperature was 25 degrees and RH was 60%. Although the forecast had projected the winds to die down by then, there was still a pretty good breeze. There was no frost or dew on anything.

Tonight was a good use of a marginal night to try out a new setting, and get in a practice session.

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae - 2022-01-10
Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

Guide Log Analysis

I have reviewed my guide logs and have decided to do nothing at this point as a result of what I see in the logs, because I think that seeing was the overwhelming factor in the results. I am basing my conclusions on Section 1 (Calibration) and sections 9, 10 and 11, which were my 46-minute RG and B runs. I didn’t write anything down, so I don’t know what the other Sections reflect.

Although seeing was sub-par. My RMS numbers were pretty decent. While I was looking for less than 1.11” RMS to beat my image scale, I was getting no worse than 1.02. Ra and Dec RMS were about .85” and .50” respectively. The improved difference between Ra and Dec RMS is probably a result of using P-PEC.

In Dec I see a pattern of guiding spikes that seem to be higher than warranted for amount that the star had departed the center line. I think that this was bad seeing, and perhaps sub-optimal Dec guiding settings.

I do see an interesting long-period oscillation in Ra that was not there before. I showed you the 240s worm period oscillation in my log charts from the 29th. They are present in last night’s log. You can easily see the 240s PE oscillation by right clicking in the Section 9 graph, and selecting Analyze selected, raw Ra. You can see 11 or 12 240s oscillations, but notice how the trend of the oscillations decreases, increases, and decreases again. If you click on the Frequency Analysis button, you can see the 240s peak that we were seeing before, but there is another peak out near 2000s.

Just guessing here, but I think that this is related to the use of P-PEC. I noted last night that P-PEC had auto selected a period of 239.70S, which is a little short of the G11’s actual period of 240s. I wonder if this is causing the 2000s cycle. I may try manually entering the period as 240 next time to see if that makes a difference. I am not horribly concerned about this as the Ra RMS was better.

Moon, The Great Orion Nebula (M42) and Equipment Tuning

My objective was to quickly step through a fresh calibration (not entirely necessary since nothing had changed from the last one) to see if some adjustments that I did during the day had any effect. With that done, I had hoped to do some actual imaging.

The temps were around 40 degrees, RH was about 68%, and there was an occasional slight breeze. No dew or frost formed on anything.

While waiting for the sky to become dark enough to begin my work, I took a gratuitous image of the Moon – a single frame of 0.0015s

I powered up, polar aligned, and connected to devices with no issue. I am starting to feel “smoother” at DSO stuff, at least the beginning parts.

Once up and running, I played with guiding longer than I had hoped. I tweaked the Ra and Dec Agr values, and seem to have gotten some improvement. At one point my RMS values were RA: .59 and Dec .30. I can live with that!

I had some issue with plate solving. Apparently, my slews last night were so spot on, even without doing a star alignment, that I thought that plate solving was working perfectly. Tonight, I was seeing targets that were too low in the frame. It took me quite a while to figure it out, but it turns out that ASTAP was not even installed on the laptop. Interestingly, NINA did not throw an error.

I did an RGB run on M42 of 60s x 25 frames/filter. I was too tired to take flats, but I wll be sure to do that during my next session.

This would have been a great night for DSO imaging if I had been ready for it. After this session, I think that I am ready for the next great DSO imaging opportunity.

Other things that require attention is the buzzing noise that the power supply makes. I think that I am going to order a new power supply and repair the old one, if I can, and keep it in reserve as a back up. Also, I have a brush hair on the sensor glass that needs to be brushed away.

The 15’ USB 3 cable from the ASI6200 directly into the laptop does not work reliably. The work around that keeps the rear of the scope from dragging a cable around is to slew to a location, and then connect the cable. The cable being dragged around while imaging can cause guiding problems, so I want to eliminate the cable hanging off the back of the camera.  I will try running the image data through the USB hub on the power board with a shorter cable, or if that doesn’t work, I’ll try a USB repeater cable.

The Moon - 2022-12-27 22:17 UTC
The Moon
The Orion Nebula (M42) - 2022-12-29
The Orion Nebula

The Great Orion Nebula (M42) and Equipment Tuning

My objectives tonight were pretty much the same as last night, which were to get a good calibration and decent guiding in PHD, and to get plate solving and autofocus working in NINA, and to take a series of test exposures to see to what exposure duration that tight, round stars hold up.

The seeing this evening was fantastic, but it would been a horrible night for imaging because of a constant parade of high thin clouds. This was, however, a fantastic night for the work that I had in mind.

The temps were in the low 40s and RH was 70% when I went out to power up and polar align at about 1830. The sky was completely clear, but soon high clouds started drifting through. The temperature was 35 degrees and the RH had risen to 72% by the time I completed the session at 2100. There was frost on the telescope cover, but no dew or frost on anything else.

I had let myself get a little chilly before going out to change the mount from the GM8 to the G11, and I didn’t dress warmly enough for going outside to do this work. Because of this, I got horribly cold in a short amount of time. I had to come inside to warm up.  I put on a heavier jacket, and was fine for the rest of the change over, and for the considerable amount of time I spent scope-side while working out issues.

There was nothing noteworthy about the PoleMaster polar alignment. The symbology in the monitor mode was steady, which indicated good seeing. Calibration completed with our error and the graph looked pretty good. I stepped into Guiding Assistant for three minutes. The polar alignment error was 4.2”, and I let that stand without going to Drift alignment. I could see that seeing was pretty good because the high-frequency star motion values were low. The backlash chart looked great. I accepted the GA recommendations, and stepped into guiding.

Dec RMS was .30 to .35” which was fantastic. Ra RMS was probably good enough at .90 to .95”, but I was certain that the huge difference between the Ra and Dec RMS would cause elongated stars, and I was right.

Plate solving worked flawlessly the first time.

I struggled with autofocus. I was working off script because it was cold, and that led to me forgetting to check the focus knob clutch. I finally figured it out and was getting perfect focus results.

I loaded M42 in the sequencer, allowed NINA plate solving to go find it and center it, autofocus the camera, start guiding, and take some test exposures.

I found 20s in L and 30s each in RGB to be optimal from a histogram perspective. I want to be able to expose longer to minimize frame numbers, storage load, and processing load, so I did a series of 30s, 60s, 120s, and 240s exposures. I found that I started seeing elongated stars at 120s.

Ra guiding was the biggest deficiency that I had tonight, but I did not work on it. I’ll read on it tomorrow and work on it in my next session. I have a dark dust mote, probably on the camera front glass, because it is visible no matter what filter is in place. I can probably Flat it out, but I’d rather this one be gone.

M42 - 2022-12-29 02:55 UTC
The Great Orion Nebula (M42)

Moon and Equipment Tuning

My objective tonight was to work with the GM8 with an eye toward grooming it to be DSO imaging mount. I wanted to walk through PHD2 calibration, check and maybe tweak my polar alignment with PHD Drift Align, and maybe image Pleiades.

The temperature was in the low 30s, the RH was 70%, and there was no breeze. The PoleMaster symbology was very well behaved, so I think that the seeing was good. Astrospheric was forecasting below average transparency, but since I was grooming equipment that should be ok.

I had taken down the Meade/G11 and put up the TV/GM8 in mid-afternoon, and went out at about 1645 to power up. Set up, power up, and connecting software to equipment went very well.

As a bonus, I imaged the Moon for the first time with the ASI6200, and the result was pretty interesting. I took a single 0.015s exposure that I took to Photoshop for a curve stretch only. There was no stacking, noise reduction, or sharpening. The resulting image was surprisingly decent.

After it was dark enough, I did a PoleMaster alignment. Polaris was centered horizontally in the display, but way off to the left. Before going through the alignment process, I did an azimuth adjustment to bring it back to center deisplay. The az/el adjustment after this initial adjustment was off just a small amount.

Next up was calibration after slewing to the meridian-equator. The calibration failed. The two axes were 180 degrees from one another. Also, I was hearing a tick coming from the mount every 15-20 seconds. I suspected that the grub screw in the Dec drive system had come loose again, but I checked and the telescope responded to Dec slew commands.

I don’t know what is going on, but I am going to set the GM8 aside until after WSP. The G11 is working well, so that is the mount that I want to groom for WSP and to practice with. I ended the session at 2000. The temps had descended to 27 degrees, RH had increased to 72%. There was no dew or frost on anything.

I am not sure that I would have been able to go much longer anyway, because I could see clouds out in the west. The good news is that I was able learn tonight that I am not going to groom the GM8, instead of wasting any more nights on this decision.

From tonight’s work, I can see that any outside work on mounts/scopes is going to be challenging in 30 degree or less weather. The payoff will come on February 13th.

The Moon - 2022-12-27 22:17 UTC
The Moon

GM8 Equipment Tuning

My objectives for this session were to begin to reaquaint myself with DSO imaging, and to test and tune the GM8 mount. Ultimately, I would like to be able to use the GM8/TV for DSO imaging while the G11/Meade is set up for other work.

This was an interesting evening. I gained some experience with the camper and cold weather, and I identified at least one mount problem that I was able to isolate, but there may be a second problem.

As for dealing with the weather, I would call the night a success.

My starting point for this exercise was the Farm on 11/4, at which time I found myself uncomfortably cold, and I was doubtful about being able to camp at the low 40s temperatures that we experienced there. After what I have learned tonight, I realize that sitting outside at the computer for several hours on 11/4 manually guiding during planetary imaging was the problem. In short, I had let myself get cold, and I couldn’t warm up.

Tonight, the temperature as 33 degrees when I went outside at 1700 to power up and start up. I was wearing flannel lined pants and my heavy blue parka.

I was outside at the scope for maybe twenty minutes to polar align, and initially focus both cameras. My right hand, which needed to be outside of the glove for the task at hand, got cold, but not horribly cold. Ideally I would have been in the camper for the remainder of the night.

Dealing with the problem(s) that I was experiencing, I found myself outside several times especially toward the end. I was ok for about the first hour or so, but soon felt myself getting cold. I immediately turned up the camper heat, put on ski pants, and put on a sweatshirt inside of my parka. My feet were a little cold, probably because there is little to no insulation in the camper floor. Next time I’ll wear my boot warmers. Other than slightly cold feet, I stayed warm for the remainder of my time outside.

It was 2045 and 26 degrees when I shut down and came inside. My feet were chilly, as was my right hand from being out of the glove. Nothing was too cold though. I feel like I can easily image down to 25 degrees, maybe even 20.

Now for the problem(s) that I had.

I got a strange looking calibration graph. It was almost at 90 degrees near the apex of the two legs. The Dec axis was straight, but the Ra axis curved back toward the dec axis. Not getting a calibration error message, I tried guiding to see what would happen.

The main guiding graph across the bottom of PHD2 was really bad. The Ra line curved increasingly upward while PHD2 was issuing guiding pulses in the opposite direction. The dec axis curved increasingly downward while PHD2 was issuing upward guiding pulses. I was left in with the impression that the guiding pulses where the opposite of what they should be. I checked and rechecked and rechecked mount and PHD settings, and could not find anything that could be causing this.

Eventually I did another calibration run, and this time the orthogonal error was almost 90 degrees, which means that both legs were pointing in the same direction. This could only mean one thing, and that is one axis was not responding to pulses. It turns out that the Ra motor was running without moving the mount.

I believe that the motor spinning without turning the Ra axis is a result me having the drive components taken apart to replace the worm block yesterday. There is a collar with two tiny grub screws that I obviously didn’t tighten enough.

I mentioned that there might be a second problem. I cannot imagine how the loose collar would cause the guiding graph that I was seeing, but then again, I cannot imagine what a guiding graph would look like with a loose collar.

At any rate, I need to fix the known problem (the collar) first, and see if that takes care of the other problem.

This is not something that I can do in the dark, so I shut down and saved the fix for tomorrow.

Other than the Ra drive problem, many things worked great. I was able to remotely connect to the small laptop, connect to all of my components. Assuming that the mount is able to track/guide adequately, I believe that I would have been a little rusty, but I could have gotten an image session going.

All in all it was a good night. Next time out I will not be starting my transition back to DSO from scratch, and I have increased confidence in my ability to manage myself while working in the cold.

Mars and Moon

Until at least 1630 today, there was a patch of average seeing in the Astrospheric forecast lasting a couple of hours centered around midnight, and I decided to take advantage of it by setting up for imaging Mars and the Moon.

My setup was the G11/Meade, to which I added the planetary imaging setup, because I was imaging Mars first. I did not check polar alignment, and FC autoguiding was able to keep up with the drift. I believe that my PA has been left unchecked/not adjusted for about a month!

I focused on Mars using the eyeball method, then went to Aldebaran for a star-first focus with the mask. I found that my eyeball focus on Mars was pretty close.

I went out to do a preliminary capture on Mars just as it came out of the trees at 2030, at which time I was expecting the seeing to be below average. The idea behind this capture was to have something to show for my work if weather, scope, computer, or me suddenly went south.

The temperature was 35 degrees. The NWS was forecasting the dew point to hug the temperature plot all night long, so I was expecting dew early, and maybe frost later.

I acquired Mars, set a 320 x 320 ROI, which is a little larger than normal to account for poor seeing, started autoguiding, and went inside until I went back outside for just a few minutes to switch to the ASI178 for shooting the moon. Mars stayed within the ROI from 2030 until I left it at 2315.

I used my recently adopted declining histogram method, capturing 3 runs of IR and RGB. IR, R and G were 45s and B was 60s. The seeing on the display looked below average or worse. I decided to wait to do another capture as Mars culminates, hoping that the thinner cross section would permit less seeing distortion. Seeing only worsened while I was waiting, so I abandoned that project.

My hope was if I had captured the two images, one captured at 50 degrees elevation and the other at 75 degrees elevation, I could have given me a sense of how much of a factor that elevation is in making a good image.

I switched over to the moon at 2315, and then went outside to change cameras. By this time it was 31 degrees but there was no frost or dew on anything. RH was 86%.

Seeing on the Moon looked really bad, even with the 2.5x PowerMate removed from the path. I made maybe three or four captures and gave it up at 2345. The temperature was 30 degrees and there was no frost on anything.

As an aside, tonight I was treated to a change of scenery from the view of Mars that has dominated my last few sessions. I could see the area immediately preceding Syrtis Major, which was center on longitude 171 degrees. When I first started imaging Mars, I was hoping to catch Syrtis Major (longitude 285 degrees), Mars’ most prominent albedo feature, but it seemed that it was always facing away from Earth. After I was finally able to catch view of Syrtis Major, it seemed to dominate my next several sessions.

This was my second time with the small laptop as a remote computer, and it worked flawlessly. I have had doubts about sub-30’s weather in the field, but with the minimal time that I need to spend outside, I am beginning to wonder if I can do it. A thought that I am letting develop as I transition to DSO is to do a colder weather (30 or below) check here at home where I can easily abandon the silliness if I get in over my head. More thoughts to come.

The poorer than expected seeing was a disappointment, but tonight was a good practice run, and it was great to see everything working as it should.

Thinking in a forward direction, I want to test the DSO setup with the small laptop as the remote computer. I cannot think of any reason why this will not work. After testing that setup, and doing a trial run with the GM8/TV to see if autoguiding is sufficient for imaging, I am thinking about buying a cover for it, and going ahead and setting it up.

The Moon - 2022-12-10 04:45 UTC - Northeastern Terminator
Northeastern Lunar Terminator
The Moon - 2022-12-10 04:39 UTC - Southern Region
Southern Region
The Moon - 2022-12-10 04:41 UTC - Mare Nectaris
Mare Nectaris
The Moon - 2022-12-10 04:34 UTC - Mare Fecunditatis
Mare Fucunditatis
Mars - 2022-12-10 01:48 UTC (IRGB)
Mars

Mars and Moon

My objectives were to shoot the Moon and Mars as they approached culmination, which was just before the period of Above Average seeing that was forecast in Astrospheric. I got most of what I wanted on the Moon before I ran out of storage, and I got all that I wanted on Mars.

The set up was the Meade on the G11, which was already up in the yard. I left the weeks-old polar alignment unchecked, and autoguiding was able to keep up with the drift rate. I installed the ASI178 since the Moon would be my first target. I switched back to the ASI290MM prior to shooting Mars.

The temperature was in the low 30s, and the temp and dewpoint curves were not forecast to converge until shortly before dawn, so I was not worried about dew, but just to be sure, I added the dew shield/heater. I saw no dew or frost on anything all night. The RH was 80% by the end of the session. There was no discernable surface breeze.

Most of the lunar images were 5000 frames on the full sensor vs. an ROI. This chewed through my storage pretty quickly. Images were Tyco, Mare Humoris and other images around the southwest quadrant of the moon. I shot a 4-pane mosaic of Mare Imbrium.

I had about two hours between finishing the moon and the time that I wanted to start shooting Mars, and I used that time to start digging out of the storage mess that I had created. My storage starting point was bad, because I failed to clear delete SER files from the last session, and that bad position got worse quickly due to the larger captures. I freed space by stacking as many lunar captures as I could, which I believe was four, and deleting the SERs that had been stacked.

After selecting gain 251 with a 77/65/43% ROI for RGB during my last session, I decided to stick with those parameters. I did do captures for further comparison testing at 90s, 60s, and 2 x 45s.

I experienced hand controller freezes again. I am calling it hand controller freeze for two reasons. First, I am pretty sure that I have eliminated cables because the problem persists with two new cables. And second, I am pretty sure that I have eliminated the control panel, because it continues to work with the just fine through the ASCOM connection.

I believe that cold weather is a factor. The hand controllers that have gone squirrely on me did so after being out in the warmer afternoon air for several hours and the problem didn’t start until the temps started dropping.

The test that I want to do to check for this is putting one controller in the house well before my next session. When the outside controller heads south, I will switch it out for the warm one. The cold, squirrely one will go in the house to warm up. We’ll see if that cures it. Another test I can do is put a hand warmer next to it.

It occurs to me just now that the batteries on both controllers are near the end of their life, and the cold weather crushes them. I am not sure if I will test and replace the batteries until I try swapping cold controllers for warm one.

Eyeballs are rolling out of my head. Will provide capture parameters, processing notes, and analysis after comparing the different captures.

Mars - 2022-12-05 04:54 UTC (iRGB)
Mars
The Moon - 2022-12-05 01:31 UTC - Crater Copernicus
Crater Copernicus
The Moon - 2022-12-05 01:28 UTC - Mare Nubium
Mare Nubium
Moon - 2022-12-05 01:39 UTC - Mare Imbrium
Mare Imbrium
The Moon - 2022-12-05 01:21 UTC - Southwestern Limb
Southwestern Terminator
The Moon 2022-12-05 01:17 UTC - Crater Tycho
Crater Tycho
The Moon - 2022-12-05 01:15 UTC
The Moon

Mars and Equipment Tuning

Tonight’s session started off horribly, but ended greatly.

The equipment setup was G11/Meade already set up. I added the ASI178 hoping to get in some lunar shots, but clouds lingered until about an hour after the moon crossed the meridian, and I didn’t want to go chasing it to the other side, only having to come back east for Mars. I put the ASI289/EFW on the scope and waited for the clouds to go away an the seeing to reach average.

In addition to the ASI290 and EFW, I had the mount and focuser connected to the laptop with an ASCOM connection to FireCapture. With this I was able to do my first remote planetary imagine session.

I used the polar alignment that I set and have not adjusted for a couple of weeks. I noticed that the drift rate was a little higher, but FC Autoguiding handled it well.

The temperature hung out around 30 degrees while I was making adjustments while the clouds were still around. It had dropped to 27 degrees and the relative humidity was 78 percent. There was no dew or frost on anything.

The mount gave me problems first. It was the same freeze up that I was experiencing at the Farm and that I had experienced in cold weather before. I was also getting slews that were off, and on one attempt to park the scope, it went looking for Australia. I had a different hand controller cable, and I was unplugging it to use the USB connection. I put the GM8 control panel on the mount, and it worked perfectly. Reading on this, hand controller can be a problem, but I ruled that out with a new cable. Battery can be low. I think that I changed it last year, so it should be good for four more years. I’ll check it again. Software in the control panel could be corrupted, so I’ll re-load it.

I had remote desktop connectivity issues that did not appear until I started imaging. I believe that pushing captured data across the wifi to OneDrive was causing the problem, because everything was working fine until I started my first capture. I went out to the remote computer to reset the wifi and to pause OneDrive Synchs. Now remote desktop seems to be working just fine.

Mars - 2022-12-02 03:35 UTC
Mars

Mars

Yesterday afternoon I was not feeling like I wanted to work at the scope after dinner. I decided to get some sleep, get up at 0230 and go out to image Mars. Seeing was forecast to be average, RH would be moderate, and temps in the mid-30s.

The telescope remained set up from the evening before with the planetary imaging setup on back of the scope. I did not check the polar alignment, and FC autoguiding was easily able to keep up with any drift. I should note that it has been two weeks since I last checked polar alignment, so it seems that the bluestone pavers that I put under the tripod legs have settled in and have greatly reduced the amount of misalignment due to sinking tripod legs.

I was outside from 0250 to 0350. The temperature was 35 degrees and RH was 55%. The air was still and there was frost on the grass. The metal table stayed dry and the front glass stayed clear for the entire session. I was a little chilly, but was ok for the entire hour. I found that putting my right hand back inside of a glove as soon as I am finished using it, even if it is for just a few seconds, makes a difference. I don’t know why I am not using hand warmers.

I had arranged the cables so that I could easily grab and connect the cables that I needed. All of this was assuming that I would be working on the same side of the scope as the night before, but Mars had crossed the meridian by the time I was out. I had to move the table and cables.

I checked focus on Aldebaran before slewing to Mars, which I did not do the previous night. I found that the focus that I had set the night before was marginally off. I meant to check the focus once I was on Mars, but I forgot.

Valles  Marineris was close to the central meridian.  I am hopeful that I have captured it through better focus and its more central placement. I set the gain to 400 and needed shutter values of 1 to 3ms to get an 80% histogram. I shot a single run of IR, R, G and B to make an IR and an RGB image as I did yesterday. ROI was 416 x 382px, and the frame rate average was 472 for a total of over 40k frames captured in each filter.

I noticed in Stellarium that Phobos was coming out from behind Mars, so I attempted to capture it with 250ms, 500ms and 1s runs of 30 frames each. I did not see Phobos on the display, so maybe stacking will bring it out. Just for grins I shot one more RGB sequence on Mars after the three attempts to capture Phobos.

Other than processing, I have no new to-do items. I am anxious to complete transition to the laptop as my remote/scope-side computer.

Mars - 2022-11-23 08:19 UTC

Mars

With an above average seeing forecast for 2100 to 2300, and not wanting to be up all night again, I went out for a capture of Mars at 2050. I also wanted to check for focus difference between IR, R, G and B filters.  

The same set up that I used the night before was still in place. I used it without any changes. Also, I did not check polar alignment.

The temperature was 44 degrees and RH was 57%. I was not expecting dew, so I did not turn on the dew heater. I wore my regular boots, ski pants, and heavy blue jacket over regular clothes and was very comfortable for the hour that I was outside. I could have worn sweat pants and sweat shirt underneath if it had been colder. I will be looking for a colder night to see if I can stay warm with the extra layers.

After getting the equipment powered up, and slewing toward Aldebaran, I had to wait maybe ten minutes for it to clear the trees. Using the Bahtinov mask, I checked focus across all four filters. I did not find a need to focus between filters.

Next I slewed to Mars, and had to wait another ten minutes for it to clear the trees. I found that that seeing in the FC display appeared to be mostly above average, with brief periods below average and brief periods of excellent seeing.

I did two sets of captures for Mars, one with a 60% histogram and another with a 80% histogram. The purpose of this is to try to eliminate clipping in the bright polar cap region. Both sets of captures were 90s per IR, R, G, and B filter, ROI was 408 x 348, and frame rate was 512 fps. I intend to produce and IR and an RGB image from each set of captures. Shutter was 1.1 to 3ms.

For the 60% set, gain was 385 and about 12k frames per filter were captured. For the 80% set, gain was 400 and 46k frames per filter were captured.

There were no difficulties in getting set up or in operating the equipment. This was a very enjoyable session

Mars - 2022-11-24 02:38 UTC - 60% Histogram
Mars

Saturn, Jupiter and Mars

I was pretty tired going into the late afternoon, and almost didn’t set up. I am glad that I did, because I have some bugaboos to work out before Mars reaches opposition in two weeks.

Setting up consisted of adding the planetary imaging setup, and running cables for the autoguiding. I did not check polar alignment, but FC autoguiding kept up with the drift without issue.

My smoothness was way down, maybe for two reasons. First, the cold changes everything. It is not as easy to move around the scope when I am all bundled up, so it feels kinda clumsy. The other thing is that in order to get FC autoguiding to work, I had to give up my nice tidy cable bundles and revert back to cable manglement. I need to wait until the 15’ USB 3 cable gets here before working on bundles. And actually, the cold was another influence on the cables. Instead of relaxing and laying flat, they want to remain coiled up and catch on everything, including my shoes. In spite of all of this, I managed through everything ok in the end.

The temperature was around 40 degrees and dropping when I went out the first time at 1800. I was bundled up well, so not much of a problem there. The RH was expected to remain below 70%, so no dew was expected all night. The air was still, but seeing on the display looked average or a little worse. Astrospheric was showing below average until midnight, and then the forecast improves to above average.

I did 1 RGB run of 60s on Saturn. Gain was 400, shutter was 15 ms, and I selected a 576 x 400 ROI. That gave me a 75% histogram and about 63 fps. Total capture was about 3700 frames per filter.

After coming back inside to warm up and have dinner, I was back outside at 1930. By then the temp was in the upper 30s, otherwise conditions were the same.

The GRS was not visible on Jupiter. I think that Io was transiting, but I could not make it out on the display. We are far enough beyond opposition that its shadow would trail way behind. I did 2 RGB runs of 45s on Jupiter. Gain was 400, shutter was 3.5ms, and I selected a 824 x 708 ROI. That gave me an 80% histogram and about 96 fps. Total capture was about 4100 frames per filter in each run.

Mars was in the trees so I went back inside to warm up, wait for it to clear the trees, and perhaps find better seeing.  

I bundled up and went back outside to image Mars at 0020. The temperature was 34 degrees, RH was 47%, and the air was completely still. The seeing looked great on the display, and interesting features that I do not know the names of were visible. I shot a 90s IR run, and then one RGB run at 90s. Gain was 400, shutter was 1ms, and I selected a 360 x 302 ROI. That gave me about a 70% histogram and 590fps. Total frames for each filter was 53,000.

Over all it was an enjoyable session. I especially look forward to processing the Mars data. The cold was a bit of a factor for me. When finish the transition to remote access to the scope-side laptop, I will need to be outside to acquire the target and get autoguiding going. After that I can go inside to complete the exposure and run setup.

Mars - 2022-11-22 05:44 UTC
Mars

Saturn, Jupiter, Moon and Mars

Seeing the forecast for decent sky conditions tonight, I decided that it would be a good to work on Firecapture autogiding before the weather turns any colder. I checked Stellarium to see what imaging opportunities were available. Above average seeing, tolerable weather that I bundled up for, great luck with Firecapture autoguiding, and interesting aspects of the targets made of a great night. And, I had an epiphany.

My plan:

  • Saturn: an early target for trials.
  • Jupiter: Capture a time lapse of Europa (and shadow) and Ganymede crossing the face from the time it cleared the trees and all the way to the meridian.
  • Moon: can only guide on planets, so manually guide for lunar captures and shoot whatever looks interesting.
  • Mars: Not much to see, but may as well get a capture

At midafternoon I completed the setup that I started yesterday. This consisted of putting the Meade on the G11, and adding the ASI290 to it. No issues encountered. I also did an initial check of Firecapture autoguide after adding a powered USB hub and a crossover cable to my setup. I tested the connection to the laptop, and it worked the first time.

Temperature for the nighttime activities was upper 40s at the start, but it had dropped to 41 degrees by the end. There was an occasional gentle breeze. There was no dew on any surfaces throughout the night.

I went out at 1730 to polar align. No issues. I stepped right into trying autoguiding on a single RGB run on Saturn. That worked well, so I shot an RGB run at 60s per filter. Saturn has gotten notably smaller. I think that I am done shooting it for the season.

Next I moved to Jupiter. I first shot a single RGB run with the ASi290 at 45s per filter. Then I changed to the ASI178 for a time-lapse capture. The reason I changed to this camera is for ease of processing a time-lapse, and fine detail is not as important for a time-lapse animation. After setting up autoguiding and the capture, I went back inside. Going back inside was part of epiphany.

I transitioned to the Moon. This was the first time that I had used the ASI178 with the 2.5x PowerMate. I shot several 4000 frame runs, and was quickly consuming my available storage, so I gave that up to save room for Mars.

I think that I shot one run of Mars with the ASI178, then I transitioned to the ASI190 for RGB runs.

I was using the GM8 handcontroller and cable, and the hand controller started locking up on me when it started getting cold. I was able to use the ASCOM controller on the laptop just fine.

Here’s the epiphany that occurred as walked back to the house with Firecapture autoguiding on Jupiter: If the laptop works better than the min-computer for DSO and planetary imaging, why not add Win11 Pro, leave it at the scope, and remote into it from the house? I would also have a computer with a display available at the scope if needed when I occasionally walk out to check on things. Makes perfect sense, so I am going to try it.

Saturn - 2022-11-09 23:01 UTC
Saturn
Jupiter - 2022-11-09 23:10 UTC - With Ganymede and Europa
Jupiter with Ganymede and Europa
Ganymede - 2022-11-09 23:09 UTC - With Simulated Image
Ganymede
The Moon - 2022-11-10 03:22 UTC - Southern Polar Region
Southern Polar Region
The Moon - 2022-11-10 03:20 UTC - Crater Petavius
Crater Petavius
The Moon - 2022-11-10 03:19 UTC - Crater Langrenus
Crater Langrenus
TheMoon - 2022-11-10 03:17 UTC - Mare Crisium
Mare Crisium
The Moon - 2022-11-10 03:07 UTC - Crater Thales
Crater Thales
The Moon - 2022-11-10 03:11 UTC - Crater Messala
Crater Massala

Total Lunar Eclipse

The objectives for the session were to capture DSLR 50 frames of the full moon before the beginning of the eclipse, capture a time-lapse sequence of the eclipse from beginning of the penumbra phase until the beginning of totality, and capture 50 frames of the fully eclipsed Moon before losing it in the trees to the west. The full moon frames are for stacking into a Beaver Moon image. The time-lapse frames fill be compiled into an AVI animation of the moon’s ingress toward totality, and the 50 frames of totality will be stacked into a Blood Moon image.

My starting point for the session was with the Farm V equipment still in the GC, and the TV was in the cottage. I was setting up from scratch, I got a late start and it gets dark very early now, so it was well past dark by the time I finished setting up.

I have not yet repaired the G11 hand controller cord, so I used the GM8 hand controller. PoleMaster software could not find the camera until I changed USB ports on the laptop. Reading up on this I see that cables are a common problem. My unit is five years old, so I will replace the cable before it completely stops working. Instead of setting up in my usual spot near the driveway and the corner of the cottage, I set up on the north side of the shed on the eastern side of the yard so that I could follow the moon closer to the horizon to capture as much of the eclipse as possible. Otherwise, setup was nominal.

I added the 2x PowerMate and the 60Da to the TV. I chose this configuration because at this image scale the Moon fills about 2/3 of the sensor frame from top to bottom, which is a good balance between image size and having room for drift without having to sit and watch the display constantly for the duration of the time-lapse. I returned outside to check framing, histogram and battery every thirty minutes. I might have adjusted framing every other trip outside, but it really wasn’t necessary as there plenty of drift room to spare.

With the penumbral phase beginning at 0302, I set an alarm for 0215 and went outside to get slewed to the moon, take a series of 50 images of the pre-eclipse moon for stacking, and to prepare a 60s time-lapse sequence on the 60Da. The temperature was 52 degrees and the RH was 35%. There was a constant light breeze with occasional stiff gusts. The sky was covered with very high and extremely thin clouds with occasional slightly thicker clouds passing by. I expect the passing clouds to be visible in when I compile the AVI.

The slightly thicker clouds were gone by 0400, but now a constant stiff breeze was present. The temperature had dropped to 49 degrees, and the RH had risen to 49%.

The exposure settings for the pre-eclipse moon and for the initial time-lapse frames were ISO 100, 1/250s. These setting’s centered the moon’s hump in the middle 1/3 of the histogram. After the pre-eclipse capture, I started the time-lapse sequence at 0257, and I let it run until 0517 when the eclipse reached totality. In total, 125 frames were captured.

I went outside for the final time to transition from time-lapse capture to total eclipse capture at 0410. The temperature was 47 degrees and the RH was 54%. The exposure settings needed to recenter the moon’s hump in the histogram were ISO 3200 and 1.3s.

The histogram for the fully eclipsed moon was interesting, but not surprising. There was no blue, because all of that light was scatted as it passed through the Earth’s atmosphere on its limb as seen from the Moon. There was some green, but it was bunched up near the black point. The red was spread from the black point to about the 75% point.

The session was complete and I was back inside at 0545 as dawn had just began to appear in the east. There was no dew on anything. I think that the breeze kept the dew away.

Ordering a PoleMaster cable is the only new to-do list item from the session. I still have two to-do items left over from Farm V: repair the G11 hand controller and get set up to connect to the mount for autoguiding during planetary imaging sessions.

This was a very enjoyable session. I think that I the data that I captured will produce the images that I am looking for, and I look forward to having images to share soon.

The Moon - 2022-11-08 07:37 UTC
The Cold Moon
Lunar Eclipse - 2022-11-08
Lunar Eclipse Progression
The Moon -2022-11-08 10:30 UTC - Beaver Blood Moon

Moon, Jupiter and Mars (Farm V)

This was our second “bright sky” trip to the Farm. The purpose was to gain more experience with the camper as an astronomy support platform, and to try out the generator. With the waxing gibbous moon dominating the sky, our astronomy plan for the trip was to image the moon and planets. As I wrote earlier this morning, that part of the trip was a success.

After setting up the camper, I began setting up the G11/Meade. Installed the ASI178MC OSC camera as the moon would be my first target. Setup and pre-dark smartphone polar alignment went well. I installed the dew shield/heating strap, and I turned the controller to full on.

I improved my polar alignment with PoleMaster just after dark and found that NCP was about 1 degree off.

Before slewing off of CWD, I connected Firecapture to the camera and found Polaris within the field of view. I installed the Bahtinov mask and did an initial focus. My focus strategy for the night was to “memorize” the focuser position, and let muscle memory get me back to that baseline if seeing did not permit good focus by eyeballing it.

I elected to not do a star alignment because I had decided not to shoot Uranus and Neptune, which meant that my targets for the evening were bright enough to easily find with the Gemini II search function.

Throughout the night, I experienced difficulties with the hand controller becoming unresponsive after a few button presses, usually while manually guiding. Initially I was able to reset and get a few more button presses by disconnecting and reconnecting the RJ-11 connector, but eventually resets would not restore operation. In the moment I attributed the problem to the hand controller itself and was ready to give up for the evening. You encouraged me to reset the mount control panel, which I did, and I found the controller accepting a few button presses before becoming unresponsive. I was then able to take all of the images that I wanted. Examining hand control end of the cable, I found that the main sheath around the wires had separated from the controller, and that several wires appeared to have damaged insulation.

Surprisingly, the dew on the metal table stayed at bay until about 0000 and the telescope was clear until I packed it in at about 0030. I think that this was our best dew situation yet at the Farm. I have noticed in my last couple of outings that I start seeing my breath at about the same time that I see the first dew on the metal table, so I now have three indicators for impending dew: RH crossing 90%, metal table, and my breath. The next observation that I would like to make is how long does the uncovered telescope stay clear after I see the indicators.

