Observatory Log

Zodiacal light, Torrey, Utah 2/8/2018

Reliability is inversely proportional to complexity.

2/2/2021 – Untangled wires and re-positioned wire bracket in mid January. Reversed camera position on rotator and tightened all connections. RA on mount was a bit loose. Ran new T-Point and PEC. Trial 10 minute exposure looked good. Finally. Also verified that filter wheel is correct. Got new dark subs. A lot of work. Moon full at the time. Quarter moon is this week. Frequent clouds all the while. Forgot to put Canon out for dark FITS. Changing anything in the observatory, such as the camera, is always more involved than expected. If anything, I might upgrade the outside mount so it can meridian flip and be run by CCDAutoPilot and TSX. I can use the Canon there. https://store-losmandy-com.3dcartstores.com/gemini-2-kit :

I would verify with Losmandy and/or Software Bisque that it would work. Too pricey to just get a new setup and give the old to Nick. He is busy, does not have much sky, could use any money elsewhere, and my budget is limited. New G11GT MOUNT WITH GEMINI 2 GOTO DRIVE SYSTEM Your Price: $3,395.

If I retrofit my existing mount and use CCDAP I will still need dark FITS in a library of temperatures to be used with Dark Master. I could also easily do mosaics if that setup works with TSX. Color mosaics with the Stellarvue 80mm could capture some nice big sky.

I will also need a library of Canon dark FITS if I decide to use the Canon again in the observatory. I now have all the fittings.

In the meanwhile I had a long forum thread with Stan Wood at CCDStack https://ccdware.infopop.cc/topic/blotches-in-2×2-rgb-results . The takeaway is there is not something major I am doing wrong that leads to the unusable color subs. So going to just start over with several minor changes:

  • do six minute 2X2 color subs
  • increase dither
  • use new darks
  • use nearest neighbor
  • skip adaptive
  • do hot and cold pixel removal BEFORE registration
  • “Note that you can generate a stacked image while in Data Reject mode to see if it is OK and if not then use stronger parms or different methods. Accurate normalization is critical for stack rejections.”
  • “The bottom line is that no bad pixels should survive before stack combine. If they persist then experiment with various rejects. For now (at least) only use Nearest Neighbor for binned RGB . Then normalize and data reject via min/max. All of the frames should have similar rejection percentages. If not then the normalization may need re-doing (repeated normalization is OK). If that does not fix it then there may be an esoteric issue (e.g. temp instability).”

Stan Wood also suggests it is better to bin color subs for LRGB images: “An important dynamic for CCD imaging is to expose long enough so that sky background noise overwhelms read noise and thus renders read noise harmless.  This dynamic sets a minimum exp time to avoid unnecessary noise in the image. This dynamic is exacerbated by color filters because they block sky glow and thus subject the image to unnecessary and potentially harmful read noise.   For example: depending on scope, camera, sky, etc., it might take 8 minutes for an unfiltered sky to overwhelm the read noise but using a filter might take 24 minutes to do so.  Binning would reduce those times to 2 and 6 minutes respectively, allowing shorter (and more) sub-exps  (total signal time is not affected).”

12/16/2020 – Observatory is down again. Rotator wires tangled and jammed at the 11:15 PM meridian flip. There are VRBO house guests coming in about 10 days and Kirsten already went down and prepared the place. Time consuming sacrifice on her part. So will be new year before I will be down there to fix the tangle and try, yet again and again and again, to find a solution. Last night tracking failed on 10 minute subs half of the time so I did not get many. I finally gave up and re-enabled autoguiding. That worked great for the two subs I got in before the flip. Then the jam. In disgust, I shut down the PC too soon. Now there is no PC on in Torrey so I can’t see webcam or even make some more darks.

Next, which is next year, I will try to finish up 10 minute autoguided unbinned color subs for the Northern Trifid and see if I can get a final image. Then I will go to 20 minute autoguided all unbinned subs and see if I can get color combination to work better. But everything has to work, and everything rarely does.

First tighten up all the connections along the way in case they are why some subs streak. Also double check the arrangement of the filters vs what is in TheSkyX settings.

The tree in front of the observatory in the header picture has since died of the drought.

Get more creative

This constant failure is boring and dull. Since I am fruitlessly boycotting social media, no one sees my images. Weird to spend so much time on them in the void. I am like the tree falling in the forest. Plus every kid and his dog are doing astro-imaging fantastically well these days. I probably won’t quit astro-imaging, but I would like to find more creative uses of the observatory.

One is to add dark sky measurement. Do my own and add Gary Pankow’s efforts to post here on Thots and Shots somewhere? There is thingy called the Sky Quality Meter for $120. Oops, $230 for a USB weatherproof unit, called SQM-LU unit. Software probably needed is separate and $75. I sent a note to the manufacturer Unihedron asking what all I would need. Not quite in the piggy bank just yet.

Another idea is somewhat like aviation navigating. It is said if you are looking outside and then trying find yourself on a map, you are lost. But if you are looking at a map and then finding what you see outside, you are navigating. In a similar vein, I will start trying to use Chet Raymo ideas from 365 Starry Nights and Sky and Telescope and then go to the observatory, find and photograph. Write up the results with a story and show image here.

