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Reboot

Synchronicity

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It seems a cheek to continue a blog about being a beginner 2 1/2 years after the last post but in many ways I still am.  Family health issues have meant that I got out with my equipment irregularly so spent most of my time trying to get set up.  I would collect an hour or so of data but rarely enough to encourage me to do anything with it.

This year I decided to use what I have learned, solve my issues, and do a ‘reboot’.

Equipment. 
I’ve bought a QHY10 OSC cooled camera and spent time getting the spacing right so that I can assemble, connect and go.
I’ve also bought a used Skywatcher NEQ6 Pro GoTo mount which is much more solid and capable than my EQ5.  I need to strip down, clean and adjust the EQ5 and I plan to keep it for travelling.

I also have my Esprit 80ED with flattener and a Starshoot Autoguider camera on a small guide scope.

Set up.
I’ve assembled my setup in the house and found good safe routes for all the cables, looming them where I can.  I’m planning to mount my USB hub on the body of the NEQ6 to cut down the cabling even more.

Setting up for the night.
The biggest timewaster I’ve had since starting is between assembling everything and getting the first usable shot.  I have tackled that systematically and, though my process needs refinement it works consistently.
The best advice to give a newcomer is take your time getting set up.  I always rushed so I wasn’t wasting good shooting time but inevitably got poorer results.

Polar Alignment.
I’ve taken photos of where the tripod feet go so I can set it up in the same place each night.  I have a small digital level which I use to ensure the top plate is level and that the angle is adjusted to my latitude.
Being roughly there I start SharpCap, connect the guide camera and start the polar alignment tool.  If you are within 5 degrees this will give a quick and accurate polar alignment.

Camera Focus
The guide camera is permanently mounted to the guide scope and the focus is locked tight so I check that occasionally or if there seems to be an issue.

For focusing the Esprit, I start by setting the focuser to the previously recorded position.  The imaging train doesn’t change between sessions, so this is close enough that I know I’ll get a usable image to start with. 
I use the QHY software EZCAP and set it on live view with high gain and 5-10 seconds exposure.  Switch to the Focus tool, find a reasonable sized star and make the fine adjustments.

The computer is inside in the warm, so I use the Google Remote Desktop app on my phone so I can see the screen in real time as I make the adjustments – this is a great timesaver!

This all takes about 30 minutes but if I can start as the light is fading, I am set up and ready to go well before it’s properly dark.

Imaging
I’m using PHD2 for guiding, Astro Photography Tool – APT for target selection and imaging and Stelarrium for position confirmation.  I’ve used the Focus Aid and Bahtinov Aid tools there to check my focusing, especially as the night goes on.
More on this in the next post…

As a marker of how far I've come - and how far I still have to go, the attached is 2h of 5 minute subs stacked in DSS and with Pixinsights ABE and Screen Intensity Transformation applied.

Thanks for reading,

Michael

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