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Martin Meredith

Lightweight EAA travel setup

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With the aim of visiting some really dark sites, I’ve been putting together a lightweight EAA travel setup and tonight was the first chance in more than a month to test it, albeit briefly. The kit is a Star Adventurer mount (3.3 kg including 1kg counterweight) sitting on a Berlebach Report tripod (2.1 kg + 0.6 kg with tray). For the moment I’m using my Stellarvue Nighthawk achromat (80mm F6; 3.4 kg) but the plan is to use a lighter and faster refractor. The total weight at present is 9.4 kg, which is less than the counterweights of my normal setup! I’m hoping to shave a couple of kg off that since with a lighter scope I can get away with less of a counterweight.

The mount is very quick to polar align (20 seconds or so) and not having goto it needs no further alignment (of course, there is also the great pleasure of star-hopping to find targets :icon_biggrin:). I didn’t do more than a very rough balance of the scope as I was using a heavy diagonal/eyepiece to get the target in view before swapping it out for the much lighter Lodestar.

The good news is that I found no visible star-trailing up to 45s and it was even possible to push it to 60s (more than I’m prepared to wait for each sub) without anything excessive showing up. Given the quick polar alignment/balancing, the heaviness of the Nighthawk and its 480mm FL, that is a decent outcome for EAA I think (or maybe I got lucky); my plan is to operate around 330mm and with a typical sub length of 30s, and this mount appears more than capable of that.

Here’s a example of M81 in 45s subs. Seeing was poor tonight and the moon was still high, and the stars are as sharp as this achromat is ever going to deliver, but at least they’re round. No filters, no darks.

M81_2016.3.14_22.47.00.png.3b4e871794d59

Here the same total exposure in 90s subs; some eggy-ness is visible.

M81_2016.3.14_22.56.58.png.f805d24c2529b

Cheers

Martin

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Very nice results from a very simple setup, it must be a delight to use. Did you have a particular type of target in mind for this setup? 

For your interest my William Optics Zenithstar 66SD F5.9 is very light at around 1.6kg and is a semi apo (WO actually called it an apo) with excellent optics particularly in narrowband. With the F6.3 reducer it came down to around F4 I believe. I briefly used it for some Ha and widefiled EAA and it worked extremely well. Altair Astro still sell a similar scope with identical optics and a better. 

Rob

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That's exactly what I am thinking of lately. SA is mainly suited for wide field imaging and as far as i know there are no EAA suitable cams with big chips, hence my question -Martin how hard is it to point it at the target with lodestar sized chip? As I believe You have to do it manually since SA only provides RA tracking right?

Edited by MrOD

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Thank Rob. It is very simple and easy to setup and bring in at the end of the session. For travel purposes it will pack down to something like a medium rucksack + tripod. The kind of targets I have in mind are bright and dark nebulae and open clusters, and perhaps some of the larger Abell galaxy groups, though I don't expect to see much detail in those. I also intend using the rig for wide fields with just a DLSR, and for visual too. The WO scope you have is one I was looking at but I found something with a slightly larger objective (thinking visual use) second hand which I'll post on when it arrives.

MrOD, yes, the SA only tracks in RA and has no GOTO. An alternative (alt-az) mount with GOTO would be the iOptron Cube Pro (thanks to Astrojedi for that tip). I see my usage as combining visual and EAA: visual to find and browse the target, then plonk in the Lodestar for a deeper view. I might spend 20-30 minutes on the target visually and then perhaps a similar amount in EAA (not ideal for dark adaptation of course). Things like OCs should be easy enough to spot, dark nebulae less so. I guess with a finder it will be possible to get brighter targets on to the sensor (roughly a square degree in my case) though I'm planning to use just a unity finder (for weight) and a low-power eyepiece. The mount has controls which allow the object to be centred once on the chip.  

Others will know more about EAA cams with larger chips but for anyone prepared to pay, the Ultrastar plus say Rob's WO66+reducer would nearly squeeze in M31. 

Martin

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It is great to hear that it works for You so far.

I would opt also for non goto mount - as You noted it takes only a while to polar align and You are ready to go. Beside Star Adventurer i have also considered ioptron skyguider which looks way more rigid (and bulky). Looking forward to hear more about Your experience with this set.