A third is something real time. But that would require putting on a different camera . . . and presumes a following, which I don’t have. Some sort of astro-video camera is probably recommended. But I do have livestack in TSX. That works well for star parties but probably loses translation online. The ZWO ASI224MC Color CMOS Imaging Camera is $249 and on my wishlist at HighPoint Scientific. I don’t know if it is a video cam or fast cam but it is used for planetary imaging and livestack with apparently free software that would work outside on the C8 well. I could probably add the camera during a star party after eyepiece viewing, but would need practice. The tiny, tiny sensor probably means planets only. Check on Stellarium — yea, way too small. A color camera in the observatory would make a nice livestack on TSX. The full frame CMOS QHY 128PRO-C is $2,426. I wonder how the Canon would do in livestack. That is next thing to check. Anything real time online is currently impossible out of Torrey because of the minimum upload bandwidth and resulting extremely low resolution. Again, no demand. Goto would be nice outside for a star party, but the Losmandy GEMINI 2 RETROFIT KIT is $1,595.00. (A new G-11 with goto and no tripod is a G11G Configurable Mount at $2,895.00.) IJR at 110 by next year, then maybe. 90 now.

The second idea above is free. So is Canon livestack.

12/8/2020 – Worked on getting a better T-Point with 320 points last night, made it worse. Star is almost outside the frame. Then several hours working on PEC and could not get better that 4.4 arcsecs. The thing just kicks my ass over and over.

Previous to this I have been working on the Northern Trifid and failing. Color is a complete mess. Nothing obvious I am doing wrong according to Stan at CCDStack, just everything. Thus I was going back to T-Point and PEC and getting new dark frame subs. So far I have made it all unusable.

My huge January struggle with this is at SB forum here. Link in January entry no longer works.

It took two nights but I finally got a workable PEC log. For some reason the check if imaging on the west box is backwards. And it worked better to leave Pro-Track on. But there was something else wrong. I also went back before I got PEC to work and did a 100 point T-Point. That seemed to work better than the 300 point one. I am now getting some good unguided sessions for 10 minutes, but many that are streaked.

November 28, 2020 – Renters in Torrey for about 10 days. Took HaLRGB of Northern Trifid and can’t get the RGB colors to combine in CCDStack. Complete mess. Makes me wonder if the filter labels got mixed up when Pineau on Sept. 15 made a plug-in for the IFW driver. Trying to find a way to check the filters remotely. Maybe can do it comparing Rigel and Betelgeuse? Other aspects of the image were poor. Tracking was marginal at best. Focus seemed poor. Plate solving showed pointing accuracy was way off. So starting over. Took 20 minute darks and plan to use adaptive dark subtraction. Will re-run a 300 pt T-point. Then redo the PEC adjustments. See what exposures work to get 20,000 ADU on @focus2. Use @focus2 so can plate solve more often to keep more in the original frame’s neighborhood without tracking. Bot book for PixInsight but then asked if PI can handle blooms. It can’t. Yet everyone uses it. Maybe play around with a cooled color camera. But I think I have all I need.

If I do get a color camera then will have to figure out doing 2X2 flats as required by CCDAP to get an exposure measurement and converting them for 1X1 subs. Maybe extra step to transpose them in CCDStack? I don’t see ability to go from 2X2 to 1X1, only the other way. If I have a colored cooled camera and don’t need to sort by dark temp, then just use CCDStack instead of DSS and it can translate the 2X2 flats for 1X1 subs in the calibration process. I hope.

I have not done a lot of research, but the ZWO ASI2600MC Pro USB3 Cooled Color Camera – ASI2600MC-P for $1,799 looks good. 3.76mm pixel size with APS-C sensor size: 23.5 mm x 15.7 mm. Even nicer, but too pricey is ZWO ASI2400MC-P, 5.94 pixel size and full frame 36.07 x 24.01 sensor at $3,499.

I think an IR cutoff filter is necessary to avoid light and focus problems with a color camera. Not sure. I think leaving the filter wheel in place and using LUM filter takes care of that. 11/30 note: the ZWO page shows there is protection glass with an IR cut built in.

And from TEC: Hi Mark, The 140FL Field with FRC: 36x36mm or 52mm circle, F/6.3, BF=115mm. -Gabrielle

November 8, 2020 – Played with Canon FITS and RAW in DSS. Turns out DSS will stack FITS and RAW files together, but in East Veil image the blue did not come out this way. In general the pics come out harsh and off color. Not a clue why. Dark Master could sort the FITS lights into temperature groups into DSS as one file, and then could hand chose darks from the RAW dark library. But comes out bad.

I sorted East Veil FITS lights with the few FITS darks I had. This came out cleaner than ever, plenty of blue and other color. I saved the FITS DSS settings which I should be able to load in DSS each time. Separating east and west flats does not seem necessary, but perhaps I should take the time to make different groups. Not sure how. Maybe I can open two DM files in DSS. But maybe DSS figures it out (I doubt it). Dark Master will not sort FITS and RAW together, but will work on all FITS. I intend(!) to start getting some lower temp FITS darks via TSX or CCDAP.

