Archive for the “Observatory” Category

This was the “Close Encounters” scene over the New Forest Observatories at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday 12th April 2012.  By 10:00 p.m. it had cleared to a perfect dark sky with no interfering Moon!

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Well – here’s that Starlight Xpress super customer service for you!  Michael Hattey of Starlight Xpress drove my tested M26C camera down to the New Forest Observatory today – thank you Michael.  Both M26C cameras are now back on the mini-WASP framework – together with Maglev cooling fans – and we’re all ready to go (well after the polar alignment anyway).  Thank you Terry Platt, Michael Hattey and all at Starlight Xpress for such a speedy turnaround!!

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Just a single 2,000 second sub from one M26C camera – no processing other than brightening up so here’s the hot pixels, the polar rotation – the lot – in all its glory.  But it’s my First Light 🙂

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We unexpectedly got a clear patch of sky last night – and no Moon – but of course such luck has to be tempered 🙂

Started up the mini-WASP array around 10:30 p.m. and decided to start with some Polar Alignment by the drift method.  Surprisingly the alignment wasn’t too far out, so rather than lose good imaging time in drift aligning I fired up the cameras and filter-wheels ready for some imaging at last 🙂  Unfortunately it looks like one of the M26C imaging cameras has a fault with the cooling circuit and will be returned to Terry tomorrow – but the other M26C and the SXV guide camera performed well.  Of course the Paramount played a part in only 0.5 pixel deviation in guiding all through the night – something I’ve never seen before – but the guiding was absolutely superb.  I was imaging in the Sadr region to get some nebulosity along with the stars and took a whole range of sub-exposures from just 60-seconds to 2,000 seconds.  Got the expected Polar Rotation all around the edges at 2,000 seconds – but the image quality was excellent and gives me a lot to look forward to when the whole array is tuned and up and running in earnest.  Finished playing at 3:30 a.m. and managed to get my head on the pillow by 4:00 a.m.

One thing you should keep in mind if you are about to embark on a new, big, ambitious project like this one – is to remember your history.  Your current (hopefully) fine-tuned rig didn’t just happen overnight.  It is the result of an enormous amount of effort, blood sweat and tears, and learning – to get to the end result of a good imaging rig.  Well the bad news is that when you put a new rig together it is just like starting from scratch again because all that learning history is tied up in the old rig and the new rig needs new approaches and new solutions.  Just thought I’d share that with you so that you do better with the blood pressure than I’m managing at the moment 🙂

By the way – I manually pushed the dome around last night (sorry Tom) as I had enough on my plate with two imaging cameras, a guide camera, and two filter wheels.

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Today Tom How fitted and ran a fully automated dome rotation system to the Pulsar Observatories mini-WASP dome.  You can see a video of the system in operation HERE.

You will see the telescope array deliberately slewed using the joystick and the dome automatically rotating to keep in line with the telescopes.  Tom’s touch of genius in making this system work (despite any motor stalls or slippage between drive wheel and dome) is the use of a solid-state magnetic compass for absolute position reference – no rotary encoders needed.  Brilliant piece of work there Tom and I really appreciate the time and effort you have put into this project.  At least you have given me something a bit special (and a bit sexy) to show the sponsors on our “First Light” day 🙂

Keck I (the South dome) can be seen through the doorway of Keck II (the North dome).

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This is the view from my study on this blistering hot Wednesday – it’s now coming up to 5:00 p.m. and it’s still too hot to do anything sensible indoors or outdoors.  Managed to fit a solid-state magnetic compass in the mini-WASP dome today (the reason for this little beauty will become apparent in the coming weeks) – and I measured up, and ordered the metal for a new strengthening rig to go on the Celestron, so-called, “Heavy Duty Wedge”.  The design of the wedge isn’t too bad (I have seen worse) but there is an open ended box section that deforms when a heavy scope like the C11 is cantilevered all over the place.  Up until now I have securely bolted a 2.2mm Aluminium plate over the box-end which has done a fairly good job of stiffening up the wedge – but I could do a lot better.  I intend to securely bolt a 6mm plate over the end, and will report back if this has improved things at all – I will be very unhappy if it makes no difference at all.

O.K. so the view from my study includes the washing line, which I feel brings the whole image a bit more down to earth, and then of course there’s the hammock with the Sun umbrella strategically placed nearby for yours truly to enjoy his early retirement in the sunshine 🙂

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Tom How just pointed something out to me that came as a bit of a shock.  The mini-WASP project has been over 4 years in the making – to be precise, my first NFO post on the mini-WASP array was 10th July 2007.  I knew this had been going on for some time but had no idea that it was actually this long.

As I continue fitting everything into the dome and get more and more scared by the magnitude of this project I find a few things I got wrong in the planning stage.  First Rog – you were right and I was wrong – I really should have gone for the bigger dome.  Not due to aperture limitations (I think I’ll just get away with that) but it is impossible to work in the smaller dome which means I’ll HAVE to route all the computing into the study through a long CAT6 cable.  I also need an extra counterweight on the Paramount (this was an inkling in the back of my mind but I wasn’t too sure).  However, it only just balances now, so when all 4 scopes are kitted up with cameras and filter wheels I definitely won’t have enough counterweights.  Fortunately Kieron of SCS Astro is on the case and is aware of my latest screw up.  Anything else?  Well the cable handling is going to be testing as I always knew, but I think it will be a little easier than I was expecting.

I don’t like GEMs!!  I don’t like the amount of volume they take up swinging the kit over all angles, and I don’t like the non-intuitive way they point to various parts of the sky.  For me an alt-az configuration on a wedge is the nicest option.

I’ll update the mini-WASP problems and solutions as they find me out 🙂

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On this grey, murky, rainy day I thought I’d take a picture of something bright in the garden – a pair of Keck domes now reside at the New Forest Observatory 🙂

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This is how the twin observatories are positioned in the garden at the New Forest Observatory.

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Spent today (between the showers) fitting the all Aluminium pier to the concrete support base.  Contrary to what it looks like in the photo – the top of the pier is perfectly flat and horizontal.

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