From about 2120 to nearly 2200, I shot 10 OSC runs on the moon as it approached the meridian. I used the ASI178MC with no PowerMate. I am not certain that I can get images out of all of the runs because I had guiding difficulties as a result of the hand controller becoming non-responsive.

At around 2200 Jupiter was approaching the meridian, so I changed over to the ASI290MM with the 2.5x PowerMate, and I went to work right away on that target. In the moment, I believed that I was shooting 3 RGB runs of 45s in each channel. When shooting Mars a couple of hours later I noticed that the filter wheel was not changing filters. I presume that this condition existed when I was shooting Jupiter. Since I was cold and tired, and Jupiter was well past the meridian when I discovered this condition, I did not go back and re-shoot Jupiter.  I might not have a decent image of this target.

I wanted to wait until 0400 to shoot Mars as it would be more highly elevated and more interesting features would be facing us. I was getting tired and cold, and I could see that the weather might not hold up, so I went ahead and shot it at around 2300. The seeing was not as good as when I shot Jupiter (due to elevation differences, or conditions had changed) a couple of hours earlier.  I discovered during my first set of runs that the filter wheel was not changing filters, probably as a result of changing from the ASI178MC OSC camera. I connected Firecapture to the filter wheel, and started over. I do not recall how many runs I shot without and with the filter wheel.

I wrapped it up at about 0045, and tried to warm up in the sleeping bag.

Post event todo list is to repair and test the hand controller cable, and to set up a laptop connection to the mount so that I can have laptop control as a backup if the hand controller stops working, and so that I can start to experiment with Firecapture’s organic autoguiding capability. I have not unloaded the astronomy equipment yet, so I might wait until I see an imaging opportunity coming up.

Jupiter - 2022-11-04 01:50 UTC - With Gallilean Satellites
Jupiter with Satellites
Moon - 2022-11-04-0138_1-U- Montes Apenninus
Montes Apenninus
Moon - 2022-11-04-0127_6-U-L- Copernicus
Crater Copernicus

Moon, Jupiter and Mars

My objective for this session was to take advantge of the forecasted average seeing to brush up on my planetary imaging skills.

Setup went without a hitch. I also set up to check collimation with the artificial star, but the air was not still enough before I had to begin cooking dinner at 1800. I set the dew heater on high and came back inside.

I was back out at the scope by 1915. The temperature was around 51 degrees and the RH was 75%. The air was completely still and the metal table was completely dry. I noticed that the moon was down in the tress as Stellarium had projected.

My first task was to check collimation. The artificial star was still quite jumpy, but on average seemed to be more or less centered. I didn’t think that I could improve the collimation, so I moved on to polar alignment.

As I was about to check polar alignment, I noticed the moon peeking through a small gap between two trees, so I decided to attempt a capture. I was unable to acquire it and get focused before it had moved into the next tree.

Next, I checked polar alignment, which I expected to be significantly off as a result of jostling the mount to get the Meade up on it. I would guess it was about a degree off. I adjusted the mount and moved on.

Although I wanted to wait until after 2200 to image Jupiter with the GRS in view, I went ahead and did a preliminary capture of 5 RGB runs at 30s per filter. This preliminary image was processed and posted while I was waiting to go back out for the main Jupiter capture.

I was back inside by 2010. The temperature was 47 degrees when I came in, and there was no dew on the metal table.

The second Jupiter capture was from 2205 to 2225. The temperature was 42 degrees and the RH was 85 percent. There was no dew on the table and the air was still. The image on the display during the capture was consistent with the Average seeing forecast. My main capture with the GRS visible was 10 RGB runs at 30s yielding 2900 frames per filter.

After setting an alarm for 0330, I made it outside for Mars captures at 0345 and was out until 0425. The temperature was 35 degrees and RH was 98%. The air was still and there was dew on the metal table. The front glass was as clear as a bell. The live image on the display looked better than Average. I was well-bundled but started getting chilly by the end. My fingers were getting cold, but I couldn’t operate the handset to manually guide with gloves on.

I made three capture runs in a small ROI: one IR run of 90s, three RGB runs of 60s per filter, and one RGB run of 90s per filter. I’ll look up more frame counts and rates when I process, but I was seeing the FPS bounce around between 400 and 700 when during the R captures. And finally, I made one full FoV run of 30 frames with 1s shutter in L to capture Phobos and Dione.

Unless I discover something else in processing, the only item I have that requires attention is autoguiding in Firecapture so that I do not have to work for extended periods of time with my hands exposed. The remaining captures this year are likely to be as cold or colder. Jupiter and Saturn will have shifted toward the cooler months when they come around again next year. How to connect to the mount requires some thought as both of my laptop USB ports are occupied by the camera and the filter wheel. Two initial ideas come to mind. First, and probably simplest, is to connect to the mount and filter wheel through a USB hub and connect the laptop directly to the camera since the camera requires the highest data throughput. Another idea is to connect the nano-router to the Ethernet port on the mount control panel and connect to it that way.

I discovered a camera rotation issue when I was processing the images. I noticed that the camera alignment had changed when I went out to image Mars. I really didn’t think much of it at the time.

My habit is to align the long axis of the camera frame with the Dec axis of the mount. That way, north and south of the planet (or any object) is at the top or bottom of the frame. Another benefit of this alignment is that during manual guiding, I can recenter the object with just one directional arrow on the hand controller. Having this alignment will be essential to get Firecapture’s auto guiding to function correctly.

When I came out to image Mars, the alignment had rotated about 45 degrees. I was able to quickly figure out which keys to press to recenter, and I moved on. It was too cold to troubleshoot.

But the problem appeared before then. While derotating my 2nd Jupiter image in WINJUPOS, the last image that I captured (at 2200-ish) before shooting Mars, I noticed that the rotation of the wire frame needed to be rotated a just two nudges between any two images. I did not expect much from the final image, but it turned out ok.

It turns out that the issue causing the rotated images was the ASI290 threaded connection to the back of the filter wheel had come loose. The cable and camera stayed in one orientation with respect to the ground, while everything forward of the camera rotated as the telescope tracked the sky. I try to be careful not to overtighten threaded connections as sometimes threads bind up and are difficult to break loose. There’s gotta be a sweet spot somewhere in between.

Now that I have the camera rotation problem solved, I should not have to adjust the wire diagram once it is set properly. It should be good for measuring all of the images in a single run. I didn’t image Saturn last night, but if I had I would have gone 90s per filter, and I would not expect to need to adjust the wire diagram once it is set.

Mars - 2022-10-30 08:00 UTC
Mars (IR)
Jupiter - 2022-10-30 02:18 UTC
Jupiter with Great Red Spot

Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Moon

Last night would have been a very good night for DSO imaging, but because Thursday’s Astrospheric was forecasting Excellent seeing for several hours on Friday evening into Saturday morning.. I do not recall ever seeing a forecast for better than Above Average that good before.

Because of that forecast, I set up for planetary instead of DSO imaging on Thursday afternoon. As Thursday and Friday passed, the number of hours that the seeing would be excellent diminished, and eventually just went away. Above average seeing was the best forecast that I was left with, and that did not begin until the 0400 hour.

I used the same setup (ASI290MM/Meade/G11), polar alignment and collimation that I used on for the 2022-10-20/21 session. This meant that I powered up at CWD and slewed to a target and started shooting after making minor adjustments to the Firecapture settings.

I worked at the scope three separate times to work each planet separately. My plan for Saturn and Jupiter was to shoot them at a convenient time after each had cleared the trees. My plan for Mars was a little more complex as I wanted to wait for the best opportunity for this target as it gained altitude and the seeing improved.

Saturn was the first target, which I worked on from 1915 to 1940. The temperature was 47 degrees, there was no surface breeze, and there was no dew on the metal table. Seeing on the display seemed consistent with the forecasted average seeing. I shot a 30-frame run of 1.3s (not ms) exposures, which is highly over exposed to bring out five of Saturn’s satellites. My main capture on Saturn consisted of five 60s RGB runs.

Jupiter was next and I was outside from 2110 to 2150, at which time the temperature was 42 degrees. There was no surface breeze, and there was no dew on the metal table. Seeing on the display seemed to be consistent with the forecasted average seeing. I shot ten 30s RGB runs.

I elected to wait until the best conditions for shooting Mars. This meant waiting for the 0400 hour at which time seeing was forecasted to be above average. Also, Mars would be coming off of the meridian very near the zenith at almost 75 degrees elevation. I set an alarm so that I could go out to pre-focus on Aldebaran and be ready to meet Mars as it transited the meridian at 0444.

It was 40 degrees and the RH was 98% when I went out at 0440. There was lots of dew on the metal table but the front of the scope was clear. The dew heater had been on high and I had left the scope pointing horizontal thinking that maybe the shield would be more effective. I did check the heater for warmth, and it felt cold to the touch. I have experienced this before and surmised that the cold metal might be sucking all of the heat out of the heater strap.

I put in the Bahtinov mask and slewed to Aldebaran and found that the focus was spot on.  I had not touched the focus since I had “eyeball” focused on Jupiter several hours earlier, so this confirmed that I shot Jupiter with good focus. I don’t know if this was luck or if I am able to consistently focus this well.

The seeing on the display when I got to Jupiter looked to be below average at best. I was very disappointed. I had intended to shoot ten 60s-runs, but only went for five. I was back inside by 0520.

All of the equipment that I used worked flawlessly. For the most part I was able to easily find targets and work efficiently with little fumbling around. The little fumbling around that I did do was in getting the table and chair set up to work on the other side of the mount after flipping to the western side of the meridian to work on Mar. I also struggled a little with locating Aldebaran through a wet Telrad.

Except for the poor seeing on Mars, I had a pretty good night. I have already posted the two Saturn images. I hope to get through the other two today.

Saturn - 2022-10-21 23:30 UTC
Saturn
Jupiter - 2022-10-22 01:34 UTC
Jupiter
Mars - 2022-10-22 09:14 UTC
Mars

Jupiter and Mars

I was surprised today by a decent Astrospheric forecast, so I scurried outside to set up the G11, Meade, and planetary imaging package from scratch. Because of the HAL meeting coming up, I came inside for an early dinner, then I went back out before the meeting started to check collimation, which I found that it was off by just a little, but perhaps I am just developing a more discerning eye. A modest breakthrough here. I found that with the OTA in a nearly horizontal position when pointing at the artificial star, I can reach inside of the dew shield to reach the adjustment screws. The adjustment screws cannot be reach when the scope is pointing upward at a star. Also worth mentioning is that I am finding collimation to be much easier now that I have done it a few times, and I hope to have the discipline to check it after each Meade set up.

I had planned to image Saturn first, but I did not feel like chasing it to the other side of the meridian. I’ll start with it tonight.

I went outside at 2115 to polar align and image Jupiter. The temperature was about 45 degrees, there was no wind, and the metal table was dry. Polar alignment went without a problem. Even without using the polar alignment scope, I estimate that my initial smartphone alignment was well less than one degree off.

Astrospheric indicated average below seeing, but what I experienced was probably about average with an occasional bad shimmer. The GRS was visible and probably 45 minutes from rotating out of view. I captured 10 RGB runs of 30s and 2900 frames per filter. The shutter was 1 to 2 ms, gain was 400, and frame rate was 100 FPS. I finished this portion of the session by 2200. I was wearing a medium coat, and I was comfortable the entire time.

I was outside from 0130 until 0230 to capture mars. The temperature was about 42 degrees, there was no wind, and the metal table was dry. There were two separate RGB captures. I halted the first one after five runs because I realized that it had been a couple of hours since I had last focused. I don’t think the focus changed very much, if any at all. For the second capture I shot 7 RGB runs of 60s and 14,000 to 28,000 frames per filter. Shutter was 1 to 2 ms and the gain was 400. Frame rate average was 474 FPS. I had an extra layer under the coat for this session, and was comfortable the entire time.

Jupiter - 2022-10-21 01:46 UTC
Jupiter
Mars - 2022-10-21 05:43 UTC

Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Moon

While away at a wedding I had seen in the news that morning of Mars and the Moon being separated by about four degrees, so I a made a mental note to check the planets during the reception. As the reception began just as it got good and dark. I pointed planets out to some people of the course of the evening, and that turned out to be a great conversation starter.

Saturn was on the meridian at the end of dusk but still rather low in the sky compared to the planets that would follow. It seemed to me that it is already losing some of its brightness.

The tree line was several hundred feet away from the knoll that I was standing on, so I was able to see Jupiter above the trees at dark. It rose quite high over the course of the evening.

Of the Mars-Moon pair, I saw the Moon first. Mars was to the left and slightly lower than the Moon, but I wasn’t able to pull it out of the muck until it had ascended a pretty good bit. It had some way to go before reaching the meridian when the reception ended, but I could tell that it would pass very close to directly overhead.

Jupiter, Saturn and Mars

No big breakthrough moments last night, but sessions where all goes as it is supposed to are always enjoyable. I feel that I am “staying in shape” for that elusive perfect imaging night.

The primary equipment that I used for all runs was G11, LX850, and ASI290MM. This setup, polar alignment and collimation held over from the previous night were all good for another night. The only change up was replacing the dew strap with the dew shield/heater. I powered up the equipment before sunset, to include turning the dew heater on high, so starting my session when I came out at 2100 consisted of acquiring my first target, connecting the laptop, and starting Firecapture.

The Astrospheric forecast was for transparency to be average throughout the night, and seeing started off at average, then improving to above average at 0100. The temperature was forecasted to be a few degrees warmer than the night before, and I planned to dress a little more warmly. The forecasted temp and dew point did not completely converge until right before daybreak, but I expected dew to form before then.

The Astrospheric forecast mostly held up, but I don’t think that the seeing improved until closer to 0230 and not by as much as I had hopped. With the slightly warmer temps and being dressed properly, I was much more comfortable than the night before. I had the dew shield/heater turned on since right before sunset. With that and the slightly better dew forecast I didn’t see any dew on the front glass at all during the night.

The temperature was still 49 degrees when I came outside at 2100, and no dew had formed on the table-like dew measuring device (aka metal table) at that point.

My first target was Saturn just as it came off of the meridian. The seeing was ok, but not great, so I grabbed the best focus that I could by eyeballing it and at 2118 I went on to capture 10 RGB runs at 60s/filter with a 750 x 450 ROI. Shutter speeds were about 91ms at 550 gain, which yielded a 95% histogram (I should have traded some of that histogram, say down to 70%, for a faster shutter and higher frame rate). Frame rate was about 10FPS, which yielded about 330 frames per filter for a total of 9,900 frames. Saturn was at 0.58 magnitude with an apparent diameter of 17.86” and elevated 34 degrees.

By 2200, Jupiter was out of the trees, so I turned to it. Again, the seeing wasn’t great, but the GRS was right on the central meridian, so I didn’t want to miss that. I knew that I could come back to Jupiter when it had ascended to a greater elevation and the seeing had improved. I shot 10 RGB runs at 30s/filter with a 700 x 700 ROI. Shutter speeds were about 4ms with about 400 gain, which yielded an 88% histogram. Frame rate was around 100FPS, which yielded about 2900 frames per filter, and about 87,000 frames total. Jupiter was at magnitude -2.91 with an apparent diameter of 49.39”, and elevated 43 degrees. The detail that I could see on the display was not quite what I had experienced the previous night.

It was 2225 when I finished the Jupiter runs. I noted that the metal table was still dry. I covered the front glass and came back inside to wait for the seeing to improve and for Mars to clear the trees. My intention was to head back out at midnight, but I fell asleep (high quality problem) in the chair until 0115.

Returning to the scope, I found that the metal table was dewy, but the front glass still dry. Jupiter had crossed the meridian by this time. I was disappointed to find that the seeing had worsened. The dark bands were not just rippling, but they were jumping from place to place on the face of Jupiter. I watched for maybe 20 minutes and this did not improve. I decided not to bother with a capture and to move on to Mars via a short focusing session on Aldebaran with the Bahtinov mask. After doing the mask focus, I would not touch the focus for the Mars runs. I did check the front glass and found that it was still dry.

An observation regarding the seeing. I have been monitoring seeing as it seems to get worse with humidity. What I saw with my second visit to Jupiter seems to support my hunch that higher humidity portends worse seeing. That the Astrospheric forecast was for above average seeing by this time seems to lend greater support for humidity adversely affecting seeing. But I’ll add that I thought that higher humidity was supposed to calm the seeing. I will continue to watch this relationship.

On arrival at Mars, the seeing was not what I had hoped for. I waited until about 0225 before I started imaging. The seeing had improved a little. I captured 5 iRGB runs at 60s/filter with a 320 x 320 ROI. Shutter speed was about 1ms with about 400 gain, which yielded a 70% histogram. Frame rate was about 573 FPS, which yielded about 34,400 frames per filter, or 172,000 frames total. Mars’ magnitude was -.76 with an apparent diameter of 12.8”, and elevated 50 degrees above the horizon.

I think it is worth pausing here to note the observable differences between the three planets that I imaged, and the image settings. Jupiter and Mars’s were brightest in the negative magnitudes and Saturn was a half magnitude. From an appearance perspective there is a vast difference between Jupiter and Saturn. With regard to apparent size, Jupiter is by far the largest, and Saturn barely beats Mars. And looking at elevations, Mars was by far the highest, and I could have waited for more elevation. Similarly with Jupiter, as it was not going to get much higher than it was at capture. Saturn was at the lowest elevation of the three planets, but it was near its highest elevation for the evening. Jupiter, in spite of the larger and shorter limit per filter yielded by far the highest number of frames. Dimmer Saturn forced setting that yielded the smallest number of frames.

As I shut down the session, I checked the front glass and it was still dry, and I was still comfortable when I came inside at 0300 and saw that the temperature was 45 degrees. 

Saturn - 2022-10-11 01:35
Saturn
Jupiter - 2022-10-11 02:13 UTC
Jupiter
Mars - 2022-10-11 06:39 UTC
Mars

Jupiter, Moon, Uranus and Mars

Yesterday was a busy astronomy day, even before getting to the targets that this report covers. Today I set up the GM8/TV/ASI178 for shooting the Moon, and I put the ASI290 non the Meade for shooting the three planets.

On the path to getting ready, I set up to check the Meade’s collimation by putting out the artificial star and pointing the telescope at it at around 1400. Knowing that collimating is difficult in the bright daylight, I came out to actually do the collimation at 1700. There was some residual sunlight across the grass, but it was gone within minutes of my arrival at the scope. The diffraction rings were shimmering all over the place as a result the ground surface still radiating a lot of heat. This caused the center of the unfocused star appear as three for four centers rapidly orbiting about one another. I watched and waited, and everything got steady about half an hour later. I was surprised to find that the center of the unfocused image was about 1/3 of the way between the center and the outer diffraction ring. I made my best guess about which adjustment screw to turn, and that guess  was correct.I was able to quicky make the necessary tweaks to get to good collimation. The sky was not dark enough to begin polar alignment when I finished collimating, so I went inside for dinner. What I learned here is that with prior setup, collimation can be done without delaying polar alignment. From now on I will do a collimation any time that the scope has been handled.

When I came back outside at 2030 it was rather chilly with the temperature in the upper 40s already. I put on my heavy blue parka and was just fine. First task was to check PA with PoleMaster. The Meade had settled a little, and the TV was about two degrees off. PoleMaster PA will be good enough for the lunar and planetary work that I have planned.

Finishing up the PA more than an hour before Jupiter came out of the trees, I came inside to warm up. I headed back out at 2130 to begin imaging. The temperature was 45 degrees, and the temp and dewpoint plots were converging, so I was expecting dew. There was no surface wind. Astrospheric was showing average seeing and average transparency.

At 2145 I came back outside to work with the G11/Meade on Jupiter. Its apparent diameter was 49.44”, and it was I could see more Jupiter detail on the FC display that I had ever seen before. Seeing appeared to be better than average, so that could help account for the better image. The Chroma filters and better collimation could have helped with this, which would have improved focus as well.  I captured one RGB run on Jupiter with Io and its shadow about to move off of the western limb. After Io was well separated from Jupiter’s disk, I captured another RGB while the shadow was still visible.

Wanting to wait until Io’s shadow had moved off of Jupiter’s disk before continuing with my main capture of Jupiter, I moved to the GM8/TV to capture the moon. At the TV/ASI178 image scale, I could see no evidence of bad seeing. Since the moon is ever so slightly larger than the frame height, I captured one run of the top of the moon and another of the bottom. These two images will be stitched together in PS during processing.

The capture details are two OSC runs (one top and one bottom) with the ASI178. My exposure strategy for this target and this setup was to set a frame limit instead of a time limit for the capture. In this case, I shot 10,000 frames with 0.75ms exposures at 104 gain. The total duration for each run was about 165s. I was getting about 60fps capturing the full frame instead of selecting an ROI. The capture time was around 2300, at which time the Moon was about 1.5 hours before the meridian and 45 degrees elevated above the horizon with the Ra being N5 degrees. The Moon was about 2 degrees below the ecliptic. At 15.0 days old, it was 99% illuminated. Its apparent diameter was 31’54”.

While on the Moon, I found what appeared to be something pushing the scope slightly to one side, then releasing. This was accompanied by an audible tick that seemed to be coming from the Ra gearbox. My guess at the time was that the Oldham coupler was binding, but I don’t think that it turns that fast. I’ll need to investigate this.

Moving back to the G11/Meade to shoot ten RGB runs on Jupiter, it was about 90 minutes before the meridian. It’s Ra was just below the celestial equator. This time I remembered to verify that the filter wheel was actually turning, and found that it was not, and I might find that the filter wheel did not rotate during the first two runs that I did on Jupiter. I found the cause was a driver error that I was able to clear by restarting the computer. I think that this error popped up as a result of switching between the monochrome (needs filter wheel) and the OSC camera (does not need filter wheel), or perhaps switching improperly. For example, maybe I should have closed and re-opened FC between captures. I also found dew on the front glass of the scope. Expecting dew, it would have been prudent for me to have covered the Meade while I was working on the TV. I put my finger under the dew strap to verify that it was warm, and it did not seem to be warm at all. It occurred to me that maybe the warmth that I could feel when the scope was 65 degrees might not be discernable when the heat is being more rapidly conducted into the 40 degree scope.

The ten runs were shot at 30s/filter through the RGB set. Exposure was about 3-4s and gain was about 325, which resulted in a 80% histogram. With a 720 x 710 ROI, I was getting around 100 fps, which yielded about 2900 frames per filter.

I slewed to Uranus to see if it had cleared the trees, and not only found that it had, but it landed in my FC display without having to hunt it down. I was so excited about having landed on it that I forgot to check the front glass, which I am sure was already getting dewed up again. Going to normal exposure settings, I found Uranus to be a shimmering mess due to worsening seeing, but I captured six RGB runs since I was already fairly well invested in this target. I was shooting 60s/filter with an exposure duration of 81.5ms and gain 450. This yielded a 12 fps for a total of 730 frames per filter and histogram of 85%.

Before leaving Uranus, I captured 20 1s exposures at 600 gain that were highly over exposed to reveal Uranus’ satellites.

My final slew was to Mars. Fortuitously, I had left Uranus’ highly over exposed capture settings in Firecapture. Because of this I saw one of Mars’ satellites to the east of the planet as it settled into the FC display. I checked in Stellarium and found that it was Phobos. This is something that I never expected to see in my life! I then slewed to the west side of Mars where Deimos was supposed to be and there it was as well!

Unfortunately, I was under time pressure because of the dew situation, so I captured five iRGB runs on Mars before coming back to the two satellites. The reasons why I shot just five runs were that Mars looked too crappy for me to invest to much time on this target. Also, I had doubled by exposure limit to 60s, and was getting about 35 frames. Exposure duration was 1ms and gain 400. ROI was 730 x 730, which at a 68% histogram yield 570 fps for a total of 35,000 frames per filter. Mars was elevated 55 degrees and presented at nearly 13” apparent diameter at the time of this capture.

While setting up to capture Mars’ satellites, found that I could bring out Phobos and Deimos a little better at 1.2s so I went with that. Mars itself was a huge bright blob that wanted to wash out the entire frame at this exposure setting, but I found that I could improve the contrast on the satellites by moving it off of the edge of the display.

I finished my work at the scope and came back inside for good at 0300. The temperature was 41 degrees, and the dew on surfaces was approaching Farm quality. By the end of the Mars capture, I was getting very cold. Even though my time outside was rather brief, I should have been dressed with more layers.

Here is what I learned from this session:

A pattern that I have noticed over the past two sessions is that seeing will be pretty good at first, and then decline as the dew gets worse. For some reason I was expecting better seeing to accompany high humidity, but that may not be the case. I’ll keep an eye on this relationship in future sessions.

I may be surprised at what satellites of other planets can be brought out with 1s and longer exposures. I look forward to experimenting with this.

With prior setup, collimation is fast and easy, and should be done before using the scope any time that it has moved.

And here is a to-do list:

Looking at my log files to get exposure parameters, I was reminded of some FC settings that are somewhat hidden. I will send you those on top of the email that walked you through your initial FC setup. I eventually want to include all of the settings in a planetary capture guide.

Check to see if the dew strap is heating

Check the GM8 tick/jerking motion

From yesterday afternoon into the early hours of this morning I have had what is perhaps on of my most demanding astronomy days ever. This was not just the capture, but the setup, preparation, and session management. I had to fight through a great deal of fatigue to stay on my game, and to keep leaving the warmth of the house to come back to the scope. That’s right, this was a fantastic day! Although everything wasn’t “guns-n-roses” (sic) tonight, I am better prepared for my next session.

Jupiter - 2022-10-10 - With Io and Shadow

Sun

My objective today is to take advantage of a nice day to set up the GM8/TV, and capture full disk solar images with the 60Da. I also want to capture three sunspot group closeups with the ASI290.

Polar alignment was by the smartphone apps only. With that I got moderate but controllable downward drift, so I would have to say that the slewed to the target and was tracking adequately. I did test backlash and found about 6 or 7s of backlash in each axis. Now that I am balancing east heavy and tail heavy, tracking (and I assumed guiding) go pretty well no matter how much backlash is present. It is an annoyance that I would rather not have to live with, but I just don’t know at this point how to adjust any better until I get one-piece worm blocks.

Today it was quite breezy, perhaps even moderately windy. At my working image scales I didn’t notice too much of a seeing problem until I zoomed in on a sunspot to focus, then it seemed pretty bad.

After imaging the sun I set up for a collimation check when it starts to get a darker.

The Sun - 2022-10-09 18:08 UTC
Sun
The Sun - 2022-10-09 18:36 UTC - AR3112, AR3116 and AR3120
Sunspot Groups AR3112, 3116, and 3120

Jupiter, Moon and Mars

After watching the clouds gather during the day, I wasn’t hopeful that I would get a chance to image that night. I checked Astrospheric and saw that it would clear off with below average transparency and average seeing starting in the 1 O’clock hour. I could also see the temperature and dew points converging well before then, so I expected dew. The G11/Meade were already set up. The only additional set up was to add the ASI90. I set an alarm for 0100, went to bed at 2030, but woke up on my own at 0045.

I got dressed and was at the scope by 0100. Temps were in the mid-50s, RH was 94%, and the air was completely still. There was some moisture on my table, but not too bad.

As I had planned, I powered up and checked that the dew heater was on first, leaving the front cover on the scope allowing some time for the glass to warm up before exposing it to the moist air.

On going outside, I found a very gibbous waxing Moon well past the meridian, and Jupiter was just past it. Mars was not yet out of the trees at this point.

I did not check polar alignment. I expected it to be somewhat off as the new blocks under the tripod were sure to have settled, and that turned out to be the case. A little more guiding input was required from me than last time, but it was not excessive.

Since I already had the ASI290 on the scope, I slewed to Jupiter first and found it right at the edge of the 40mm eyepiece fov. I adjusted the scope to put it where I thought it needed to be in order to be visible on the FC display, and it was there when I flipped the mirror. Also, I noted that the filter wheel connected on start up. I verified that it was moving by watching two dividers past between R and G, and then G and B. I could also hear the filter wheel motor as it turned.

I captures 10 RGB runs at 30s per filter. Exposure was around 4ms and gain about 380. I was getting about 90 FPS. Histogram was peaking at just under 90% on all filters. The yield was just under 3000 frames per filter. The data looked pretty good as it was coming in.

Mars was not quite over the trees yet, so I decided to shoot the Moon next. As I was about to change over to the ASI178MC, I noticed that Jupiter’s historgram had decreased to about 50%. I checked the front of the scope and found that I was completely dewed up. I also noticed that the table was much wetter. This was feeling pretty close to Farm dew.

Seeing that I would soon be losing the Moon behind the cottage, I decided to pass on that target and see if I could get the front glass dried so that I could shoot Mars. Toward that end, I decided put the front cover back on the scope to see if the dew would clear while working on this report.

After giving it an hour to dry off, I came back out to attempt Mars. It was well above the trees. Even though it was not yet close to the meridian, I could tell that it was going to pass at a very high elevation.

I found that the front glass of the scope had completely dried. I noticed that the table had dried somewhat as well. I had no issue acquiring Mars, and I was struck at how much worse the seeing had become. Astrospheric was still showing below average transparency and average seeing.

For Mars, I shot 10 iRGB runs at 45s per filter. The exposure was about 4ms with the gain at 400. I was getting close to 450 fps with the histogram peaking at about 70% on all filters. The yield was about 20,000 frames per filter, which I hope will help compensate for the bad seeing. I did not feel very good about the quality of the data as it was coming in.

With the seeing being so bad, which makes precise focusing very difficult, I decided to try focusing on a star. I understand that mirror shift can change the focus when slewing from the star back to the target, but my thinking at the moment is that the resulting focus when I get back to the target is much better than I could achieve trying to focus on the target itself.

For this exercise, I first achieved the best focus (a guess) that I could on Mars itself. I then selected the star icon (instead of the Mars icon) and set the exposure to about 4s. I moved off of Mars and nudged the scope around until I found a star. It was not very bright, so I did not get sufficient diffraction spikes when I put the Bahtinov mask in front of the scope. I then tried slewing to Aldebaran, about 20 degrees away from Mars, and could clearly see the diffraction spikes. It turns out that my focus was off just a little from my best guess while trying to focus on Mars. I have decided to continue to use this technique for lunar and planetary imaging into the future.

The session ended at 0400.

The Good:

In spite of the mis-cues that will be described next, the dew, and the seeing, I felt that this was a worth while session. I got some mistakes out of the way, gained some experience, and improved my technique so that I am better prepared for that perfect night should it ever come along.

The Bad:

The seeing and transparency were worse than expected.

The Ugly:

First mistake tonight is that I did not do any planning. I should have opened Stellarium to see what features would be on visible on the three targets and to see where they would be placed. Not a horrible mistake, but that kind of situational awareness would have influenced the order in which I went after the targets. Second rookie mistake is that seeing what the dew situation was going to be, I should have put the dew shield/heater on the scope, and I should have allowed half an hour for it to heat up before removing the front cover. Third rookie mistake is that I am not feeling too good about collimation, so I should have set up the artificial star and checked it when I was prepping the scope yesterday afternoon.

I had no equipment issues. Everything worked as it was supposed to.

Jupiter - 2022-10-07 05:26 UTC - Reprocessed
Jupiter
Mars - 2022-10-07 07:26 UTC - Infrared
Mars

Saturn, Neptune and Jupiter

After taking the telescope down before going to St Michaels and to Bethany Beach, it needed to be put back up before it could be used again. Since the evening forecast indicated surface winds and bad seeing, but otherwise good transparency, I decided that getting a good polar alignment, and doing some visual observing of Saturn and Jupiter would be the best astronomical use of the coming night. I took advantage of a nice, cool day to put three 12” x 12” bluestone pavers in the ground where the tripod legs sit, and I set up the scope. Set up went without a hitch.

I decided to operate on Kendricks battery power so that I could have a “drained” battery for trying out my solar panel. Speaking of power, I am thinking about putting a 200 watt panel on the roof. That might not be a total solution, but it will add some marginal power.

Conditions were as expected. There was no dew, because the relative humidity stayed low, and the winds 5-ish mph winds helped in this regard. The winds did buffet the scope a bit, and bad seeing accompanied the surface winds, which altogether diminished the detail that I would be able to see.

Start up went pretty well. I had some trouble getting Stellarium connected to the mount. I got that ironed out pretty quicky, but in the end I did not use Stellarium. The last of the clouds cleared out at around 2015, and I went to work. No issues with polar alignment.

Saturn popped out of the trees at about 2040. My initial slew found it on the edge of the Panoptic 35 fov, so I centered it and star aligned on it. All subsequent slews were spot on.

Saturn looked pretty decent with the Panoptic 35 and the Nagler 17. The Radian 5 didn’t add anything. I could see some banding on the globe, and I could see where the shadow of the globe falls on rings on the western limb. I could not see Cassini Division or any differentiation in the rings. As for satellites, I could see Titan and Rhea, but nothing else.

I had a short wait after finishing with Saturn before Neptune was out of the trees. It was not much to look at. It had a definite bluish cast and it did present a disk, so I am certain that it was Neptune.

The wait for Jupiter was a little longer. It was out of the trees just before 2200. The only surface detail that I could see with any eyepiece were the north and south equatorial bands, which were fairly contrasty. I was surprised that I could not make out any other details. If I had waited two more hours I would have been treated to a Ganymede transit starting very close to the rising GRS.

The only to-do item from the session is to check out the solar panel and see if I can recharge the battery with it. At present (0830) the whole back yard is in the shade, which highlights another solar power limitation.

All in all, it was an enjoyable night out, and considering what needed to be done, I made the best of the conditions.

Sunrise

This morning I took my first peek outside at about 0625, about twenty-five minutes before the Sun would rise at 0649, and could see an interesting arrangement of clouds that would be the foreground for a beautiful sunrise. I took several panoramic images as the show progressed. After a while I could see that the sunrise point would be straight off of the balcony at about 65 degrees azimuth.

At about 0638 I noticed a very thin waxing crescent moon (28.1 days) maybe less than 10 degrees elevated directly above the point that I thought would be the sunrise point. This was probably the oldest moon that I have ever seen.

The crescent was oriented so that the “horns” were exactly horizontal. I surmised that this was the combined effect of the nearly vertical ecliptic on the horizon near the solstice point, and the moon being situated up to 5.5 degrees north of the ecliptic. I checked in Stellarium and found the moon to be 4.25 degrees above the ecliptic.

I also noticed in Stellarium that Venus was located between the Moon and Sun, and maybe 2 degrees above the horizon at the time that I noticed the Moon. I did not notice Venus, because the sky that close to the horizon was probably much brighter than even Venus.

Dawn - 2022-09-24 06:34L
Sunrise, Bethany Beach DE

Belt of Venus

After being mostly cloudy all day yesterday, it started to clear off about two hours before sunset. Seeing a crystal clear sky shaping up in the east, I decided to sit on the balcony for another observing session.

Before describing this report, I have a note pertaining to the last report. I used my smartphone compass, the same one that gets me to within 1 degree of NCP for an initial polar alignment in the field, and found that it is about -30 degrees off when I am on the balcony. I suppose this is due to the large, steel-reinforced building that is at my back when I am at this location. Because of this, azimuth readings yesterday were not accurate.

Sunset at Bethany Beach was at 1853, which I noted is 8m earlier than Ashton due to being at a more eastern longitude.

First I watched the Belt of Venus appear on the eastern horizon as sunset approached on the western horizon. To me, the dark band below the belt that would seemingly not appear until the sun had descended below the horizon, appeared about two minutes before the sun actually set. I was able to watch the lower edge of the belt ascend for about ten minutes after sunset as the dark band widened to about three degrees and the belt faded into the oncoming darkness.

