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Help/advice for EAA newbie…


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Hi All, I wonder if you could give me the benefit of your experiences, so I can avoid (if possible) wasting a lot of time and money… apologies for the long winded description of my situation, but hopefully the background will help you to give me some sound advice!

I would really like to get into EAA, but like most, I have a limited budget. I retired from my career in Electrical Engineering in early 2020, and finally managed to devote some time to my interest in astronomy. I have owned a celestron Nexstar 5se for a number of years, but never got to devote much time to learning how to use it, after a few months of learning with it, I had the good fortune to acquire a CPC925 XLT alt az scope, which is so much more stable than the 5”. I have added the starsense accessory, and a few eyepieces, and am starting to find my way round the night sky. I also was given a neximage 5mp planetary camera, and have had some great views and images of the moon using the celestron image capture software and Registax.

I have started to be able to visually observe some of the favourite faint DSO’s, and am hungry to see more detail… I live in East Kent in a bortle 5 zone, with some potentially disruptive light pollution from some local industrial glasshouses… 

I purchased a light pollution filter which really helps bringing out the contrast of for instance the Orion nebula. 
I also have a 0.63x Antares SCT reducer, which I believe may help with eaa.

My interest in EAA was initiated by a review of the Revolution Imager R2, and the potential increase in detail that it seems to be able to provide, this started my research journey down the rabbit hole… video astronomy, CCD, CMOS, DSLR, Colour, Mono, pixel size, sensor size, sensitivity, real time, live-stacking, software, raspi, laptop, Wi-Fi, Ethernet etc etc etc…

I have been flitting around from one solution to another… and it seems there are infinite ways to go… so I will lay out some of the bits I have already available, what I would like to achieve, and hopefully you may be able to point me in the right direction to get started.

I have a couple of Raspberry pi computers available ( a 3B+ and a 4GB 4plus) I have a Windows 10Pro laptop, celestron Wi-Fi module, a stock nikon D3200 and t-adapter and a Sony alpha a5000. I have the Antares 0.63x reducer and a 2” diagonal.

I would like to view some DSO’s such as Orion Nebula, dumbbell nebula and Other Messier objects in more detail, and in colour if possible… if I can improve my views from the faint fuzzy mono eyeball views I already see, I would be over the moon…

I am aware of some of the limitations of my scope (alt az mount tracking star trails with longer exposures, long focal length and slow optics) but I am not in a position to for instance start again with a new scope/mount.

if any of the bits I already own could be used in the setup that would be great… but if they are not useful then that’s OK too…

I look forward to hearing your suggestions for a first move into the world of EAA.

Thanks,

Ian

 

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  • Big Ian 65 changed the title to Help/advice for EAA newbie…

Hi Ian

Welcome to SGL!

I'm not sure how much help I can be as my kit is a bit different from yours (I use an 8" f/4 Newt) but I'll try and hopefully others will also chime in.

Alt-az is absolutely no problem for EAA. Since 2014 I've only ever used alt-az. With modern cameras you can stack short exposures (5-15 seconds) and not suffer from field rotation within each exposure, and the software automatically handles field rotation between subs.

Fast is typically best as you noted, so using your 9.25 scope with a reducer is going to help. At the same time you may be able to use it without the reducer for small DSOs, but what really matters here is the field of view, since you need to be able to find the objects in the first place, and get sufficient stars to stack. 

In principle all you need is a laptop and a camera attached by a USB cable. If you plan in the future to operate remotely (e.g. you in the warm, the scope outside), then using your RPi4 to control the mount and wifi the images across is a possibility, but I wouldn't start with that level of complexity.

That really leaves the question of the best camera. I think its fair to say that most people in EAA use astronomical cameras rather than stock DLSRs, in part because the software support for EEA is more seamless for astro cameras. So if you're lacking something from what you already own it is a suitable camera. There are a lot of choices. If you haven't already done so, can I suggest that you visit http://astronomy.tools/calculators/ccd_suitability to see what camera will provide decent sampling for your scope (with/without reducer), and http://astronomy.tools/calculators/field_of_view/ to check out the field of view you can obtain. Note that most DSOs fit comfortably into a field of view of around 0.5 degree square, but for larger objects like bright nebulae you'd need a bigger FOV.

Large sensors come with their own issues (cost and vignetting).

That said, it is possible to do EAA with the cameras you already have (just that I don't have any experience with them).

As for software, most people use Sharpcap (Windows only) or ASIlive (ZWO-ASI cameras only). 

With your potential setup you'll be able to see 1000s of interesting DSOs from a Bortle 5 zone.

Anyway, that's just a start, so do get back with any further questions

Martin

 

 

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Hi Ian,

I too went down the rabbit hole of which camera - not a straight forward answer.

The C9.25 is perfect for EAA (I use to do EAA with a C9.25, then it became a C11). With the 0.63 reducer it will be 'fast' enough to keep the time down to get 'live!' images quite quickly and also have a reasonable field of view. As Martin indicates, alt/az is fine. Currently I use a Dob, which is of course alt/az.