There are user notes by Richard Wright in TSX’s Canon 500D camera setup screen. There is a lot in there about the Bayer matrix and binning. It suggests it works better to bin for focusing and image link. That explains my struggle particularly for focus. And may work better for flats. maybe DSS can combine binned with unbinned? Probably not. (It cannot). I could set CCDAP flats binning to 2X2 but that almost certainly won’t work with 1X1 lights (it will work in CCDStack but not DSS – see below). Shoot some flats with the light screen at a certain setting, like a couple of seconds, and use them. Do 0 and 90 degrees. If shoot something else then do some of those by hand with light screen. Also, somehow sometimes sky flats were working in CCDAP. But try taking flats with TSX on light screen saving as both RAW and FITS and just using those.

John Smith at CCDAP points out that with CCDStack the flat is automatically binned or unbinned to match the image frame during calibration. If I do this, take flats for the Canon at 2X2 with CCDAP and they will work with unbinned lights. Set the exposure for CCDAP to something high. Not sure if it will read the 15k max or 60K. I think the former because it sees three of the four cells as dark. Try it with CCDAP on the electronic flat screen. BUT can’t match dark temps with light temps in CCDStack.

DSS will not combine 2X2 flats with 1X1 lights. Take 1X1 FITS flats with TSX on light screen. Experiment to choose exposure. @focus3 seems to stay in binned mode even if camera is not. So focus in 2X2 and that might work better. Then use Dark Master to match temps and away you go.

October 27, 2020 – Installed new web power switch. The IP work to get it on the network was not as difficult as feared. Following quick installment instructions worked and I was able to keep old address. Only new info was that logging in as admin allows me to change settings, like outlet names, and as user works to turn outlets on and off.

Working on Ha for NGC 7822 in Cepheus.

September 23, 2020 – Electrical storm on the 22nd fried my web power switch. Since the manufacturer pasted the original serial number on the unit they replaced with one year warranty left in May 2017, I expect I am out of warranty. Sent an email to them before I noticed the same serial number – and indeed I am out of warranty. They have a turn in policy for out of warranty failed units but a new one via Bozos is not much more and a lot less trouble. I will cover the scope and wait for the market to recover a bit before I spend unnecessarily.

September 18, 2020 – I had about 12 hours collected on the Canon for the East Veil Nebula via CCDAutoPilot and the resultant FITS files. I used the few darks I had and salvaged some dawn flats. Picture looks okay for the web but a lot of background color noise if you look close that won’t come out. So leaving the Canon off but may use again if I need a lot of make work.

September 17, 2020 – Got the PEC recorded. It was more of a chore than I hoped. First had to get the SBIG in focus since I had just remounted it from the Canon. Then I had to remember the procedure which is involved for the PEC. Two big slowdowns. The name of the autoguide logs is not autoguide but imager. something. And there is something upside down. I was shooting to the west and checked that I was doing so, but it had to be opposite. Took a long time to figure out. And repowering the mount did not seem to work at first. In the end I ended up with a disappointing 1.4 arcsecs vs 0.9 or 0.8 last time.

September 16, 2020 – John Smith at CCDAutoPilot got back to me and after asking for a particular flat, showed that CCDAP is averaging three dark cells with one saturated one to measure exposure. It amounts to junk. I asked if this is going to apply to all CMOS chips or is it particular to converting a RAW file to a FITS file. I wasted money mounting the Canon but not sure how I could have known. In order to achieve the automation offered by CCDAP, I am going to remount the SBIG CCD camera and use the Canon outside.

September 15, 2020- Because each pixel on a CMOS sensor has several transistors located next to it, the light sensitivity of a CMOS chip tends to be lower. Many of the photons hitting the chip hit the transistors instead of the photodiode. From this I gather that one CMOS pixel is comprised of the entire bayer matrix consisting of four transistors. But something is causing CCDAP to be confused about exposure. It is different. The CCD has a top ADU in its FITS frames of around 64K and the Canon FITS seem to have ¼ of that. It makes no sense that on AV setting a flat exposure takes 1/250 of a second for Dad’s flat screen but CCDAP is still trying at 20 seconds or more.

Logged a question on the SB forum here about the timeout problem with a filter. A fellow named Rodolphe Pineau from CA wrote a new plugin for the IFW that seems to work great. He used me to test it and it took some back and forth on email. That fixes the geri filter wheel problem!

Also wrote to John Smith at CCDAP about my fits with Canon FITS here. He asked for a couple of sample frames. Waiting to hear what he might find.

September 14, 2020 – FITS are not working well with CCDAP or Stack or DSS. There is some sort of cloudiness in streaks that I have never seen before. Streaks come with or without calibration frames. CCDAP can’t figure out exposure and either overexposes or gives up trying. CCDStack can’t register, at least before converts to bayer color. DSS gives dim hard to work with results. Colors seem too difficult. The focus routines on TSX rarely work on CCDAP and only sometimes in TSX. I don’t know but it seems like they have a hard time reading FITS files that are made by CMOS RAW frames.

Tonight staying here to try BackyardEOS with lights and flats. Use dark library I have already to develop. Get an object in the east that I can get several hours before bothering with flip. Get a basic pic with the TEC 140 to have one. Focus with TSX first.

Then give up and use the Canon with the Stellarvue and C8 outside and go back to SBIG inside. Someday get a new CCD camera. Meanwhile, start setting up outside. Do some this week and this fall.

