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Blog Entries posted by Synchronicity

  1. Synchronicity
    After much advice here and thanks to a friend of a friend I took delivery of this today.
    1.3 m high, many kilograms heavy!  It's been treated with zinc phosphate primer and will get a couple of coats of Hammerite or equivelant before planting.  This weekend I'm running Cat6 cable out to the plinth and starting to build the equipment box which will be fitted to the bottom of the mount. 

  2. Synchronicity
    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’.

    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.
    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,


  3. Synchronicity
    Clear Outside said it was to be a clear night so I got set up and set about tonight's challenge - Polar Alignment.
    I've struggled to do this properly since I got the scope, lack of visibility of Polaris being the major issue as I set up close to my house facing south.  I've now got the camera, mount and guide camera running through a USB hub and have managed to set up far enough from the house that I could see Polaris. 

    It took me a while to find the star, and longer to convince myself that I was looking in the right place.  Looking at the image in the finder scope didn't work for me as I'm looking over the city of Glasgow but once I had spotted it I was able to roughly align it by sighting along the side then top of the scope, and then centre it in the camera frame.  Once this was done the final adjustments in the finder scope were a breeze.
    What a difference that has made!  I've thought I was very close before but the goto proved me wrong every time as it never reliably switched between targets.  Like most things, it'll be easier to do in the future now that I've done it correctly.  There's no substitute for practice!
    This is a good example of why it is so important to stick to the basics and keep it simple.
  4. Synchronicity
    There's an old saying, 'If you want to give the gods a laugh tell them your plans for the future'. 
    My plans were along the lines of spending the very light nights setting up and testing ASCOM,  PHD2 and other software and practising my post processing.  What actually happened was that my laptop died, taking with it all of the settings that I'd struggled to figure out - but hadn't noted down  It also had lots of personal data that hadn't been backed up recently so a new laptop and dozens of hours getting the old hard disk connected and copied.  I also had and my mount in bits as I tried to figure out how to improve the latitude adjustment.
    Anyway, on Thursday night I had everything assembled, all the software re-installed and maybe working and a free evening to play with it.  I got on quite well before it clouded over and Friday night was forecast to be clear.  By twilight I was all set up and ready to go. 
    I started work as soon as it was dark enough for the guide setup to work and got a good series of exposures up to 3 minutes long guiding with perfect stars - I was delighted! After trying a few things out I set the rig up to take a series of 20 second exposures of M11, the Wild Duck Cluster.  It was still too light but I wanted to see if it would behave when left alone.
    A bit later I started on M27, the Dumbell nebula.  There was quite a bit of high, wispy cloud blowing through so I kept it to 30 second subs - 198 of them.  Basic processing has got me this image which is my first public post on Astrobin.  I still need to go through the images and remove the poorer quality ones, re-stack and spend more time processing.
  5. Synchronicity
    This was taken 8th April 2016 from an apartment in Hamilton Island, Australia.  The equipment I used was a Samsung Galaxy S5 and an old but good quality pair of binoculars left by the owners.  The skies were incredibly dark and we were able to attend a talk by a local astronomer who guided us around what could be seen with the naked eye.

    I was delighted last year when I used Stellarium last year to look at the view on that date and confirm that I had indeed captured Jupiter and 4 moons!

  6. Synchronicity
    Having wanted to do astronomy properly for decades I finally took action late in 2017 and bought a pair of Canon 15x50 image stabilised binoculars.  I was absolutely blown away with what I could see using these from my garden with what I now know are Bortle 8 very light polluted skies. For the first time in my life I saw the Orion Nebula M42 - only as a small cloudy area but I knew there was more to see with better optics. 
    When I saw the Pleiades, directly overhead, for the first time I knew I was hooked!
    I'd been reading posts here and on other sites and blogs and I knew that I'd need to think through what I wanted to achieve and what to spend my money on.  I used a strategy that has served me well over the years - Start from where you are!
    That might seem obvious but I have read so many posts - facebook is the worst - where people go out and spend thousands of pounds on equipment because it is the 'best' but they don't know how to set it up never mind use it!  I experimented with what I had so that I'd know what I needed.  I started with my wife's Canon PowerShot SX730 which takes great pictures but isn't suited to astrophotography and then I got out my old Canon SX1.  That was a bit better and I used CHDK (Canon Hack Development Kit) to allow longer exposures.  I tried taking pictures through my binoculars but would have needed some precision DIY to hold the bins and the camera together.
    I wasn't getting any good images, but I was learning about aperture, exposure length, ISO and the importance of keeping the camera still!
    My first purchase was a Canon EOS 7D Mark1 and a couple of lenses (18-55 and 75-300).  I got an Amazon Basics tripod - very well built for under £50 and set about trying to capture the universe.
    Using the 7D with Canons capture software I was taking lots of pictures and learning the hard way about star trailing.  With the 300mm lens fully extended the longest exposure I could manage which kept round stars was 0.8 seconds - so I took lots and lots of them and fed them to DSS.
    Of course DSS sometimes struggled to stack them and I couldn't see the results at first because the images were still extremely dim but I'll do a separate entry about software and how I got round these issues.
    It was clear I would need to buy a mount or a tripod mounted tracker if I was going to progress but first I had to think seriously about how I planned to use it long term.
    My Priorities - Transportable, sensibly priced, good quality.
    As mentioned, the sky where I live is Bortle 8.  I'm fortunate that I live on the southern outskirts of Glasgow and my back garden faces south so I can do a lot of practice and get some reasonable images but I really wanted to be able to pack my stuff up and drive to better sky.  20 minutes takes me to Bortle 4-5 so it's worth doing.
    I'm trying to do this as a hobby and not go overboard with the budget but I also don't want to waste my money on cheap stuff that doesn't perform well.  That's been great because it's forced me into researching options and being strict about what I need and what is just a 'nice to have'.  I don't buy stuff just for bragging rights!
    I'd thought seriously about getting an Ioptron Skytracker or Skyguider sized device but I didn't want to be too restricted on what I could mount on it, and I'm not likely to take my kit on a flight very often.  In the end I saw a 2nd hand Skywatcher EQ5 Goto mount at a reasonable price and I already knew it would do what I need for now. 
    I had originally planned to use the DSLR with a large zoom lens but when I costed these it was clear that I'd need to spend several thousands to get what I wanted.  That led me down the path of a short APO refractor.  Again, into the classified ads and someone here pointed me in the direction of a Skywatcher Esprit 80 which I am absolutely delighted with!
    So that's me got all of the hardware I need for now... but then I saw a 60mm Guide scope and Orion SSAG for a good price... So now I have everything I need for a while.  Why am I still looking at the classified adverts?  Just in case there's a bargain
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