The C9.25 will cope with a sensor diagonal of 11mm and probably a touch more. It will also be OK down to about f5. I did try using a f3.3 reducer - not worth it unless you have a very small sensor.

Mono cameras are far more sensitive than colour, thus you get results quicker. I am not a fan of colour except for Planetary Nebulae and star clusters. Mono is much more as you see it through a big Dob ( of which I use to own one).

I use the starlight express ultrastar camera, capture the image using the Starlight Live software and then send it straight to Jocular software to stack etc (Jocular has been written with EAA in mind - I highly recommend it.) I started out using the starlight express Lodestar x2 which gave good results). I think I saw one of these for sale recently on UK Buy/Sell.

As Martin says - ask for help as you need.

Cheers,

Mike

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Hi Ian,

I started down the EAA road a couple of years ago. Once you start EAA there is no going back to those funny eyepiece things 😀

I use a CPC-800, that I have owned for years. I started off with the equipment I had and over the course of a few months ended up with a setup I could control from the warmth of my office.

I purchased a colour camera (Altair Astro 294c Pro) as it appeared easier for a beginner, like me, to get to grips with. I was also amazed how much colour there is out there.  

A laptop outside runs CPWI to control the scope and the excellent and amazing SharpCap software for stacking. Microsoft Remote Desktop allows me to access the laptop. On the inside desktop I use Stellarium and Astroplanner all held together by ASCOM. 

I added one bit of equipment/software into the mix at a time. Using the posts and YouTube videos of many knowledgeable  EAA'ers to guide me. It took a bit of time and there were problems to solve but those amazing near real-time images just kept me going. EAA re-energised my love of exploring the night sky.

Please find a couple of images of the current scope and software setup I use. I wish you luck on your EAA adventure.

Pete

20220617_083847 - Copy.jpg

desktop.jpg

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Hi All, Just an update to my original post, Last night I made my first tentative steps into EAA... Blimey, I am blown away with the initial results which I know can be improved...

In the end, being an old skinflint... I decided to go down the Zero cost route initially and found a Sony Mirrorless ASCOM driver which supports Sharpcap... then using my Sony A5000 connected by USB, I aligned the scope and slewed to my first target...  After some flaky USB issues (resolved with a different cable) I managed to get a rough focus on M3, then using Sharpcap with 10sec exposures at ISO 6400 I began to live stack, the first image processed and I couldn't believe the clarity starting to appear... I then had a play with the white, Black and intermediate sliders and saw a slight improvement. Moving on I slewed to M39, M27, M71, and then the Heart and eagle nebulas finishing with a good view of Double Double. I captured between 20-50 images on each target. Unfortunately I am unable to upload any of my tentative images, as I had selected to save the stack as a FITS file, which I had read could be used in Jocular... I do have Jocular installed - but the learning curve just to get connected, focussed (ish) and live stacking, with Sharpcap was steep, and by 0330, I was not ready to learn another package... 😉 

The initial results have spurred me on, and in view of the fact that I was using the free version of Sharpcap... (I will be purchasing the full version) and have not even scratched the surface of its capabilities, I was only roughly focussed, and need to obtain a focussing aid (bahtinov mask) have only tried acouple of exposure settings I am sure I can get some pleasing results.

I have the following questions for you lovely people...

1. What is the simplest way to achieve focus? I assume the Bahtinov mask is the way to go... I only have the stock CPC manual focuser, and having only done visual observing to this point with my knackered eyes (varifocal glasses with some astigmatism) the stock focuser has been adequate.

2. What is the best format to save the live stack in? 

3. Is Jocular a replacement for Sharpcap, or can I use Sharpcap to feed the captured frames into Jocular... sorry for the question if it appears stupid, but I have only opened Jocular once and being a windows guy, I need a little help getting started.

4. Once I manage to capture some good frames, it is clear from what I have already seen that with a little post processing the image can really be improved... What software would you recommend for this task? I do have a copy of Photoshop Elements 13.

5. Best software for viewing/processing FITS files?

6. The session was completed without using my f6.3 focal reducer, I read that this would assist with the correct sampling, and increase the field of view, should I just use this in any case?

7. The livestack images I produced, were full of detail, but I was unable to achieve some of the colour 'pop' that I have seen from other similar users setups... Is this because their images are post processed, or is it just where I am on the learning curve?

8. Further to point 7. above - I can see that the histogram is central to understanding how to get good images - but at the moment it is all greek to me... can you recommend any online (or other ) resources for learning what the Histogram represents and how to use the processing features of sharpcap? - I understand that some additional features are unlocked when you register the software (such as the autostretch function (again a new concept to me...))

All I can say is Wow - EAA has definitely bitten me... any support you guys can offer will be gratefully recieved!

I am now deciding if I can do without a kidney - to fund a camera and remote focuser... LOL

 

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Hi Ian,

You are now hooked!!!!