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4 hours ago, Martin Meredith said:

Thank Rob. It is very simple and easy to setup and bring in at the end of the session. For travel purposes it will pack down to something like a medium rucksack + tripod. The kind of targets I have in mind are bright and dark nebulae and open clusters, and perhaps some of the larger Abell galaxy groups, though I don't expect to see much detail in those. I also intend using the rig for wide fields with just a DLSR, and for visual too. The WO scope you have is one I was looking at but I found something with a slightly larger objective (thinking visual use) second hand which I'll post on when it arrives.

MrOD, yes, the SA only tracks in RA and has no GOTO. An alternative (alt-az) mount with GOTO would be the iOptron Cube Pro (thanks to Astrojedi for that tip). I see my usage as combining visual and EAA: visual to find and browse the target, then plonk in the Lodestar for a deeper view. I might spend 20-30 minutes on the target visually and then perhaps a similar amount in EAA (not ideal for dark adaptation of course). Things like OCs should be easy enough to spot, dark nebulae less so. I guess with a finder it will be possible to get brighter targets on to the sensor (roughly a square degree in my case) though I'm planning to use just a unity finder (for weight) and a low-power eyepiece. The mount has controls which allow the object to be centred once on the chip.  

Others will know more about EAA cams with larger chips but for anyone prepared to pay, the Ultrastar plus say Rob's WO66+reducer would nearly squeeze in M31. 

Martin

I think you're right, the WO66 is small for visual, and it also introduces a slight orange hue to a lot of the brighter stars visually which I don't get in other scopes - it's not chromatic aberration, not sure what it is, but I don't think it is necessarily the actual star colour and I have read it can be reduced using a prism diagonal. I acutally liked a bit of additonal colour! 

For your and Mr OD's information, I found that the Lodestar used with the WO66 plus reducer actually has a wide enough field to fit in most of M31: http://www.ipernity.com/doc/robivory/40081644/in/album/862144

Rob

Edited by RobertI

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Last night I experimented a little more with the new mount. Having said that I'm not planning to use this for galaxies I couldn't really help myself and ended up hopping over to the Leo Trio and then to the Virgo-Coma area.

Finding objects without goto, without a finder, without dark adaptation, and with a brightish moon is definitely a challenge! The Leo Trio couldn't be seen in the eyepiece so I used the pattern of neighbouring stars to find it. Even so, it needed some further visual pattern recognition to get the thing on to the sensor. (There is a kind of purity of using non-goto for EAA at zero degrees....) 

Here are M65 and M66. There's a weird mottled pattern gradient which reminds me of heat currents. 

M65.M66_2016.3.15_22.47.46.png.aca2cc1ae

The remaining member of the trio, NGC 3628, didn't quite fit so gets its own shot

NGC3628_2016.3.15_22.53.07.png.8a80720d1

I then aimed for the general Virgo-Coma border area equidistant between the wonderfully-named Vindemiatrix (which reminds me of the local grape harvest festival nearby in La Rioja, known as the vendimia) and Denebola, hoping for a slice of Markarian's Chain, but ended up way off about half-way between Denebola and Auva (delta Virginis). After a lifetime of alt-az/Dobsonian mounts it takes a bit of getting used to an equatorial setup... Anyway, knowing that the whole area is packed with galaxies I just scanned around until some appeared, not knowing what I was looking at. In fact I've only just managed to visually plate-solve and annotate the image, but it turns out I was looking at a triplet of mag 12.6-13 edge-on galaxies around 120 MLY distant.

NGC4235group_annot.png.a946659e1e9b4d4a7

The quality from what I (fondly ;-) think of as my horrible little achro isn't great, having been used to the Quattro, but comparing it to older images taken when the same scope was mounted on the much beefier AZEQ6 I don't see much if any difference. I did notice that star-trailing was happening with shorter subs though, which might have been due to polar alignment/balance/looseness or just pointing to a faster moving part of the sky. I will continue to test...

Martin

 

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Nice shots Martin - without giving too much away any chance of a pic of your new setup - without many google searches your gear is a bit of mystery to me ;o)

Nytecam

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Sure. No mystery -- just awaiting delivery of the scope. When I get it I'll take some shots of the whole thing set up and broken down along with definitive weights... next week I hope.