Jupiter was to rise at 1901 according to Stellarium. My goal for this target was to use the experience gained the night before to find it even earlier than my last observation, which was at about 2 degrees elevation. On this occasion I was able to pick it out of the dark band below the Belt of Venus when it was a scant 1 ¼ degrees above the horizon at 1907 (six minutes after rising).

Mars was to rise at 2232. I knew exactly where to look in azimuth, but I had no sense of where the horizon was, so I would not be able to estimate its elevation. I was able to pick Mars out of the dusk at 2256 (24 minutes after rising), probably because it is not nearly as bright as Jupiter.

I really enjoyed the unaided eye observations over the past two nights, and hope to include more like this anytime I am able to whether in the back yard or somewhere else. Next is to attempt to post some images, and then I hope to set up some equipment tomorrow.

The Belt of Venus - 2022-09-23 19:00L
The Belt of Venus, Bethany Beach DE

Elephant’s Trunk Nebula (IC1396) and Pleiades (M45)

My initial objective for this session was to collect more L subs on IC1396. I collected 45 minutes of L on it on Wednesday night, and I was hoping to add another 2 hours to that tonight and then add RGB on subsequent nights. I added two more targets and shot 1 hour of L and another hour of RGB.

The sky was milky white all day yesterday due to smoke in our area. The Astrospheric forecast is for 0% clouds and low humidity, but transparency is poor due to smoke. Seeing is forecast to be above average, so if not for the smoke, this would be one of those exceptional nights that you get just once or twice a year. My concern that smoke might affect color balance was confirmed as I noticed Jupiter was distinctly red as it crossed the meridian. Because of this, I am not sure how anything that I shot will turn out. At the very least, though, I got in some good practice with NINA.

Tonight was a very different start up. I still have not changed the camera rotation, or anything else on the scope since I calibrated on Tuesday night. I powered up, loaded up my software, connected to devices and I was ready to go. I did tweak my alignment for a couple of minutes with the PHD DA tool, and it seemed that the telescope had settled a lot.

After DA, I found that the table was dewy, so I made sure that the controller was on high and headed inside to monitor. The front glass stayed dry all night.

I loaded the IC1396 target sequence into NINA, and was able to execute it without adjustments. This sequence ran until about 2300 when IC1396 crossed the meridian. While this sequence was running I entered a follow on sequence for Andromeda, and then another one for Pleiades.

Guiding was pretty good during the night. Initial guiding total RMS was 0.69” with the error equally divided between RA and Dec. Later in the session I was seeing numbers like .59 and .78. I did notice that the guide star SNR was around 20 to 25 probably due to smoke. I usually see SNRs of 80 to 120.

I seem to have the wifi drops under control. On Wednesday I disabled the 5GHz channel, and there were no more drops for the rest of the day. I did find yesterday morning that the nano-router had jumped from the network that it hosts to the home network. Unlike before, I had no difficulty in re-establishing connection to the mini-computer, and it has remained stable all day. I have declared success before and was punished for it, so I’m going to monitor to see what happens.

Elephant Trunk Nebula (IC1396) - 2022-09-16 - Preliminary Image
Elephant’s Trunk Nebula
Pleiades (M45) - 2022-09-16 - Preliminary Image

Albiero

My objective tonight was to capture Albiero in RGB.

Surfaces were moderately wet, but optics stayed dry with the controller on full.

I had severe difficulty with the wifi connection. I’m going to stop calling it a remote desktop problem because I have determined that it is wifi. As I have mentioned before, I have “caught” the mini computer jumping from the nano router to the home router. In an attempt to preclude that, I told the mini computer to Forget the home wifi network, which means IF I WANTED to reconnect to the home wifi, I would have to re-enter security credentials. Just to test, I told the laptop to Forget that network, and yes, I had to re-enter security credentials to reconnet.

Tomorrow, with this newly gained understanding of what is going on I will start searching for a solution tomorrow.

Inspite of that I managed to get some imaging in. I was able to see Polaris in the PoleMaster display at 1951. As I finished the alignment, I realized that I probably didn’t need to do it because nothing had been perturbed. I did skip calibration. During the night I was seeing Tot RMS numbers between .55 and .72 Total RMS. I’ll take that!

On Albiero I was shooting 1s subs, so 30 subs each filter with RGB went pretty fast. I did not take any Flats because I will be cropping out all but the very center of the image.

Albiero 2022-09-13 03:00 - Test Image

Saturn, Jupiter, Moon and Mars (Farm IV)

My primary objective was to conduct a trial run of the using the camper for a dark sky camping trip on a non-critical night from a DSO perspective. As luck would have it, this was the Harvest Moon night, which pretty much relegated the night’s astronomy to the planets.

Set up of the camper (30 minute). and transition into dinner prep and eating went very well. I did a very abbreviated clean up afterward with the idea that final clean up of items used would be the next day at the house. I felt a little rushed transitioning into the astronomy part of the evening. Although I was ready to start polar aligning only 20 minutes after I expected Polaris to be visible (not bad!), I would have like to have had the telescope set up and dinner finished by sunset so that I could rest/relax for about 30 minutes waiting for Polaris to appear. Arrived at the farm at 1750, 1.5 hours before sunset. Maybe arriving 2.5 hours before sunset would have given me a break before starting astronomy.

Astronomy set up was the G11 on the heavy tripod. Telescope was the Meade LX850 (12” f/8). Camera was the ZWO ASI290MM/EFW 8 x 1.25”, and the TV 2.5x PM was in the optical path.

Skies were clear from sunset until about 0100, at which time scattered high thin clouds came in. Dew was manageable most of the night with the dew shield/heater combination on high all night.

I used the 18AH battery to power the laptop via inverter. That battery was down to about 12.1v by the end of the night. I do not know how much longer it would have lasted. I used only one 33 AH battery to power the astronomy equipment, to include the dew heater on high. I think that I had at least another hour before I would need to switch to the second 33 AH battery.

My first target was Saturn. During the first 10 RGB runs, I was not certain that the filter wheel was initialized, so I re-initialized and shot another 10 RGB runs. All total, I shot 20 RGB runs (19ms, 422 gain, 2400 frames/filter). Image has been posted to flickr.

Next was the Moon. I had intended to switch to the Canon for full disk color images, but I was to tired to reconfigure. I did runs with the ASI290MM on Craters Copernicus and Tycho. The data didn’t look good while I was in capture, and I wasn’t able to pull a decent image out, so I threw the data away.

My third target was Jupiter. I shot 10 RGB runs (4.5ms, 408 gain, 2900 frames/filter in 30s. The data looked pretty good as it was coming in. Image has been posted to flickr.

The last target was Mars. It was not elevated nearly enough, but with clouds coming in, optics getting dewy, and astronomers getting tired, Mars was becoming a now or never proposition. I short 10 RGB runs. The data looked horrible coming in. I was not able to pull an acceptable image out of it, as expected, so I threw the data away.

We retired to the camper at about 0140, and woke up after 0700. Coffee was made and we had breakfast snacks to tide us over. Pack up and camper take down went without issue. We left the farm at about 1100.

Other than an allowing more time for setup and dinner, there were no camper issues uncovered that would put a dark clear sky night at risk.

After reconnecting the camper hitch after unloading at Doug’s house, I failed to remove the pop up crank handle from its receptacle, and it apparently fell out on the trip home. I was afraid that was going to happen

To Do Items

  • Make a cable that can be run from the solar charging port on the camper to the to the astronomy equipment so that I can use the camper battery as a third back up battery if ever needed.
  • Order a new crank handle, and put a Remove Before Flight flag on it to increase visibility. I was pretty sure that at some point I would forget the handle. I have since learned that this is a common occurrence, and replacement handles are readily available.
Saturn - 2022-09-10-02:20 UTC - Farm IV
Saturn
Jupiter - 2022-09-10 03:26 - Farm IV
Jupiter

Saturn, Moon and Jupiter

I had a pretty ambitious target list for the evening. Aside from the targets, and capturing whatever the night is willing to give up, my primary goal was to get in a planetary imaging session as practice for what I hope will be a run to the farm this afternoon. My secondary goal is to gather all of the gear that I will be using in one place to minimize the risk of forgetting something important.

The astronomy forecast was for fair conditions from just before sunset until about 2300 when clouds were expected to roll in until about 0200. The timing of my plan was to try to capture Saturn and maybe the Moon between the time that they came out of the trees and arrival of the clouds.

I uncovered the scope and added the ASI290 and flip mirror, and powered up the equipment at 1630.

My next trip to the scope was just before 2000, and I found Polaris bright enough to check polar alignment by 2002. Wow! After polar alignment, I slewed to Deneb to check seeing and collimation, and do a star alignment. The seeing looked pretty fair, but I am uncertain about the collimation. The refraction circles about the center of the doughnut appeared to be concentric, so no collimation adjustment required.

I went back out to greet Saturn at 2130 and found moderate dew on just about everything but my optics and RH was 99%. Heat was turned on at about 1730. I shot 10 RGB x 45s/filter runs on Saturn at ~20ms and 420 gain. I found the display was much cleaner than last time.

I slewed to the Moon at 2215 and while I was trying to find it in the eyepiece, clouds had rolled in, so I came inside. Once inside, I checked Astrospheric and found that the cloudiness between 2300 and 0200 had been replaced with a forecast for AA seeing and Avg transparency. I checked again at 2300 and found that the clouds had passed and went back out to work on the Moon.

The moon was nearly full, and most features were washed out. I shot Aristarchus Plateau, Copernicus and Kepler, and a couple of shots around the southern  lunar highlands. These were shot without the 2.5x PowerMate. Some were full frame while others were cropped. Exposure and gain varied.

I was unable to find Neptune, probably because it was difficult to distinguish it from a star in a 40mm eyepiece. Didn’t spend much time here before moving on to Jupiter.

I managed to get about 5 RGB x 30s/filter on Jupiter at ~4ms and 405 gain before I had a runaway slew. The seeing seemed pretty good. As I began another attempt to get 10 RGB runs I noted that Jupiter appeared to be hazy so I checked the front glass and found that it was starting to dew up.

Letting discretion be the better part of valor, and knowing that I need some sleep before tomorrow’s trip, I ended the session at 0100 without attempting Mars or Uranus, neither of which had cleared the trees.

Expecting even worse dew at the farm, I think that I am going to try both the dew shield and the dew strap. I doubt that the batteries will last very long.

I will attempt to use the Stellarium and the Gemini app on the laptop to drive the mount for the farm session.

Saturn - 2022-09-09 02:08 UTC
Saturn
Jupiter - 2022-09-09 04:30 UTC
Jupiter
The Moon - 2022-09-09 03:19 UTC - Aristarchus Plateau
Aristarchs Plateau

Saturn and Jupiter

Not expecting decent weather for a couple more days, I took the camera off of the scope yesterday morning and covered it. A HAL member’s request during the day for someone to open Alpha Ridge for an impromptu star party prompted me to take another look at the weather. Finding average transparency and above average seeing until 0100, I ended up taking the cover back off of the scope and putting the camera back on after dinner. Also, I was expecting heavy dew all night, but it didn’t turn out that way. One of my primary objectives in this session was to try out the UV/IR cut filter.

Since I had bumped the mount pretty hard while covering it earlier in the day, my first task after dark was to re-establish polar alignment. I was not expecting to see Polaris in the Polemaster display when I started the app at 2020, but it was already there. This is an hour sooner than I was polar aligning at the solstice.

Saturn was out of the trees first, so I worked on it from 2230 to 2330. My first two runs were L only, and overexposed to reveal a couple of satellites, then I decided to wait a while Saturn ascended to 35 degrees elevation. I shot five RGB runs at 45s/filter, 9.9s exposure, and 420 gain for a 60% histogram. Seeing seemed pretty good, but focus was difficult as Saturn’s features are not very contrasty. Because if this, I was not able to determine much about the UV/IR cut filter while I was at the scope. The RH was 35% when I came inside from this part of the session.

The tabletop, which is usually the first thing to dew up was still dry, so I was not able to tell whether the dew shield/heater were making a difference. I did notice, that the outside of the shield does not get as warm as the outside of the standalone strap. I take this to mean that the shield helps to keep the energy on the telescope instead of letting it radiate away. I am hopeful that the dew shield solves the problem.

Next was Jupiter, which I went back out to the scope to work on at about 0005, and had to wait a few minutes for it to clear the trees. I shot five RGB runs at 30s/filter. 9.9s exposure and 365 gain for a 70% histogram. The seeing had deteriorated from when I had shot Jupiter, but there was pretty nice contrast, especially in G and B. The image in the display had a different quality that was hard to describe, but I think this might be attributable to the UV/IR cut filter.

The table and other items were starting to get wet by the time that I went back outside to shoot Jupiter, but the dew was not as heavy as the night before. The SCT corrector plate remained completely dry. The humidity was 38% when I came back in the house at 0050.

I do not have a to-do items nor any hindsight regrets from this session. Set up, power up, polar alignment and target acquisition all went rather smoothly.

Nothing conclusive about the UV/IR cut filter. I am hoping to see a difference in the processed images.

Jupiter - 2022-08-30 0717 - Reprocessed in PixInsight
Jupiter

Jupiter and Mars

Yesterday afternoon the forecast was suggesting that I would have average transparency and above average seeing at about 0300, which for me were better conditions for planetary imaging than for DSO imaging. Being anxious to try out the UV/IR cut window, I started getting ready for planetary imagine. First, I replaced the AR window in the ASI290 with the UV/IR window and “cleaned” my optics. I also put the Meade back on the mount, and then I reset the polar alignment that was perturbed by changing scopes. Dew was already starting to form as I was polar aligning, so I left the dew heater on high hoping to find dry optics if I was able to image.

After polar alignment, I slewed to Deneb to check collimation, which was good, and for a goof I slewed to Albiero to see what kind of star image I could get with the ASI290. I shot one RGB run at 60s/filter.

My final prep was to set an alarm for 2:45 and hope for the best.

When I got up and checked the sky, and half-way hoping for clouds so that I could go back to sleep, I found that the sky was mostly clear with some residual clouds moving off to the east, so I went outside to image. While I was at the scope from 0300 to 0520, the temperature fell from 68 to 66 degrees. The dew point was tracking about 2 degrees lower than the temperature, and the relative humidity was 98%. There was dew on the optics except for a thin band about 1 1/2” wide around the outer edge of the corrector plate. There was an occasional slight breeze. I was comfortable in t-shirt and shorts for a while, but started getting chilled toward the end.

I was able to acquire Jupiter rather quickly. I was happy to see that it was fairly steady, and In spite of the dew the image seemed clear, and was easy to focus in red. The GRS was just about to rotate out of view to I quickly shot two RGB runs at 30s/filter to capture. After fine turning my exposures (gain 350, exp 15ms), noticed that Jupiter had crossed the meridian, so I executed a meridian flip before shooting 11 RGB runs at 30s/filter. I then changed my exposures to gain 400, exp 6ms so that I could compare the two captures. In both cases I kept the histogram down to 50% to get my frame rate up to about 70 fps.

Next I slewed to Mars and captured 10 RGB runs at 30s/filter with gain 400 and exposure of 15 ms.

The dew situation had not improved by the end of the session. I was headed back inside by 0520.

In hindsight, I have for some time been pretty sure that there would come a time where I would need the blow dryer to clear my optics. That time was tonight and I wish that I already had the dryer. My optics cleaning didn’t go so good. I was difficult to find a clean spot on the display large enough to accommodate Jupiter.I was very careful in my cleaning, so I don’t know why dirty optics was a problem.

Todo:

Order blow dryer

Reclean optics

Saturn - 2022-08-29 03:04 UTC - Satellites

West Veil Nebula (NGC6960) and Equipment Tuning

My objective for this session was to image the West Veil Nebula while getting a much needed DSO imaging refresher in preparation for a trip to the Farm. The bottom-line result is that I discovered that I really would not have been ready for the farm last night.

The difficulty was with the remote desktop connection. I established the connection during the afternoon so that I could wring out any issues with connecting software to devices. The remote connection itself worked perfectly. I uncovered a problem with the filter wheel that took a little while to find, but everything looked set to go for an imaging session. I left the connection in place when I went in for dinner, and it was still working just fine when I cam back to the scope at 2010, and it continued to work perfectly as I did a star alignment, calibrated PHD and executed a guiding assistant run, acquired the target and started the exposure sequence. The connection dropped exactly when I started the capture sequence, and I couldn’t get it back even with Ethernet. I had set the sequence for 25 x 60s exposures in RG and B. Not sure how long it would take, because I forgot to check my dither setting before starting execution. I usually set it for every 3rd exposure to minimize the time impact. I decided to let the sequence run until I went to bed so that if it was executing correctly that I would have something in the morning. I’ll check the mini computer to see if there is any data this afternoon.

My theory was that the mini computer was saving the images to OneDrive across the wifi connection, and that was somehow disrupting the remote desktop connection. This morning I realized that I should see images on OneDrive if that were the case, and so far I haven’t found them.

The good part about last night was the guiding performance. Calibration completed in about 30s with a perfect graph. The guiding assistant showed that my polar alignment error was about 4’, which is acceptable, but once guiding stopped for the GA run I could see the dec plot trending down at a fairly gently slope that I assessed as easily guided out. My Dec backlash was 2100, which about the same as before I adjusted. I got a good backlash graph where the downhill slope of the actual movement was just to the right of and parallel to the ideal movement, which means that the Dec axis is responsive to guiding impulses. I attribute this to east-bias balance on Ra and I had the bright idea of balancing the Dec axis with the scope slightly tail heavy. My initial guiding was about .67”, the best I have seen.

End of astronomical twilight was 2127, and I was imaging by 2129.

In hindsight, I wish that I had:

…used the Drift Alignment tool to fine tune the polar alignment. The guiding was great as it was, but it is really cool to see the Dec ticking along without any guiding pulses. I think that I can do the Drift alignment tweak in just a few minutes, and the time burden will decrease with practice. With the Gemini Level 6 improvements, which include better PEC training, perhaps one day Ra guiding pulses can be minimized.

…used my written guide. Due to weather and lunar cycle, it has been over a month since I last did DSO work. I missed at least four little things as a result of not using my guide. It turns out that I am not as smart as I think I am.

…stuck with my original plan. I kinda rushed to completion of guiding preliminaries as 2127 approached, and my session was essentially over when I started the imaging sequence at 2129. I could have improved understanding of guiding by a useful amount if I had worked with it for an hour more.

To-do list items:

Figure out remote connection once and for all.

Camera cooling was working, but there was no cooling graph.  

The week that I have spent on finding, purchasing, and getting familiar with the camper was the time period that I would have ordinarily spent doing planetary imaging and getting ready for DSO imaging when the moon went away. I knew going in might be behind the curve when the first opportunity for DSO imaging came back. But that’s ok. It was worth it to have a ready camper as cooler weather is not that far away. Besides, it looks like the next imaging opportunity is some time off, so hopefully I can get back on the curve over the next few days.

Jupiter and Moon

Looking at the Astrospheric forecast before I went to bed showed below average transparency and average seeing. Just the kind of conditions that Jim Tomney has talked about during the meeting. I decided to set an alarm for 0300 and then went to bed right after the meeting. This would give me plenty of time to get the scope ready an start imaging as Jupiter approached the meridian.

I woke up at about 0145 and could tell that I wasn’t going back to sleep, so I went outside and set up the telescope. The Meade was still on the G11, and I added the ASI290, filter wheel, and 2.5x PM.

Checking conditions, I could see that dew point and temperature lines were running together and that relative humidity was close to 90%,, so I correctly surmised that there would be dew. The temperature was about 63 degrees, and I was comfortable in a light jacket.

Set up, power up, and target acquisition when smoothly. I checked polar alignment and it was spot on a week after it was last checked.

I got Firecapture set up and running with no issues. Jupiter was not yet close to the meridian, but it was well out of the trees. It looked pretty good on the display and I had no issues focusing. I captured 5 RGB runs with 3ms x 380 gain exposures that gave a 67 to 70% histogram. I also did 5 CH4 runs with 50ms x 520 gain exposures. The actual captures ran from 0213 to 0228.

I went back out at 0345 to meet the Moon as it came out of the trees. I replaced the ASI290 with the ASI178. I left the 2.5x PM in to take advantage of the seeing to get my first images with the ASI178/2.5x PM combination. More dew had settled, and I found that the corrective plate was dewed from the secondary mirror housing about half of the way out to the outer clear edge. The dew heater controller had been turned all of the way up. I was able to get a decent image, so I moved on. After taking several images with this set up, I removed the 2.5x PM and took some wider field images.

No to-do items resulted from this session. I am going to get some sleep. I may begin processing this morning’s take if I wake up early enough. Otherwise, it is doubtful that I will be able to get any processing done since we are picking up the camper today.

Jupiter - 2022-08-19 06:16 UTC
Jupiter
Jupiter - 2022-08-19 06:26 UTC - Methane Band
Jupiter in Methane
The Moon - 2022-08-19 08:00 UTC - Rupes Recta
Rupes Recta
The Moon - 2022-08-19 08:02 UTC - Crater Deslandres
Crater Deslandres
The Moon - 2022-08-19 08:04 UTC - Craters Orontitus, Huggins, Nassireddin, and Miller
The Moon
The Moon - 2022-08-19 08:06 UTC  - Crater Clavius
Crater Clavius
The Moon - 2022-08-19-08:09 - Crater Tycho
Crater Tycho
The Moon - 2022-08-19 08:13 UTC - Crater Copernicus
Crater Copernicus
The Moon - 2022-08-19 08:19 UTC - Crater Plato
Crater Plato

Saturn, Jupiter, Moon and Equipment Tuning

I had a pretty full slate of things to do for this session. The high level plan was to work on Planetary Imaging Improvements from the time that I finished polar alignment until Saturn peeked out of the trees just after midnight, and then image Saturn, and Jupiter. After swapping cameras, I would finish the night by imaging the Moon.

The planetary imaging improvement topic was about moving planetary imaging from the laptop to the mini computer, collimating the Meade, checking for focus offsets for the filters, and attempting to autoguide from Firecapture.

I had set up the mini computer on the Meade and attached/connected the mount, the electronic focuser, filter wheel, and camera by early afternoon. An initial frame rate check suggested that I could get 100fps from the mini computer.

I was getting chilly right at about sunset, so I put on a light jacket. I noted that the temps were to drop into the 50s over night, and that RH would stay rather low, perhaps holding off dew until about 0300 or 0400. Astrospheric forecast indicated Above Average transparency all night, and seeing would improve from average to above average at about midnight.

While waiting for it to get dark, I began the planetary improvement work by testing Firecapture frame rates on both the mini computer and the laptop. With an ROI of 600 x 600 (Jupiter sized) and Exp of 8ms, the FPS was about 100 on the mini computer and about 200 on the laptop. Obviously the laptop is better in this regard, but I’ll defer any decision about which platform to stick with until after I have finished my work.

I was powered up, polar aligned, and slewed to Vega to continue working on planetary imaging improvements by 2050.

First, I checked collimation with Vega out of focus. I had the best diffraction rings that I have ever seen, so seeing was pretty darned good. Collimation was off a little, and it was easy to adjust even though I had not done an adjustment for over a year.

Next was to check the filters. I had to abandon the minicomputer at this point because data from the constantly changing Firecapture display overwhelmed the RDT connection and rendered it useless.  I connected the laptop to the camera and filter wheel and continued in that configuration.

I tested for filter offsets by focusing on Vega with the Bahtinov mask through the L filter, and then cycled through the other filters. The Bahtinov diffraction spikes that indicate focus remained constant across all of the filters, which indicated that the filters were parfocal with respect to one another.

At this point it was 2135 and I decided that because of the low frame rate and with the RDT connection issues due to the rapidly changing display that the mini computer was not a suitable platform for planetary imaging. I abandoned the autoguiding part of the test for the night, because I did not want to reconfigure equipment in the dark. I will reconfigure the laptop for controlling the focuser and mount for autoguiding before my next planetary session and attempt to autoguide then.

I came inside and napped from about 2230 to 0030, and came very close to turning off the alarm and going back to sleep. I was back at the scope by 0050.

There was no difficulty in acquiring Saturn. Although seeing was forecast to be below average and improving to average during the 0100 hour, I found that it was poor, at best. I was able to see four of Saturn’s satellites when over exposed. I shot them in L only. For the main capture of Saturn I shot 5 runs of RGB at 30s per filter.

Next I went to Jupiter. Again, no difficulty in acquiring the target. Seeing seemed to have settled down a bit. I shot 5 Runs of iRGB at 30s per filter. I shot another one iRGB run at 60s per filter for comparison.

After finishing Jupiter, I replaced the ASI290MM, which had the 2.5x PM in front of it with the ASI178MC at prime focus and slewed to the Moon, and shot five full frame scenes. I shot three with very fast frame rates and two with somewhat slower frame rates for comparison.

I was back inside by 0245. The temperature when I came in was 58 degrees. No dew had formed on the table or equipment.

I am not able to get anything out of the Jupiter or Saturn data. It was a horrible mess on the display during capture, so I am not surprised. I am going to abandon it.

On thing that I cannot account for is why the lunar images turned out to be quite decent while the planetary captures were so poor. My best guess is that the seeing improved between the end of the Jupiter capture and the beginning of the lunar captures.

Improved seeing definitely could be the case. My capture times were Saturn at 0050, Jupiter at 0155, and Moon at 0245. Astrospheric had forecast below average seeing through the 0100 hour, and improving to average by the 0200 hour. I think that what I saw on the Saturn and Jupiter capture displays were actually way below average. The lunar capture display looked to be at least average, maybe better. I attributed the improvement to having removed the 2.5x PM from the optical path, but what I saw on the various displays is also consistent with the forecast. Thinking about it in hindsight, I should have re-tried the Saturn and Jupiter captures.

The Moon - 2022-08-13 06:22 UTC - Mare Crisium
Mare Crisium
The Moon - 2022-08-13 06:25 UTC - Mare Humboldtianum
The Moon
The Moon - 2022-08-13 06:30 UTC - Crater Anaxagoras
Crater Anaxagaras
The Moon - 2022-08-13 06:32 UTC - Crater Copernicus
Crater Copernicus
The Moon - 2022-08-13 06:37 UTC - Crater Tycho
Crater Tycho
The Moon - 2022-08-13 06:40 UTC - Crater Petavius
Crater Petavius
The Moon - 2022-08-13 06:43 UTC - Crater Gauss
Crater Gauss

Saturn and Jupiter

I looked at Astrospheric right after dinner and saw that pretty good imaging conditions were forecast for a couple of hours starting at 0100. Looking at the weather radar forecast, I saw the possibility of thunder storms moving through between 2200 and 2300. I decided to go to bed at around 2100 and get up at 0045 to see what would happen. Because of the threat of rain, I did not do any of the “before dark” stuff that I usually do like put the camera on the scope, run an extension cord, and check software to accessory connections.

I was hating life when the alarm clock woke me up, but I managed to get up instead of going back to sleep. I looked out the window and could see clouds to the south. I went outside to check, and could see clearing to the west, so I started setting up for imaging. I had to wait just a few minutes for the last clouds to pass, and had no further issue with them.

Saturn was already out of the trees. Set up, power up, and target acquisition went very smoothly. I had Saturn on the display by 0115, just as it was crossing the meridian. I shot a L only run of about 30s of over exposed frames to capture the four of Saturn’s satellites that I could see. I then captured five RGB runs at 30s per filter.

Jupiter was above the trees by the time I finished Saturn. I shot 20 RGB runs at 30s per filter.

I did not check polar alignment, and was still able to manually guide with moderate amounts of guiding pulses. During one of the captures I noticed a Dark button and Flat button. I was tired and the laptop battery was low, so I only shot Dark frames. I did not have any directions, but it seemed logical to capture them while the main capture ROI was still active. We’ll see what happens in processing.

The temperature was quite comfortable. There was just a little dew starting to form on my table top, but everything else stayed dry.

The session was over at 0310.

Here are some typical capture numbers for a single filter capture:

                Saturn: ROI size 704x424px, Exp 1.8ms, Gain 210, Histogram 53%, Avg FPS 98, 30s, Frames captured 2890, 850 Mb.

                Jupiter: ROI size 648x606px, Exp 3.4ms, Gain 398, Histogram 53%, Avg FPS 143, 30s Frames captured 4312, 1.6 to 3.2 Gb

Total Capture Storage:

                Saturn (5 RGB runs x 3 filters = 15 capture files): 28 Gb

                Jupiter: (20 RGB runs x 3 filters = 60 capture files): 120 Gb

Jupiter - 2022-08-10 06:39 UTC
Jupiter\
Saturn - 2022-08-10 05:28 UTC
Saturn

Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and Equipment Tuning

On Wednesday morning I saw a very astro-friendly forecast for the evening, but I wasn’t sure if I would have an opportunity to work at the scope that night. Also, I wasn’t able to get a nap during the day, so I didn’t know if I would even feel like going out if I was otherwise able.

As it turned out, I was able to get out to the scope, and although I was very tired, I went out anyway. The Moon the whole session was huge fun with very little frustration. I had no trouble staying awake until the session ended at 0430.

Astrospheric forecasted above average transparency and seeing through midnight, and then both dropping off to average afterward. Wayne called an impromptu star party and mentioned that wildfire smoke would become an issue after midnight. I didn’t think that light smoke would be an issue for imaging planets.

The Moon

During the day I removed the ASI290 and put the ASI178 back on the scope anticipating that I would be doing lunar work first. I had made a list of eleven targets that I wanted to shoot, and memorized where they were while I was waiting for it to get dark. Stellarium showed me that I had about half an hour between the time that it got dark enough to start imaging at 2150 until the Moon began to creep over the cottage roof at about 2115. The night prior, the moon was lower, and it was already over the cottage roof before I could start shooting, so already this was shaping up to be a good night. I had also read about some performance updates to Firecapture that I was hoping would yield frame rates better than the 30 – 40 fps that I was getting the night prior.

I set my limit to 4000 frames and I started my first capture at 2048. I was seeing frame rates of around 100 for full frame captures, and up to about 200 fps for smaller ROIs. With these frame rates I was able to work through my list pretty quicky, and I may have ran two or three additional unplanned captures. I was finished capturing by 2113. I captured 150 Gb of data in that short time!

I was a little rusty on Tuesday night, and much smoother tonight. It felt good to be able to knock the rust off that quickly. I hope that I am as lucky when I start shooting the planets.

The temperature was about 73 degrees. There was the slightest occasional breeze, and everything was still dry when I cam in from that part of the session. Transparency seemed inline with the forecast, and seeing was definitely better than the previous night.

The Planets

As I finished the lunar session, took the ASI178 off of the Meade and put the ASI290 back on the telescope. I also made sure that camera and filter wheel connected to the computer, and I verified that the filter wheel was actually turning in response to me pressing the Skittles. I also made sure that I remembered how to set up filters for RGB autoruns. I am glad that I did bang that bit of rust off before I was ready to start imaging.

My plan was to shoot everything as soon as it became available. Saturn would be out of the trees first, and very close to the meridian at 0115. Jupiter would be next at 0210. It would be a couple of hours before the meridian, but the GRS would be more favorably positioned at the tree line. And Mars brings up the rear at about 0400. It is very highly elevated, but it would be 8” in apparent diameter. I didn’t know if I would be able to make it that long.

Getting Saturn onto the display took a little work because I was rusty at this process – maybe 10 minutes to relearn. It only took me a couple of minutes to dial in a good gain/exp combination for each of the RGB filters. After doing a manually advancing through the filters for a 30s run on each, I turn on Use RGB and let FC automatically run through the filters. That worked great, so I opened up Autorun, and set that up for maybe three runs. And finally I went to L and did a massively over exposed 30s run to see which satellites I could pick up. As was my practice last year, I manually guided. After truing my polar alignment up the night before, was able to stay within a reasonably small ROI box with little difficulty. Total capture on Saturn was 14 Gb.

Just as I finished on Saturn, Jupiter was about to come out of the trees. I slewed to it and was able to wrangle it onto the display in just a couple of seconds. I did a couples of Autoruns – 3, 5, and 10 – using variously sized ROI boxes. I was getting about 100fps at one point. I also did a run with Europa and Io in the frame. I finished up by doing a massively overexposed 30s run to see if I can pull out any other satellites. Total capture on Jupiter was 110 Gb.

After an hour’s break, I went back out to meet Mars as it came out of the trees. Just like with Jupiter, I was able to get Mars onto the display within a couple of seconds. The seeing seemed much worse while shooting Mars than it did for Saturn and Jupiter. This could have been an actual deterioration in seeing, or it could have been because was zoomed in on a much smaller ROI box. I manually walked through each of the RGB filters, then I used Autorun for three sets of RGB. After that I did an Autorun for three sets of iRGB. And finally, I did an over exposed run to see if I could pick out any satellites. I was seeing 500+ fps in R and iR, and 2-300 fps in G and B.  I captured 10 Gb on Mars.

The temperature had actually warmed up a little from the time that I had went out to work on the moon. There was light dew on a few things, but my front glass stayed clear with a low dew controller setting.

General

While dust plagues me no worse than any other astronomer, I find it frustrating that no matter how carefully that I clean optics, there is always dust that shows up in my images. I may have stumbled onto something. I shined my headlamp down the front of my telescope so that I could see the filters cycle through the field of view whenever I pressed a Skittle. With the bright light shining down the front of the telescope, I could see every speck of dust in the universe on the display. So, I am going to try checking my optics with a flashlight and a telescope the next time that I clean optics.

The session on the planets went so well that I am inclined so see if I can my Firecapture’s autoguiding work for me.  Also regarding the planets, with Mars being so small, and with seeing being so good while shooting the planets, the 5x PowerMate sounds like something to think about.

I left the dew shield off and used just a dew strap on the front of the scope so that I could check collimation. I completely forgot to do the collimation check.

Total capture for the session was about 285 Gb!

Saturn - 2022-08-04 05:53 UTC
Saturn with satellites
Saturn - 2022-08-04 05:46 UTC
Saturn
Jupiter 2022-08-04 06:33 UTC - Ten RGB Runs
Jupiter
Mars - 2022-08-04 08:19 UTC
Mars – Very Gibbous
The Moon - 2022-08-04-00:46 UTC - Crater Proculus and Mare Crisium
Crater Proculus and Mare Crisium

Moon, Saturn and Jupiter

The forecast did not look great for planetary imaging, but being anxious to start getting ready for the planets as the come to opposition over the next four months, I put the Meade on the mount today and set it up with the ASI178MC for OSC captures of the moon.

The Moon

Seeing was horribly bad, but that could have been because I was shooting over the roof of the cottage. I have been wanting to capture OSC data on the Littrow Valley just after sunrise, but I think that capturing the Moon at this phase is always going to be difficult due to its low placement and relative to the cottage. Maybe I’ll have to settle for a capture when the Moon is just one day older.

There was no dew or surface winds during this part of the session.

Since I would be losing the moon behind the cottage rather quickly, I needed to start shooting before the sky was dark enough to support a polar alignment. Expecting this and knowing that I had left polar alignment in a bad state the last time that I tried working on guiding, I got the best smartphone alignment that I could while I was changing scopes. It turned out to be pretty good. There was very little drift for me to manually guide out.

Setup, start up, and target acquisition all went smoothly. I noticed some backlash in Ra when the scope would appear to keep moving at the end of a slew. I think that Dec is pretty good.

I ran captures on Littrow Valley, the Theophilus/Cyrillus/Catharina crater triplet, Smirnov Dorsa, Crater Proclus and Mare Crisium, Craters Hercules and Atlas, and the north polar region.

The initial look at the data suggest that I will not be able to do much with it.

The Planets

I put the ASI290MM on the scope for capturing planets and cam back inside at 1030.  I set an alarm for 0145, but I almost didn’t wake up. I was outside before 0200, and it was cloudy. I checked again at 0300 with the same result, so I shut down and went inside for the night.