Bahtinov masks work well. Others will use software programmes but I very limited knowledge of technical stuff - I do the point and shoot approach. (I have tried to use Sharpcap on several occasions but fail to even get an image.

I use Photoshop 13 sometimes just to adjust contrast or brightness but as it is EAA I keep post processing minimal (other than tweaking in Jocular when I wish to post a result) and maximise the observational comments.  (Imagers tend to focus on the image and often do not make any observational comment.)

The reducer - I would suggest you use it all the time - increases fov and gets results quicker.

Martin will advise you no doubt on using Jocular. I collect FITS files and send them direct to Jocular to process live and this results in all the data being saved within Jocular for later use, reference...... I am totally sold on Jocular (for me it is so easy to use compared to Sharpcap etc).

Enjoy the journey.

Mike

 

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Great report

1 - could make a simple lord Y mask easy out of card and works well with good strong spikes.

5 - nasa free fitsliberator open the fits and save as tiff and then edit at will in your image editor

 

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Hi Mike, thanks for the advice, I am looking forward to getting a bit more efficient with the setup I have, and learning to use jocular. What a buzz to see these objects in your own back garden…

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Thanks for the suggestions Happy-Kat - I already printed out a focus mask template, and have been to the local craft store for some thick black card… Do you know how accurate I need to be with the cutting of the mask?
I will also give the NASA fits liberator a go!

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I made a Lord Y mask from using a  ruler and compass, pencil and scissors. The dimensions were clear so didn't need much to be able to draw it up for the diameter of the scope I was using. 

16405239101293.jpg

The pattern made (image taken)

bahtinuv focus image.jpg

Edited by happy-kat
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I made a homemade mask out of thin plastic. Card may give you ragged edges but should work - try to make the cuts as smooth/sharp/accurate as you can but probably no need to over do it.  The pattern is key.

Mike

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21 hours ago, Big Ian 65 said:

3. Is Jocular a replacement for Sharpcap, or can I use Sharpcap to feed the captured frames into Jocular... sorry for the question if it appears stupid, but I have only opened Jocular once and being a windows guy, I need a little help getting started.

 

If you can control your camera directly from Sharpcap then I'd suggest continuing to use that rather than Jocular, because Jocular has only rudimentary support for OSC cameras and is likely to stay that way for a while. Jocular is mainly geared towards mono or colour through mono + filters.

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Hi All, after a bit more learning, please see attached some lo res screen snips from my first EAA session carried out on Wednesday night... I am more than pleased with the results - Each live stack was taken with the Sony A5000 stacking between 10-30 10sec images ISO6400

 

M82 Cigar Galaxy.JPG

Whirlpool Galaxy.JPG

Ring nebula.JPG

Dumbell Nebula.JPG

Albireo.JPG

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Hi Guys, After printing out a Bahtinov mask template, I ended up making a Lord Y mask - cut out of black craft mount board, 'cos it was easier... Then I gave it a couple of coats of matt black automotive paint to slow any moisture ingress. I intend to try it out next clear sky!

Just a quick question on Focussing, My understanding is that all DSO's are far enough away to assume that the light rays are effectively parallel, and that once focussed on a bright star - I should not need to adjust focus for that evenings session. Is my understanding correct? Or is there sufficient distance between objects to make re-focussing necessary?

 

IMG_9398 (002).jpg

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Mask looks good, have you sorted how you'll attach it to your telescope when needed for focusing. The one I made slips over the end of the scope when needed, all card and I had insulating tape to hand to use (it only sticks the card together).

Focusing on a bright star is sufficient, I try to use a star in the quadrant of sky I'm using. If you are using a filter and change the filter you might want to check focus again 

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I'm also giving EEA a try, with a second hand Altair Astro GPCAM2 327C camera. I'm still testing the kit in daylight at the moment and haven't yet tried it on the stars. Interesting thread.

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3 hours ago, happy-kat said:

Mask looks good, have you sorted how you'll attach it to your telescope when needed for focusing. The one I made slips over the end of the scope when needed, all card and I had insulating tape to hand to use (it only sticks the card together).

Focusing on a bright star is sufficient, I try to use a star in the quadrant of sky I'm using. If you are using a filter and change the filter you might want to check focus again 

Thanks happy-Kat - I intend to just drill three holes 120’ apart and put some M6 number plate plastic screw through.

 

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2 hours ago, Mike JW said:

As happy-kat says, focusing on a star is sufficient, but remember that you may need to re focus during a session as the scope cools down.

Thanks Mike, is the need to refocus due to temp, just down to the expansion/contraction of the scope components, or something else?

 

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1 hour ago, PeterC65 said:

I'm also giving EEA a try, with a second hand Altair Astro GPCAM2 327C camera. I'm still testing the kit in daylight at the moment and haven't yet tried it on the stars. Interesting thread.

Thanks Peter, good luck with your EAA endeavours!

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