Archive for the “Equipment” Category

A friend on one of the astronomy forums asked me if these would be any good for taking flats:

Any good?  They are utterly superb!!!!!!!!!!!!  AND they are cheap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  AND you can get an A3 or even an A2 panel (also CHEAP) if you have a large aperture scope.

I think these guys may find they have an unknown market out there for their drawing light boxes :)

 

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I had an electric focuser lying around so with a pulley and timing belt from Radiospares I put together an electric focuser rig for the Canon 5D MkII and the 100mm macro lens that took the mega-wide-field Virgo/Coma galaxies shot.  If I find there’s mileage in this approach I will invest in a prime 200mm Canon lens which has a 72mm diameter lens (and I have an IDAS filter for this lens size).

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I ordered a Robofocus unit for the TS 80mm triplet APO last Friday after lunch – and it arrived at 2:00 p.m. today (Monday) – and that’s all the way from the States!!  Unbelievable speed of delivery – well done Technical Innovations Inc. that really is impressive.

So I knocked up an adapter to connect the Robofocus to the 11:1 fine adjustment knob on the TS 80 refractor – calibrated the Robofocus for the full length of travel – and I’m now ready to go.  Next clear night it will be fire up FocusMax to focus train the TS 80 :)

 

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Well I don’t think there is going to be much let up in the rain for a good few months now – I have just received a new camera for the Hyperstar III.  For quite a while now I have used the faithful Starlight Xpress M25C one-shot colour CCD on the HSIII – 6-Megapixels and 2.85 arc seconds per pixel sampling – it has performed flawlessly and provided some superb images.  BUT – there’s always developmental improvements at Starlight Xpress and as I now have quite a bit of experience using the new M26C cameras on the mini-WASP array, it became clear that this should be the new camera for the HSIII.  So I’ve leapt up from 6-Megapixels to 10-Megapixels and my sampling has gone up from 2.85 arc seconds per pixel to 2.1 arc seconds per pixel.  The Hyperstar III and the M26C are going to be a formidable combination.  Last night I managed to get all the software working with the new camera and the next job is to focus train the new system using Starizona’s Microfocuser system and FocusMax.  With the system focus trained for the new camera it’s then a matter of flattening and collimating the camera using CCDInspector (and FocusMax) – and then I’ll be all set for imaging again.  Really looking forward to putting the new combo through its paces :)  Guess I also now need to create a new Category for this web site – Hyperstar III and M26C CCD images.

 

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I connected up the Paramount ME to its 48V power supply which in turn goes to a 1000W uninterruptible power supply (UPS) in my attempt to protect the delicate Paramount motor boards and electronics from anything nasty coming down the mains (and believe me – here in 3rd world Brockehurst we often get nasty things coming down the mains).  I have my little Libretto sub-notebook running The Sky software and initially connected it to the Paramount via the Paramount’s serial port (I had to use a USB to serial port converter from the Libretto as modern laptops don’t know what serial or parallel ports are).  It didn’t run at first as I had to go into the hardware and see which COM port it had allocated to talk to the Paramount – for some unknown reason it had chosen COM 5 (???)  Once I had changed the settings in The Sky to COM 5 and hit “connect” the little Libretto started talking to the Paramount and the Paramount started talking back.  First thing it said was that the Paramount hadn’t been homed and did I want to do that.  Confirmed that I did and the mount burst into life (for the first time) and it slewed to the (wrong) home position as I haven’t synched the mount yet.  However, as the mount now thinks it has been homed it will let the joystick work – so I took this short video clip of the Paramount being controlled by the off-camera joystick :)

I don’t want to talk to the Paramount through the serial port however, I want to go direct through the USB port.  This required putting the software Bisque DVD in again and loading up the USB drivers for the MKS4000 Paramount controller.  It looked like I had loaded up the drivers o.k. but I didn’t get “New Hardware Found” and I couldn’t control the Paramount from the Libretto – strange.  Re-booted the computer and still nothing happened.  So started looking at the port allocations again and this time the USB to UART controller (basically the USB link from the Libretto to the Paramount) was there and had been allocated to COM 4 (???)  Don’t know what this is all about now but just clicked on COM 4 in The Sky for the communications link and Bingo – it all works.