The Moon - 2022-08-03 01:21 UTC - Northern Polar Region at Waxing Crescent
Northern Polar Region
The Moon - 2022-08-03 00:49 UTC - Littrow Valley
Tarus-Littrow Valley/Apollo 17 site
The Moon - 2022-08-03 01:00 UTC - Craters Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catharina
Craters Theophlus, Cyrillus, and Catharina
The Moon - 2022-08-03 01:09 UTC - Dorsa Smirnov
Dorsa Smirnov
The Moon - 2022-08-03 01:27 UTC - Crater Proclus and Mare Crisium
Crater Proclus and Mare Crisium

Equipment Tuning

Earlier today I was thinking that I could work through some guiding stuff that I had read about, and then pretty quickly and move on to imaging. Seeing threatening weather when I went out, I was pretty sure that I would be working on guiding only. That’s the way the night turned out.

Set up and start up went flawlessly, as it does lately. I powered up at sunset (2030), had software up and connected to equipment and was waiting for Polaris to appear in the Polemaster display by 2050. I had Polaris at 2108, and was able to quickly polar align. It felt pretty solid.

Checked focus, and it was good enough for my purposes, so I moved on to calibration.

Calibration passed without error. Orthogonality looked good, and I had a slight squiggle in the dec leg. I’ll take that too.

I then went to Drift Alignment. I worked with the tool from about 2120 until I shut down after being clouded out at 2245. I did not have much success at all.

I should add that I adopted a few points from Rista, but otherwise elected to use the bolt adjustments to move the trend line to zero using the az and alt bolts. The points that I adopted from Rista, which I need to add to my workplan, was to star align, slew to CE-Meridian (not just close), and set looping to 1s. I also added a Jim-step, which is to periodically slew back to 0,0 after the mount has run westward for more than a few degrees. All of this was easy to execute.

First, it felt like the Dec (red) trend line was not responding to my bolt adjustments, no matter what I did. I would call it non-sensical much in the same way that yours appeared when you were here last. At two points, I got it the trend line to move upward until the az error was about 8’ and then instead of the line going to or past zero with additional adjustment in the same direction, it went back down. I was really feeling like I was missing something big.

I was also feeling like the Az error was not going to get any closer until until the Alt adjustment was closer. Thinking about it right now, that seems pure nonsense. I now have a theory that when I see an 8’ error when I am making az adjustments, that number just applies to the az error, and vice versa for alt adjustments. If this is correct, then I surmise that you need to be in the GA tool to see the overall PAE.

After this happened the second time, I struggled to get the az error back to 8’ again, and then I switched over to alt adjustments, and had a similar nonsensical experience. I got the alt error as small as I could and gave az adjustments another try, and was getting little to no response to my adjustments, even when I was making big ones.

Then the clouds came in, and I shut down. As is my habit, I reached for the scope put the counterweight bar and scope in horizontal orientations manually. Both the Dec and Ra clutch were extraordinarily loose, and the mount could be turned with very little force. I think that the inertia of the scope and counterweights overcame any friction (well-lubed mount, so almost zero friction) in both axes, and therefore the scope did not move when I made an adjustment.

I have a step in my work plan, which I followed tonight, to check the clutches and set them properly – moderately firm. In fact my step says to make sure that they are not so tight that they cause stiction, which I found to be a problem months ago, and to make sure that they are not so loose that I lose my star alignment with a small bump.

I accept too loose clutches as the reason for the difficulty, but peeling the onion back another layer, I ask why were they too loose after I had adjusted them? It was still pretty warm when I went out, maybe 88 degrees. I think that the mount cooling down is probably the answer, so perhaps another gotcha that I need to be on the lookout for.

At this point I am resolved to keep working with the drift alignment until I can get a 1’ -ish overall PAE as measured in the guiding tool. An then, I have a couple of guiding adjustments that I want to try. Then I will move on to imaging. That will be my objective tomorrow night.

West Veil Nebula (NGC6960) and Equipment Tuning

My objectives for this session were to try Drift Alignment without Polemaster, and to get about 2.5 hours on Western Veil Nebula.

After getting the best guiding that I thought that I could get after tinkering for about an hour, I got a really bad final slew to the target. I was really tired, so I shut everything down and went inside. I was in bed by 2330, and slept 10 hours. Wow!

I tried bypassing PoleMaster and going straight to Drift Alignment. I found that I was not able to start Drift Alignment any sooner than I would have started with Polemaster.

Keep in mind that I had the scope off of the mount, and the mount off of the tripod for a backlash adjustment during the day yesterday, so my starting alignment was probably off more than from settling alone. In the az phase of the drift alignment, the trend line started very steeply downward, and after something approaching ten adjustment attempts, it still wasn’t at zero. Thinking that after that many attempts that something must be very wrong, I resorted to Polemaster to get a read on the situation. Polemaster showed me that I had reached an alignment that was actually very close on azimuth and even though I hadn’t touched elevation, it was close as well. I trued up NCP in Polemaster and went back to PHD Drift Alignment. This time I found a better trend line in both az and el, and a 1.9’ polar alignment error, so I accepted that and moved on.

I next did a calibration run, and got a squigglier Dec leg than I did the night before, and orthogonality was way off. I tried a guiding assistant run, and found the same 1.9’ PAE, and that backlash was 1850ms, up 500ms from the night before, even after what I had hoped would be a better adjustment. But even that amount of backlash is reasonable, so I am going to stick with the present adjustment though this new moon period, as the period is already upon us.

Deciding not to adjust anything else, I rough slewed (without a star alignment) to Western Veil Nebula just to see what my guiding looked like. The Dec line was not too noisy (not varying too much) and was staying within .5” with almost no guide impulses, which is really good. Ra, was just outside of the 1’ bounds, but with lots of guide impulses in both directions. I adjusted the counterweights outward to increase the balance toward the east side, and the guiding impulses settled down just a little.

It is worth noting that I am beginning to discern more and more from watching what is going on in the charts that PHD provides. I am certain that I have a lot more to learn.

I then decided to start the NINA sequence, which I thought that I had set up for a final slew and plate solve on Western Veil Nebula. The telescope was already pointing at or close to the target when I initiated the slew, but the telescope took off to the west until I stopped it near the western safety limit. I have no idea why this happened.

Conclusions:

Since Polemaster takes just five minutes ad makes certain that I have a good starting point for Drift Alignment, and since I cannot start drift alignment any earlier than I can start a Polemaster alignment, I am going to keep Polemaster in my workplan. Last night I could have done Polemaster then Drift Alignment in way less time than I spent on Drift Alignment alone. So starting with Polemaster then tweaking in Drift Alignment like I did the night before seems to be the way to go.

Last night, and even right here in the clear light of day, I am not clear on the right order to do drift alignment, calibration and a guiding assistant run to get the best result, so I want to get clear on that topic.

And finally, I need to work with the mount, especially with east-heavy balancing to get the Ra axis to calm down.

East Veil Nebula (NGC6992) and Equipment Tuning

As a result of our recent guiding discussions, there were several guiding changes that I wanted to try out, and I wanted to check drift after I readjusted the worm blocks the other day. And finally, I wanted to try some new meridian flip settings. After doing that, I collected some data on Eastern Veil Nebula, which will be part of a project to capture 10 hours each on the Eastern and Western Veil will be part of a two-panel mosaic of The Cygnus Loop. I plan to reserve this target for the back yard, so I will select other targets if I get to a dark sky site.

It was a warm night. I was in shorts and a t-shirt until about 2am, at which time I put on a light jacket. I also correctly read the air temp, dew point, and relative humidity forecast to determine that dew would start forming at around 2am. I think that dew is much less of a mystery for me now that I have been watching more carefully.

I put the NP101/ASI6200 on the G11. Set up, power up, and start up all went very well. I had no major issues with anything. I was pleased to note that I was able to start using Polemaster at 2110 – ten minutes earlier than the last time I was out!!

Guiding was interesting. I wish that I had written down some numbers, but I remember enough about the settings that I tried that I can write a coherent story about it.

I started off by doing a PoleMaster alignment, a calibration, and a drift alignment. Calibration completed without throwing a reliability warning, and the graph looked much better. Still a slight wiggle in the Dec leg. I was getting about the same guiding RMS that I always get – something around 1.10” total. I then did a drift alignment and repeated the calibration, and got an even better looking graph. The guiding RMS dropped to around 1.00”. I then did a guiding assistant run, and found a 1.9’ polar alignment error, and the backlash test completed without failing. It reported a 1350ms error, which is not unreasonable. A few weeks ago I was estimating 3000 to 4000ms just by watching how long the drift continued after I nudged the mount after changing directions on the Ra axis. The backlash graph looked much better too. The last one that I had looked like the one that we saw on your mount, where the downward 45 degree leg was almost horizontal. This time the plots moved slightly past the ideal path, and then paralleled it the rest of the way down.

I moved on to shooting Eastern Veil in RGB at 50 x 45s. The data looked reasonable coming in, but at one point I noticed that the guiding RMS had crept up to 2.30”. Looking more critically at my graph, I noticed that PHD was guiding on just one star, so I went looking and found that multi-star guiding had been turned off. I must have done this sometime in the past. I turned it on an guiding dropped down to 0.90”. Looking at the main guiding graph more carefully now, I was seeing sub-.30” guiding on the Dec axis, and it was getting hardly any guiding impulses! Even though Ra RMS was at round .70”, it was getting lots guiding impulses, and over all looked awful compared to the Dec axis. 

Recalling that I did not balance the mount east-heavy, I tried that, and Ra RMS improved and the graph looked better. I do not remember what the RMS number was.

The meridian flip worked, but it was kinda wonky. I am not ready to rely on that yet. I’ll play with that as time permits, but maybe someday I’ll have it working, but today ain’t that day.

I have two to-do items. First, I want to readjust the worm blocks. Last time I jammed them all the way in, and made sure that they were all the way in by checking that they were binding. I then turned the adjustment screw a smidge and checked that they weren’t binding. I want to redo this with about ½ a smidge of adjustment. I was getting an error in NINA after most dither adjustments, which I had set to every second frame. PHD2 – Timed out waiting for guider to settle. I had the settle time at 15s and have never had this error before. I adjusted it upward a couple of times ultimately leaving it at 30s. I was getting the error only occasionally after that, but I could never seem to make it go away. There are other dither-related settings, but I want to read about them before I make any more adjustments.

I am going to modify my polar alignment workflow. Presently I do a Polemaster alignment to correct for settling when the mount hasn’t been moved. I am pretty sure that I can see stars with the guide camera earlier than I can with the Polemaster camera, so I will go straight to drift alignment if I am just correcting for tripod settle. If I have a fresh set up at a dark site, then I’ll do Polemaster first.

East Veil Nebula - 2022-07-19 - Star Reduced
East Veil Nebula

Sun

I haven’t gotten out to shoot the Sun lately, so I decided to give that a try as a warm up before an after dark DSO imaging session..

There was no scope on the mount, so I took the NP101 out and installed it. Set up, start up, and capture all went well without any issues. I have no to-do items as a result of this session.

The temperature was 84F with an occasional slight breeze when I went out. There were a few clouds around, but none passed in front of the sun while I was imaging.

I captured 100 frames with the 60Da.

The Sun - 2022-07-15 17:00 UTC
The Sun

Equipment Tuning

My objectives were to check Dec backlash after adjusting it last week, test the autofocuser position consistency, and get some experience with the IR temp gun and dew point indicator. I also wanted to take a south horizon cell phone image for comparison to my backyard horizon rendering in Stellarium, and gain some experience with the smartphone camera doing wide-field night sky shots. Progress was made on all objectives.

An overall observation

As tonight’s work was almost entirely dedicated to testing for the purpose of making improvements, I realized that since April I have been taking an informal Lean Six-Sigma approach to process improvement to get consistent and high-quality imaging results. Thank you NGA for the LSS class!

Also, as I am getting better and documenting my sessions, I am getting better at noticing more subtle connections. There is an example of this in the PHD guiding section where I noticed bi-directional Dec guiding adjustments and how that might related to the inability to measure backlash

I have also noticed that the items that I fix, with the exception of RDT, stay fixed. My set up and automation is complex, but it does feel that I am making progress toward where I want to be.

The Astronomer

I was very tired at the outset, and got a little chilly as the night wore on. I think that a chair nap would have helped, and I could have done that while clouds were rolling through. Chair naps seems to be a lesson that I refuse to learn. I was in bed by 0215. I tried to get up when Lisa did at 0700, but ended up going back to sleep until 0950.

The Clouds

The first cloud bank rolled in at 2200, but by then I had completed polar alignment and calibration, and had started on a Guiding Assistant run. I went inside and came back out 45 minutes later, and the clouds were gone. I completed a Guiding Assistant run, and started on the autofocuser/filter test. Another bank of clouds came through, but I stuck with the test and got enough information to reach a conclusion. The sky was completely clear when I ended the session at 0130.

Equipment

Setup, power up, and start up went extremely well. The equipment did everything that I asked of it, but testing revealed that I need to make some adjustments in what I am asking of it.

PHD2/Backlash test

The backlash test is a part of my usual PHD2 start up, and is done in calibration and GA tool.

In calibration, the orthogonality error was 6.7 degrees and the graph had a slight S-curve for the Dec leg, probably due to backlash. The orthogonality error was about the same as last time,, but the results graph looked a lot better than before. The orthogonality error makes me wonder if there is another problem causing that error, but for the time being, I want to get backlash squared away before chasing that problem.

In the GA tool, I was able to see that the polar alignment error was 2.7’. The backlash measurement failed (like last time) because PHD could not detect a consistent south response., so I still do not have a measurement in ms. The results graph looks a lot better. Before, the leg that was supposed to slope downward at 45 degrees was horizontal, which is consistent with no consistent south response. This time, there was some downward curvature, which is a slight improvement. Thinking about this today, the Dec drift was southward and the slope was pretty steep. Maybe tightening up the worm gear adjustment will help, but maybe I should try using PHD Drift Alignment Tool to decrease the Dec drift.

While monitoring the guiding graph after the GA run, I noticed that PHD2 was issuing both north and south guiding nudges. While monitoring the graph during the GA run, I noticed that the Dec drift was south. As this is a function of polar alignment error the Dec drift can be in only one direction, and since the drift is south, the Dec

guide commands should only be northward.

After the GA run, the Ra/Dec/Tot guiding RMS was 1.37’/.57’/1.59”, which is worse than I have been getting lately. After changing the guiding algorithm from Auto to North Only, the Ra/Dec/Tot RMS improved to .78’/.49’/.90’. This is a dramatic improvement, but thinking about it as I write this up, it seems that going to North Only would have affected the Dec RMS, but it was the Ra (and total RMS) that improved dramatically.

To-do Items related to Guiding:

Tighten up the worm gear adjustment a little more and see what happens next time.

Add a DSO Workplan Step to check for N and S guiding on the Dec axis, and to reduce Dec drift with the PHD2 Drift Alignment Tool

Investigate Ra guiding improvement as a result of going to North only guiding on Dec axis

AutoFocus/Filter Test

The reason for designing this test was to investigate the appearance of a highly bloated guide star in PHD2 well into my last few sessions. My hypothesis was: Since the main camera and the guide camera move in unison as the focuser is racked in or out, maybe the focus position from an autofocus run was different from filter to filter, or maybe autofocus was not consistent for the same filter.

The test that I designed to evaluate this was to set up a sequence in NINA that would autofocus on a filter, do a 10s exposure on that filter, and repeat for the next filter. After cycling through RG&B, the RGB sequence was to repeat RGB ten times.

My expectation was that every time the same filter came around, the autofocus position for that filter would be very close the same for each measurement, an maybe the autofocus positions for the RG and B filters would all be close enough to use one focus position for all three filters.

What I found was that there was no consistency in focuser position for any filter. The results could very by 20 steps for the same filter. This could account for star bloat in PHD2.

I have found a CN post that addresses settings that will improve this. I will read, adjust the settings, and re-run this test.

Night Sky Imaging with the Smart Phone

I mounted the smart phone on a regular camera tripod using the $10 adapter that I bought for the backyard horizon panorama. Some exposures appeared to be a single image, whereas other exposures clouds could be seen moving across the FoV. Not sure why the difference, but worth investigating.

The moon tracked higher across the trees than Stellarium had projected, which seem so suggest that something needs to be adjusted. It could be that my accuracy expectations are completely unrealistic.

I would like to experiment with the smartphone and the adapter on the wind up star tracker that I used for Three Comets.

Objective Lens Dew Monitoring

I set the dew controller to 33% at sunset, and left it there for the rest of the night, and periodically monitored the air temperature, lens temperature, dew point, and relative humidity. I also noted if there was dew on surfaces (like my metal table) or on the lens. Ideally, I would have had a control lens that was unheated so that I could really know if my heating approach was successful. Also, this is just one night’s observations with just one telescope.

One difficulty was the impact on the imaging sequence. I had to stop the sequence before pointing a laser dot down the front of the telescope. It seemed worth it time impact. I expect that as I gain enough experience that at some point I may no longer need to monitor the lens temperature

Here are the raw numbers:

(d)(d)(d)(%)(% pwr)(y/n)(y/n)
TimeAirTempLensTempDewPointRHDewContSurfDewLensDew
203070.875.262.879.20NN
210567.672.563.387.133NN
220467.071.664.090.933NN
230063.569.062.897.533YN
233063.168.162.197.233YN
003063.167.362.497.133YN
013061.966.761.198.533YN

Looking at the data, I have made some observations

Dew did not appear on other surfaces until the RH jumped up into the high 90s.

The lens temperature consistently stayed about 5 degrees warmer than the air temp.

The air temperature and the dew point in the backyard weather station began running parallel at 2300, converged at midnight and remained converged for the balance of the night. This is consistent with the observations that I recorded.

From these observations I have drawn some conclusions.

33% dew controller heat kept the dew off the scope all night, but future monitoring is necessary

Maybe the RH% is a good metric to monitor for knowing when to crank up the controller.

Todo Item: Add wind speed and direction to the observations that I collect.

Where to go from here.

The Astrosphereic forecast for tonight is for better cloud cover, transparency and seeing than last night, but the nearly Full Moon dominates the sky. It is still a good night to get some useful work done, so I am planning to work at the scope again tonight. I think that my prep time today will be best spent on the updates to my work plan that could give me a better dec backlash result, so I want to try this before I actually adjust the backlash. I also want to read and tweak AF settings before I repeat the filter/autofocus test.

I will work off of last night’s polar alignment, I and can probably get through the PHD start up calibration and GA run pretty quickly. Once that is done, I can load and initiate the NINA sequence, which takes a quite a while to complete, but it runs autonomously. I am available to work with you and the CG5 if you want to come over. I can monitor both scopes for dew.

West Veil Nebula (NGC 6960, Farm III)

In addition to just absolutely enjoying the chance to get back out in the field, it was rewarding to see my setup doing everything that I asked of it. I am not expecting a lot from my images, because I wasn’t on my A game, and didn’t ask everything of my setup that I should have. Although every aspect of running the equipment has been rehearsed and tweaked over the past couple of months, the Jim part of making it all happen correctly in the field was new, and I didn’t execute as well as I could have. I did learn a lot and am looking forward to getting out under a dark sky again soon.

Start up

At the outset, I got behind my solar schedule (not being ready to start polar alignment at sunset +40m), and that was partly due to dealing with the tent (because I didn’t remember as much as I thought that I had about how to set it up) and partly waiting for clouds to clear. Since I was maybe forty-five minutes late in being ready to polar align, I elected to go off script (i.e., not follow my work plan step by step), and rely upon my frequent practice session of late. Given similar circumstances again, I would go off script again.

Conditions were not perfect, but reasonable throughout the night. It was hot upon arrival but started getting chilly pretty quickly. I started in shorts and a t-shirt, switched to long pants and long sleeve shirt right after sundown, and put on a medium coat not long after that. There were lingering clouds to the north that were obscuring Polaris as it got dark, and they cleared by about 2230. Dew started forming as soon as it got dark. It wasn’t as bad as I have seen it. I noticed fog at about 3am.

My setup was the lightweight tripod, G11, NP101, and ASI6200 with ASI290/OAG guiding. There were no equipment issues, and I was able to get through setup and start up fairly easily.

Imaging

My imaging strategy was shaped by my late start and having just three hours of imaging time before beginning of twilight. I needed 480s per sub exposure time to get histogram separation, and wanting at least eight subframes with each filter, the math worked out to 1 hour with each RGB filter and would need to forego the L filter.

The first place that memory failed me as I was working off script was in the camera rotation angle. I had consulted Stellarium before leaving home and determined that I wanted the long axis of the target to align with the long axis of the image frame. Looking at my pre-departure notes, I wrote down that the way to get this alignment was with the camera rotation at 90 degrees. Working off script my incorrect memory was that I needed 0 degrees rotation, so that is how I set the camera. The first test image came back with the target aligned with the short axis of the center. The Broom was well-contained in the frame, and already running behind, I didn’t want to devote more time to targeting or to risk making the situation worse. I accepted the alignment and moved on.

The next deviation from what I had intended to do was related to how I take care of myself during the night when imaging at home vs. what I did in the field. At home and after making sure that an imaging session correctly running, I set an alarm and nap once or twice. The last time I wake up is for the final check and to capture Flats. I had envisioned brief chair naps in the field so that I could function better as the night wore on. I didn’t nap and that caused two problems. First is that I was extremely fatigued, and gave up on the B filter after just 4 subs. Second is that I didn’t even attempt to take Flats.

Wrap up:

One obvious place for improvement is to practice setting up the tent the day before. Not only will this help my recall for how to set it up, I will also have an opportunity to correct deficiencies like a broken bungee.

One 33AH battery lasted the whole night with power to spare. The dew strap was turned up to about 25%. I did notice some dew formation on the front lens. I think that turning up the dew heater just a bit above 25% will help that.

Being disciplined about brief chair naps and making sure that I start early enough that I can stick to my work plan will help me get better data next time.

Witches Broom (NGC6960) - 2022-06-30
West Veil Nebula

Sadr

My objective tonight was a pre-Farm practice session so that I might have the opportunity to discover and correct problems before going to a dark sky site.

Introduction:

I changed my target from Crescent Nebula to Sadr, which is a star located at the intersection of Cygnus’ wings and fuselage (sic). It is situated in an interesting and dense Milky Way star field. It lies less than a sensor frame to the east of Crescent Nebula. I may do a multi night collection on this target, but I think that ultimately it will be a better narrowband target.

Setup:

I had taken the TV of off the mount right after the last session so that I could attend to a todo list item, which I got taken care of yesterday. I started setting up at 1935. After putting the scope back on the mount, I added the camera, and made power and data connections. Initial power up was complete by 1955, and I was waiting for the sky to get dark enough to polar align. All activities here went smoothly.

When I returned to the scope at 2115, the temperature was 70F and the dew point was 68F. There was no discernable surface wind, and there was some dew on metal surfaces. Later, a slight breeze picked up and the dew went away. The sky was completely clear. The forecast was for the temp and dew point to stay separated by about 10F all night. Tracking together but at a greater separation than usual was new to me, so I didn’t know if that would mean a dewy night. Astrospheric forecasted 0% cloud cover, above average transparency, and below average seeing.

The sky was dark enough for me to acquire Polaris at 2122, and I was able to complete polar alignment in one iteration by 2227. Polaris was just inside of the alignment circle at the end of the procedure, and it needed very slight adjustments in El and Az to center it up.

I began the initial focus at 2127. The focus position was pretty good when I checked with the Bahtinov mask as the position was not perturbed from the previous session. I initiated an auto focus run, that showed a R squared value of slightly less than 1 (I am used to getting perfect 1s lately) and finished up by focusing the guide camera at 2147.

PHD2 calibration began at 2147, and it went smoothly. The orthogonality was off by only 6.5 degrees, and the chart looked pretty good. Initial guiding was Ra/Dec/Tot of .94”/.38”/1.03”.

The Guiding Assistant tool ran from 2154 to 2207. It found that the polar alignment error was only 1.6’ – the best I’ve seen yet. The backlash measurement failed because the mount never established consistent south moves. The chart was horrible. The south leg of the chart was horizontal instead of the nominal 45d downward slope. Guiding Ra/Dec/Tot afterward were 1.03”/.68”/1.19”

With the minor exception of the R squared < 1, everything up to this point was as good as the results that I have been getting lately.

At 2207, I started target acquisition, using the NINA manual rotator. I don’t think that it will work with my setup because the sensor and OAG cannot rotate independently. The only rotatable point is the focuser body, and since it is forward of the OAG, the rotation ruined the calibration. After manually rotating to get approximately the 45 degrees that I wanted, I initiated another calibration run. The dec leg of the chart was extremely bowed away from the ideal path. Guiding Ra/Dec/Tot were .66”/.79”/1.08”, so I accepted the calibration and moved on by slewing to the target. Since Sadr does not have an image in the framing data base, I elected to slew to it using coordinates in the Gemini hand controller. I had Stellarium connected, and in retrospect I wish that I had used it to command the slew to the target because that would have been easier. Sadr landed exactly where I wanted it within the frame.

Lights

The imaging sequence was: slew to target, center target, start guiding, start imaging (RG&B: 20 x 120s, L: 140 x 60s)

I initiated the imaging run at 2233, just four minutes before end of astronomical twilight. The plate solver needed a slight adjustment and the autofocus ran flawlessly. I noticed as the first image started that I had set the exposure duration to 480s, the number that I was using for farm planning purposes. I aborted the run, and reset the exposure duration to 120s, which is more appropriate for the R filter in the local Bortle 6 sky. I had to reinitiate the exposure sequence which drove a time impact of another plate solve and autofocus. The first image was downloaded by 2250, and although it was a single roughly stretched image, it looked pretty interesting. The Ra/Dec/Tot guiding were .94”/.68”/.99”

0240 Checkup: Temp was 61F and dew point was 51F. There was no dew on metal surfaces. Unable to re-establish RDT except through Ethernet cable. Sadr was nearly on the meridian, so I stopped the sequence and initiated a meridian flip with the hand controller. I used the hand controller and Ra/Dec coordinates to return to Sadr. NINA executed a plate solve and autofocus without difficulty after I resumed the sequence.  I think that I am ready to implement flips in NINA. Guide star FWHM had bloated to 7. I need to study this more closely to determine what is going on. Guiding was pretty good after the flip. Ra/Dec/Tot were .54”/.66”/.85”. The L sequence line was executing. Subs 57 through 61 could have been affected by the flip. Sequence ends at 0420.

0415 Checkup:  Although the image session was set for 140 L subs, I cut it off at 100 at 0425. Guiding Ra/Dec/Tot were .74”/.43”/.86”. I noticed that post-dither PHD settle time seemed long, but I could not find a setting in PHD or NINA. Temp and dew point were 60F and 50F, and there was no dew on metal surfaces. There was no discernable surface breeze. The sky was completely clear.

Flats

Started Flats capture of 30 subs/filter at 0425 and finished at 0505 (25 minutes). Exposures ranged from 3 to 9s. I changed each filter’s max and min exposures to 1s and 3s respectively to shorten them even more next time. I think that I can force that range for all filters with brightness adjustments and removing card stock sheets if needed.

Dark Flats capture of 50 subs/filter began at 0506 and lasted until 0550 (44 minutes). It was getting pretty light by then so there is some worry about light leak.

Wrap up

My attempt to use the rotator cost some time, but that’s ok. I was really intrigued by the possibility of being able to get the exact same sensor rotation when collecting data on the same target over multiple nights, and I was disappointed that it doesn’t appear possible on my equipment, but I do want to explore other ways to handle rotation. Thinking about it afterward, it seems easy enough to rotate the camera to where I want it when I install the camera. I can use a piece of tape to mark the rotational alignment if I plan to collect more data on that target on another night.

After keeping my head in the work plan up to Polar alignment, I got away from it once I reached that point. Having the discipline checking my activities against the plan would have avoided the Stellarium error. It is not as easy to see the plan in the dark, but it is not that hard either. Also, I wasn’t careful enough when adjusting the exposure duration numbers that I plan to use at the farm for use at home.

Later auto focus runs had better R squared numbers. Focus positions sometimes were consistent and sometimes changed a pretty good bit. This is something that I will monitor.

RDT connects easily, but the connection is periodically interrupted. Reconnect happened quickly and without trouble through initiation of the image sequence. Checkups that came later checks required the Ethernet cable.

The Dark Flats were ruined by light leaks, but I can recover by reshooting these in the dark box. Going forward it will be better to begin the Dark Flats earlier/while it is darker. I must begin the Flats earlier than I did this morning (0425), and I need to limit them to 5s so that both the Flats and Flat Darks finish while it is still dark. Also, I left the Flat light panel on top of the telescope, switched off, when covering it for the Dark Flats instead of screwing the cover back on.

Todo List

  • Research workarounds for rotating the ASI6200 independently from the larger/M66-threaded OAG.
  • Investigate increase in guiding FWHM
  • Consider automating meridian flips in NINA
  • Monitor guide star FWHM bloat
  • Test for autofocus offsets across the LRGB filter set.
  • Inspect L frames #57 through #61
  • Process and archive data
  • Check chair rivets
  • Look for post-dither settle time setting.
  • Re-shoot Dark Flats
  • Update the work plan to reflect getting an earlier start on Flats/Dark Flats, shorter sub exposures, and screwing on the front cover.
Sadr in Cygnus - 2022-06-28
Sadr

Crescent Nebula (NGC6888)

This session did not go that well, but I have continued to uncover things that can be fixed. I am confident that with more attention being paid to my work plan I can have a better result next trip to the Farm.

Introduction:

I had a pretty rough night last night. I got a started with setting up later than usual, and while waiting for the sky to get dark enough to polar align, I wanted to work with the Flats Wizard to see if I could reduce the time needed to capture Flats and Dark Flats for all four LRGB filters. For those reasons, I rushed things a little bit and never got my eyes on the work plan, so I made some mistakes. I also had issues related to items on my to-do list, which includes some items, like another Dec backlash adjustment, that am purposefully deferring until after this new moon cycle.

Start Up:

The NP101 was already on the G11. At 2000 I went out to add the ASI6200 and connect power and data cables. The temperature was 77F and the dew point was 68F. The forecast showed the temp and dew point starting to run parallel at around midnight, so I was expecting dew. Astrospheric forecasted below average to average seeing and average transparency until clouds would roll in at about 0400.

I completed camera installation by 2016 and began working on how to reduce the time required for Flats capture. With two sheets of card stock between the panel and telescope, and some real-time panel adjustments and wizard parameter adjustments, I was able to keep all exposures between 3s and 9s.

As expected, I had difficulty getting a good RDT connection, but finally a combination of Ethernet and the nano router seemed to do it. I had no unexpected drops through the night and periodic reconnections after closing the laptop to conserve power happened quickly.

The work with the Flats Wizard was completed and I was able to begin polar alignment at 2120, which was only five minutes later than the earliest that I could otherwise have seen Polaris. I accepted my first alignment run, which needed just the slightest adjustment in AZ. This tight alignment explains the absence of drift that I observed while imaging the Sun yesterday morning.

By 2130 I was working on initial focus and moved on to PHD calibration at 2148. Orthogonality was pretty good. Dec leg was a little wobbly due to backlash. An initial guiding check at 2155 resulted in RMS errors of Ra/.80”, Dec/.56”, and Total/.97”. The Guiding Assistant run showed a polar alignment error of 6.1”.

I slewed to NGC6888 at 2213, just a few minutes before end of astronomical twilight and would have been ready to begin, so I was back on track. The target was accessible through a gap in the trees, but I elected to wait for it to ascend to 40 degrees. While waiting, I checked the guiding RMS error and found Ra/.69”, Dec/.36”, and Tot/.77”.

NGC6888 was a rising target, so I ran the filters in reverse order. Test exposure filter/duration (seconds)/histogram separation (ADU) were: R/180s/1186, G/180s/1156, B/180s/1342 and L/45s/1704. Autofocus runs were set to occur on filter changes. At 2213 I was waiting for the target to ascend above 40 degrees elevation. Since end of twilight was 2238 and I began imaging at 2255, so the wait for NGC6888 to reach 40d was only 17 minutes.

Lights Capture

I initiated the imaging sequence at 2254 as NGC6888 ascended through 40 degrees. Auto slew, auto centering worked perfectly. I remembered to leave the L filter in front of the camera, but I should have left the R filter in front of the camera, because that was the first filter in the sequence. As a result of this oversight, the first autofocus run was with the L filter that I had left in front of the camera, and because the filter changed to R at the beginning of the sequence, another autofocus was initiated for the B filter.  Guiding RMS was Ra/Dec/Tot: .69”, .36”, .77”.

0015 Checkup: Guiding FWHM had increased from about 3 to 6+. There is no option to pause the sequence, or I would have paused and refocused. Since SNR was a very strong 200+, I elected to let it continue to run. Dew was starting to form on metal surfaces. I set an alarm for a 0215 checkup and fell asleep. I turned the alarm off and fell back asleep until 0440.

Guiding appears to have ended at 0042 for reasons that I cannot discern from the log file. Tracking stopped due to filter wheel contact with the pier. The counterweight bar was roughly horizontal, so this would have occurred around 0250 when the target would have been transiting the meridian.

Lights capture ended at 0350. The temperature was 69F and the dew point was 65F. There was no dew on metal surfaces when I went out to start Flats.

Flats Capture

Flats began at 0452 and finished at 0600. 30 Flats and 50 Dark Flats were captured. Capture durations ranged from 3s to 8s. Overall Flats capture time was more reasonable.

Wrap up

Following my work plan would have helped this session.

I found some limitations using NINA to get the scope pointed exactly where I wanted it, so I settled on NGC6888, which is a searchable object. In retrospect, I could have slewed to and centered on an object like NGC6888, synchronized the mount, and then slew to my desired location using Stellarium.

I will spend a little more time working on RDT with the current nano router. I’ll see if I can figure out how to do fixed IP addresses.

The coincidence of G to B filter change and guiding stopping at about 0042, it seems possible that the guide star FWHM might have gotten worse with the autofocus that happened at the filter change.

The large initial PHD FWHM number might be due to the difference between the Bahtinov mask focus position, and the focus position after the first autofocus run. An autofocus run after main camera initial focus but before guide camera initial focus might correct this.

I gained some additional experience with the Flats Wizard that will help me keep subs down to about 5s.

Glancing at the filenames, apparently I forgot to change the filter field from B to L after copying it in the sequencer. I had the 20 x 90s R subs, 20 x 90s G subs, 20 x 90s B subs and I had 120 x 45s B subs that should have been L subs. I have already thrown away the 120 x 45 B subs. Guiding stopped at around the last G sub, so I’ll probably need to throw away the 20 B subs. I’ll need to move some old captures onto the external drive so before I can further analyze what happened last night and decide whether to keep the R and G subs.

To-do List

  • Continue to work on RDT
  • Add step to work plan after initial main camera focus to do an autofocus run before focusing the guide camera.
  • Correct NINA file path
  • Process images
  • Add note to workplan to ensure that filter wheel will be turned away from the pier.
NGC6888 (Crescent Nebula) - 2022-06-25
Crescent Nebula

Sun

The sky was nice and blue, there were a couple of interesting spots on the Sun, and I had not shot it for a while, so I got in a quick imaging session

The NP101 was already on the mount. I added the 60Da and the 2x PowerMate. I encountered no issues getting set up and powered up. Working with the polar alignment from the 18th, I noticed no drift.

I started the session at 1020, at which time it was 81F, and there was an occasional slight breeze.

I snapped 75 subs in BYE from about 1036 to 1047.

There were no to-do items generated from this session.

The Sun - 2022-06-25 14:44 UTC
The Sun

Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) and Equipment Tuning

With Astrospheric indicating that the transparency would be great, even though the seeing would be poor, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to work with the telescope and camera to tune skills and equipment tonight, and maybe even accomplish the dress rehearsal that I want to do before going to the farm.