September 13, 2020 – Hard to focus Canon. Limiting how much it focuses. Now realize I need dark FITS to make a dark library. But now perfectly clear. Get a long object tonight. Severe clear. Moon is 19% and rises at 3:35. I need to be here to get darks or else can only take darks from SLC. Maybe there will be clouds or smoke or both. Otherwise just wait. Not worth taking in day right now, too warm.

Still clueless about why I do astrophoto besides I can. One guy is making a living on  blog, IG and youtube with basic equipment. Youtube is more work than the photos for him,  so good on him. Selling picks and shovels. Work on image to frame for wall? For now figure out best way to use Canon. Small stars are nice. But flats are not working. Get some later tonight or when temp starts to go down. Yeah, wait for light to fade. Lum and Ha at 0 and 90 and at 6,000. Get some darks after flats so have a few. Use EOS with delay. Use session notes to calculate position for rotator to get flats with Backyard EOS? No on Backyard, it does not save as FITS. Use TSX. Found on observatory pc at C:\Users\David\Documents\CCDWare\CCDAutoPilot5\Images\CCDAutoPilot_Logs NO, those are old.

Try under pictures/observatory.

Can’t use CCDAP for AV mode on Canon for flats. But not completely certain of RA. Lets see . . . figured out from session notes. Not sure if TSX will shoot AV.

September 10, 2020 – Phew. Put Canon on TEC 140 and was up until 3. First I went out in the day and put on the custom adapter and receiver from Optec to shorten the camera train in order to be able to get into back focus range. Also switched the camera web power switch plug to where the SBIG had been. Had some short wire issues but got away with it. Then, surprisingly last night it cleared up for a hour or two. So got it focused. @focus3 did not work but @focus2 looked good. But using CCDAP opened up a can of worms. CCDAP causes only FITS files to be saved. Seems I had been there before and forgotten(!!). This even though TSX has a setting to save both RAW and FITS. I looked to see what CCDAP forum had to say about this and ran into a long entry from . . . me. I have almost no recollection. CCDAP has to turn off the autosave in TSX and thus only FITS files are saved. Back in 2018 I was worried about the dark library and temperature matching. For some reason I decided to stick with Canon RAW dark library. Turns out Dark Master can sort FITS files too. And FITS do have color that DSS can convert in the RAW/FITS DDP Settings. Under the FITS tab there is a choice to use a FITS file created by a DSLR and a place to choose a camera. Flats seemed screwed up. DSS picture not looking great but it was moony and only 2 frames. Now I need to build a Canon FITS dark library to use with Dark Master and DSS. Try some sky flats with CCDAP. I made a half dozen 5 min darks in the day that might do enough for now.  I made some BIAS frames with CCDAP last night. Can maybe use CCDStack too. CCDstack has a color conversion function. Dark masters could be made by temperature and then matched manually. Would not be that big of deal. Adaption only works on time. So try and compare DSS using Dark Master and CCDStack.  In CCDstack have to choose the right bayer method to convert to one shot color = red in upper left otherwise red and blue are reversed.

Now need a  FITS dark library so I can run CCDAP. CCDAP makes the observatory super functional. Hopefully the darks I accumulate at first are close to the ones I need.

New FOV indicator that comes with Canon can be clicked on in TSX to generate squares that can be used to rotate it.

Hour long struggle with focusing and plate solving tonight. Dim exposures all around. Hmmm. Night is dark and clear. Moon up at 12:37.

All Sky Camera quit working.

September 9, 2020 –  Put the custom Optec link between the filter wheel and the rotator. Things screw apart so I should be able to avoid the allen screws until units are unscrewed and removed if I put the SBIG back on. Mounted the Canon. Now just need a cloudless night to try and focus.

September 4, 2020 – back in Torrey. Blew out and vacuumed noticeable dust from fan area of laptop. It turned off last night around 1AM without Doug! Also ran msconfig.exe a number of times and eliminated more startup items. They may have been back on, not sure. Chrome is a major processor hog so be sure to leave it off after checking wanship webcam. Have Optec parts to try mounting Canon again. The parts will shorten the length between the Optec IFW and rotator. Jeff Dickerman jeff@optecinc.com made custom part for me. Just like for John Hayes uber expensive Chile installation!

August 21, 2020 – Laptop in Torrey won’t stay on for a day. I have guests at the house. And it is hot. Maybe one of those things caused it to shut down. But it runs fine when I am there and it ran the whole time recently while I was gone and the modem was down while the house was as warm or warmer inside than it is now. I give up and asked guests to make sure PC is off and leave it that way. I’ll try running it 24/7 next time I am there. If it runs just fine while I am there but not while I’m gone then Murphy rules. I can belt and suspenders it and turn on the observatory PC also when I next leave. What will Murphy then do? Kick off the modem maybe. Have to hope the laptop is more reliable when it cools down so I can check the indoor heat in winter.

August 17, 2020 – replaced netswitch. Previous one seemed to have been fried in the electrical storm at the end of July.

August 16, 2020 – Two nights of Ha of Trifed with the SBIG 10-XME. It is low in the sky and sets early. Hope for another night tonight for a total of about 6 hours. I will go ahead with a black and white image but try to collect some quick color too.