Martin

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As promised, here’s a picture of my travel setup. The main components are a Berlebach Report 112 tripod, a Skywatcher Star Adventurer equatorial mount, and a Borg 77EDii refractor that I recently aquired second hand. The tripod is very stable when used with either the tray or the chain, or both, weighing 2.8kg with tray, 2.1kg without. The mount with 1kg counterweight weighs 3.4kg. The scope plus bracket is 1.45kg. In the current configuration I’m using it natively at f6.6 (510mm FL) with the diagonal and extender, adding a further 0.85kg, but when I get the appropriate adaptor I’ll use it with the supplied reducer/flattener (at f4, 308mm FL) and no diagonal, which will save some weight. I’m hoping to get the whole rig to just under 8kg. The scope is also set up for eyepiece viewing.

setup.png

The whole lot, including several eyepieces, sky meter, filters etc, apart from the tripod, fits comfortably in the case shown (approx 60x30x17cm), which I’ve repurposed from its original use holding my StellaVue NightHawk. Once I’ve tarted up the inside I’ll post some pictures ;-) It is easy to manage. Last night I carried it 300m to a moderately dark site.

packed.png

Setting up from scratch takes 4.5 minutes and polar alignment another 30 seconds or so. Setup time could be used for taking darks. Alignment is performed with the scope on the mount. The polarscope illuminator supplied with the mount cannot be used when the mount is loaded, so instead I use a clip on torch that you might be able to spot on the declination axis.

The mount/tripod combination damps very quickly (1 second or so) and is a pleasure to use either visually or in EAA mode. There are pushbutton controls to move in RA, and the declination axis has a manual control. These are extremely useful, not just for centering objects but for star-hopping too. The mount has no goto, but I plan to add a setting circle to the declination axis and use the polarscope dial as an RA circle.

This mount would be ideal for use with a low read noise camera (and live stacking, of course!), but so far I find it useable with the moderate read noise Lodestar even at over 500mm FL, at least for star clusters (eventually I'll be running at nearer 300mm). I'll be gathering more data on suitable exposure times.

Martin

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That's a lovely setup Martin, nicely optimised for its intended purpose. I had a lot of fun putting my lightweight visual grab and go setup together, paring down the weight, size and number of components to an absolute minimum. That Borg 77 of yours is extremely light; 1.45kg including bracket? That's amazing,

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Thanks Rob. According to my kitchen scales that is... objective lens 460g, tube 220g, visual mode focuser (i.e. without reducer) 590g, ring 180g = 1.45kg. To that one would have to add an extender and the Lodestar. Its actually the diagonal that makes the whole thing bottom-heavy, esp. with a chunky eyepiece. I only have a relatively heavy 2" diagonal at present but plan to use it with 1.25" eyepieces since with say a 13mm eyepiece the FOV is still 2.5 degrees native, so adequate as a finder. When I use it at f4 it will be a little heavier (200g or so) but with less of a moment at the bottom end so better balanced overall. As with all Borgs its a case of finding the right adaptors... I also plan to add a lightweight unity power finder at some point.

Martin

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That's a great set up. I'm trying something similar but starting with DSLR wide field, also using a Berlebach but the much heavier UNI 18 which is still ok to take out for grab n go. Interesting about the scopes weight that is an excellent choice by the look of it. I think my Equinox 80 just makes it under the 5 kilo limit but haven't tried it yet. If you can , could you kindly post a pic of how you set the torch up, or which one you used, been trying to solve this on mine but haven't come up with any solutions yet! 

Edited by JG777

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Thanks John. The Borg is a great scope but I'm not sure I would pay new prices just for EAA usage. 

Here's a shot of the torch. It is actually the one that came with my Catseye collimation set (designed to clip to a spider vane) but any lightweight torch with a clip attachment ought to work. It is clipped to one of the ribs on the declination tightener (just for the purposes of alignment, then I use it to read my charts etc).

torch.png

Martin

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Thanks Martin that's given me an idea or two. Its a shame the supplied illuminator does not work when loaded. I did manage to convert a pipe fitting to hold it in the rail and thought I had cracked it but the light is not bright enough when used like that. I did see a video where a guy uses a white adapter fitting but have not been able to find that anywhere. Anyway will watch your results with interest. Only used mine once but clouds shortened the night as always.  

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Just to complete the picture, this is the contents of the case, first with tray and accessories, and without. For travel use there is plenty of bubble wrap to pack around the accessories.  I hope it doesn't prevent problems as hand luggage but if so the scope itself splits into objective, main tube and focuser (and diagonal) so the important parts and eyepieces can be carried separately.

open2.png

 

 open1.png

Martin

 

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