Start Up:

The NP101 was already on the G11. At 1800 I added the ASI6200 and connected power to everything and was ready for darkness in just a few minutes. Even though the Sun was shining brightly, the wind made it feel uncomfortably chilly.

As I wanted to make this my full dress rehearsal, I used batteries were my only power source, and I had hoped to rely strictly upon the field router’s wifi, or Ethernet at worst.

I went out to power up, start software, and connect software to devices at 2052. The wind had calmed way down with only an occasional slight breeze discernable. Temperature was 68F and dew point was 44F. The wind and the temp-dew point spread suggest that there will be no dew. Astrospheric is projecting 0% cloud cover, above average transparency, and poor seeing.

At power up I encountered expected problems with RDT, which is already on my to-do list. I have been working on the list but I haven’t gotten to RDT yet. Last night it would connect to either the home wifi or the field nano router, but if Ethernet cable was connected. It would not connect to either wifi network without the Ethernet cable, nor would it connect via the Ethernet cable alone. As the farm is potentially just a week away, this item needs to float to the top of my priorities. All other powerup activities went smoothly.

Polar alignment took nearly 15 minutes, which was a little more time than usual. I did a second run and got a different result from the first run.. Not being happy with that outcome I did a third run, which yielded a different result from the second run. I tried a fourth and accepted that result as the 3rd and 4th were the same.

After polar alignment, I did my initial focus while still on the NCP region. Polaris is a nice bright star for initial focus with the Bahtinov mask. I was able to see nice bright spikes with just .5s exposures. Focus of the main and guide cameras went smoothly.

Before leaving the NCP region, I did test exposures. I settled on 60s for L, and using the G filter as a proxy for all three color filters I came up with 180s.

PHD2 Calibration and GA run went well. In calibration, orthogonality was off, but the curved plot for one leg of the graph seemed to suggest that it is off due to backlash. Guiding RMS after calibration was .78”, .32”, and .92” for Ra, Dec, and Tot, respectively. GA reported PAE of 4.2’ and that a backlash was 2830ms. I would like to see the backlash come down some more. After the GA run, RMS errors were worse at 1.46”, 1.32”, and 1.92” for Ra, Dec, and Tot, respectively. These errors are approximately the TV/6200 image scale, so the guiding result shouldn’t be too bad. The wind had picked up and could have contributed to the increased RMS error.

Lights Capture

I initiated the imaging sequence just before the end of astronomical twilight. From the equator-meridian position, NINA slewed to the target, plate solved and centered on the target, and initiated an auto focus run. All of this executed almost flawlessly. A slight problem was that I left the G filter in place after doing the exposure test, and this was the filter that was used for the first auto focus run. The first exposure line in the exposure sequence called for an L filter, and the filter change from G to L drove a second autofocus run immediately after the first one. Since everything was otherwise going smoothly, I let the second run continue, but I made a note to put a step in my work plan to cycle back to the L filter after doing exposure tests.

The imaging sequence was L: 15 x 60s, R, G and B: 15 x 180s. Gain 100. Dither on.

The back to back autofocus runs made me start thinking more deeply about filters and focus. I have read that many times filters in less expensive sets will require slightly different drawtube positions to be in focus. Now that I have an L and color filters by different makers, and now that I am getting highly reliable autofocus runs, I think that I can measure the offsets between filters and include that in the exposure sequence.

Guiding RMS improved after slewing to M101, which at this time was about 70 degrees elevated. I was getting .65”, .40”, and .75” for Ra, Dec, and Total RMS, respectively. I believe that the guiding improved because the angular tracking speed needed near the equator is higher than the angular tracking speed needed at higher declinations. After thinking about this for a moment, I etired to the house at 2240

2325 Checkup: It was 63F and pretty breezy when I went out to check on things at 2330. I was chilly with a light jacket on. Still on the first 33AH battery with 12.3V remaining. No danger of mount crash or cable snag. Images are coming in with round stars. Still getting about .72” total RMS guiding!!!!!!

0015 Checkup: 61F. Still on first battery, which is at 12.1V. Wind has died down. Total RMS is up to .85”, which seems reasonable now the target has descended to 54 degrees elevation.

0150 Checkup: Still on first battery which is at 11.9V. Wind died down. It was 57F. The last frame was being exposed. I noticed that the PHD FWHM was nearly 7. I was able to refocus id down to 4.5. Guiding was Ra: .81”, Dec: .70”, and Tot: 1.04”. The target was 44 degrees elevation

Flats Capture

This was my first attempt at a full Flats capture – 30 Light frames and 30 matched Dark frames for each filter. Set up (20 min) and capture were about 1.5 hours. Much longer than I expected. The filter times were L: 5.25s, R:10.99s, G: 28.11s, and B 5.75s. This was with the bare panel on low, and I had to insert 2 sheets of card stock for the colored filters. This doesn’t seem to make sense. There may be ways to reset the way the Flat Wizard finds exposure times to reduce the 10s and 28s exposures. I have some work to do here.

The NINA Flat Wizard is convenient in that once it is set up properly it will cycle through whichever filters that I designate on its own. I am prompted to cover the scope after the last set of Flats is captured, and then it starts capturing Dark Flats.

Looking at the Flats during capture, the L, R, and G images looked weird. The B images looked as I expected

I swapped batteries while the Dark Flats were being captured. The “old” battery was 11.8v

The scope, which sits forward in its rings, slipped downward in the rings when I pointed the scope to the vertical and put the Flats panel on top/front of the scope.

Wrap up

That guiding is better nearer the NCP than the equator is not surprising as the angular movement is faster near the equator and slower near the NCP. I need to keep this in mind until I can improve the mounts performance, and as I begin to work with the Meade.

I have to think about the guide camera being so far out of focus at the end of the session. It seems that as the main camera was periodically refocused the guide camera would also remain in focus. It also seems possible that if different filters come to focus on the main camera sensor at different draw tube extension distances then it might impossible for the guide camera to remain in focus across all filters.

Not that I was trying, but coincidentally the first image was snapped right at the end of astronomical twilight. Any earlier the sky would have been too bright, and later would have meant lost time that I could have been capturing. Getting past polar alignment, initial focus, and test exposures by the end of twilight will be a goal going forward.

The dew heater was off all night, and there was no dew on metal surfaces by the end of the session. In retrospect, I wish that I had turned it on to assess the impact on the batteries.

The Samsung laptop battery was at 40% at the end of the session. I had it open and running more way than absolutely needed as I am still in the learning phase and watching everything very closely.

Even though the wifi router kept this session from being exactly as I hope to operate in the field, I was still able to have a very good imaging session. I would not have been disappointed if this had happened at the farm.

This is a big report, but I have two big take aways:  First, poor seeing nights are certainly just fine for tuning equipment and skills. It remains to be seen how the data look, so I don’t know if a poor seeing night is good for short focal length DSO work. I know that this condition does not work for long focal length planetary work. Also, as a result of being more disciplined about writing things down, I think that I am still paying closer attention to more details that might not have been noticed, or that would have been soon forgotten.  I still am not anywhere near where I want to be with respect to DSO imaging, but I feel like I am getting there.

To-do List:

  • Make RDT a higher priority
  • Check for Windows updates on the mini computer
  • Adjust Dec backlash after New Moon period
  • Measure filter offsets
  • Add longer range items (Like Gemini Lvl 6 upgrade this winter) to to-do list as the come to mind for tracking
  • Research how others are taking Flats with an eye toward reducing the amount of time it takes to set up and capture. Read about Dynamic Exposure in the Flat Wizard
  • Put one wrap of friction tape around the OTA where the rings are clamped on
  • Capture Bias frames
  • Seeing how the Flat exposure times varied by filter, I need to do test exposures for each filter.
  • Update NINA on the mini computer
  • Process images
M101 - 2022-06-18
The Pinwheel Galaxy (M101)

Sun

The weather was nice and the sky was clear, so I wanted to get out to image the Sun today. This was precipitated by my scan of spaceweather.com, which indicated that a lot of sunspots were visible today and Astrospheric, which showed pretty good conditions for imaging as the Sun approached the meridian.

The mount was already polar aligned, although probably off a little due to settling since I last used it and had near perfect tracking without guiding when I shot the moon a few days ago. I added the TV, 2x PowerMate and the 60Da. Set up and prep for use went well.

Conditions were great! When I began working at 1200, there was no discernable breeze, and the temperature was 85F. The sky was completely cloudless. Astropheric was reporting 0% cloud cover, below average transparency, and above average seeing.

The sun was visible in the camera display at the end of the initial slew. I needed to put a longer extension between the 2x PM and the camera in order to achieve focus. Good seeing aided focus as sunspots appeared very steady in the display. I began an imaging run of 75 frames at 100 ISO and 1/500s at 1220.

The temperature was still 85F when I concluded the session at 1235.

All equipment and activities at the scope went flawlessly.

This was a fast and fun session.

The Sun -2022-06-15 16:25 UTC
The Sun

Moon

This lunar imaging session was the worst of times and it was the best of times.

Start up

The Meade was still on the G11, and I was imaging with the ASI178MC. I elected to not use the 2.5x Powermate.

The worst of times began well before dark.  At about 1900, just as the moon had cleared the trees, I powered up the scope just to see how it was tracking and found that it was drifting horribly. Next, I wanted to know if I could successfully guide out this large drift manually. I tried guiding with the hand controller, but the arrow buttons kept locking up. I then tried guiding with the arrow buttons on the ASCOM driver on the computer display, but since I had not ever connected to the mount with the Samsung, I had to set up IP addresses, and that took time to figure out. I got that sorted only to find that it was too cumbersome to guide with ASCOM display,. Next I connected the GM8 hand controller to the mount. After restarting the mount, I began to experience erratic slews. I changed the settings from GM8 to G11 and that problem cleared, so I went back inside to await darkness.

The temperature was 67F and the dew point was 54F when I went back out to the mount for polar alignment and imaging at 2105. The wind had died down and there were lingering clouds to the north that delayed polar alignment by a few minutes. After the clouds passed, I connected to the Polemaster camera and found that the sky was too bright to see Polaris. The wait for darkness seemed to be much longer than I expected, and I wondered if the moon-lit sky was the issue. I dug deeper after being able to clearly see Polaris without my glasses, and I discovered that the Polemaster software had stopped responding. I restarted the software and the worst of times were over.

The best I times began when with the actual polar alignment, which went very smoothly with the freshly restarted software. The adjustment required at the end of the process was surprisingly large. I connected the ASI178 in Firecapture and found no discernable drift at all. More importantly, I was able to use the hand controller keys without any issue.

Capture

During the day, I had looked at Dial-a-Moon 2022 and picked out five areas that I wanted to image. During the session easily navigated to each one, and imaged all of them. I also made two extra runs on Tycho. I took 2000 frames in each run at 4.25ms and 144 gain, which yielded a 55% histogram. Except for one Tycho run, I was capturing the full frame instead of an ROI subset. The frame rate may have been a little on the low side. With the absence of discernable drift, no manual guiding was required during the exposure runs.

I concluded the session at 2205. The temperature had dropped to 66F, but the dew point remained at 54F. There was no dew on metal surfaces, which is consistent with the 12 degree margin between temperature and dew point readings. Seeing did not seem to be too bad at the Meade’s prime focus. I was comfortable in a light jacket.

Wrap up

After experiencing the worst of times with the mount last night, I am ready to put the TV back on the mount to work out any residual issues before going to the farm. Having a solar filter for the TV and not the Meade opens up opportunities to work with the system during the daylight when I am more mentally capable.

Regarding the high initial drift rate, it seems plausible that the mount had settled as a result of preceding night’s rain. It also seems plausible that the 37’ polar alignment error that guiding that the Guiding Assistance tool was showing me when I last imaged M13 was a result of an actual polar alignment error.

Polemaster is prone to becoming unresponsive, but this condition is easy to detect while using the mousepad to work through the alignment process. It was not readily detectable last night because all I was doing was looking at a bright camera display and waiting for darkness. I had closed the laptop several time to conserve battery power. I believe that Polemaster did not handle the interruption very well.

I like the Meade/ASI178 image scale much better without the 2.5x Powermate for lunar imaging that I do with it. Much easier to navigate too.

To-do List

  • Check the G11 hand controller
  • Check Firecapture settings and adjust settings as necessary to optimize frame rate.
  • Process images

Timeline

Check mount tracking19052015
Sunset2034
Polar Alignment21052130
Target acqusition21352142
Image runs21422295
End session2205

The best of times part of this session was very enjoyable, but I can always do without the worst of times. As a result of this session, I feel that I have regained some ground on planetary imaging skills needed to capture the planets when they come around in late summer/fall.

Images

The Moon - 2022-06-10 01:47 UTC - Mare Nubium
Mare Nubium
The Moon - 2022-06-10 01:50 UTC - Apollo 12 and 14
Apollo 12 and 14 Landing Sites
The Moon - 2022-06-10 01:53 UTC - Montes Carpatus and Apenninus
Montes Carpatus and Motes Appenninus
The Moon - 2022-06-10 01:55 UTC - Mare Imbrium and Mare Frigoris
Mare Imprium and Mare Frigoris
The Moon -2022-06-10 01:58 UTC - Montes Apenninus and Montes Caucasus
Montes Apenninus and Montes Caucasus
The Moon - 2022-06-10 02:03 - Crater Tycho
Crater Tycho

Venus

After reading Venus Cloud Discontinuity, an article at spaceweather.com and reading the science paper that it cited I looked into the feasibility of capturing the cloud discontinuity phenomenon. The article said that an Italian had imaged a CD on June 4. The 2020 paper mentioned that Venus’ clouds rotate once every five days. I believe the CD to be short lived, so I asses my chances of having captured it today as small. I had imaged Venus during the winter and wanted to return to that target when it was positioned at a higher elevation above the horizon this spring. Stellarium showed Venus at 50 degrees elevation at when I looked at 0930, and that it would culminate on the meridian at 64 degrees elevation at about 1030.

A couple more tidbits out of the paper. It said that a telescope aperture of .2 meters or larger was required. The Meade is .3 meters and is already positioned on the mount. The paper relied on amateurs’ images, many of which were captured with the ASI290mm – another match! And finally, nearIR and UV filters are required. It specified a nearIR band range. I think that my nearIR filter is in the range (have to check), and I have the UVenus filter. Putting all of that together, I was ready to image Venus.

Set up, power up and target acquisition (at least the first attempt) all went very smoothly.

But not so fast! With the exception of a clear patch to the north, the sky was cloudy. Astrospheric forecasted average transparency from 1000 through 1200, and at 1000 the cloud cover changed to a few passing clouds. The temperature was 76 degrees at the beginning of the session at 1000 and had elevated to 82 degrees by the end of the session at 1145. I got a good deal warmer than I would have liked.

Equipment was G11, Meade LX850, 31mm x 7 EFW, TV 2.5x PM, and ZWO ASI290mm.

The Good: I slewed to Venus, used the flip mirror and eyepiece to nudge the scope to where it needed to be, and I found Venus in the Firecapture display immediately upon flipping up the mirror. I did a quick capture in L so that I would at least have something if the session went bad.

The Bad: I had to reacquire the target a couple of times but didn’t get as lucky as I did on the first attempt.

The Ugly: The session went bad. I was not able to change filters via Firecapture. Firecapture would show me the correct icon for whatever filter that I asked for, but the filter wheel was connected but would not rotate. I worked around this using Sharpcap for the first time. With my eyes on the filters, I could see the filter wheel operating correctly. It’s the same thing only different, so I had to learn my way around. I could not get ROI imaging to work the way it does in Firecapture, so I captured two minutes of the full sensor frame in IR and UV.

Post session to-do list:

Figure how to regain control of the filter wheel via Firecapture, which I like much better than Sharpcap.

CG5 Mount Assessment and Weather Balloon

Equipment configuration was CG5 with Vixen 80. Imaging and guiding package was 60Da main camera and ASI290MM guide camera on a ZWO OAG. Mount and guide camera were attached to and controlled by PHD2 software on Doug’s computer, and the main camera was attached to my computer and controlled with BYE software.

A from-scratch setup began in earnest shortly after sunset, and I noted the time as 2042 as setup preparations were in the final stages. Temperature was 68.7F and Dew Point was 51.4F. There were no winds to speak of, but contrails and high thin cloud bands streaked the sky. We were hopeful that they would blow away. The Astrospheric forecast was for average transparency and below average seeing. The dew threat was low because the current temperature and dew point plots were fairly well separated and were not forecast to converge until around sunrise.

At 2045 Doug noticed a very bright object in the sky located about 3-4 degrees southeast of the Moon. It appeared motionless and unchanging in brightness until suddenly disappearing at 2050. Duration of the observation was 5 minutes. We discussed possible stars and could come up with nothing that would be nearly that bright in that location. We consulted Stellarium and it did not show anything located in this area. I reported our observation to HAL, and several guesses came in. Justin Taylor reported that he observed it for 20 minutes, and that it appeared not quite circular when viewed with binoculars. Of the guesses, we rejected satellite,  ISS and iridium flare, because of the duration of the observation and it’s seemingly stationary position. We rejected swamp gas, because it was way to bright. Weather balloon was the guess that seemed most plausible. John Nagy later provided an email with Sonde weather balloon tracks showing them launching from NWS Sterling and coming near our area. The balloon would have been about 100,000’ altitude when we observed it, and the sun would have set below the horizon at 2030. The high altitude and setting sun explain how it was brightly lit, and why it suddenly disappeared as the Sun sunk further below the horizon. Weather balloons can be tracked here: https://sondehub.org/

Initial polar alignment was accomplished with compass and inclinometer apps during set up. Polar alignment refinement began at 2115. There was some difficulty in acquiring Polaris as cloud bands passed. It was eventually bright enough to see and was visible just inside of the CG5’s alignment scope FoV, probably as the result of a more precise initial alignment we did with the apps.

At 2137 we began focusing the main and guide cameras. We were able to easily find stars, but achieving good FWHM numbers proved a little difficult due to passing cloud bands. The final main camera focus position exposed about 35mm of the bright portion of the Vixen draw tube.

By 2215 we moved on the PHD2 to complete calibration, further polar alignment refinement, and a guiding assistant tool run in order to prepare for the actual mount assessment. Most of the difficulties we experienced  could be attributed to interference by the passing clouds. We decided to do a 2-star alignment in the event that it would be useful in driving the scope around for other activities. I think that it is safe to say that we did not rely on the alignment and we were tempted to avoid other useful adjustments that might have perturbed the alignment. The workplan was to do the next polar alignment refinement with the PHD PDA tool, but finding ourselves at the conjunction of the meridian and equator after calibrating, we elected to keep the telescope in that location and use the drift alignment tool instead of going back to NCP for a PDA refinement. A good polar alignment was quickly achieved with the DA tool. We saw brief periods of very good guiding, and some very bad. The guiding assistant tool reported that the PAE was 37’, but we did not believe that to be true. The backlash measurement failed because there was no South guiding response.

We began the actual mount assessment by taking guided exposures of varying durations with the main camera at 2347. We saw some very good and some very bad main camera exposure results. We were not able to reach any conclusions about the mount’s guiding performance because the clouds had increased, and PHD dropped the guide star a couple of times.

.We concluded the session at 0045. The temperature was 62.8F and the dewpoint was 55.8F. There was no dew on metal surfaces. Clouds were considerably thicker and covered much of the sky.

I think that we correctly assessed during the session that any results from this session would be inconclusive due to the clouds. We mentioned that we were surprised to be able to get the result that we did given the adverse cloud situation. That notwithstanding, the session was very useful in that we had a great practice run with the actual equipment and with the tools that we will be using. Next time we should be able to get through the work plan more quickly, which will open possibilities for experimentation as ideas come to us, or maybe even to test with a second scope.

Two thoughts that came to me during the session that leaked out before I could communicate them were to experiment with uni-directional Dec guiding, and try various exposure settings. We can try those next time.

This makes me think that maybe we were doing unidirectional guiding, and that was reason the backlash measurement could not detect a south response. Would you mind checking? Open PHD2 and navigate to Top Menu/Guide/Advanced Settings/Declination and check the Dec guide mode. Auto is the usual mode, but I am thinking that you might find it set to North only. We can experiment with Auto and South only next time.

The Great Hercules Cluster (M13) and Meade Guiding on the G11

The objective of this session was to attempt guiding with the Meade LX850 (12″ f/8) on the G11 mount. The session did not go too well.

I had a better result with the Pronto last night than I did with the OAG the night before. Even so, there are plenty of problems to work through before I can claim success, and I hold open the possibility that I might not ever be able to do guided DSO imaging with the G11/Meade. It also occurs to me that I can usually break through what may at first appear to be an insurmountable problem if I keep chipping away at it. This will be a tough one!

The Meade with the ASI6200 were already on the G11 from the night before. I added the Pronto as a guide scope and moved the guide camera from the OAG to the Pronto. I had planned to move it back to the OAG and re-test that configuration. My present thinking is that I will make some adjustments and try the Pronto again for at least one more session, and that I will try the OAG again to see if I get a better result with better sky conditions than I had when I used it on 2022-06-04.

I went out the to scope to begin powering up and connecting software to equipment at 2105. The temperature and dew point were 66F and 53F, respectively. The air was still, and the sky was clear. A 33% illuminated moon was in the west. Astrospheric forecast was for Below Average transparency and Average seeing.

Focusing both scopes took 45 minutes, which was way too long. Focusing the main scope with the 6200 and the Bahtinov mask took longer because I had to work out the technique for this setup. All of the stars in the Meade FoV were rather dim, so it was hard to read the mask spikes due to the Meade’s f/8 slower speed. I overcame that by upping the exposure time on the camera, which added more time to the process. Next time I will try nudging the scope around to find a brighter star. On the guide camera, I had trouble finding focus, and ended up needing a longer extension. Also, there were halos surrounding the stars when focused to the lowest FWHM number and I could go a little higher than that FWHM and see pin-point stars. Not sure which position is the best to use. There was no moisture on the objective, but maybe I need to clean it. Even starting from an unknown focus position next time, I can complete this activity much more quickly.

After focusing I ran though a guiding assessment. My approach was to go through the process without making adjustments to get a baseline result, to include image results, afterward.

I slewed to meridian-equator for calibration. PHD reported the result as suspect. I examined the orthogonality graph and found that it was close, and there were maybe three plots that were out of line. Not having any idea what the issue was, I decided to proceed.

Initial guiding RMS was Ra 1.19”, Dec .62” and Tot 1.28. This was not a bad starting point compared to what I got with the TV on the mount, but it was at times much worse. With the Meade/6200 image scale, I’d like to see a total RMS of about .5” with Ra and Dec values being about equal. That’s going to be tough!

Next I ran the Guiding Assistant tool. After a 3-minute run, I was seeing a polar alignment error of 36.4’ (yes, minutes). I don’t think that it was actually that far off, but I did not recheck with PoleMaster. The backlash measurement failed, because the mount did not consistently respond to south guiding commands. After accepting the GA tool recommendations, the guiding RMS was Ra 2.76”, Dec 1.31” and Tot 3.02”.

I noticed a curious pattern in the PHD2 scatter graph. There were two groups of plots. A small number of plots was located in a rather linear formation just below the Y axis between the X axis and the outer circle. The majority of the plots were in a decently tight circular formation located completely outside of the circle at about the 7 o’clock position. I am not sure what to make of the two groupings or of the main one being so far from the center.

For imaging, I let NINA handle the slew to and center on M13.

I believe that the initial slew is based on Ra/Dec coordinates that are passed to the mount. Then plate solving engages to center the target, and in this case it failed. The target ended up slightly off center, but it was good enough for my purposes. I suspect that ASTAP (plate solver) did not have correct parameters for the Meade/6200.

I set up and ran a sequence for 60s on the L filter, and 120S each on the RGB filters. The first images were completely horrible from a guiding perspective, and later they cleaned up a good bit. I noticed at the end that 60s on L and 120s on the colors did not move the histogram completely out of the noise. While these exposure values worked well with the TV at f/5.4, they were completely inadequate for the Meade at f/8. Experimentation is needed, but I suspect that 3x longer exposures.

When I ended the session, the temperature was 60F and the dew point was 52F. There was dew on the grass but not on the metal surfaces. The sky was clear and there was no breeze, and by my estimation met the Astrospheric seeing forecast. I wore a light jacket but was a little chilly by the end.

After thoughts:

One possible (probable?) guiding problem is the weight on the mount. I see two prevalent points of view in Cloudy Nights. First is that the 12” LX850 is near the G11’s max capacity, and that imaging is best done at about half of a mount’s max capacity. In my case, it gets worse as I add the electronic focuser, five pounds of imaging package, and supporting accessories. Another point of view is that the G11 can handle it. For the time being, I’m going to assume that the G11 can handle it, and that its up to me to figure out how to help the G11 guide with some extra weight.

I also see to CN points of view on guide scope vs. OAG, and most come down on the side of OAG as the best guiding performer. It is too early to rule out OAG!

This morning I have thought of three more things to try. First is to make sure that I am balance with an east bias. That went through my mind last night, but I was so freaked out by the amount of counterweight on the bar (59 lbs) that I dare not touch it. I really need to touch it. Perhaps pre-setting it to east bias in the day light will help me get past that. Next, I will re-test the OAG with better sky conditions, probably in a separate session after I am through working with the Pronto. And finally, if it turns out that using a guide scope is going to be the best solution, then I will compare commonly available guide camera weights with the Pronto’s weight. If the difference is significant and if I think that the prospects are good for improving guiding with a lighter scope, then perhaps I’ll purchase one.

Post Session to-do list:

  • Clean objectives on main and guide scopes
  • Balance Ra for east bias when the scope is on the west side of the mount.
  • Troubleshoot ASTAP plate solving issue
  • Research guide scope and Pronto weights
  • Post some test images

Equipment Tuning

After working since 1730 to replace the NP101 with the Meade yesterday, I began final preparations for the imaging session at 1945. There was not a cloud in the sky when I began setting up, but high thin clouds were present by the time I was finished.

In addition to putting the Meade on the G11, I also replaced the lightweight tripod that the TeleVue had been sitting on with the heavy tripod, so that evolution ended up being a from the ground up take down and set up. Other than me having somewhat of a down day with respect to my endurance, the switchover went very smoothly. I just had to pace myself and take many short breaks.

After experiencing the light panel issue a couple of sessions ago, I added a step early in my DSO work plan to check it with the idea that I could have time find and fix the fault before the end of the session if it didn’t illuminate. It would not illuminate last night. I didn’t spend too much time on it before I ran out of ideas.

I used wall power last night, so I am not calling this session a full dress rehearsal.

There were high thin clouds over most of the sky when I began powering up and was completing final preparations at 1945. The temperature and dew point were 72F and 51F, respectively. Surface air was still. Astrosphereic was calling for transparency to be average to above average and average seeing until about midnight.

The initial camera that was used for lunar closeup imaging was the ASI178MC. I was able to easily complete the lunar imaging between polar alignment from 2115 to 2126 and end of astronomical twilight at 2226. I had the ASI6200 in place for imaging M13 and was working on its initial focus by 2222.

By the time that I got started on the Moon, the clouds had dissipated, but there was a halo around the moon. By that I mean the moon appeared to be suspended within a bright orb that was maybe 2x the moon’s apparent diameter. This was not a circular moon dog.

Seeing looked pretty bad in the Firecapture display. As it would turn out the moon was right over the cottage as viewed from the telescope. That couldn’t have been helpful either. Littrow Valley (Apollo 17 site) was the only target that I bothered shooting. I am not expecting much in the way of image quality.

Changing cameras went pretty well, especially for an activity that I haven’t practiced in the dark. I took about 15 minutes.

First I focused the main camera. That didn’t go too well. Having the dew shield on the scope kept me from putting the Bahtinov mask in place, so I focused the main camera by watching FWHM numbers. Doing it that way seemed harder than it needed to be, and I could not get the FWHM below 5. Not sure if that was due to atmospheric conditions.

I seems that having the dew shield/heater on the front of the Meade and achieving critical DSO focus are incompatible. Putting the shield on after focusing and start up seems to apt to perturb polar alignment, alignment with the celestial sphere, and focus, so I need to re-think this.

Next I attempted to focus the guide camera, and again I could not get the FWHM below 5, same problem as with the main camera.

I was not able to calibrate PHD. There were only two to five stars visible in the display at any one time. This could be due to the atmosphere, or the focal length of the scope. I am well accustomed to working with 540 mm of focal length and f/5.4, but not 2430mm and f/8. When I tried calibrating, PHD would not hold a guide star due to the low SNR. I am thinking that the long focal length and slower optics is not going to be a viable guiding set up. Perhaps I should try a separate guide scope.

On top of these issues, I was tired, so I ended the session at 2253. It temperature and dew point were 65F and 52F, respectively. There was no dew on the grass or metal surfaces, which was consistent with the temperature being 13 degrees warmer than the dew point.

Between the halo around the moon and bad seeing in the Firecapture display, and difficulty focusing the 6200 and guide cameras, I do not believe that the sky conditions were as good as Astrospheric was reporting. HAL called an impromptu last night, so I’ll be on the lookout for what they have to say about conditions.

I didn’t mess around too much with wifi RDT connections. I went straight for the Ethernet cable, so I still need to test to see if the firewall adjustment made any improvement.

I think that I have achieved a change in mindset regarding sessions that do not go well in the back yard, and that is to regard them as finding opportunities to fix problems before I get to a dark site. And, practicing telescoping and imaging skills is always important. With this mindset, less than stellar 😊 sessions represent useful progress.

Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) and Equipment Tuning

My objectives for this session were to have another trial imaging run prior to doing a full dress rehearsal, which I will defer until after I resolve the RDT issue. My target for this session was imaging M101 in luminance only. I will combine this with the RGB data that I captured the night before.

The setup was G11, NP101is, ZWO ASI6200, which were all unperturbed since the night before. Because they were unperturbed, I decided to skip polar alignment, initial manual focus, and calibration, and went straight to imaging when it got dark enough.

The conditions at 2100 when I powered up the equipment were 77F and 61F for temp and dew point, respectively. There was an occasional light breeze. Since I was running on wall current, I left the dew heater on just to have one less thing to worry about. Astrospheric said that transparency is average or better and seeing is above average all night.

The only outside part of my plan was to power up the mount and minicomputer. Once inside I was to make an RDT connection to the minicomputer and start up NINA and PHD2. After connecting cameras, focuser, filter wheel and mount to NINA and PHD2, I then set up an imaging sequence in NINA to slew to the target, plate solve to center the target, do an initial autofocus run, start guiding, start imaging (L, 130 x 120s), and autofocus again after every 20 images. If needed, I could have added an automatic meridian flip to the sequence that would have executed as the target crossed the meridian.

It was sufficiently dark at 2150 to begin imaging, so I initiated the sequence. The first slew to the target failed because I did not have the Ra clutch tight enough. This was the same problem that I had on the Dec axis the night before. There seems to be a thin line between getting the clutch tight enough to function properly and getting it too tight, which causes stiction. I think that I now have a good feel for how much to tighten the clutches.

I adjusted the clutch, reset the mount to CWD, restarted the mount and re-initiated the NINA imaging sequence at 2215. The sequence performed autonomously and flawlessly until I ended it at around 0400. That was perhaps my coolest astronomical feat to date. I monitored data quality and progress until about 2330, at which time I sacked out. I woke up at 0330 and found that the sequence was still operating flawlessly and data quality was still reasonable, even though the target had descended to 40-ish degrees elevation.

I let the sequence run until 0400, and then shut it down. The temperature and dew point were 66.6F and 66.4F, respectively. The optics were dry, but there was dew on metal surfaces, which was to be expected since the temp and dew point were so close.

Because of the RDT connection issue that I will need to discuss yet again, I did not even attempt to capture Flats.

All was not Guns and Roses (sic) for this session. The RDT kept dropping, usually after being connected for just 60s. This was quite annoying, but at least the imaging session on the mini-computer was not interrupted, and each time the connection was quickly and automatically re-established each time. While the sequence was running in the background I did some research and troubleshooting, but found no resolution. Looks like less than good astronomy weather for a couple of days, so getting this squared away will be my first priority.

My thoughts about how OneDrive should work at home vs. in the field, and I think that it was doing this at one time, was that I would make the RDT connection via home wifi, and saved image files would be synched to OneDrive in near real time. This was very convenient, because I could access image files for processing without powering up the minicomputer and enduring a lengthy download period before I could begin processing  the next day. In the field, I would be making the RDT connection via the nano router wifi. The mini computer would simply not be able to synch OneDrive files because OneDrive is not available over that wifi network. For some reason this isn’t working now. I will gladly give up the inconvenience of not having images waiting the next day on OneDrive if RDT would work like it is supposed to.

My current suspect is that OneDrive is knocking my connection out when NINA or PHD writes to their various log files. Maybe even synching an image to OneDrive knocks it off. I want to look at firewall settings, number of RDT users allowed, and even configuring the way that I will operate in the field.

My only other post session priority will be to process the images from the last two nights. I think that I have eight or nine hours of integration time on this target from the last two nights. I will lightly process and post a single L image later today.

Here’s a thought that I need to figure out what to do with. Being able to power up unperturbed equipment, start up software, connect devices, and initiate an automated imaging session makes my knees weak. To do this on a regular basis, I would need an observatory. One approach would be to set it up with the G11 and have either the Meade or TeleVue on the mount. After tuning the GM8, I could use it at dark locations like the farm.

All in all this was a successful session that I enjoyed very much. There have been a lot of “pieces” that have had to come together to make this possible, and it was gratifying to see equipment, software, and process come together to produce the result that I want. The RDT didn’t take too much away from that.

M 101_2022-05-29_21-53-50_LIGHT_R__480.00s_100db_1x1_-5.00F_offset=_0000

Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) and Pre-Farm Dress Rehearsal

My objective this evening was a full-dress rehearsal to uncover power and imaging issues with the ASI6200. My imaging target was M101, but I never got that far before being clouded out. I have a few notes worth capturing as an Observing Report though.

The temperature was a very pleasant 66F when I went out to polar align at 2100. There was an occasional slight breeze. I was expecting it to clear off right at dark, but I saw nothing but clouds in the display when I tried to polar align. I waited half an hour and found that it was still cloudy. I was getting tired rapidly, so I elected to give it up instead of waiting it out.

A couple of days ago I made a detailed dress rehearsal work plan, that I used tonight. It required significant modification, but getting through that was progress. I’ll make changes tomorrow. I had two issues during the attempt, the first, I think was related to the second.

Part of my checklist was to update computers (laptop and mini) during the day before a planned session. It turns out that I had turned off automatic updates for the mini computer about a year ago, so it took over two hours to update. Lesson learned…if I am going to disable auto updates to avoid unexpected updates, I need to do manual updates occasionally.

Recently I have had no trouble establishing RDT sessions. The only problem in the past has been dropped connections that automatically reconnect, which is quite annoying. Establishing RDT sessions tonight was giving me fits as I worked through the workplan. I discovered as I was about to shut down that the mini-computer wifi was set up as a Private connection whereas the laptop is set up as Public. I am not sure which is better for my application, but I think that both computers need to be the same. Perhaps the minicomputer got changed from Public to Private during the update. I’ll sort this out tomorrow too. I am hopeful that getting the Public/Private issue worked out will eliminate the dropped connections.

Even though tonight was a cloud out, it was worth it to work out some more issues. I think that tomorrow night will be a better weather opportunity, and I think that I am better postured for success.

Sun

My objective was to enjoy a sunny day by imaging the Sun.

It was 68F, there was a slight breeze, and high/thin scattered clouds when I arrived at the scope at 1120.

The NP101 was on the G11. The ASI178MC and the Canon EOS 60Da were both used for this session.

I first captured a single closeup of AR3014 and AR3015 with 1000 frames at .8ms and 200 gain using the ASI178MC. The two active regions were very closely situated, and altogether very interesting in appearance.