August 12, 2020 – From below I need to shorten the camera train to get focus for the Canon. Optec has an 18mm (0.7″) solution: Hi Mark, We can shorten your imaging train with a 2-part adapter from the camera side of he IFW to the Pyxis 2” rotator.  Our standard #17469 blank OPTEC-2300 receiver will replace the long 2-inch receiver on the back of the IFW.  That receiver is  [15.25] mm tall and is priced at $45. We can fabricate a mating piece that fits into the receiver and presents the male 2300 dovetail to fit into your first generation Pyxis 2” rotator in place of the 2-inch nosepiece.  This adapter (#90000) will be 2.5mm tall and priced at $75. -Jeff DickermanI ordered the setup yesterday.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 – Found the DSL modem was what was down in Torrey when we arrived on Saturday. It had the DSL connection with light on but no internet connection with that light off. On Sunday(!) Jamie at South Central said she could ping my DSL and that if I had tried powering and even resetting with restoring the PPP username and password that it should work. So she was going to send out a tech with a new modem. On Monday as last flail, I called SC again and talked to Bill. Perhaps I didn’t tell Jamie clearly that the user name and password was for PPPoE but when I explained that to Bill he said that method is no longer used. Instead a dynamic IP address method is. Or some such. We went back in to the ActionTec and switched to its third and only choice in setup that is not PPP — and it worked.  I think on Sunday I tried that but did not wait just quite long enough after the DSL light came on solid for the internet to connect. I wonder how it was working with PPP up until the electrical storm in late July.Separately, I replaced the SBIG camera with the Canon Rebel but found out I could not move the focus far enough. It looks like the sensor might be an inch or more further back on the Canon. I wrote Optec about getting a shorter spacer between the IFW and the Pyxis rotator.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 – Torrey laptop went down in another electrical storm yesterday and did not reset last night. Good news is we got well over an inch more of rain.

Monday, July 27, 2020 – Got cloudy right after new moon. Then Nevilles went down and after a much needed thunderstorm the router went down and Doug decided to press reset. He couldn’t imagine fixing it but in son-in-law Dan came down as planned and got it going. Then observatory PC would not wake up remotely. Can’t imagine an easy reason why. If just the modem it should reset every night and wake back up.First quarter moon starts today.

Saturday, July 18, 2020 – I had a problem in 2nd week in July getting a plate solve or much of an image at all from SLC. It would not focus, either. Only the brightest stars showed up and they were distorted like there was a mask on the scope. The webcam image was very, very low res but looked ok enough. Gave up until I could be in Torrey.Turned out the dome shutter was only open a couple inches when the drive chain came apart at the cable coupling and fell off. Not clear that the drive motor ever turned off after that! Maybe ran as long as it got juice from the solar charger to the battery. Motor is leaking oil. The TSX notice that the dome successfully opened or closed is just kidding. Re-fixed the splayed cable as tightly as I could. Should last a while, but not forever, again.Last nights LUM on IC 4601 worked great. I only have 2 hours LUM but that may be enough. This object in Scorpius is getting low by 1 AM and only gets dark just before 11. Tonight maybe clear but looks unlikely, then cloudy rest of new moon. I think I will wait to change the camera until I am in Torrey to fiddle with it and the sky is clear.

Sunday, June 28, 2020 – Ideas: Cave Nebula; Brocchi’s Cluster – The Coathanger – Collinder 399 (better for Rebel on the 140); East Veil Nebula. See Bart Delsaert  .

Saturday, June 27, 2020 – I could fit the camera train into the 2” adapter I have for the Stellarvue [80mm Triplet APO, SV080ST-25FT].  Not sure what it all weighs. SBIG camera weighs 2 pounds (Rebel 1.1 lbs with battery) and would be the heaviest probably. So train at most 10lbs. That would work. Well, filter wheel is 3 lbs. Pyxis rotator 1.7 lbs.But do I want to put that scope in observatory?G-11 would work fine. Just have to do my own finding, focusing and flipping. But good for me? Finding much easier with widefield. What are the wide field objects I want? Heart and Soul mosaic. Mosaics realistically  require observatory. Or to upgrade the G-11 to GOTO which is either $1,100 or $1,600. Probably the latter. So, I am a manual guy outside. Sue French would be proud. Try using setting circles to speed up the flip. Both are fixed. Leave camera alone, flip the pics later. It is said DSS automatically orients. Focus on widefield probably ok just set once. Use bright star with live view in backyard EOS and a Bahtinov mask. Use a timer to end the session. Also need a guider? Check 5 min photos but guider works easily enough with Orion SSAG and PHD2. After flip see and search for “Reverse Dec output after meridian flip” here.Unhook the cables, pull off camera train. Remove  telescope. Remove robofocus. Re-install robofocus (need mounting hardware. I sent an email asking about such to RoboFocus today), mount scope, add camera train. Find rough focus using Autodesk at Rebel eyepiece or take constant photos on TSX. Tell TSX camera and scope for FOVI. I think TSX and CCDAP get plate solve info from FOVI indicators tab in TSX. The Rebel is CMOS APS-C 22.3 x 14.9 mm (1.6x conversion factor).The gremlins from below seemed to be fixed by plate solving with existing filter and by removing the joystick. Plate solving in Ha is a challenge for the system.

6/17/2020 – Trying again from SLC. Two persistent gremlins. Every time system switched from LUM filter after plate solving to the imaging filter got an Error = 206 from TSX and CCDAP shut down the session. Switched CCDAP to plate solve with existing filter and that seemed to fix it. Yet, changing filters should not be a problem. I can’t make the filter wheel throw an error in TSX. And can’t see why CCDAP would make any difference in sending a  filter change command. Maybe timing of command? Second gremlin is random joysticking. I hope removing the joystick once I am back down there fixes that one.

