Still No Images – March 2017

It seems like the Gods are conspiring against me! The weather has not been cooperating at all. I have done all I can do with the rig inside and now need a clear night to test everything and take some images.

One on my club members suggested a program called Sequence Generator Pro. I started playing around with an evaluation copy and found that, although more complicated, it is much more powerful than APT. I spend at least an hour every day playing with it. Unfortunately, some of the settings need to be done under a starry sky.

A widow of an acquaintance gave me a good deal on some of her husband’s equipment. I picked up an 80mm guide scope and a couple of cameras that make setting up and aligning the mount a breeze. Just gotta have a clear night.

February 2017

I was hooked. I knew now that I was definitely going to dive into DSO imaging, but I still had a lot to learn. I still had some funds in my budget, so I upgraded my scopes with MoonLite motorized focusers. The good thing is, if I upgrade to a different scope, I can just move the focuser to a new scope. I just have to buy a different mounting flange.

I was all set to start imaging…NOT! I needed a program that would allow me to control everything from one console. I had set up Astro Photography Tool (APT) for use with my DSLR. It was easily adaptable to my equipment and is user friendly. I got everything working inside the house, but the weather, in combination with my availability, prevented me from first light.

Frustrated, though I was, I continued my research and learning.

 

The Rig Takes Shape – January 2017

I was worried about the cabling on the mount. Everything looked good, but I had heard so many horror stories about the cables failing. I ordered a cable upgrade kit from Gary Bennett in Canada and couldn’t be happier. I added a few more upgrades to the mount (leg levelers and a sturdy spreader). Now we’re talking.

I spent the month of January inside. I had the rig set up in my den and started trying to learn how to get everything working together. Slowly, I was beginning to learn! The SN8 was not the proper scope to learn on as it requires very careful collimation and goes out of whack easily. I also got some advice that learning on an SCT is even harder and that a 5″ refractor is still a bit big for a novice. I had to work with what I had. I started looking for a used 80mm refractor, as was recommended. They have a wide field and are very forgiving when it comes to guiding, needing only the 50mm guide scope.

At this time, ZWO was having a 15% off sale, combined with a $50 gift certificate per camera at Woodland Hills. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick up a cooled mono camera and filter wheel. Mono cameras have much better sensitiity than color cameras (called one shot cameras or OSC’s). The do, however need a set of filters in order to create color images. Boy, I had just learned to use the DSLR!

Tip#4: No matter what rig you have, there will always be something to improve it. Bear this in mind when you start building your rig.

 

Things Fall in My Lap March-December 2016

I used my set up for observing over the past few months. I learned that what you see in the eyepiece doesn’t look anything like the pictures I’ve seen on the web. I had to learn what to look for and techniques like averted vision, which enables to to see faint objects.

I yearned to take pictures of the objects, so I started researching everything I could. Being retired, I had the time. I learned how to hook the rig up to the computer and the various programs needed to control the mount, camera, and other accessories. I knew that I needed one of two things, a mount with at least 65# payload capacity or a much lighter telescope. Mounts of that size cost many thousands of dollars and most were beyond my budget.

Celestron made a mount, CGE, in the 1990’s that was rugged, had a 65# payload, low inherent errors, and could be had for less than $1000. The only real problem with the CGE design is the kind of cables that are used to connect the motors to the “brains”. I started actively looking for one.

I answered an ad in Craigslist for two telescopes with mounts. It was a divorcee, selling off her ex-husband’s equipment. She didn’t know anything about them, but I knew they were CGE’s by the way she described them. She was located in a rural part of Georgia and I took the chance of driving up there,based on verbal description only.

Imagine my joy at acquiring not one, but two working CGE’s, a 5″ refractor, a 12″ SCT, and various eyepieces and imaging accessories all for the price of two CGE’s alone! I was finally on my way, or so I thought.

I Learn Some New Lessons – February 2016

I joined the South Florida Amateur Astronomer Association (SFAAA), a local astronomy club. I started asking questions about mounts and was able to buy a well-respected mount, Orion Atlas EQ-G, at a good price. I was overjoyed!

Tip#2: Find and join a local astronomy club. The members are knowledgeable and always happy to help.

I mounted the telescope, purchased a couple of eyepieces and thought that I was on my way. Boy, was I wrong. It was at this point that I discovered that my scope was designed mostly for imaging. Okay, I had a suitable Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) and took pictures of the moon. They were terrible due to two things: 1.) the scope was designed for deep space object (DSO) imaging, not lunar or planetary and 2.) the turbulence in the atmosphere made the pictures blurry.

Luckily, I discovered something called “lucky imaging” whereby you take a video of the moon or planet, choose the best frames, and combine them. My DSLR was able to do this, somewhat. I also discovered that, because of the design on the SN8, I needed to increase the magnification of the telescope beyond it’s capabilities, in order to image other planets.

Okay, my camera can be programmed to take the long exposures necessary for DSO’s (galaxies, nebulae, etc.). I added a 50mm guide scope with an Orion autoguider (SSAG). The weight capacity of the EQ-G is 40# to 45#. My whole set up weighed in at 38# so I thought I was good to go…WRONG! I didn’t know it at the time, for long exposure imaging, the weight of your set up shouldn’t be more than 50%-60% of the mount capacity. Back to the drawing board.

Tip #3: Decide what kind of imaging you want to do. Build your set up based on that decision.

My Journey Begins – February 2016

I had always been interested in the heavens. I have several degrees (Math and Engineering) with a minor in Astronomy.

February 2016: I had a diving accident that left me unable to dive. Wanting a new hobby, and having an interest in astronomy,  decided to get a telescope.

Not knowing a thing about them, I purchased an old 8″ tube from a telescope/camera store. The only problem was, I had to find some way to mount it. It turns out to be a scope with fast optics, designed from imaging. Tip #1: Decide what kind of astronomy you want to do, observing or imaging, before looking at scopes. 

Since I now owned an imaging telescope, I decided that I wanted to get into astrophotography.

Meade SN8