Next I captured the full solar disk was captured with 75 frames at 1/500 and ISO 100 using the Canon EOS 60Da. In addition to the very prominent AR3014/15 area, there were five other active regions visible on the solar surface.

It was 69F, and conditions were otherwise unchanged at the end of the session at 1215

The good: All went very smoothly.

The bad: Seeing wasn’t great.

The ugly: Not much to add to this category.

Overall impression: really enjoyed being at the scope when all goes well.

There were no to-do items generated from this session.

The Sun - 2022-05-18 15:44 UTC - AR3014 and AR3015
AR2014 and AR2015
The Sun - 2022-05-18 15:14 UTC
The Sun

The Great Hercules Cluster (M13) and Equipment Tuning

I had three equipment tuning objectives for this session: co-focusing the 60Da and a guide camera on your OAG for CG5 assessment, and reestablishing polar alignment and checking backlash after the adjustment I made a few days ago. I was not able to complete the co-focusing effort as I discussed in a previous email. I’ll take another look at that today. The polar alignment and backlash effort went well.

Last night was the most comfortable weather for working at the scope this year. It was 72F and the breeze was barely noticeable when I went out to the scope at 2000. The temperature and dewpoint plots on the weather station stayed well-separated all night and I did not see any dew on the equipment. It was 62F when I shut down the session at 2330.

The NP101 was already on the G11, and I added the ASI6200 for the session.

Polar alignment was way off. By eyeballing the PoleMaster display, I’d say 45’. This was probably as a result of my torquing worm block bolts when I adjusted polar alignment.

Guiding was great! Calibration went smoothly without reporting any difficulties, and I had a great looking calibration chart. I stepped into the Guiding Assistant tool and found that the Polar alignment error was 3.7’ and Ra backlash was about 3500ms. Way more than I expected, but PHD managed it very well. RMS errors were .57”, .34” and .61” for Ra, Dec and total, respectively. I’ll take that! Although I am not completely happy with 3500ms backlash, I am not going keep the present adjustment through the upcoming New Moon cycle, and then attempt another adjustment afterwards.

All of the preceding was complete by 2145, so I decided to do a run on M13 to confirm the performance that I was seeing in PHD. I set up a sequence to slew to M13, autofocus at the before capturing images and again each hour, and to capture 25 2s frames through the L filter. The sequence performed flawlessly.

The remote desktop session worked well until about 2245, and it dropped. I was able to get very brief reconnections, which were enough to see that the NINA imaging sequence was still progressing. After the connection went back on one laptop, tried switching to the other, connecting via Ethernet, and switching from the home wifi to the nanorouter that sits by the scope. Nothing worked. I have concentrated on the laptop in previous attempts to solve this. Now I think it is the host computer on the telescope.

The good:

Set up, start up, acquisition and initial focus are very smooth now.

Guiding was fantastic.

NINA was fantastic.

The bad: Discovering that I could not co-focus the main and guide cameras.

The ugly: Remote Desktop dropping

Things to do today:

Verify my co-focus results from last night.

Examine the laptop remote desktop settings.

Overall impression: Very enjoyable session, and I continue to feel good about being ready (equipment and me) for my first farm/dark sky trip this year. The Remote Desktop issue is very frustrating.

The Great Hercules Globular Cluster (M13) - 2022-05-18 02:22 UTC - Test Image

Sun

Seeing sunshine outside, I decided to go out to the telescope to see if I could work on some of the stuff on my to-do list. I also ran 1000 frames on a couple of sunspot groups. I had hoped to leave the mount set up and ready to image the moon if conditions permit this evening. A line of thunderstorms will roll through in a little while, and I found that I must have perturbed the polar alignment while working on Ra backlash, so I’ll need to reset polar alignment before I can image the moon.

The temperature was 78F and there were no perceptible breezes when I started working at the scope at 1415. There were scattered fluffy clouds that permitted a few minutes of direct sunlight between clouds. Astrospheric indicated poor transparency and above average seeing. The temperature was 81F when I finished the session at 1530, and the breeze had picked up just a little.

The NP101is was already on the G11. I added the ZWO ASI290MM and power for the session.

I had no issue with power up and target acquisition.

I ran 1000 frames each on sunspot groups AR3007, AR3010, and AR2011. All of them were pretty interesting. My exposure was <1ms and gain was close to zero.

I changed to the 60Da/2xPM to image the full solar disk, my tracking was way too far off to stay on target long enough to image with this camera. I suspect that I perturbed the polar alignment while working on Ra backlash.

A run down of the work that I did on the equipment today follows:

Ra backlash measurement and adjustment. After slewing a sunspot to the center of a reticle, and measuring how long the sunspot continued to move after releasing the arrow button, I measured 0s in N Dec, 4s in E Ra, 0s in S Dec, and 0s in W Ra. I attempted to more tightly mesh the worm and spur gears and remeasured to assess the effect with the Ra axis perfectly balanced, E heavy, and W heavy. I found that a W heavy preloading gave the best result. The final E Ra measurement is 3s of backlash. I intend to complete a W slew before initiating a PHD calibration. I am hoping that this will eliminate the backlash before I start a calibration run to see if that helps PHD with the calibration process.

I updated the user-defined file name template to include a time stamp.

Tested the Remote Desktop connections for drops and lags. I was on the home wifi for several minutes without any, and I have been on the nano-router that I will use in the field while writing this email and processing the three images, and I have not seen any drops.

All problems are not completely resolved, but I am ready to make my next DSO session a full dress rehearsal for  going to the farm.

A line of thunderstorms is about to roll in. I’m going to cover the scope. Hopefully I will get a chance to work on the eclipsed moon tonight.

The Sun - 2022-05-15 18:34 UTC - AR3011
The Sun
The Sun - 2022-05-15 18:36 UTC - AR3007
AR3007
The Sun - 2022-05-15 18:37 UTC - AR3010
The Sun

The Great Hercules Cluster (M13) and Equipment Tuning

The sky cleared off at about 1800 last night just as Astrospheric had forecast that it would, so I went out and set up for DSO imaging before dinner. My objectives were to check today’s backlash adjustment, and to test autofocus. I also did a test imaging run on M13.

The NP101 was on the G11. I added the ASI6200 and connected the power.

The temperature when I went out at 2050 to power up, polar align and set my initial focus was 62F, and there was no discernable surface breeze. The Astrospheric forcast for transparency was average, dropping to below average by 0100. The seeing forcast for the night started at below average, improving to average by 0300.

After polar alignment and calibration, I slewed to a star field near Arcturus to check autoguiding. The RMS error numbers looked a little worse than the night before, but sill not too bad: Ra RMS was .78”, Dec RMS was .58” and tot RMS was .99”. Ra backlash was so bad that the Guiding Assistant tool could not measure it.

Next I worked on autofocus. After making sure that the clutch was engaged, I got a good graph on the first try. I tweaked the parameters a bit before sticking with parameters used for the third run.

I did two M13 test runs. The first was a 24-minute run with PHD operating separately from NINA (both were running), and the second with a 30-minute run with NINA controlling PHD. I compared the PHD logs for the two runs to star eccentricity analysis of the images in PixInisght. The PHD chart for the first run looks horrible. The Ra, Dec and total RMS errors were 1,07”, .69” and 1.27”, respectively. The star eccentricity for the images from this run showed .75 to .95, which is pretty bad. Visual inspection of the images shows elongation of the stars that is consistent with the Ra RMS error being larger than the Dec RMS error by almost 2x. The PHD chart for the second run looks much better with Ra, Dec and Total RMS errors of .76”, .53”, and .93”, respectively. The star eccentricity chart for these images shows .45 to .6, and visual inspection reveals round stars. The eccentricity seems consistent with the RMS numbers.

Autoguiding seems to work best as a stand alone app (without NINA controlling the mount), or with NINA controlling PHD. It does not seem to work well when PHD and NINA are running separately and at the same time, but not connected to one another. I need to work on the backlash adjustment to get back to at least what I had two nights ago.

Wrapping up at 2345, I noticed that there was dew on the grass but not on the equipment. This was the first dew that I have noticed this year. The temperature was 57F, and I noticed that the temperature and dewpoint plots on my home weather station had nearly converged, and perhaps were just beginning to run parallel to one another with the dewpoint being about 4 degrees less than the temperature. Last summer I surmized that dew begins to form when the two plots begin to run parallel, so I will watch for the coorelation between the plots and dew forming this summer.

I have posted a single test frame from the first run. The image is highly cropped, and it is stretched. Noise (even when zoomed in) doesn’t look bad. I had previously thought of objects like M13 as quite large, but it looks very lost in the uncropped ASI6200 full frame. I checked it out in Stellarium and found the following:

M13 is about 20’ in diameter.

The Meade/6200 fov dimensions are 50’ x 33’

The NP101/6200 fov dimensions are 3d 49’ x 2d 33’, or 7x larger than with the Meade.

Using the Meade/6200 combination, M13 fills the frame much like the cropped image from the NP101/6200 combination that I posted. I am sure that the Meade with its longer focal length and larger aperature will produce a more pleasing, higher resolution image that I can get with the NP101.

Conclusions:

The Meade is better for 20’ and smaller objects like clusters and smaller galaxies

The NP101 is better for large objects like M45, M32 and M42, and extended objects like North America Nebula, Cygnus Star Cloud and Markarian’s Chain.

Decision: Keep pressing forward with NP101 DSO imaging to improve my skills through the summer, as this is the best learning platform, and some of the larger objects are coming up. I will not stop working with the NP101, but will start to include some DSO imaging with the Meade as fall approaches.

The Good:

Autofocus worked perfectly…schweeeet!!!

I think that I am closing in on how to adjust backlash.

Setup workflow has smoothed out very nicely. If not for a Remote Desktop drop, my outside time to power up, polar align, and get to initial focus would have been twenty minutes. After going inside, I did not return to the scope until the end of the session.

Working inside of NINA is getting smoother.

I am feeling really good about being ready for the farm when the time comes. There are workarounds for all of the problems that I am experiencing, but I will have a more enjoyable dark site session if I can get some things fixed. A dress rehearsal or two will be very helpful.

The Bad:

Backlash is worse after yesterday’s adjustment. Backlash was so bad that PHD could not measure it. I think that I am now better prepared to fix this.

The M13 imaging data (image metrics and autoguiding metrics) do not look great.

The Ugly: I am getting frequent Remote Desktop drops and periods of lag. Sometime it works perfectly for extended periods. It is really great when it works. I want to carry everything to the curb when it doesn’t.

Immediate plans:

Next session will be a dress rehearsal that will include plate solving, autofocus, autoguiding, full compliment of LRGB filters, and flat calibration frames at the end.

I will continue to work on:

Backlash. I need a cloudless day so that I can see sunspots. When I last adjusted before yesterday, I could see sunspots continue to move for about 3s after an east slew. It was cloudy and I could not measure the backlash duration after yesterday’s adjustment. Even so, it felt pretty tight. I will measure the current backlash  duration before adjusting it. It seems that I am get pretty good guiding with 3s backlash, but I’d like to tighten that up just a little bit.

Remote desktop drops. This is very frustrating!! I’ll test to see if I get drops with the nano router or with hard wired Ethernet connection. I am pretty sure that Ethernet will be a workable fallback position until I get this fixed.

M13 - 2022-05-11 03:25 UTC - Test
M13

Sun

I did this morning what I have been prone to do sunny mornings lately, and that is to image the sun.

I went outside to set up at 1050. The temperature was 67F, and there was a very light but intermittent breeze. Astrospheric was reporting seeing as average and transparency as above average. I concluded the session by 1115.

The NP101 was already on the G11. I added the ASI178/flip mirror. Set up, power up, and target acquisition went well.

There were two larger sunspots (AR2999 and AR3001) that stood out. There were two sets of smaller sunspots that do not have AR numbers. I could see AR2995 just disappearing over the western solar limb.

I made to capture runs, that covered the entire solar disk. The stacked images will be photomerged in Photoshop. Exposure settings were .9s and gain = 20.

The Good: It was all good.

The Bad and Ugly: All good means no bad or ugly.

The Sun - 2022-05-02 15:11 UTC

Supernova 2022HRS (in M60) and Equipment Tuning

My objective was to beging to get back into DSO imaging after a couple of months away.

The NP101 was already on the G11. I went out to attach the ASI6200/EFW/OAG with guide camera/Flattener package before dinner. Sunset was at 1959, and I went out at 2035 to power up, polar align, focus the main and guide cameras, and calibrate. This activity went quite smoothly, and it took me about 45 minutes of work at the scope. It seems like I was able to get through the outdoor stuff in less than 30 minutes in the past, so that is a goal to work toward. I was inside for the re-baselining and the M60 capture, and I went out to capture Flat Frames at the end of the session. It was 53F at the beginning of the session, and surface winds were calm. Astrospheric projected Above Average to Average transparency, Below Average seeing. It was 38F when I went out for flat frame capture.

My first order of business was to do another PHD baseline run. In addition to the activities called out in the Brian Valente document that I was working from, I played with various other PHD settings. This activity was successful as I achieved a .75” total RMS error by the end of testing.

I completed the baselining runs at 2130, and set up a NINA sequence to capture M60 and NGC4647 (which has an active supernova). The sequence was L: 30 x 60s, R, G, and B: 10 x 180s. I initiated the sequence at 2200 and it is expected to complete at 0030.

The Good: Most things worked as they should have. I was able to get through most activities with only very moderate fumbling around. There is a lot of room for improving smoothness.

The Bad:

Guiding seemed worse when I connected to PHD2 from NINA.  There is no need for NINA to get involved with guiding, so I am content to let PHD2 run as a standalone app.

I should have made the color filters expose for 2m instead of 1.5m. Rookie error. I should have done a test exposure to see what exposure was needed.

Plate solving may not be working correctly. After initiating the NINA sequence, the mount should have slewed to the target’s presumed location, plate solved an image, and centered it in the display. I found the target somewhat above center. I reinitiated the sequence and though that I saw the target at the center of the frame, so I let NINA proceed with the capture. I have no idea what this is all about. I will need to pay closer attention to this in another outing.

I saw some evidence of stiction in Ra. I could see Ra pulses getting stronger without the mount responding for several seconds. After a while, the stiction would break free and PHD would very quickly resume normal guiding.

I was on the new laptop continuously for most of the evening and had plenty of reserve power. I would have the laptop open a lot less if I were not doing the baseline run. This was encouraging.

I purposefully did not use autofocusing. I need to double check the setting, and perhaps I will be ready to incorporate autofocus in my next session.

The Ugly: At one point PHD2 stopped guiding as it reported that the telescope was slewing. I went outside to check and it was not slewing. The hand controller was unresponsive. I disconnected and reconnected the cable and it resumed working just fine. I need to recheck the mount control panel battery again. This kind of issue scares me a lot, because it is intermittent, and I really have not nailed down a cause.

I was back outside briefly at 0035 to capture flat frames. It was 39F, surface winds were calm, and I could see no signs of dew.

Flat frame capture was problematic. I did not spend any time troubleshooting tonight.

The settings from my test run were still there from a couple of days ago and worked well. During the capture, I could see some horizontal banding in the images. I think that these are like “scan” lines in the LED light panel, and I may have set it brighter than I did last time. I let the run complete. I was prompted to cover the lens for dark flat frames, and this where it started going bad. After about six very fast frames, the frames started coming in excruciatingly slow. I suspected an issue with my remote desktop session, and seem to confirm that when I tried to reset and could not re-establish the connection.

Processing and posting details to follow.

Bottom line: I think that getting out to do a lot of solar and lunar over the winter translated into much less fumbling around at the scope than I expected. I think that after a couple more sessions that DSO imaging will be going a lot better. In the future, I eventually want to do a full imaging dress rehearsal without using any household power, just to see if I am packing enough energy to make it through a night of imaging. I would also like to get the standalone nano router working correctly and use it in the rehearsal.

This was a great first night out, and I feel like I have already gotten a lot of issues out of the way, or at least identified so that I can work on them.

Supernova 2022hrs - 2022-04-29 03:11 UTC
M60/Supernova 2022HRS

Sun

The late morning weather was just as forecasted, so I was able to get out and get some imaging done.

It was a bit chilly when I went out, about 53F for the entire 45 minute session. There was a slight surface breeze, and some scattered high, thin clouds. Observed sky conditions and the Firecapture display seemed consistent with Astrospheric’s forecast of Average transparency and Below Average seeing.

The NP101 was already on the G11. I added the ASI178MC for this session to take advantage of its frame rate (over the 60Da) and its sensor size (over the ASI290MM).

The solar disk diameter was just about the same length as the height of the sensor frame. To avoid missing some of the disk, I executed an upper and lower capture run that I would photomerge in processing.  The captures were full sensor frame (not an ROI) of 1000 frames. It took about 11s for each capture run. The exposure time was .8s, and the gain was 200.

The Good: Set up, start up and target acquisition went flawlessly. I hope in the near future to get to a point where I can do DSO this effortlessly.

The Bad: Nothing that I can think of.

The Ugly: Nothing more than just me.

I stacked the best 75% of 1000 frames in Autostakkert!, wavelet sharpened the stacked image in Registax, and finished in Photoshop, where I photomerged the two halves, extracted thumbnails four groups of sunspots, and pasted them into a reduced size solar disk image.

The Sun - 2022-04-29 14:56 UTC
The Sun

Sun

Shortly after rolling out of bed at 0930, finding favorable sky conditions and lots of sunspots on the solar surface, and eating breakfast, I went out to image the sun this morning.

The temperature was 66F when I went out at 1015. There was an occasional and barely noticeable breeze. Astrospheric reported Transparency as Below Average and Seeing as Above Average. As the sky was a bright blue (as opposed to any haze at all), it seems that transparency was better than reported. The display views of the sun were quite steady, so I would call the observed seeing condition as at least Above Average. The temperature was 70F by the time I finished the session at 1107.

The NP101 was already on the G11. I added the ASI 290/2.5x PM and was up and running in just a few minutes without issue. With this setup I made five capture runs of sunspot closeups.

I then switched to the EOS 60Da/2x PM, and did a run of 75 frames of the full solar disk.

The good: Sky condition were awesome. I was able to confidently focus in just a few seconds. I think that the great focus and seeing made a difference in the data that I was able to capture.

There is no bad or ugly to report today!

The Sun - 2022-04-24 14:32 UTC - AR2993 and AR2994
AR2993 and AR2994
The Sun - 2022-04-24 14:34 UTC -  AR2995 and AR2996
AR2995 and AR2996
The Sun - 2022-04-24 14:36 UTC - AR2999
AR2999
The Sun - 2022-04-24 14:41 UTC - AR2991
AR2991
The Sun - 2022-04-24 14:52 UTC
The Sun

Sun

As I mentioned this morning, I wanted to get out to image the large sunspots that have been present for the last couple of days, and that have been throwing off powerful (X2) flares. This is “first light” for the new computer. I had previously loaded FC, and it connected and performed flawlessly.

I was set up with the G11, NP101/2.5xPM/ASI290. By 0920 I was pointed at the sun and waiting for it to ascend above the trees. It was 60F, and there were occasional slight surface breezes when I started the session. The breezes grew stiffer while I was waiting for the Sun to clear the trees, but still quite intermittent.. The sky was rather clear, but there were scattered high thin clouds and lots of contrails, maybe more than I have ever noticed. Astrospheric reported the seeing as Average and the Transparency as Below Average, both of which seemed consistent with what I was observing.

The Sun made it above the trees and I started capturing at about 10:05. I had two capture runs that each captured to active regions. The first set was AR2993 and AR2994, and the second set was AR2995 and AR2996.

The good: Every thing went very smoothly, even with a major new piece of gear (the laptop) added into the mix.

The bad: Unexpectedly found the mount to be one hour off, but I realized that having the battery out of the control panel to check the voltage caused that to happen.

The ugly: …was not too ugly. It was the high thin clouds, which I think is what knocked down the detail that I had hoped to see in the sunspots.

The Sun - 2022-04-22 14:11 UTC - AR2993 and AR2994
AR2993 and AR2994
The Sun - 2022-04-22 14:10 UTC - AR2995 and AR2996
AR2995 and AR2996

Moon

My objective was to shoot a full-disk mosaic of the full moon with the ASI178.

Before going to bed, I checked the Astrospheric forecast for around midnight (4/15 to 4/16) hoping to find good conditions for imaging the moon as it crossed the meridian. It didn’t look good. Waking up at midnight, I looked out the window and the moon looked decent. I decided to give it a try.

I checked Astrospheric again and found below average transparency and poor seeing for the midnight hour, and conditions deteriorating to cloudy seeing (?) and cloudy transparency for the 0100 hour. Once again, I hurried along trying to beat the weather.

I went outside at 0025 and found a very stiff breeze. The temperature was 58F, and I was comfortable in shorts and a light jacket. I finished the session at 0120.

The Meade was already on the G11. I removed the ASI178 and replaced it with the ASI290. Setup, power up and acquisition went very smoothly.

The Good: The moon looked decent in the Firecapture display, so I preceeded to image.

The Bad: Almost right away the hand controller locked up and would not slew to the next frame location (first problem). I was able to clear it by unplugging and replugging the cable. I suspected a weak battery in the Gemini mount control box.

The (really really) Ugly: The laptop low battery warning came on (second problem) just as I had completed coverage of about half of the moon, because I had not plugged the laptop back into the power brick after imaging Venus this morning. I knew that I had enough power to cover one more frame, so I attempted to nudge the scope to the next location. This time I got a runaway slew, and had to power off the mount to stop it (third problem). I also believe that this is the result of a weak Gemini control panel battery. I was really torqued off knowing that I had to beat the weather and now had two problems to solve. I left the scope to get the laptop power brick and the other Geminin hand controller to see if I could complete the imaging sequence. When I came back to the scope, I saw that I was powering it with a battery, so I needed to retrieve an extension cord from the cottage and set it up for the laptop (fourth problem). Before going after the cord, I looked up and saw that the moon was now in a heavy haze (fifth problem), so I decided to temporarily solve all of the problems by ending the session. Since the Gemini battery is in the mount control panel and not the hand controller, I doubt that I would have been able to successfully operate the scope anyway.

There is something to learn from processing the images, so I’ll give it a try. I will probably be able to find a close up or two worth processing.  

Things to work on: resolve the non-functioning filter wheel and get the Gemini hand controller operating again.

The Moon - 2022-04-16-05:05 UTC - Crater Tycho_Southern Lunar Hemisphere
The Moon

Venus

This morning at about 0900 I checked the detailed weather forecast in Astrospheric to get a sense of the prospects for imaging the full moon near midnight/at the meridian over the next two nights, and found that it doesn’t look too good. I did notice in Astrospheric that at 0900 today transparency was forecast as above average and seeing was average. Better conditions for imaging Venus than I have had recently. I also noticed that at 1000 the seeing was forecast to be below average. I hurried along to try to catch the better seeing.

The temperature was 60F when I went out at 0915, and had risen to 62F by the time that I finished the session at 1010. Surface winds were calm when I went out, but had picked up considerably by the time I finished the session.

The ASI290 was already on the Meade/G11, so I only needed to uncover, connect a battery, and go to work. Maybe 10-15 minutes from walking out the door to having Venus in the flip mirror/eyepiece, and then visible on the Firecapture display. Venus was steadier on the Firecapture display than I had ever seen it, so I got pretty excited about what result I might achieve.

While I was getting Firecapture set up for the UV first run at 0940, the surface breeze picked up a little, and I could see on the display that the seeing had already deteriorated somewhat. By the time that I got to the last IR run at 1000, and I would expect the IR to be steadier than the UV, it was just horrible. I couldn’t even tell that I was imaging a 50% phase disk any more.

The Good: I captured three runs of UV, one with the sky hump way left (similar to a DSO sky peak, just wider), one with it near the center, and one with it way right. Since Venus is only very slightly brighter than the sky in UV, this is an experiment to see what exposure produces the best results in the stacked image. I also did two runs of IR, one with the hump centered, and one with it toward the right. Venus is quite a bit brighter in IR than the sky.

The Bad: I still haven’t fixed the non-rotating filter wheel, so I had to remove it from the scope and manually turn it.

The Ugly: I checked my backyard weather station data and found that up until about 0915, the winds had been a steady 2-3mph since 0200. At that point, the winds steadily increased to about 11mph by 10am. I think that the winds aloft affect seeing more than surface winds, but maybe they are somewhat correlated. The effect on seeing was more dramatic than the change that occurred when you and I were imaging Jupiter and Saturn last summer!

Venus - 2022-04-15 13:55 UTC - Composite Breakout
Venus

Moon

My objective for this session was my first lunar capture with the ASI178MC.

I had put the Meade on the G11 on Friday so that I could take advantage of the next opportunity to shoot the Moon in color with the ASI178MC, and it paid off today.

It was about 44F when I went out at 1945. The surface winds were calm, but the seeing was below average. I’m used to that. It was 41F when I came inside at 2120.

The good: Set up, power up and acquisition when smoothly, and I was able to quickly acquire the target.

I shot several closeup, to include Clavius, Copernicus, Plato, Tycho, and a few others. Then I went back and shot a panel series that covered the whole disk.

The bad: I was tired and chilly. I didn’t sleep well last night and would have napped this afternoon if I had know that I was going to work at the scope.

The ugly: With the longer focal length Meade I was definitely able to see backlash in both axes. That a problem that I will reserve for a warmer night so that I can work comfortably at the scope for an extended period.

The Moon - 2022-04-11 00:40 UTC - Copernicus Eratosthenes
Crater Copernicus
https://www.flickr.com/photos/astrojimjohn/51997083688/in/dateposted-public/
Montes Apenninus and Mare Serenitatis
Moon 2022-04-11-0044UTC Plato, Vallis Alpes
Plato and Vallis Alpes
The Moon - 2022-04-11 00:45 UTC - Fra Mauro, Mare Nubium, and Ptolemaeus
Fra Mauro, Mare Nubium and Ptolemaeus
Moon - 2022-04-11-0047 UTC - Crater Tycho
Crater Tycho
The Moon - 2022-04-11 00:49 UTC - Clavius and Southern Lunar Highlands
Southern Lunar Region
The Moon - 2022-04-11 00:5 1UTC - Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Crisium
Mare Tranquillitatus and Mare Crisium
The Moon - 2022-04-11 00:57 UTC - Mosaic
The Moon

Venus

Seeing a clear sky this morning, I put the ASI290/Filter Wheel on the Meade/G11 to image Venus in UV and IR. Everything is taken down now but I wish that I had imaged in L as well.

The temperature was 48F when I went outside at 0930. There was a slight and occasional surface breeze. Atmospheric seeing was average, which was consistent with what I was seeing in the FC display. The temperature was 50F when I concluded the session at 1015. There was a high, thin cloud band across the area where Venus was located, but it has moved to the south by the time I started imagine. There were no other cloud issues.

The Good: Finally able to get UV and IR runs on Venus as it approached the meridian, and with average seeing.

The Bad: Nothing much to speak of.

The Ugly: Even though FC was reporting that the filter wheel was connected, the filters were not changing on command. I verified this by connecting again, and by taking the Powermate off so that I could observe the filters. My work around was to manually move the filter to UV, put the PM back on, image, move the filter to IR, and image again. Maybe fifteen minutes of the session was devoted to manually reconfiguring the filter wheel, and reacquiring the target.

Venus - 2022-04-11 14:02 UTC - Cloud Details?
Venus

Venus and Sun

My objectives were to image Venus with the ASI290MM and the Sun with the 60Da.

It was 50F when I went out side at 0945 and has warmed up to 55F as I finished up at 1100. There was not a cloud to be seen when I started, and a few small, low and puffy clouds are visible to the west now. There was a slight, but occasional breeze when I started, but the breezes were noticeably more brisk as I finished up.  Astrospheric carried the seeing conditions as below average, an that seems consistent with what I was observing on the display.

The NP101/G11 were already set up. I added the ASI290/2.5x PM and the 60Da for imaging.

I had hoped to time my activities so that I could capture Venus first as it approached the meridian, and then swing over to the sun as it cleared the trees. I was running ahead of schedule and had to wait maybe 10 minutes for the sun to clear the trees. Not bad?!

I used the ASI290 to capture Venus in L, just to make sure that I would have something to show for my session no matter what. I also captured in IR and UV with hopes to make a composite color image.

I captured a close up of the AR2976/AR2981 sunspot groups with the ASI290, then switched over to the 60Da for a full solar disk.

The good: Set up, power up, and acquisition went very smoothly.  I uncovered no issues that require work. I did remember to replace the ASI178 with the ASI290.

The (not too) bad: Optics need cleaning, but are quite usable.

The ugly: I had to use what a ridiculously fast exposure duration on Venus with the gain at zero. Exposure times with L was .33ms and the frame rate was 483 fps. I do not recall the exposure duration for IR and UV, but the frame rate for both was 177 fps. I recall changing the filter from L to IR and the dropped a lot, but was still higher than I have experienced in the past. Additionally, I would have expected the UV frame rate to be lower because that filter passes less light. As I sit here, I have no recollection of changing filters. I do distinctly recall connecting to the filter wheel, but I did not test by changing filters while watching for the filterwheel apertures to swing through the display.

As I close this email at 1119, the sun is behind a cloud.

Venus - 2022-04-08 13:57 UTC
Venus (L-filter)
The Sun - 2022-04-08 14:20 UTC - AR2958 AR2981 AR2983 AR2985
The Sun

Sun

I ventured out to image the sun as soon as it cleared the trees this morning, which I could ascertain by noting that the scope was out of the tree shadows. As I crossed the driveway at 1030 I noticed that clouds were coming in from the west, so I hurried along.

The temperature was 43 degrees, and there was an occasional moderate breeze. Seeing seemed about average. Set up consisted of uncovering the NP101/G11, attaching the ASI178, and connecting to power.

I was set up and started imaging at 1042.  I completed four close up images of four regions with 300 frames each using the ASI178MC by 1047. I had intend to switch over to the 60Da to get a full disk image for context, but the clouds were already upon me. Not seeing a break in the clouds, I started putting everything away and was finished with that task by 1055.

The good: I was very fluid and efficient with my activities and was able to complete all tasks without fumbling around at all. Making it a point to get out at every opportunity seems to be paying off. I know that DSO work varies a lot, but I hope that some of these gains transfer over.

The bad: I realized as I was taking camera off of the scope that I wanted my next solar session to be with the ASI290, but with the clouds upon me I didn’t have time for a do-over. Also, the motes visible on the display reminded me that I sill need to clean my optics.

I think that I have good images of AR2978/81, AR2983, and AR 2985. According to spaceweatherlive.com, the AR2975/76/84 group of active regions is partially visible on the right limb while the leading portions of the group have already set behind the limb. Although I could not see any of these spots on the display, I imaged where I thought that the ought to be.

Technique: I was able to determine where the AR2975/76/84 group of regions ought to be because 1) I know what sunspots transit the visible surface as seen from earth at approximately the same solar latitude, 2) there was another AR on roughly the same northern latitude as the 75/76/84 group, and 3) I had my camera axes aligned with the mount (which in turn means that it is aligned with the solar NSEW axes). After centering on the visible group at the northern latitude, I simply slewed westward by pressing only the west arrow button until I reached the western limb. We’ll see what processing gives me.

The Sun - 2022-04-04 14:46UTC - AR2978 AR2981
AR2978
The Sun - 2022-04-04 14:43 - AR2983
AR2983
The Sun - 2022-04-04 14:45 UTC - AR2985
AR2985

Sun

Feeling compelled to do any astronomy that I can whenever I can, I imaged the sun yet again. All-in-all, it was an enjoyable session.

I started setting up the scope at about 1225, captured three sunspot groups, and had everything put away by 1255. After uncovering the NP101/G11, I added the ASI178MC.

The outside temperature was about 48 degrees, and the surface winds were still. Seeing was moderate, which allowed me to capture more detail in the larger sunspots’ penumbra that I was able to capture last time.

One mistake that I made was using the ASI178 instead of the ASI290. Since all white filter solar images are monochrome anyway, the 178 is an unnecessary complication, and the 290 works just fine.

I encountered two issues that require attention. First is that I haven’t cleaned the optics yet, but was able to find a sufficiently large clean spot on the display. The next is that I think that I saw about 3 seconds of backlash after slewing toward the right. Not sure that I actually saw it, but I was hoping less backlash than that after replacing the worm blocks. I can do a more accurate check with PHD2 when I am able to work with a star field, and I can do a more accurate backlash adjustment too.

The Sun - 2022-04-02 16:40 UTC - AR2978 AR2981
AR2978 and AR2981
The Sun - 2022-04-02 16:41 UTC - AR2974 AR2975 AR2984
AR2975, AR2975, and AR2984
The Sun - 2022-04-02 16:43 UTC - AR2983
AR2983

Sun

The sky was so clear and blue yesterday afternoon that I decided to pull the tarp off of the scope and image the sun. I am happy to report that everything went very smoothly even though it has been two weeks since my last time working at the scope.

I went out at 1415, captured two sunspot images, and had everything put away by 1450. The temperature was 39 degrees, and there was an occasional, but not constant, stiff breeze. I had on a light coat, and other than my hands getting a little chilly, I was comfortable for the short period that I was outside. Atmospheric seeing was horrible making focus very difficult, even during periods of surface calm. Even so, I felt pretty confident in my focus, because I was able to see the contrast greatly improve over a very narrow range as I racked it in and out.

The NP101 was still on the G-11, and I added the ZWO ASI178. In hindsight, the ASI290 with an R or IR filter might have been a better tool for the job, since the red end of the spectrum is less affected by bad seeing. Using the flip mirror, I was able to find the sun within the eyepiece FoV.

My first image was AR2978, which had a very large sunspot with several smaller sunspots nearby. My second image was a group of four active regions (2975, 2976, 2977 and 2980) with 2976 having the largest sunspot, and 2975 having the most sunspots. I was not able to see any detail in the penumbra of the largest sunspots. Images are posted to flickr.

Other than seeing a need to clean up the optics, I did not encounter any issues that require further attention.

Sun - 2022-03-29 18:21 UTC
AR2975, AR2976, AR2977 and AR2980
Sun - AR2978 - 2022-03-29 18:20 UTC
AR2978

Sun

I was out from 1100 to 1300 today to image two major sunspot groups and Venus.

The temperature ranged from 27 degrees to 33 degrees, there was an occasional slight breeze, and I had to interrupt my session twice for passing cloud banks, but the sky was otherwise crystal clear. The seeing was poor.

The NP101/GM11 were already set up. I added the ASI178MC along with the filter wheel, 2.5x PowerMate, and flip mirror. Everything worked as it should, and I was able to work without fumbling around much at all. I did have some difficulty getting Venus onto the sensor.

I ran two 1,000 frame L captures on the Sun, one each of AR2960 and AR2965 at 5ms exposure and gain = 35.

I ran three 120s long captures on Venus. The first was L at 1.4ms and gain = 80. The second was IR at 4.5ms and gain = 374, and the third was UV at 29ms and gain = 405. I am amazed at how much the IR and UV filters knock down the light. My intention is to process IR and UV captures with IR mapped to red, 50/50 UV/IR mapped to green, and UV mapped to blue.

The camera remains on the scope so that I can image the moon tonight, weather permitting.

Sun-AR2960 - 2022-03-13 1617 UTC
AR2960
Sun/AR2965 - 2022-03-13 16:21 UTC
AR2965

Sun and Venus

What I am happiest about with this session is that the more frequently that I do this the smoother everything goes. I brought the components that I needed out of the cottage, and was imaging in about 15 minutes. After imaging the sun, I moved over to Venus to capture some frames.

The weather was great during the imaging session – about 52 degrees. Surface winds were calm, but seeing was below average. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

The NP101 and G11 were already set up. I only needed to remove the tarp before adding the Canon 60Da, and a 2x PowerMate. My working optics were 4” at f/10.8.