6/14/2020 – On run last night from SLC it “successfully” focused (@focus3) way off at 2348 on red. I aborted the session to get a better focus and the mount started joy sticking itself. I hope it is because I absentmindedly left the joystick connected. I couldn’t get it to stop even after power cycling the mount. This morning, however, it quit joy sticking and I was able to park the mount. Gremlins, apparently, only come out at night.

5/26/2020 – I processed M63 with Supernova 2020 JFO today. LRGB in Adam Block style. Per Block I created 2 LUM files, one quite deconvolved. The point is to bring out detail in the galaxy. Makes the most sense to use when the galaxy takes up a lot of frame. It does help the stars get smaller too, but with halos. All the stars of any size had halos so paint them all out with a mask on the deconvolved layer before merging down in PS. Then use the Carboni star tools to shrink the stars. Deconvolve the color frames lightly before merging them in CCDStack. Bi-cubic b-spline stacking is the culprit that creates black spots in the color frames. Block says nearest neighbor makes the stars blocky. I can’t see that, but much cleaner without the black splotches. I also think better to scale the color but try toning down the gamma to avoid the saturation problem Block points to.

5/24/2020 – In Torrey. Clear moonless nights. Working on M61 and Coma Cluster. For some reason out of 96 LUM frames only 54 were fully exposed, or even close on M61. Last couple of nights appear to be better. Problem unknown. Gremlins have appeared again with the filter wheel where TSX shows command failed. Seems like mostly going to green filter. I took the filter wheel out. Looked okay. Put it back in. Worked ok last night. The command failed is not aborting the CCDAP session. The question is if the filter wheel actually moved, what filter was actually used, and how would you tell? Might not be able to, just colors slightly off if red were to be mapped to green for instance. Might even be creative. Sort of false color emulation.Coma Cluster is cool because at 240 mly old the photons from those galaxies are same age as the ripple rock the observatory is on.

5/18/2020– Wires got tangled with the rotator again in March. Stayed in Salt Lake because of the Pandemic until this week. Built a makeshift bracket to hold the wires back from the camera while it is rotated. Seems hopeful. Working on LRGB of M61 with Supernova 2020 JFO.

2/13/2020– Dome got stuck in one position, around 21 degrees heading, last night. Same position as previously. The driver wheel keeps turning in that case and dome controls have to be powered off. Rather than risk damage or even a fire, I let it go until I can get down there.

I bought some adapters so I can attach a DSLR directly to the Losmandy G-11 in portrait orientation. Or maybe I have enough fittings to mount on a guide scope. Before I put the fully mod Rebel on the TEC-140 I want to take some wide field of the Orion complex with the Rebel and my Canon L zoom lens. 5 minute exposures and the dark library. I hope this week. The Orion season is waning. I should be able to get a couple of hours shortly after dark. May be time to try to simultaneously run the observatory and the G-11 outside!

I think I will start a Rebel dark library at 1600 ISO. That is what the demo on my DarkMaster shareware has. Except I need to make darks with camera off the scope. Better get on it. Or see how 800 ISO works out. Maybe try that first with twice the time.

2/12/2020 http://www.moonglowtech.com/products/AllSkyCam/Support.shtml — ASC All Sky Camera giving error 8007048f: Cannot run preview graph. Website previous. Cool, reboot of observatory PC fixed it.

Had a good run last night of center of Rosette Nebula. Called the session “Heart of the Rose.” 8 minute unguided subs, 9 Red before moon rose, then 30 Ha. The Ha stars got fatter as object neared 30 degrees altitude.

2/1/2020- I had acceptable success on an image of The Running Man Nebula with 10 minute unguided subs. Updating the periodic error correction (PEC) seemed to do the trick. See 1/14/2020 below. Filter wheel and joystick gremlins have taken a vacation. Yay. I did install a new primary USB cable and disconnected the joystick. If that was the respective fixes, great, if not there are intermittent gremlins still lurking about.

1/19/2020– Untangled the rotator and tried looser wiring. Got some H-alpha of the Running Man Nebula. Clouded up around 11:30. 10 minute subs unguided. Stars slightly oblong, sad but okay. Took some darks with the Rebel in Backyard EOS. Looks like they got pretty warm. Will get some more with a delay of 1 minute between subs, do the same for lights. But forecast to be cloudy while moon is down and I am in Torrey.

Running Man turns out to not be formed by H-alpha. I will need some color to bring him out. Will try deconvoluting the color to get similar FWHM in order to avoid halos and rings around stars.

1/15/2020 – Dome got stuck going to my parked position. Came free when it warmed up nicely. But then rotator tangled in wiring. I notice I only got 7 shots in 2019.

1/14/2020 – Some success.

After much trial and error and the resulting long threads in Software Bisque and Cloudy Nights, Tom at SB mentioned that the MKS3000 controller board that is probably in my “legacy” mount must be power cycled before the periodic error saved to the mount will take effect. That is mentioned in the Paramount ME manual but in context of obsolete software and procedures that I do not have. I almost read that far, but not quite. Another lesson in troubleshooting. The power recycling is not mentioned in the SB video by Richard Wright that I was following to create PEC.