One thing you should know should you ever be in the nice situation of being able to buy a Paramount – is that it kicks out a LOT of weird noise in the background, grumping, gurgling and harrooomfing away all the time.  According to Nik Szymanek this is all quite normal (thank you for letting me know this Nik, it sounds dreadful when you hear it for the first time!) so I guess the point is DON’T PANIC :)

I guess the next step in the mini-WASP saga will be getting the new dome erected, so might not be any news on this one until early 2011.

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The Paramount has now been brought up to my study and is sutting on the Aluminium pier ready to be fired up.  Must admit I hadn’t planned for my study to be taken over with Astronomy equipment – but needs must.  Next step is to put the necessary software onto a laptop so that the Paramount can be computer-driven, power up the Paramount and see what happens.  Hopefully the next entry will be a video of the Paramount moving aound :)

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I have just brought the massive all-Aluminium mini-WASP pier in from the shed.  I will set it up in the upstairs study with the Paramount on top to give a dry run for the computer and all the electronics.  The pier was made by NTE Poole Ltd. craftsmen in everything to do with Aluminium (and stainless-steel for that matter) – thank you Eric Kennedy for a really great job on this.  The foot ruler is positioned on the base to give you an idea of the scale – the cylindrical central Aluminium tube has a wall thickness of one-inch!!!  The whole thing is pretty heavy (considering it’s Aluminium!) and extremely robust.  The pier will sit on a concrete foundation that is approximately 2-foot x 2-foot in cross-section, goes 5-6 feet into the ground, and protrudes 1-foot above ground level.  There will be an octagonal wooden decking surround (not physically touching the pier) and this will accommodate the new observatory – the new decking will look exactly like the decking underneath the original New Forest Observatory.  Here is an image of the all-Aluminium pier:

The next step is to bring the Paramount up into the study as well, sit it on top of the pier, connect up the computer and all the electronics and see if it all works (no I haven’t powered it up since it arrived nearly a year ago – oops).  If it does all work and I can control the Paramount using the hand-controller, then the next entry will be the second mini-WASP video log showing the Paramount in action.  Fingers crossed everybody :)

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Thought I would begin a video diary on the mini-WASP array project at this time even before the hole has been dug in the ground for the obligatory concrete block.  As we are all aware – any new observatory project begins with a hole in the ground that we subsequently fill with a cubic yard of concrete.  The short video (shot on the mega Sony NEX-VG10E handycam) shows the position the new observatory will occupy, to the left of the original 7-foot fibreglass dome, creating a Keck II landscape in the garden.  Next steps in the project will be digging the hole (5 foot deep, 1 foot above ground level and 2-foot by 2-foot cross-section) – filling the hole with concrete and setting in the all-Aluminium pier, and finally building the octagonal wooden decking around the central concrete block which will then support the new dome.  I expect this first phase of the project to start around March-April 2011.  And yes – the Paramount has now been sitting unused in my dining-room for almosr a year – unforgiveable :)

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This image shows a prototype illumination rig I have just built using 18 ultra-bright white-light LEDs and powered by a computer PSU.  The idea is to create a compact, high-power, flicker-free light source for photographic applications.  This prototype array (I estimate) kicks out the equivalent of a 200W light bulb, yet it consumes only 20W.  A useful photographic studio array would therefore need around 100 LEDs in a 10 x 10 array and would supply the equivalent of a 1000W thermal light source.  There is a CPU fan behind the LED array providing some forced-air cooling.  In a short while I will be testing the array out with Tony Allen to see how it performs in high-speed video applications.  I will almost certainly put a “snoot” reflector over this array, and Tony will being down a Fresnel lens to go over the front of the snoot.  Should be an interesting experiment :)

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After a completely overcast day the cloud began to break up around 5:00 p.m. and now (9:00 p.m.) it looks like we might actually have a reasonably clear night.  Whooppeeeeeeeeee – I’m off over the forest with the AstroTrac Canon 5D and 15mm fish eye lens to grab some Perseids :) :)   There was just too much light pollution from the street lights in my back garden to do a proper job with this setup, so I’m going in a nice large flat field right next to our allotments to hopefully get some dark sky imaging.  I’ll report on the outcome of this evening’s efforts tomorrow – provided it stays clear long enough to get started.

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