I captured the Sun in 100 frames at 1/500s and ISO 100. There was one very large sunspot and just a few others.

After synchronizing on the Sun, I slewed to Venus to see what I could do. The slew completed with Venus nearly centered in the frame. I captured Venus in 50 frames at 1/500s and ISO 100. For this image, the bright sky was the dominant feature on the histogram. I set the peak to about 40%, but I could have moved the peak further to the left. Imaging Venus was more like DSO photography in that I adjusted the exposure based on the sky rather than the object.

Processing was PIPP, AS, RS, and PS. I used 3x dithering for Venus.

I found that Venus was not very well placed for imaging. It was west of the Sun at about 35 degrees elevation. The low elevation was further complicated by below average seeing. Venus is probably very near its greatest elongation, and is receding from earth. In the coming weeks the disk will become more illuminated while the disk becomes smaller. Also, as the Sun progresses along the ecliptic, Venus should be positioned on more highly elevated parts of the ecliptic over the next weeks.

The Sun - 2022-03-11 16:14 UTC
Sun
Venus - 2022-03-11 16:36 UTC
Venus

Moon

After finishing capturing the sun this afternoon, I put the ASI178MC on the scope hoping that I would be able to image the moon after dark.

Looking out the window at 1950, I could see lots of high thin clouds. I had no expectation that this situation was going to get any better. Sunset was at 1806, and I headed outside at 1810 to see if I could get the moon nudged onto the sensor display, and the clouds were already gone. I found the moon already on the display. After setting up the exposure and framing in Firecapture, I was imaging by 1820. After that I put the camera in the cottage and was back in the house before 1830.

The temperature was 51 degrees, and although it was not nearly as comfortable as my earlier session, it was still pleasant to be outside without the temperature being brutally cold. There was an occasional light breeze, but nothing that would interfere with imaging.

I have gotten away with capturing the moon at dusk in the past, but I didn’t get away with it this time. Even at 18 minutes after sunset, the moon looks contrasty and the sky looks black in the unprocessed image on the display. The blues wanted to come out, so it was difficult to make the sky appear black without harming the moon itself. I also think that the moon might be a little less contrasty than it could be as a result of the bright sky. I think I did not get away with it this time because I am processing better.

I noticed that the gold-rimmed crater effect that I have experienced in the past with the ASI178 was visible on the display. I had only noticed in final images in the past. The gold effect did not seem to appear in this final image, but I did not process that hard. Something to keep an eye on.

I captured the entire crescent in five separate panels. Each capture was 500 frames in fire capture. Exposure and gain were 9.3ms and 312db respectively. The best 75% of the frames were stacked in Autostakkert!, and wavelet sharpened in Registax. The panels were stitched together and the image was finished in Photoshop. This image is posted on flickr.

The planetary setup with the flip mirror was on the back of the NP101. The photographic path had the 2.5x Powermate and the ASI178MC camera.

The only follow up issue that I noted is that I need to offload some files onto the external drive before I run out of capture space on the laptop.

The Moon - 2022-03-05 23:26 UTC - Mare Crisium
Mare Crisium
The Moon - 2020-03-05 23:24 UTC
The Moon

Sun

It was very nice out today, so I could not resist imaging the sun again. Today’s setup was the same as yesterday: Canon 60Da, TeleVue NP101is/2x Powermate, and Losmandy G11.

When I put the camera on the scope just before 1400, it was sunny and 61 degrees. There was an occasional slight breeze. The sky appeared hazy, but otherwise there were no clouds.

Setup and target acquisition went very smoothly. I encountered no difficulties or issues that required follow on attention.

I captured 100 subs at 1/500s and ISO100. I also captured 30 flats.

In processing, I found that Autostakkert can take a master flat, but I could not figure out how to make the master from the 30 sub flats in Autostakkert. I tried to stack the flats in PI, but maybe that’s just for images that include star fields.

The most striking thing about this image compared to yesterday’s is that there are considerably fewer sunspots.

I am pretty pleased with the outcome, and really enjoyed the time outside on this nice day. I also appreciate how working at the scope more frequently lately has improved my efficiency and effectiveness at the scope. I take this to mean that getting out to the scope early and often, regardless of what target is available, is important to maintain proficiency.

Sun - 20220305 1907 UTC
The Sun

Sun

The sky was very nice this afternoon. Since we’re not going to see much for a couple of days, and for the sake of currency, I drug out the Canon and powered up the mount. I thought my last session went rather smoothy, but this one was exceptionally so.

There was an occasional breeze, and scattered high thin clouds were around. The temperature was 40 degrees.

There were more active sunspot regions on the sun than I have ever captured.

Capture consisted of 100 @ 1/640s, ISO 100.

The Sun - 2022-03-04 16:39 UTC
The Sun

Sun

Seeing that the Sun had a fair amount of sunspots visible today, I decided to image it to keep my solar acquisition and imaging skills current.

It was 57 degrees, moderate humidity, and some passing clouds were present. I managed to find a large enough “hole” to get a decent amount of frames. There was a slight breeze from time to time.

The NP101 was already set on the mount. I added the 60Da and 2x Powermate. I encountered no difficulty in setting up, powering up, and operating the equipment.

I set Backyard EOS to capture a sequence of 100 frames at 1/640s, ISO 100.

The individual raw .cr2 files were converted to .avi, and then stacked in AutoStakkert 3. I then sharpened moderately in Registax, and then finished in Photoshop with Autocolor, levels adjustment, and annotations.

The Sun - 03-02 18:46 UTC
The Sun

M46, M47 and NGC2423

My objective last night was to experiment with various exposure durations, and to image the M46/M47 complex.

The NP101 remained on the mount from the last session. I used the ASI6200MM, 2” filter wheel, and the OAG as the main imaging package. The ASI290 Mini was used for guiding. While I am still in the early stages of re-learning DSO imaging, I decided to simplify by leaving autofocus out of the equation. My focus solution was to manually focus once with the Bahtinov mask, and leave it at that for the remaining 1.5 to 2h imaging session.

As usual I connected the imaging equipment to the telescope at about 1800, which is just after sunset, and came back out at 1850 when it was dark enough to polar align, focus the main and guiding cameras, and run a PHD calibration. It was about 36 degrees, the wind had died down and there was no threat of dew. I did not notice that seeing was an issue at any time during the session. Working at a short focal length helped in this regard.

A small correction in polar alignment was required, presumably due to the tripod settling. The PHD calibration looked perfect, and subsequent guiding was about 1” total RMS. I managed these activities with only one small fumble. I accidentally left the Bahtinov mask on the scope after focusing and had to make an extra trip outside to remove it.

Once inside at 1715, I first conducted an experiment to make sure that I was not overexposing my stars. Using the L filter, I executed a 150s exposure. I noted that NINA was showing me a max exposure value of 65,535 (expected for a 16-bit sensor), and about 16,000 in parenthesis. I surmised that 65,535 was the maximum capability of the sensor, and that 16,000 was the maximum exposure value recorded for any pixel on the sensor. I doubled the exposure to 300s, and found that 16,000 had also doubled to 32,000. I accepted this to mean that as long as I kept the parenthetical value to less than 65,535 I would not have any centers of bright stars blown out. This concluded my experiment.

For M46/M47 imaging, I set up a sequence in NINA that consisted of slewing to the target, plate solving and centering, starting PHD guiding before the actual imaging started. For the actual imaging, set up three lines (one each for R, G, and B) for 8 exposures of 360s each. I elected to not shoot L and instead I will pull luminance out of the RGB image in PS to see how that works with DSO. I imagine that this approach might work pretty good.

I checked the first image right away and it looked pretty decent with round, focused stars. I was not completely happy with the framing, but I was happy enough that I did not interrupt the sequence. I have already worked out how to set sensor rotation at the telescope, but I must remember to do that when setting up an imaging session. I also need to pay closer attention to framing when I am testing my exposure duration. In this case, I was surprised at how much of the full frame that the two Messiers filled, and I think there is an NGC cluster in there too.

My ideal approach to setting camera rotation is that I decide what sensor rotation that I want in Stellarium. Then on the scope, I know how to set my camera at pretty close 0 and 90 degrees by eyeballing the relationship between the saddle plate and the camera. This covers 180 and 270 degree rotations as well, because at worse the image will be upside down, in which case it can be easily inverted in PS. The in-between rotations can be estimated if needed.

I checked on the session again about 30 minutes later, and I was not able to reconnect to the remote desktop session, the same problem I had experienced a week or so ago. I went out side and could see that the minicomputer was still powered on. I tried connecting via Ethernet, which will usually connect when nothing else will, and that didn’t work either. I decided to leave the computer alone so that it could complete the capture sequence if the computer was still running.

I shut down at about 2200, and came inside. Postmortem today will consist of seeing if the entire capture sequence ran, and troubleshooting the inability to re-establish the remote connection. I have already done some reading and have some things to try that look like Greek to me.

At the very least, I should be able to post a single-frame test shot. Hopefully I will have something to process and present a full image.

On the up side of all of this, I have been better at taking the best advantage of the limited and very cold opportunities to begin working things out. I expect to be ready to work on some smaller details at the scope as soon as slightly warmer weather comes along. All of this I think, should position me for some quality DSO work this summer, and if I have everything working reliably, I should be able easily to image through next winter.

M46, M47, and NGC2423 - 2022-02-20 23:33 UTC
M46, M47 and NGC2423

Trapezium Cluster (Theta-1 Orionis) and ASI290MM for DSO Trial

My objective last night was to image the Trapezium Cluster with the ASI290MM to determine its DSO imaging capability. I found that it is not suitible to me for this purpose.

It had been windy all day, but the wind had died down as sunset approached. Brought the camera and power board out at round 1700 to set up and power for remote imaging later. There was no threat of dew or frost, and the temperature was about 34 degrees when I went out to start the imaging session. Seeing was noticeably bad, which says a lot considering that I rarely detect bad seeing when working at the TV’s 540mm focal length.

Equipment configuration consisted of the ASI290 on the back of the flip mirror without the 2.5x power mate. I was not configured for guiding, because it was colder than I would have liked for sitting beside the scope to calibrate and get it going. Also, I wanted to use the top port on the mirror box for the eyepiece to help quickly locate my primary target. This was a smart move because I spent only a few seconds on this task in spite of opting to use a week-old polar alignment instead of doing a fresh one beside the scope, and in spite of not doing a star alignment. Big time saver here.

After dinner, I needed to wait an additional 15 minutes for Trapezium to cross the meridian, then I went out side to start working at about 1950.

I found that the Trapezium was much smaller that I had expected. Even though I checked object scale vs sensor frame size in Stellarium, I expected that the four main stars would nearly fill the sensor frame at prime. That is why I took the PM out of the path. To my surprise, it was very tiny in the frame. I set a very small ROI and imaged it in four video captures of 500 frames each though the L filter only. The gain setting for all four runs was 412 db. The durations were 6.5, 17, 32.5 and 65.4ms. I think that I could see just one additional star in the live display. Maybe one of the video captures will reveal more after stacking, stretching, and maybe I will even try sharpening. The TV is not the right tool for this job. The Meade would have been much better for getting a decent image scale. I am happy that I thought to write down the capture data so that I could include it in this report.

I then went to max frame, and could see most of M41/42, and did a 300s single frame capture. The gain was 0 db, so 300s is about as long as I could expose with this setup without washing out the frame. As expected, I had serious star elongation, because my polar alignment was suspect, and I was not guiding. While Firecapture can do minutes-long single frame exposures, this is a very difficult tool to use for this purpose, and I would prefer not to use it for assessing your mount. Image to come after I process.

Using the wrong tool for the job taught me a lot. For pulling out additional Trapezium stars, the Meade is the right scope. I think that using a planetary camera behind the Meade to do higher gain, high speed video captures will be the best way to pull out the additional dimmer stars.

I also learned that the ASI290 can do DSO photography, but like the ZWO clearly states, the planetary cameras excel at planetary, but are not as capable for DSO.

M42 Orion Nebula - 2022-02-19 01:42 UTC - Test Shot
The Great Orion Nebula
Trapezium - 2022-02-19 01:54 UTC
Trapezium Cluster in The Great Orion Nebula

Moon

It was clear last night, albeit with below average seeing, with the nearly full moon was up, and it was cold. I wondered how to best take advantage of these conditions. The nearly full moon was already out, so galaxies and nebula were out. I would have liked to collect some RGB data to add to M67, but both it and the Moon are in Cancer, so that was out. I didn’t want to sit in the cold at the scope to polar align so that I could shoot a star cluster somewhere else in the sky. The moon was the only thing left that interested me, so ducked out to shoot that real fast.

The temperature was 24 degrees, the wind had died down, and there was no threat of dew.

I went out at 1715 to put the ASI178 on the back of the telescope and power it up and slewed to the moon, which I could easily see through the trees. I did not polar or star align. The moon was right where it needed to be in the flip mirror eyepiece, so I felt confident that I would be able to easily find it on the Firecapture display when I came back. I went inside to wait for it to rise above the treetops (about 40d elevation).

At 1930 I went back out to for the capture session. I started by looking in the eyepiece hoping to see the moon still in the eyepiece, but it wasn’t. I spent about two minutes searching for it but couldn’t find it. I did find that I had left the mirror flipped up. I flipped the mirror down and re-slewed to the moon, and found it in the eyepiece, and right where it needed to be to show up on the sensor. That was my only “fumble” and I only wasted about two minutes on this evolution.

I captured the full disk in seven captures of 500 frames each without any problems. I probably could have got it covered in less than 7 panels, but I did not want to risk missing part of the disk.

I parked and powered down the scope and went back inside. From start to finish I was outside for fifteen minutes for the capture session.

Room for improvement: I did not remember to write down my exposure settings. Also, I wanted to capture in 16-bits to see if that would help with the gold-rimmed craters/color noise, but the setting was not available for me. I need to research that, but I suspect that the ASI178 does not have a 16-bit mode. And finally, if I had remembered to square the sensor frame with the Ra and Dec axes, I could have worried less about missing part of the lunar disk. This alignment would have been best done when in the daylight vs. in the cold dark night.

The Moon - 2022-02-15 05:52 UTC
The Moon

King Cobra Cluster (M67) and Equipment Tuning

My objective was to set up and run a bare-bones test sequence on M67 consisting of 240s exposures, with 15 L, 5 R, 5 G, and 5 B. Follow on tests will incorporate autofocus based on star HFR changes.

I checked the sky conditions at sunset (1739) and saw some clouds low on the western horizon, but the sky was otherwise clear. Some clouds were starting to roll in when I went to get the equipment powered up and ready at 1825. The forecasts suggested that the clouds might roll back out at around 8pm.

The temperature was 62 degrees when I went outside. It took me just twenty five minutes to power up, polar align, star align, focus main and guide cameras and do a rough slew to M67. Prep work that I didn’t need to do was a drift polar align using PHD and I did not need to a PHD calibration because the optics were not disturbed after the last one.

I have had an interesting polar alignment revelation. Based on results from 2022-02-08, I questioned whether PHD’s measurement of a 34’ (yes, minutes) polar alignment error was a false reading related to whatever mount issue was preventing a valid calibration, or if the 34’ polar alignment error was an actual error that remained after the PoleMaster alignment. If the latter were the case, I would be unable to trust PoleMaster. I had intended to cross check the PoleMaster result with a PHD drift alignment on my next time out (2022-02-10). On that night PoleMaster asked for an ever so slight elevation adjustment from the night before (certainly not 34’). I attribute the adjustment to the soft ground and that I had been working on the mount earlier in the day. PHD gave me a good calibration, so I went to the PhD Guiding Assistant tool was reading a polar alignment error of less than 1’. It seems to me that the work that I did on the mount that day permitted valid calibration (even though it flagged Dec backlash as 1000ms). The valid calibration enabled the Guiding Assistant tool to correctly read the polar alignment error. So, the revelation is that mount tracking issues can cause invalid PHD calibrations, and invalid polar alignment error readouts.  

After coming back inside, I was ready to run the a test sequence that I had previously set up in NINA, but the clouds had rolled in by then (1850). I monitored the cloud situation remotely. The sky cleared at 2100, at which time I initiated the test sequence without needing to go back outside.

I posted the first frame of the sequence to flickr with very slight and rough processing. I noticed that there were several dust motes in the image.

At about hour and 11 frames into the test run, my remote connection dropped. I was not able to restore it over wifi, or by going outside to make a physical Ethernet connection. I could see that the remote computer was powered on, but I didn’t know if it was still running the sequence, so I shut it down and packed it in for the night. In the clear light of day, I realize that I could have checked the OneDrive folder to see if frames were still coming in (and they were), in which case I could have let the session run to completion. Other than seeing if a restart of the remote computer will let me establish a connection today, I don’t know how to figure this one out. Hopefully it is a one-off.

This was another good night for me. I think that I have reached an understanding of the hard problems that I faced when I attempted to return to DSO imaging in the early fall. I have made good progress with these issues, and I feel that I have a good handle on additional tracking and guiding improvements that can be made. Interestingly, the planetary work that I did during the summer, which included manual guiding, did not reveal any of these problems. DSO and planetary imaging are two different animals.

M67- 2022-02-11 21:05 - Test Shot
King Cobra Cluster (M67)

PHD2 Guiding Assessment of the G11, and Flame Nebula (NGC2024) and Horsehead Nebula (IC434)

My objective for this session was to do a baseline guiding assessment of the G11. I have some work to do, but tonight was a break through night! I was able to get pretty good guiding and understand the data that I was getting and translate it into some actionable items.

I went outside to power up and polar align at 1820. It was about 51 degrees and there was no threat of dew.

With one exception, I was able to work through the basics to get everything connected and working with ease. This is the result of knocking some rust off over the last two times out.

My basic work flow in PHD tonight was to connect mount and camera, start looping, and then force a calibration. After the calibration completed, I noted the RMS, and stepped into a three-minute Guiding Assistant run. After accepting the results, I repeated the this preliminary cycle. After the third cycle, and seeing that my backlash wasn’t improving, I moved on to the final 30 minute run to produce the log file that is the object of this exercise. Here’s the result of my preliminary cycles:

First cycle:

Calibration: Advisory that high Dec backlash might result in degraded guiding

Guide RMS: Ra = .95”, Dec = .61” Tot = 1.13”

Guiding Assistant: Polar alignment error (PAE) fluctuated from 0 to .8’. Dec backlash was 1130ms (accepted/compensated in PHD). Even with this, I got the best backlash measurement graph that I have ever seen.

Second cycle

Calibration: Same advisory

Guide: RMS: Ra = .84”, Dec = 1.46, Tot = 1.66 (Dec and total got worse)

Guiding Assistant:  PAE still very low, Dec backlash = 948 ms

Third cycle:

Same calibration advisory

Guide RMS: Ra = .98, Dec = .59, Tot = 1.09

Guiding Assistant: Dec backlash = 935

Fourth cycle

Same calibration advisory

Similar RMS

Similar Dec backlash

Thirty-minute Guiding Run

RMS: Ra 1.01, Dec 44, Tot 1.11 (consistent)

Ra dispersion was notably wider in the scatter graph

Ra pulse spike appeared. Each positive was followed by a negative. No consistency in timing.

After completing the 30-minute run, I attempted a shot of Flame/Horsehead Nebula.

Here the things that I have decided to do before the next baseline run:

Check the Ra Axis for stiction. It is working pretty well, but I am concerned about the spikes. I think that I can get the blocks aligned and the backlash set properly again.

Tear apart the Dec worm/blocks. Check for stiction while it is apart. Set align blocks and set backlash.

I examined the logs and I closely examined the image that I shot after the PHD baseline run. I can see that there is more work to be done on the mount, but since the test image is pretty darned good, I am going to set that work aside for a while to regain my imaging skills.

In the logs, I see two issues that need to be addressed. Backlash in the Dec axis, and stiction in both axes.

My recent work on the Ra axis has cleared up the backlash in that axis, but I haven’t worked on the Dec backlash since I have been closely studying mount issues over the past several weeks and now that I have a better understanding of how to set the worm blocks. Backlash, which PHD measures in milliseconds, is about 1000 ms, or 1 second in my Dec axis. I have read where PHD has been able to compensate for 2.5s, but that seems to invite guiding trouble. I would like for mine to be lower, and I think that I can achieve that now.

Stiction is where the mount resists torque from the drive system and doesn’t want to move with an ordinary guide pulse. The next pulse that comes along will be a big one, and the big one pushes the axis through the sticky point. I see that going on in both axes. It is a matter of getting in there and making sure that everything that is supposed to be lubed is lubed, everything that is supposed to be clean is clean and everything is assembled with washers, spacers and bearings in the correct order. Regarding correct assembly, there are some washers, spring washers, spacers and thrust bearings in each axis that have come from the factory in the wrong order. I now know the correct order, so I can check that and fix if necessary.

The only catch to checking stiction is that I have to remove the worm to check it. In the case of the Ra axis where I seem to have set the worm/blocks very well, I am reluctant to perturb that goodness just to chase better metrics.

At the end of the day, the baselining guide document says that what matters more than guiding metrics is the photo quality. That’s where the optics and sensor trump mechanics. I posted a single 180s monochrome image of Flame and Horsehead on flickr. I have round stars that do not appear to be bloated.

In my case, my sensor scale (a factor of focal length and pixel size) is 1.44”/px, and my total RMS error is about 1.1”. I see round stars in the image that I took last night, so I think that I am going to accept the Dec backlash and the stiction for the time being. This would never work with the Meade, but I can save further work on the G11 until it gets more comfortable outside.

Instead of further heroics with battling cold, windy, and cloudy weather just to get a wee amount of time to tune the mount, I am moving on to imaging. I’ll start with a star cluster while the moon is still around, moving on to dimmer stuff later.

As for an astronomy man conference, how about we set two conditions: a high above 50 degrees and a clear evening sky? I am thinking that a mid-afternoon start would give us time work some things out, and then we could set up and work with your mount afterwards. It doesn’t get dark enough to start working at the scope until 6:30 now, so that would give us time to grab a pizza, which we could eat outside. Or, we can do two separate sessions if you prefer.

I have been rethinking the 8-bit vs. 16 bit issue. It seems that a pixel value of 255 in 8-bits ought to be as bright as a pixel value of 65,535 in 16 bits. The only advantage of 16 bits is that you get a smoother transition as a star brightness decreases. I don’t know about it for sure, but hands on testing is required.

Flame and Horsehead Nebulae - 2022-02-10 2200 UTC - Test Shot
Flame Nebula and Horsehead Nebula

Moon

I had three objectives tonight, but wasn’t sure that I would hold out through the third. My plan was to capture the moon right after sunset, and go back out after dinner to polar align, and attempt a G11 baselining run for my second objective. My third objective was to see what settings I needed to shoot a star field with the ASI290.

The temperature was about 38 degrees when I went out to shoot the moon at 1745, and it was 30 degrees when I shut down at about 2110. I did not anticipate a dew or frost problem, so I didn’t even turn on the dew heaters. The wind had calmed down before I started. Shooting the moon at about 1200mm focal length, I could not detect a seeing problem. The 1st Quarter moon was did not create any difficulty for my purposes.

This was my second night out as I have resumed work at the telescope in earnest this year. I still had a little bit of rust to knock off, but was able to accomplish the basics without much difficulty.

For the moon, I shot a three panel mosaic with the ASI178MC with the 2.5x PM in the optical path. Each panel was 500 frames, and the histogram was about 70%. I failed to remember or write down the gain and exposure. I plan to apply the mineral moon processing technique.

For the baselining attempt, I was able to get PHD2 up and running, equipment connected, and get and step into a calibration without difficulty. Additionally, I used Stellarium to slew the scope to the meridian. I could not get a good calibration result. Orthogonality was way off, and the graph was an incoherent mess . Guiding was horrible. I saw RMSs that quickly ran up to 25 and 30 or more before guiding failed. I suspected polar alignment and worked on that. I double checked the alignment scope, ran polemaster again, and was happy with that. I tried the Guiding Assistant and it was reading a polar alignment error of 34’.

It seems to me that the real issue is the whatever is causing the calibration problem. Whatever that problem is, it could be preventing the Guiding Assistant Tool from properly reading the polar alignment error. If I get another clear sky opportunity, before I can work on the mount, I will try doing a PHD drift alignment to see if that helps. Otherwise, if I get a chance to work on the mount, I’ll go ahead and do the worm block alignment, install the spring washers and adjust the backlash.

I did most of the baseline work remotely from the inside, but I was out a good bit working on polar alignment. Because I was tired of being cold, I did not attempt the star field imaging with the ASI290. I’ll defer that to another night.

Moon - 2022-02-08 22:42 UTC
The Moon

Soul Nebula (IC1848) and Great Orion Nebula (M42)

I never did take the 60Da/NP101/G11 down, so I had a great starting point for imaging last night. Since there was not a guide scope in that setup, and I don’t have a way to easily add one, either my tracking was going to be good enough to image and I could proceed, or the session would have ended before it got started. While I was taking test shots to get my exposure right I found that 20s at ISO 800 was my sweet spot, and my stars appeared round. I concluded that the sky must have been exceptionally bright to only be able to get a good histogram at 20s. Maybe it is lights reflecting off of the snow cover.

My objectives were to capture Soul Nebula (IC 1848), and switch to Orion Nebula (M42) when It got above the trees. With M42 I wanted to run a capture with a normal exposure histogram peak at 25-33%, which would expose most of the nebula correctly. I would expect that the bright center would be overexposed. I would then run another capture that was underexposed to capture detail around the bright Trapezium. After stacking, my intent is to use high-dynamic range (HDR) processing techniques to produce a combined image that is not blown out in the bright core.

The temperatures were 27 degrees when I went out the uncover the scope and power up the minicomputer at 1630 (15 minutes); 23 degrees by the time I went back out to polar align, focus, and star align at 1750 (20 minutes); and it was 19 degrees on my final trip out to shut down the scope at 2320 (2 minutes). I got a little chilly during the polar alignment visit to the scope, but it wasn’t too bad. The dew point was below the temperature, which I took to mean a low risk of dew or frost, but since I was using wall power instead of a battery, I turned on the dew heater as a precautionary measure. Winds were very light to completely still.

There were no equipment issues. Everything connected and worked properly. After powering up the mount, I polar aligned with PoleMaster and found that I was about 1/3 degree off, probably because of tripod legs settling. I set my focus with Polaris in the star field and decided that I would not refocus for the rest of the night. I slewed to Capella, which is near my first target, to star align. I found it with in the image frame, so I centered up and synchronized the mount.

While on IC 1848 I was not able to determine if I had the telescope on the target and properly framed, because I could not detect any nebulosity in a single frame, and because I could not match star patterns in the frame with Stellarium. I have fairly high confidence that I was on target because of the close proximity of IC 1848 to my alignment star, and because M42 was perfectly centered after my next slew. I took 58 20s subs at ISO 1600.

I slewed to M42 at around 2025, and had to wait briefly for it to clear the treetops before I began imaging at 2036. For my normally exposed images, I took 240 20s subs at ISO 800. The sky seemed brighter so I had stopped down from ISO 1600 to ISO 800 to get my histogram peak back to about 25%. For my underexposed images, I left the ISO at 800, and took 30 subs at 1s, 2s, and 4s. The reason for taking three sets of underexposed images is that I do not have experience with HDR processing, and therefore I have no idea what amount of exposure is going to work best for the final image.

After shooting M42, I took 25 darks at ISO 800 at durations of 20s, 4s, 2s, and 1s to match the M42 light frames. I should have taken 25 darks at ISO 1600 with a duration of 20s to match the IC 1848 lights.

This morning after it warms up just a little, I will go out to capture some dark frames to go with IC 1848, and capture some flat frames.

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)

My objective was to image Leonard with the NP101/60Da.

The temperature was about 38 degrees at the start of the session and had dropped to 35 by the end. I was dressed warmly with battery warmers in my boots and chem warmers in my gloves. The air was still save for an occasional very slight breeze. Dew was not present at all. I did note some high clouds to the distant north that I thought were worth keeping an eye on, but they did not become an issue.

This observing session actually started on Friday morning when I returned from Carrs Mill. The last thing that I did before going inside was to see if Arcturus (and Leonard) were visible above the trees. I estimated that the comet had cleared the trees at around 0400.

This morning I woke up shortly before 0300, and I found the sky to be completely clear. I had not set an alarm because the forecast didn’t look so good. 

I got dressed and was at the scope by 0330. In the interest of time, I elected to try to get a good PoleMaster alignment instead of trying to get PHD up and guiding. I think this worked because I was not seeing elongated stars in my 40 second frames.

My slews were maybe 20 degrees off target, and I couldn’t figure out why. I abandoned the troubleshooting effort and then tried manually slewing to Arcturus thinking that if I could star align on it that I could slew to the comet. I have no finder or Telrad on the 4″, so that was causing problems. I never saw Arcturus, but just when I thought that I couldn’t buy a break found the comet in the frame. 

It took me just a few minutes to settle on exposure values. I put the histogram spike at 33 percent with ISO 1600 and 40 seconds. I thought about going ISO 3200 and 20 seconds to reduce elongation, but that would have doubled my number of exposures, and along with that the number of read noise injections would double, and I would have double the number of 8-second unproductive download times. I closely checked a 40 second exposure and couldn’t detect any elongation, so I went with that. I started snapping light frames at 0402.

Wondering how long I would be able to image, I checked the beginning of astronomical and nautical twilight and found that they were 0536 and 0608 respectively. I was pretty sure that I could go for some time longer than 0536, but I wanted to know how much longer. It occurred to me that as long as the histogram spike stayed at 33 percent that I was clear to keep imaging, so I started monitoring the spike at the beginning of astronomical twilight. The spike stayed steady until it started moving to the right at 0600.

I captured 75 frames. I could see the tail extend almost 1/4 the length of the frame in the BYE display. I inspected one in Photoshop and it looked pretty good, so I am looking forward to working with the data.

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)

Phil opened Carrs Mill at 0200 this morning for the purpose of observing and imaging C/2021 A1 (Leonard). John Nagy and James Willinghan were present as well. The forecast during the preceding 24 hours, and the observed weather conditions when I woke up at 0115 and when I arrived an hour later were not promising at all.

The equipment that I selected for this session, based on indications of an extended tail length that I was seeing on line, was the Canon 60Da (APS-C) and 50mm lens. The camera was mounted on the Omegon LX-2 mini wind-up tracker. Image capture was managed with Backyard EOS running on my laptop. All equipment and software functioned as designed during the entire session.

The sky was almost completely clouded out and the wind gusts were quite strong when I arrived at Carrs Mill at 0215. There was no dew at any point during the entire session. The temperature was about 45 degrees and remained steady during the session.

I spoke briefly with Phil, John and James before electing to defer setting up equipment until conditions improved. While waiting, I sat in the Jeep to keep myself out of the wind. The Big Dipper and Arcturus were intermittently visible through and between the clouds. I used these points and the time inside of the Jeep to get my bearings.

The weather looked like it was breaking, so I hopped out of the Jeep and set up equipment at about 0315. By the time I finished, the eastern sky had clouded up again. I returned to the Jeep for about 30 minutes, at which time the clouds had abated.

By about 0350, conditions had greatly improved, and the wind had died down. I got out of the Jeep to perfect the framing, focus, and exposure values.  As a result of not having using the tracker in a while, I experienced some difficulty with getting it on the target, but not too much. After perfecting my focus, I began to snap preview images to get my focus and framing correct.

Next I initiated a run to capture 100 light frames. My exposure settings were TV=4s, AV=305mm, aperture = f/2.8. I examined a couple of frames and found the comet’s tail did not appear nearly as long as planetarium software projected. Maybe stacking will pull out more detail.

After capturing 100 light frames and 50 dark frames, I packed the equipment back into the Jeep. After chatting with Phil, John and James again, I departed Carrs Mill at about 0535.

As for afterthoughts, my operating focal length was way to short for the job. I am not expecting much out of my final image. Also, there is something off about the images of the comet that I did capture. It seems that I might have already decided that the 60Da is not my best cometary sensor, but I want to look into that again.

I would like to image the comet again before it becomes an evening object. I think that I want to use my Pronto with the ASI178MC. Weather doesn’t look so good, so I have a wait ahead of me.

Partial Lunar Eclipse

Wow, what a sight!  I hope that I have captured some small measure of it’s “in-person” beauty!!

Getting up at 0230 and getting outside by 0245 went well, as did completing the TV set up and power up. I worked off of the same polar alignment that I used a couple of nights ago, and did not need to manually guide during what I estimate to be about sixty second capture runs. Short focal length was my friend in this regard.

The temperature was 40 degrees, and humidity was low. No moisture on optics or equipment during the one hour and fifteen minute session. I could hear wind in the trees, but only felt an occasional slight breeze. I could see the image shimmering on the display, which at 540 mm focal length means that seeing wasn’t great.

My prep plan for earlier in the day was to make sure that my optics were clean, and to assemble and refamiliarize myself with the Canon on the wind up tracker.

The Moon was in a clear patch of sky when I went outside, but I could see high clouds off to the west. My guess upon seeing this is that I might have to patiently wait for a short gap in the clouds to capture an image when the time came.

The initial bank of clouds passed though leaving another clear patch for a while, but another bank of clouds had appeared to the west. By the time was ready to image, the sky overhead was completely clear, but more clouds had appeared very low on the western horizon. These clouds had not yet arrived by the time that I went inside at 0430, but I could see that they were closer than they were 40 minutes earlier.

Apparently I did not learn a lesson last July when I shot Three Comets. The lesson that I thought that I had learned was to set it up and get familiar with getting it pointed. I completely forgot to do that earlier in the day. I thought about abandoning that part of the session, but I had the Moon up on Firecapture with 30 minutes before I wanted to start shooting. I was able to get the Canon/tracker assembled, and get back to the TV with ten minutes to go.

I proceeded with my plan which was to image through the TV at 0400, which was near maximum eclipse, and then work with the Canon. The rationale for this strategy was that the TV image was the main event, and I didn’t want to put that activity at risk by fiddling with the Canon. Also, the image scale with the Canon/50mm lens made me think that being past the maximum eclipse might make for a better picture.

I encountered one equipment problem. On attempting a nudge with the hand controller, the mount ran away. I was using the hardware arrow keys on back of the controller. I turned it over to look at the display arrow keys, and it indicated that the key was still being pressed. I tapped the hardware key, and it released. I had no problem slewing back to the Moon. I’ll have to read up on this issue to see what needs to be done and how to do it.

Knowing that what I see on the display and what I get in processing is two completely different looks, I took a couple of capture runs at various exposure levels with both cameras.

I powered down, covered up, and was back inside by 0435. Looking forward to seeing what I can pull out of the data.

Lunar Eclipse - 2021-11-19 09:06 UTC
The Moon, Partial Lunar Eclipse

Soul Nebula (IC1848)

My objective tonight was to begin imaging the Soul Nebula for HAL’s Winter Imaging Activity (WIA). I knew at the outset that I still had to work through some process issues to get up and running. I almost made it to the capturing some useful data, but not quite.

As for conditions, it was chilly at the outset. Not sure what the temperature was then, but it was 35 degrees when I came in. No issues at all with the dew. There were some high, thin passing clouds that eventually moved out. Seeing was not an issue at fl=540mm. Transparency didn’t seem to be an issue.

For preliminary work earlier in the day, I had re-leveled the mount after taking the Meade down. Since it had been set up for three months, I was not surprised to see that it was noticeably off.  Then I put the TV/ASI6200 set up on the G11 and worked out how I would collect Flat, Dark, and Flat Dark frames. The because of the bright mid-day sunshine, light was leaking in somewhere and ruining my Darks. It took a while to solve that. Still not sure whether the leak was from the front of the scope/around the dew shield, for from the back of the scope where there are several connections between scope, field flattener, OAG, filter wheel, and camera. Not sure that I need to solve this, because I do not anticipate collecting darks and flats in the daylight.