Jay on CN just mentioned that for the MKS3000 ProTrack is necessary. I need to check to see if I left it on or off.

In the process I updated the build in TheSkyX and reset the mount to default. That fixed the not responding problem I was having in TSX whenever it attempted to open an image window. Yay. And the other joystick gremlins and filter wheel not responding have not appeared. The joystick is also disconnected.

Now the dome got stuck and I had to scramble to get the motor turned off. Good thing I installed the webcam inside the observatory. It has a microphone or I might not have known the motor was still running. Turning off the power to the dome controller fortunately seemed to turn off the drive motor. The software needs an abort button.

1/4/2020 – Observatory issues and next step:

  • Paramount poor tracking
    • Do PEC session. Still to fiddle around with autoguiding using main camera on TheSkyX camera tab.
    • I have recently lubed the mount.
    • Test for joystick gremlin. By PEC run?
    • Go to the forums
  • Autoguiding in TheSkyX
    • not necessary if fixed above
    • try PHD2 broker setup in CCDAutoPilot using Orion Starshoot camera and PHD2 instead of TSX guider on remote guidehead
  • Focusing
    • I have recently tweaked @focus2 settings to get a good V chart, see if it continues to work better.
  • Filter wheel gremlin
    • I installed a new main USB cable
    • Replace serial to usb port box?
    • replace filter wheel with new up-to-date USB filter wheel (a brute force $$ potential solution)
  • Paramount ME joystick gremlin
    • see if disconnecting the joystick helps
    • “Verify the Guider Relay and the “Joysticking” graphics on the Bisque TCS window indicate no activity.” From forum entry here.
    • Upgrade the controller system pc boards and cabling. “If none of the troubleshooting tips resolves the behavior, then upgrading the legacy MKS 4000 to the MKS 5000 is the long-term resolution.”  -Daniel Bisque here.

1/4/2020 – It is probably me.

My observatory is kicking my ass.May I whine?

My images have never been up to par with many I see on Astrobin today. And yet I have some of the best equipment out there. My experience is that the system is so complex it is unreliable. Every component has caused me grief. The autoguiding system in TheSkyX is either too finicky or not as capable as PHD2, or both. Autoguiding slows down my CCDAutopilot imaging session as it flails around recapturing a guide star between images and when it finally does often losing the star during an image, ruining the subframe. @focus2 and @focus3 in TheSkyX come up with a different focusing solution every time, even when I run a focus routine back to back (to back . . .). They often fail to focus altogether during a CCDAutopilot session. My images often appear out of focus. The Optec IFW filter wheel is sending failure to respond error messages intermittently shutting down the CCDAutopilot session in the middle of the night. The expensive Paramount ME can’t track a star for five minutes even at a a mere 1000mm focal length. The complexity of all the images required in LRGB of the SBIG 10XME monochrome camera with filter wheels is making the likelihood of a adequate group of clean, well guided, focused subframes almost nil.  The Paramount ME has a gremlin where the joystick routine starts itself and slews away at random.

Subpar guiding, autofocus failure, tracking with oblong stars, color rings around stars, and intermittent system errors have rendered me result free for four months. At the moment there is no light at the end of the tunnel, a train coming or otherwise.

1/3/2020 – Back in Torrey. Played with fully modified Canon EOS 500D/Rebel last night with high clouds and a quarter moon.

A few notes. Both the Rebel and the 6D create RAW files with suffix CR2. The 10D creates RAW files with suffix CRW. Even though same suffix, my Photoshop CS5 will not open the 6D files in Camera Raw. For the 6D files I need to convert with Adobe DNG Converter first before Photoshop. DSS will stack wide angle Milky Way shots, but blurs the foreground and cause some star streaking in the upper left corner. Sequator works better for night landscapes with stars. In Sequator I was getting the best results with auto brightness on and HDR off. The Rebel shots set on daylight white balance come out with a strong red hue. I was having a hard time getting rid of it and not losing the red from H-alpha.

This afternoon I lubricated the Paramount ME as per Software Bisque video instructions here. I replaced the main USB cable from the serial-usb converter with the best cable I could find. It’s red. Perhaps red will help! I disconnected the joy stick and stored it in the PC stand. Took camera fan off back of camera, cleaned it and remounted it using the washers as spacing shims to give the fan wobble a little room. It no longer hits anything and grinds to a halt. Installed a webcam. I would put the feed here but I don’t see how. No programs available for Windows or browsers either. It’s infrared works great. Presumably won’t cause stray light. I bit too cloudy perhaps tonight to try a periodic error correction run.

I tried a PEC run. I got nowhere. It was very unclear how to substitute the imaging scope and camera for the guidescope and camera. Even though I changed the advanced settings as instructed and changed the camera setup in the autoguider tab, it did not change the camera. So I tried to just use the autoguider camera but it would not come up with a plate solve. Image links were problematic because they close the image window. Taking the next image with no window open always puts the program into a not responding mode for five minutes or so. Very tedious. Take a picture, check the image link for rotation position, change the rotation, take another image and wait . . .