I went out at about 1900. It was already very chilly. I worked at the scope for about 45 minutes doing polar alignment. I experienced a transient issue that kept me on this task longer than usual. I brought up the camera and achieved initial focus, slewed to meridian-equator for PHD calibration (slight orthogonality error, but was getting sub arcsecond guiding!), and slewed to the target. I was pretty cold by the time I came in.

Once inside I began work to  decide on an exposure duration. That went well and I settled on 360s, which put the left peak of my histogram about 20% from the left edge. I then began working on framing. The target has an elongated shape that needed to be aligned across the center of the long axis of the frame. The problem here is that the nebula is too dim to be seen in a single frame, so I had to rely on matching star patterns to get the orientation correct. I figured out that a 90 degree rotation in either direction would be perfect, so I rotated the camera and went back inside.

I needed test exposures, but NINA had stopped taking images, and guiding stopped. I could see nothing in the software, so I went back outside to check. It turns out that when I rotated the camera, the USB that carries both cameras to the mini computer had gotten unplugged. I took care of that and went back inside.

Getting back to work, I discovered that my guiding error was off the charts. I went outside to check for cable snags, but couldn’t find anything wrong. I worked on this by restarting everything, but the condition persisted for about 30 minutes. I finally realized that the camera rotation made the calibration invalid, so I recalibrated.

While trying to get back to equator-meridian from Stellarium, I saw the scope head straight east toward the meridian and it kept on going. No idea why. I went outside and found the scope up against the pier. I manually moved it to park, shut everything down, and went back inside. It was 2200, and the temperature was 35 degrees. I was uncomfortably cold from my trips outside.

There is nothing in particular that I want to work on tomorrow. Everything worked pretty much as it should until the errant slew toward the end. I imagine that issue, like all of the others that I experienced, was a result of my error. Hopefully I have cleared the backlog of Jim issues that need to be worked out, and perhaps I can get to imaging forthwith on my next outing.

DSO Equipment Tuning

Even though it was still cloudy, I put my faith in the forecast and set up at 1630. That went well, and I didn’t stumble over anything.

I went back out at after dinner (2000) to power up, and that went very well too. It was about 60 degrees, and everything was dry. Power up went well, and I was able to get all devices connected to NINA without issue. Polar alignment was just a little, and I attribute that to settling and exposure to high winds.

On my slew to equator and meridian for calibration, the dec axis stopped slewing (along with the lag error and beep). I tried slewing away from where it bound up and coming back, but I couldn’t get through that point. Powered down and left the mount positioned as it was. With the binding point identified, maybe I can find out why it is binding.

The entire session lasted fifteen minutes.

Moon

My objectives were to possibly shoot Jupiter early with the ASI178/Meade/G11, work on polar alignment with the ASI6200/TV/GM8 and possibly shoot a stars-only target, and finish up by shooting the Moon with the ASI178/Meade/G11.

The weather was warm (at first) to chilly (later). I put on a sweatshirt as it got cooler. Dew was not present at all and there as an occasional very light breeze. Seeing was about 5 of 10. It was an enjoyable evening to be out.

I went out to set up at about 1810 and was up and running with the Meade by 1845. I would have taken a look at Venus, but it was in the trees. I decided instead to try Jupiter with the new camera. I had to wait a few minutes for Jupiter to clear the trees, but was ready to get to work as soon as it did. As a result of working at prime and having accumulated experience with the flip mirror, I found Jupiter on the display as soon as I flipped the mirror up.

I shot it in first in full color with a tight ROI at normal exposure settings. I then shot a set with an ROI that covered Jupiter and the four Galilean moons that was highly over exposed, hoping to pick up some of the smaller moons for the first time. As I think about it this morning, I wish I had captured another run with even more exposure.

After coming in for dinner, I went out to work with polar alignment and tracking on TV/GM8. I was able to get up and running with no issues. I first polar aligned with PoleMaster, and found it to be about 15’ off (about 1/4 the distance between Polaris and NCP). After two adjustments (put Polaris in the circle, and put the red and green boxes on top of one another), I repeated the process two times, and at the end of each try Polaris was perfectly centered in the circle, and the boxes were one on top of the other. I accepted that result and moved on to PHD.

In PHD I slewed to meridian-equator and calibrated. My result about a 15 degree orthogonality error and I got a fairy decent graph. This was much better than last time, and I attribute the this to the backlash adjustment that I made a few days ago. I then let it guide for a few minutes and found about 3-4’ total RMS error. I then stepped into Guiding Assistant tool. It reported my polar alignment error at about 10’ (yes, definitely minutes), and I accepted the recommended parameter changes. I did not attempt to adjust polar alignment.

This might have been a moment of brilliance. It occurred to me that if calibration were done with guiding parameters worse than I have now, would the calibration be better with better parameters. I did another calibration and found the orthogonality error to be about 8 degrees. I let the guiding run for a few minutes and found total RMS error to be about 2.3”. I then went back to the Guiding Assistant tool and found the polar alignment error be reduced to 3’ even though I had not adjusted the alignment. It seems that doing a calibration with better guiding parameters made a difference. Thinking about it this morning, I am not sure that this makes sense.

So why not another round, I thought. I went back through the sequence again. Orthogonality was about 7 degrees, total RMS a little less than 2”, and the reported polar alignment error was less than 1”.

My conclusions from this exercise are that having better guiding parameters improves a lot of things, and a couple of iterations to get dialed in might not be a bad idea. Since the guiding parameters are saved, I would not need to iterate any further to get the same result that I did last night. One calibration would be enough. But maybe I could do a couple more iterations to get an even better result? Here’s a startling conclusion. The polar alignment error reported in the Guiding Assistant is dependent upon the calibration result, so I do not think that this is a reliable metric. I do not know if the PHD drift alignment is dependent upon the calibration result.

After three iterations, I decided to move on and see if I could image something. I was able to get NINA up and running without too much fuss. Still banging off rust here. Discipline, it turns out, was among the rust that didn’t get banged off. Much earlier in the evening I had decided that I would shoot a stars only target if I got this far, because anything with nebulosity doesn’t hold up well under a full moon. I saw that Triangulum Galaxy was well positioned for a couple of hours of imaging, so I went for it. That was a poor decision. I doubt that I will process this data.

After I had the TV/GM8 clicking away at M33, I powered up the Meade again to shoot the nearly full moon. Working at prime focus, I tried to cover the whole disk. We’ll see how that works out in processing.

The Moon - 2021-10-20 03:26 UTC - Crater Thales
Crater Thales

Equipment Tuning

Seeing that it was completely cloudless after finishing dinner, I decided to try to get some astronomy done. My objective was to work with PHD2 on the TV for the purpose of seeing if my recent backlash adjustment was effective. If it was, I would continue with trying to image something.

I went out at 1845 to uncover the scope, bring the electronics out of the cottage, check the balance, power up, and polar align before going to work with PHD. Everything went swimmingly. Polar alignment was just a little off and it was easily adjusted.

I slewed to near meridian and equator and brought up PHD and immediately found lots of stars. I went straight to calibration and got a weird result. It said that my two axes were almost in line with one another (88 degree orthogonality error!!) instead of being perpendicular. PHD told me that this great of an error is usually due to large polar alignment errors.

At this point I could see clouds starting to roll in.

I went to the Guiding Assistant Tool and started it. While it was running I was seeing a 100’ (yes, minutes) polar alignment error. The tool got as far as measuring backlash, and I was losing my guide star to the clouds.

I shut down and covered the scope, and I was back in the house by 1945.

I need to keep working on guiding until I get it right, and getting polar alignment right is on that critical path. Next time out I will do another Polemaster alignment, and see what error PHD measures. If it is still out of the ball park, I will do a PHD drift alignment.

All in all, I enjoyed setting up the scope and working with it even that little bit. Looking forward to getting this thing working!!

Sun and Venus

I managed to get in three observing sessions yesterday. The Sun at around 0900, Venus at around 1830, and some DSO work at around 1930.

The morning session with the Sun went well. I set up with the 60Da on the 4” with a 2x PM. The sky was completely clear when I started setting up, but I was dodging low puffy clouds by the time I started shooting. There was a nice sunspot group approaching the central meridian, and another one about to rotate out of view.

The afternoon session went well too. I set up with the ASI290 on the Meade for shooting Venus. I managed to capture some cloud detail with the UV filter. Processing was interesting. I mapped IR to the Red channel, IR/UV 50/50 to the Green channel, and UV to the Blue channel.

Knowing that Venus is very low by the time it gets dark right now, I was wondering if that would improve over the next couple of weeks. I decided to go ahead and shoot it now, because I found that it is transiting the meridian at about 29 degrees now elevation and that will decrease to about 23 degrees by early November. It was only 18 degrees about the horizon when I shot it yesterday at about 30 minutes before sunset. I will look for another opportunity to shoot it at the meridian, which is about 1545.

After dark I worked with the TV/ASI6200 again. I was marginally smoother compared to the night before in getting everything up and running. Guiding is still crap. I’m going to take a closer look at backlash today. I will stay focused on guiding with this set up until I get it worked out.

Venus - 2021-10-01 22:36 UTC - IR, IR/UV, UV
Venus in UV and IR
Sun - 2021-10-01 13:02 UTC
Sun

Jupiter

My objective last night was to work with the TV/GM8. I chose to work with the GM8 because I want that to be performing well when the G11 goes back to the factory.

My planned targets were Jupiter and moons with the ASI290, and Albiero with the ASI6200. I was pretty sure at  the outset that I would come to regret changing cameras and chasing two targets.

I was out for about two hours from 2000 to 2200. I did not assess seeing, but transparency seemed pretty good. Although a little chilly, the evening was pretty dry. Surface winds were still.

Set up went well with hardly any fumbling around. I think that my frequent visits to the telescope over the last several weeks has paid off, even if my work was with a completely different setup.

I powered up at 2000 and went straight to Jupiter without polar or star alignment, and was able to see it on the display without further adjustment. This task is much easier at the shorter focal length. Even with the shorter focal length and no PowerMate, the moons were quite spread out on both sides of the planet taking up most of the display width. I was able to select a generous ROI that covered about 25% of the available display. I was not happy with Jupiter’s resolution, but I shot it anyway in LRGB, 90 seconds per filter.

I moved on right away. After swapping cameras I rebalanced and did a did a polar alignment with the scope and with the PoleMaster. Next was a slew to Vega for a star alignment and initial focus. I did not bother to assess seeing since I was working at 540 mm of focal length.

With this done, I powered up the minicomputer and was able to connect the laptop to it the first time. I brought up NINA, connected to the camera and the filter wheel without issue. I manually focused using the NINA display and the Bahtinov mask. And then I attempted to slew to Alberio via Stellarium, but the scope would not slew. The computer was connected to the mount. I could see the scope icon on the Stellarium display, and it would even move when I manually slewed via the hand controller. I put the scope on Alberio by watching the icon move on the display. I elected to not troubleshoot this further since this problem can be addressed in the daytime.

I opened PHD2 and connected the guide camera and mount without issue. I noted that I was getting 2” RMS guiding, but accepted that as good enough for my work tonight. I loaded a LRGB sequence in NINA, and settled on 21 L at 60s, and 7 each of RGB at 75s each. After starting the sequence I realized that the laptop was not physically connected to anything (which is a big change from the way I do planetary imaging), so I went inside to monitor.

Upon arriving inside, I noticed that I was getting severely elongated stars. I checked PHD2 and it was still guiding at 2” RMS. The guide star profile had a flat top rather than a peak, so I forced another guide star selection, and that made some improvement. I noted that the scatter graph had a linear pattern that started just outside of the 2” circle and just above the x axis, descending through the  center, and exiting the graph just below the x axis. This tells me that I was having issues on just one mount axis. I did not investigate further. I shut down at the end of the sequence.

I am glad to have this first night with the GM8/mini computer. I do regret spending the time on Jupiter, and having spend the time to re-camera and re-balance. This time would have been much better spent working out the issues that I encountered.

It feels like I have at least made it to square two. Square three, I think, is to work on guiding with the same dedication that I did on the G11. That means reading the literature, to include the best practices document, and I must be prepared to dedicate a night to assessing and adjusting to get good guiding performance. I also need to accept that I am just going to be working on one side of the sky, and to be sure go with a east-heavy bias. Next I need to get plate solving and auto focus working correctly, and then start working on exposure.

It looks like the next couple of nights will be clear enough for the work that I need to do, so I am glad that I have gotten started. I have a lot of grunt work to do before I start imaging in earnest.

My work today will consist of carefully rebalancing for working in the eastern (my darkest) hemisphere by making the counterweight side slightly heavier, getting slews from Stellarium to work, cleaning optics and reading about PHD best practices. I want to visit my PHD logs so see what I can glean from my guiding issues, but I don’t want to delve to deeply into that until I know that I am paying careful attention to the basics.

Jupiter with Satellites - 2021-09-30 00:19 UTC
Jupiter and Galilean Satellites

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Moon

I finished dinner and went out to power up at 1950. By then Venus was too low, so decided to do a PoleMaster alignment while wating for Jupiter to come out of the trees, and found that it was about 10-15’ off. My manual guiding workload was much lighter than my last time out. I also went to a bright star for an alignment, and while I was there I did collimation check. I knew it would be good because the scope has not been off of the mount, I just wanted get into a good collimation habit. I finished these preliminaries just as Jupiter was coming out of the trees.

Getting my bearings on Jupiter, I found that R looked better (sharper? More detail) than IR, so I chose R for my red channel, and I will also use that image for luminance. I started a 10 x 45s RGB runs with a low exposure duration (high frame rate/count), but stopped on the sixth run after I noticed a dust mote over Jupiter’s image. I moved Jupiter to a clean spot on the sensor and restarted this. This time I finished all ten runs. And finally, I did another set of 10 x 45s RGB runs with a lower gain and longer exposure duration. I look forward to comparing to see which approach produces better images.

I moved on to Saturn, and did two 10 x 45s runs, one using a short exposure duration and higher gain and the other using a lower gain and longer exposure duration.

I went back to Jupiter and imaged Ganymede with 4000 frames each in RGB. I also removed the PowerMate and took an image with Jupiter accompanied by Io, Callisto and Europa, all of which were on the same side of Jupiter.

I finished up with Jupiter at about 2300. I next took the PowerMate out of the path and then I pointed the telescope at Uranus just to get an idea where it was. Finding it way down in the trees, I left the telescope running and came back inside just after 2300.

It was pretty chilly during this session, but by no means cold. Everything  stayed pretty dry too. Seeing was about average – I would say 5/10.

I set an alarm for 0200, and managed to fully awaken and dressed up to go back outside. I wore a heavy coat this time. I found everything pretty wet, and it was almost cold. The seeing for the second session was about 6/10. Arriving at the telescope, I had to wipe the eyepiece dry, but I found Uranus in the eyepiece, almost in the right place to be visible in the FC display. But wait, it gets better. I flipped the mirror and there it was on the display. I was at prime, but I had slewed to Uranus almost three hours earlier. I fully expected to have a difficult time locating Uranus in the eyepiece and in the display.

I shot Uranus at prime, and then I put the PowerMate back in and shot it again. And inspired by my earlier shot of Jupiter and three of its moons, I turned the gain way up to see if I could see any of its moons. Four were clearly visible, so I shot those too.

I moved on to the Moon, which was very high in the sky as it approached the meridian. I got some pretty good shots of the rugged terrain on the southern limb/terminator, Littrow Valley (Apollo 17), Crater Tycho, Mons Hadley/Hadley Rille (Apollo 15), and some brightly rayed crater on the western limb that I’ll have to look up. The Moon shots were first at 2.5x and then I took the PowerMate back out. I noticed that I was running out of storage, so I switched FC over to my SD card.

I finished up the Moon at 0400 and came back inside. It was 50 degrees and I was tired.  

All of the equipment worked as it was supposed to, and I was able get though everything without difficulty.

I found that FireCapture writes to the SD card to be just as fast as to the SSD. I am going to get a couple of extra high capacity, high speed cards so that I will never worry about running out of storage again.

Jupiter

Moon – Crater Cauchy

Uranus

© James R. Johnson, 2021.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Moon

I had a pretty good night out last night. I elected to go with the polar alignment from well over a week ago. I had to guide a little more than last time, but not too bad. I checked collimation and found it perfect. Seeing seemed to be about 5-6/10, and probably got worse during the night.

It took me about 30 seconds to get the planetary targets onto the display after slewing and pointing as best I could using the eyepiece. I found that I had left the Telrad on the last time I used it, but everything else worked perfectly and I fumbled around only a little. It got very dewy as the night wore on, but the heater stayed ahead of it. It got a little cool toward the end, so I put on a light jacket and was comfortable. I hit the western safety limit and I had nearly ran out of storage at around 0110 and came in. All in all I really enjoyed it.

I first shot Saturn in 13 LRGB runs. I manually commanded all filter changes, planning to focus between each filter change. I found that the seeing was not good enough that I could confidently achieve good focus. After reaching green and giving it my best shot, I stopped focusing between filters.

I then went on to shoot Jupiter in 13 IRRGB runs. I focused using G and used autorun to capture these runs. I noted that Io was approaching the limb, but I had time to grab some shots of the Moon before it crossed the limb.

On the Moon, I shot something (cannot remember what) in IR only, then went on to find Mons Rumker, Marius Hills, and the hilly/volcanic area north and west of Aristarchus all near the terminator. I could not resist shooting them in IRRGB – one run for each location. I did 5000 frames of IR and 3000 of each color channel for the color shots.

I then when back to Jupiter and found Io almost at Jupiter’s western limb. I started shooting IRRGB sets in FC Autorun. I wanted to track Io as far across the disk as possible, and its shadow and GRS when they followed. I got about 30 sets before I ran out of laptop storage. I think switched the FC directory to the SD Card and got about 30 more sets before the mount hit the western safety limit. I couldn’t see Io because it was blended into Jupiter’s disk, but I think that it was close to emerging. Its shadow was more than half way across the disk, and the GRS was well in view. I think that I was shooting 2-minute sets for over 90 minutes!

Processing will probably be a challenge, in that I have very little storage for making PIPP runs on the planets. I think that I can “dig” myself out by processing the lunar first (will not process in PIPP), and delete the video files. I can probably transfer some stuff to OneDrive, but that can be slow and painful.

I want to do two experiments with the extended number of sets that I shot of Jupiter/Io. I am interested in seeing how WinJuPos handles a moon transit. I know that the ephemeris will show a moon that is in the field of view, but can it derotate both Jupiter’s disk and a moon that are moving at different rates? The second thing that I want to do is make an animation of Io, its shadow, and the GRS moving across Jupiter’s rotating disk.

Saturn, Jupiter and Moon

My objective for this session was to image Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon with the ASI290MM. This was a productive and enjoyable session.

It was dark enough that I could have finished polar aligning and started work before 2000. I elected to go with the polar alignment from well over a week ago. I had to manually guide a little more than last time, but not too bad. I checked collimation and found it perfect. Seeing seemed to be about 5-6/10, and probably got worse during the night.

Saturn cleared the trees at about 2100. It took me about 30 seconds to get the planetary targets onto the display after slewing and pointing as best I could using the eyepiece. I found that I had left the Telrad on the last time I used it, but everything else worked perfectly and I fumbled around only a little. It got very dewy as the night wore on, but the heater stayed ahead of it. It got a little cool toward the end, so I put on a light jacket and was comfortable. I hit the western safety limit and I had nearly ran out of storage at around 0110 and came in. All in all I really enjoyed it.

I first shot Saturn in 13 LRGB runs. I manually commanded all filter changes, planning to focus between each filter change. I found that the seeing was not good enough that I could confidently achieve good focus. After reaching green and giving it my best shot, I stopped focusing between filters.

I then went on to shoot Jupiter in 13 IRRGB runs. I focused using G and used autorun to capture these runs. I noted that Io was approaching the limb, but I had time to grab some shots of the Moon before it crossed the limb.

On the Moon, I shot something (cannot remember what) in IR only, then went on to find Mons Rumker, Marius Hills, and the hilly/volcanic area north and west of Aristarchus all near the terminator. I could not resist shooting them in IRRGB – one run for each location. I did 5000 frames of IR and 3000 of each color channel for the color shots.

I then when back to Jupiter and found Io almost at Jupiter’s western limb. I started shooting IRRGB sets in FC Autorun. I wanted to track Io as far across the disk as possible, and its shadow and GRS when they followed. I got about 30 sets before I ran out of laptop storage. I think switched the FC directory to the SD Card and got about 30 more sets before the mount hit the western safety limit. I couldn’t see Io because it was blended into Jupiter’s disk, but I think that it was close to emerging. Its shadow was more than half way across the disk, and the GRS was well in view. I think that I was shooting 2-minute sets for over 90 minutes!

Processing will probably be a challenge, in that I have very little storage for making PIPP runs on the planets. I think that I can “dig” myself out by processing the lunar first (will not process lunar in PIPP), and delete the video files. I can probably transfer some stuff to OneDrive, but that can be slow and painful.

I want to do two experiments with the extended number of sets that I shot of Jupiter/Io. I am interested in seeing how WinJuPos handles a moon transit. I know that the ephemeris will show a moon that is in the field of view, but can it derotate both Jupiter’s disk and a moon that are moving at different rates? The second thing that I want to do is make an animation of Io, its shadow, and the GRS moving across Jupiter’s rotating disk.

Things to do: I want to move the 12v – 3v converter from the old Telrad to the new one. Probably won’t get to that today.

Seeing looks to be better tonight. GRS will be well in view as Jupiter clears the trees. Europa will be arriving at Jupiter’s limb for a transit that begins much later – don’t think that I am going to stay around for that. If the seeing is as good as it is supposed to be, I want to see if I can capture Saturn’s Encke gap. I need to get busy and clear some storage so that I can image again tonight if I am able to get out again.

The Moon - 2021-09-19 02:50 UTC - The Marius Hills
Marius Hills
Moon - 2021-09-19 02:41 UTC - Aristarchus Plateau
Aristarchus Plateau
Moon - 2021-09-19 02:31 UTC - Mons Rumker
Mons Rumker

Saturn and Jupiter

My objective for this session was to shoot Venus in UV and IR as early as possible, eat dinner, and come back out to shoot Saturn in LRGB and Jupiter in iRGB, and in CH4 after they cleared the trees. For the four-channel sets on Saturn and Jupiter, I wanted to get about ten sets on each planet to further experiment with derotation.

The setup went flawlessly, and I was shooting Venus before sunset. The flip mirror made that possible. The only technical issue that I had was getting low on storage, so that’s something that I can manage in the short term just by being aware. My initial thought is to archive the .tifs that come out of AS and toss the video after I have complete processing. Any reprocessing that I might attempt later can start with the .tif files.

The weather was fairly mild, but it I started getting chilled during my last Jupiter run, which was lasted about 25 minutes. I ignored what I knew to be best for me as I went out. I would call the seeing average or slightly below. I was expecting above average, but it just wasn’t there. Dew was not an issue as I had the heater on. Maybe a little on the laptop.

Unplanned targets were the Moon, and Ganymede and Callisto as a pair. I was not expecting to see the Moon, due to a lack of situational awareness on my part, and when I looked at Jupiter’s ephemeris I remembered that I wanted to see if I could collect detail on Ganymede. I think that I collected about 4000 frames of IR on maybe 3 separate shots of the Moon, and I collected 60s in RGB on the Ganymede/Callisto.

Saturn emerged from the trees about 2110, and when I got to Jupiter, which by then was out of the trees, the GRS was rotating out of view. I finished Saturn just as it was arriving at the meridian, and I spent a little over half an hour on Jupiter, finishing up as it reached the meridian. I was inside by at about 2315.

Saturn - 2021-09-11 01:51 UTC
Saturn
Jupiter - 2021-09-11 0244 UTC - Reprocessed
Jupiter
Jupiter - 2021-09-11 0244 UTC
Jupiter
Jupiter - 2021-09-11 0216 UTC - CH4
Jupiter (Methane)

Saturn and Jupiter

My objective for this session was to image Saturn and Jupiter while trying to autoguide with FireCapture’s orgainic autoguiding capability.

Even though I had a good polar alignment last night, I elected to check it with PoleMaster so that I could tweak it if needed, because having a good polar alignment makes planetary imaging easier if I am manually guiding. It turns out that it needed a fairly significant adjustment, about as much as it needed after aligning with the alignment scope. Not trusting that result, I ran through the Polemaster routine again, and it needed a small tweak in the same direction as the previous adjustment. Not sure why such a big adjustment was needed.

My first slew was to Deneb, where I first did a star alignment. This is not something that I normally do in my planetary work flow, but why not since I was already on a known star. I also worked on my collimation there. I found that it was off just a little, and I estimated that better seeing and having the 2.5x PowerMate helped reveal the mis-collimation that I could not see before. I elected to take the dew shield of to correct it and found that removing was not that big of a deal.

From there I slewed to Saturn, which I could see through the trees. I was working with you for about 20 minutes while waiting for it to come out of the trees. When I came back, I found that I had left the dew shield off and the corrector plate was starting to collect dew. I put the dew shield back on and turned up the heat. What I learned from this is that removing and installing the dew shield is not that big of a deal. Thinking that it was big deal had been a barrier to learning how to collimate in the first place.

As a result of this exercise, I have decided to incorporate collimation into every session because good collimation is important, and because I will get better at it with practice. My streamlined workflow will be to leave the dew shield off when setting up. After polar aligning, I’ll slew to a bright star to get a star alignment, check/adjust collimation, do an initial focus, and then install the dew shield.

I elected to manually guide during my Saturn and Jupiter capture runs, because I wanted to rely upon what I already know how to do (manual guiding) instead of putting my captures at risk while trying to learn something new (Firecapture autoguiding). It turns out that the drift last night was even less than the night before, so if I can keep my polar alignments this accurate, manual guiding will always be a reasonable alternative if for any reason I cannot autoguide.

In spite of having to dodge passing clouds that were affecting my histogram in mid run, I think that I got some pretty good data on Saturn and Jupiter. Seeing was better than last night, I would say a 4-5/10 on the Pickering Scale. There were a couple of episodes of worse seeing, but on average it was not as good as it was the last time that you were here. I think that I managed to get five LRGB sets on both planets. I’ll stack the channels, color combine each set into a stand alone RGB image, and derotate them in WinJUPOS starting today. I still have the night prior’s data to process as well.

It was neat watching IO being occulted by Jupiter during one of the capture runs last night. Now that my captures and processing have improved, I hope to catch one of the moons transiting the face of Jupiter.

The results with autoguiding were mixed. I was able to connect to the mount from FireCapture via ASCOM with ease. I could see the mount issuing commands. Most were in the direction of the up and right arrows, but there were occasional nudges to the down direction. This might be why Jupiter drifted downward, and thinking about it this morning, maybe the drift was a little faster than when I was manually guiding. Maybe the guide pulses were too long, maybe the guide pulse durations need to be customized for the amount of drift that is occurring. I need to read more and pay closer attention the next time that I try it.

Saturn - 2021-09-04 02:30 UTC
Saturn
Jupiter - 2021-09-04 0323 UTC
Jupiter

Venus, Saturn and Jupiter

Both telescopes were running and waiting for polar alignment when I went in for dinner. Even though I got a brief nap in, I was so tired that I almost didn’t go out.

But I did. The Sun had just set so I had a little while before I could polar align. I noticed that Venus was accessible from the Meade, and wouldn’t be for long, so I shot it in IR and UV instead of collimating the Meade. I was happy enough with the Meade’s collimation that I could live with it for another night. The seeing that close to the horizon was horrible. I’m not expecting much from the image. I was surprised to see how close to “1st Quarter” phase that Venus is already.

Interestingly, I had perturbed the G11’s polar alignment while attempting to collimate earlier in the day, but I reset it using my phone compass and inclinometer. I figured that I had gotten it pretty close based on the Venus’ low drift rate, and I found that it was within ½ degree when I checked it later in the polar alignment scope.

After finishing with Venus and waiting for it to get dark enough to polar align, I brought up the TV/ASI6200. I am out of practice with that camera and it was not happy with me. I struggled with it but finally got it going. By then it was dark enough to polar align, and I wanted to be prepared to catch Saturn when it cleared the trees so I went back to the Meade. I never got back to this scope. I finished with Saturn and Jupiter by 2230, and was so tired that I gave it up for the night.

All in all, Saturn and Jupiter went well. The seeing kinda came and went. I assessed it at 3-4 (Poor) on the Pickering Scale – first time that I actually used that. At one point I noted that while capturing the red channel that Jupiter almost completely whited out.

For Saturn, I captured 4 or 5 RGB runs, which I hope to individually stack and derotate in WinJUPOS. I captured 6 iRGB runs to individually stack and derotate in WinJUPOS. The GRS was well positioned on Jupiter, and at the end of the Jupiter run, I did an RGB run on a tiny ROI around Io.

I stacked the Io frames last night, and while not great, the result is interesting. The bad seeing was certainly and issue. I set the histogram at about 80 percent so that its upward jumps would not exceed 100 percent. It was jumping between 65 percent and 95 percent, I suspect because of the tiny target and the bad seeing.

I estimated that Io would present as about 9 or 10 pixels in diameter on my sensor given my optics. I used 3x drizzle when I stacked which yielded a disk of about 25 px. The colors are not great, and I am not able to see any surface detail, but given that I set the histogram down in the 80 percent range, I am pretty confident that the disk that I am seeing is real, and that only the dimmer halo around it are caused by seeing distortions. I want to try this again, but under better seeing, and I want to research which of the moons is more likely to reveal surface details.

So, what didn’t go so well. I had hoped to use FireCapture’s autoalign and autoguide. I couldn’t get it to work on Venus, so I elected to manually guide on Saturn and Jupiter. My final polar alignment must have been pretty good, because I only needed to nudge about once a minute to keep the target in a fairly tight ROI. Autoguding will make my life much easier, so I hope to read on this today and work on it tonight.

I was able to work out how to do flat frames yesterday, and completely eliminate dust in an image that I knew was there. The hard part was to capture the flat frames in the same ROI as the target was captured. The harder part, which I didn’t think through too well, is that the dew shield has to come off and the telescope has to be pointed at (or close to) zenith so that I can lay a light panel on it. Doing this between Saturn and Jupiter is just too much. I expect that I would loose 20-30 minutes between targets. I’ve gotta think on this. Flats do hide dust. I’ll show you today and we can talk about noise management approaches.

As a result of my flats exercise, I knew where the dust was on my sensor, and I decided to live with it since I could flat frame it out. OBTW, I did manage to find clean spots that I used to place targets for imaging. I had taken apart my planetary imaging set up so that I could replace the luminance filter with UV for shooting Venus. I took it apart again to but L filter back in for shooting Saturn and Jupiter. This took more time that I would have liked, but the real killer was that I now have so much more dust on the sensor. I can’t live with the dust and the time sink.

I have been thinking about ZWO’s 8 x 1.25” wheel for a while, but now the decision’s been made and I am going to buy it. You can have my 5 x 1.25” wheel if you want it. You’ll just need to buy whatever filters you want, but at least an LRGB set. I find IR helpful but not critical on lunar, Mars and Jupiter. I used it on Venus, but do not yet know how that turned out.

I have gotten ambitious and set up two scopes a couple of times, but have NEVER used the second scope. I don’t think that I will do that again. I will continue to concentrate on improving my planetary techniques while Jupiter and Saturn are around and at least for a few more weeks, and then jump fully back into DSO with the TV after that.

All in all an enjoyable evening, even though I was quite tired. I came at 2230, and was in bed by 0015. It was quite chilly, and I noted that it was 57 degrees when I came in. Be sure to bring something warm enough.

Other than processing, the only things on my to-do list is to clean filters, see what else that I can learn about guiding in FC, and take down the TV. Prep for tonight is priority, the data that I collected last night can wait for the next cloudy day, which will be here soon enough.

Venus - 2021-09-03 0010 UTC
Venus
Jupiter - 2021-09-03 0306 UTC
Jupiter

Equipment Tuning

I worked with the TV/GM8 and the Meade/G11. This is the second time that I have had both scopes set up at the same time (first time was two nights ago) and it is the first time that I have worked with both on the same night.

My objective for the TV/GM8 was to check backlash. It seems worse than it was two nights ago. It was so bad that PHD2 could not successfully complete a calibration or a backlash test. I “manually” tested the Dec backlash by using the hand controller to nudge it in one direction and then the other. In the first direction, the stars stopped moving at the end of the nudge. In the other direction, they continued to move for ten seconds. That’s a lot of slack in the gears. Maybe I didn’t tighten the worm blocks and they slipped? I’ll work with it today.

I started having issues with the hand controller locking up, so I ended my session with the TV/GM8.

My objective with the Meade/G11 was to do a quick backlash check and to check collimation.

Since I do not have an OAG on this scope, I elected to check backlash by nudging with the hand controller and observe the stars. The stars appeared to stop moving immediately after the nudge in both directions, and on both axes. Maybe I have this one right. In hindsight, there is no reason that I could not have connected PHD to the ASI290MM, because we are using that camera to test guiding on your CG5.

The collimation check started with an email exchange with James Willinghan. I have checked my collimation a couple of times over the 6+ years that I have had the Meade, and have always found that that it appeared to be perfect in a 12mm eyepiece. Since I have not adjusted it, it still has the factory collimation.

I found this odd since I am advised that collimation should be checked frequently, and in fact James checks before every planetary imaging session, and he checks using his imaging configuration.

With this in mind, I checked using my imaging configuration, which is the ASI290MM/TV 2.5x PowerMate/Meade. The total focal length here is almost 7,500 mm. Perhaps this is the best look at my collimation that I have had yet. It looked good in real time on the laptop display. Only after coming inside and looking at it closer was I able to detect what I think is a slight thinning of the diffraction circles toward the 10 o’clock position. Slowing down the frame rate helped me see the eccentricity even better. The seeing wasn’t great, so I don’t know if I would adjust based upon this view, but now I know how to check my collimation in a meaningful way.

Here’s a Firecapture of Vega defocused for a collimation check: Image

A slight regret is that Saturn and then Jupiter would have been coming out of the trees after the Vega capture. I should have stayed up for it.

© James R. Johnson, 2021.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Conjunction of Venus and Mercury

Venus (upper right) and Mercury (lower left) are in close conjunction on the date of this post. The accompanying image was taken on the day before conjunction, and just before the two planets followed the setting Sun below the western horizon. I happened to be at Howard Astronomical League’s Alpha Ridge dark site for an observing session, and had forgotten about the conjunction. Once I spotted the pair on the horizon, I did not have enough time to set up the camera on a tripod, so I steadied myself on the Jeep’s spare tire for a quick, unguided exposure.

Canon EOS 60Da/55mm lens, f/1.4, 30s.

Image

© James R. Johnson, 2015
jim@jrjohnson.net

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Chris Miskiewicz announced that he would be opening one of the Howard Astronomical League dark sites to observe the close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. I set an alarm for 3:15am, and immediately went outside to check the weather. Upon determining that it was mostly cloudy, I thought it not worth the effort, so I tried to go back to sleep. Fifteen minutes later, I felt that I could not go back to sleep and I knew that Chris would be at the site no matter what, so I jumped in the Jeep and drove out there. The conjoined planets had not yet risen above the eastern horizon when I arrived, but the sky was mostly clear in the area where they would be rising in about 20 minutes. While waiting for them to rise, I took in Orion and the waning crescent moon, which were both already well above the horizon in the same area. The two planets were a beautiful pair both with the unaided eye and in the telescope, so this was a very rewarding trip! Chris’ image below is very close to what I saw without the telescope.  I packed up my equipment and headed toward my day job at about 5:35am.

Chris Miskiewicz - Jupiter Venus Conjunction 18Aug2014
Chris Miskiewicz, Jupiter and Venus Conjunction, August 18, 2014.