Finally, I noticed what might be new tab inside the camera tab for autoguiding. In that tab field changing the camera worked. But now I could not get it to image link to, again, check camera position angle (which needed to be near 0 or 180). In my frustrated focus I failed to notice it had become too cloudy. Switching the camera under the autoguiding tab seemed to create multiple side tabs fro the rotator, filter wheel and focuser. Which I don’t want. I hope those go away when I switch back to my current setup.

All this is trying to be able to do unguided exposures. I doubt it is going to work, but for the money laid out for the Paramount ME, it should. When it doesn’t I will be off to the forums where they will want me to buy new shoes with the right  colored laces — in other words, they won’t know what is wrong either.

12/2/2019– Observatory is learning my moves and countering with new ones of its own. Last night I ran and upgraded the T-Point supermodel to 330 points. Seemed like a terrific outcome with Sky RMS of 9.30 arcseconds. Pointing is now spot on. But pointing was not my concern, it is unguided tracking. This routine is supposed to improve tracking through a Software Bisque TPoint routine called ProTrack. Not intuitive to me how accurately plotting points could improve tracking. Sure enough, after 5 minutes still have oblong stars. 10 minutes no worse than 5 minutes.  That sort of sounds like periodic error. Tried to run a new PEC log to put in the the Telescope/Tools/Bisque TCS/PEC PEC, but the joystick kept going off by itself! That happened a few times during the TPoint run and more frequently after that. Talk about spooks and gremlins. I finally gave up at 1:00 A.M. after not even being able to home the scope in order to park it.

I will try to run an exercise routine for the filter wheel that has been suggested on the CCDAP forum here via CCDOPS here. Then I will wait to go down to the observatory before any more wrestling matches. I hope unplugging the joystick will lose that gremlin. Then lube the mount and tighten the telescope clamps and the connections on the camera train. Then do the periodic error training in this SB video. Then a new T-Point, maybe < 300 points. I have yet a new USB cord for the main serial to USB connection that might help the filter wheel gremlin, but I doubt it. Perhaps I should take off the camera train and take a look at the filter wheel. Perhaps the exercise routine will unveil a problem, but I doubt it.

Separately, my color images have always been problematic. In Lessons from the Masters one of the masters recommends deconvolution on select color channels to try and get the stars the same size between channels. I am back to focusing through the filter instead of using a factor which I hope helps. And have tweaked @focus2 settings to where it is drawing nice V-curves and acting more consistent.

I think I will leave mosaics to the color Rebel and maybe with the Stellarvue 80mm APO triplet to do the Orion region.

If I can’t get to running unguided, which would be a shame, I’ll try the Orion SSAG and PHD2.

11/30/2019– Storm has passed. Working with several others on CCDAP forum on the intermittent filter wheel error. Another guy is having the same problem. Went to try again tonight but dome would not home. Appeared to be stuck. Neither AllSkyCam or the webcam had enough throughput/adequate internet connection to provide enough resolution to see where dome was rotated to or where it was stuck. I hope the dome rotation motor shut off when I shut off dome control power. Sheesh. I have never tried the microphone on the webcam before. It makes a sound when I turn it on. I wish it didn’t. I am in Salt Lake for awhile with all the holiday socializing required. New moon was on the 24th. Not going to get many decent subs this November.

11/25/2019Tried the internal guider. Fiendish to calibrate in both TSX and CCDAP. Then it had Reverse X backwards or some such and guided away from the star. Went back to the remote guidehead and turned down the aggressiveness in the TSX guiding settings some. Also went back to focusing before each filter change through the new filter instead of offsets. That also worked better. Something to play with on a moony night. Having problems focusing through Ha. May have to play with that, too.

Last night there was a an error about 2:00 A.M. that stopped the show, “Microsoft.VisualBasic says The server threw an exception. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80010105 (RPC_E_SERVERFAULT)).” It froze the software so I did not get a text in the night. John Smith of CCDAP says the error message somewhat translates to, “The automation interface in TheSkyX became inaccessible during the exposure.” A little online search show that the “exception” and “automation interface” (in TSX manual) are both related to COM port communication. Which makes the 8 port serial converter suspect. I sprayed both ends of the USB cable and sockets from the port to the PC. I will get another cable . . . looks like it is called an A-male to B-male cable. I have one of these I will try for now, probably 12′, for the SSAG. I will order a 10′ sexy red one that looks like good quality.

11/24/2019 – Got in an M33 last month that was way out of color balance. I am using sophisticated G2V and atmospheric extinctions calculations done real time by CCDAutoPilot during each session. But using them results in color balance that is way off. Way, way off. So there is something I don’t understand. A good workaround is to normalize each of the processed RGB frames in CCDStack before combining them into a color image and then tweak color to taste and/or using the balance white/gray based on selection area button on the Adjust Color window in CCDStack to balance RGB and saturation levels.. Works fine. Makes sense, it takes the images it gets and normalizes and balances them with software. But why don’t the G2V factors work even better instead of not at all?

Since end of September I have been working on a 2X3 mosaic of the Heart Nebula. First go around something blew up in CCDAP, I lost the original mosaic, guessed at a replacement, got that wrong and images didn’t line up. Started over. Now getting frequent Error 206 from the filter wheel in TSX. Stops CCDAP dead in its tracks and it shuts down the session. John Smith at CCDAP admonishes me that it is bad practice to fix hardware problems with software, but if the AP would try again, it would work. Every time. Now I am only getting in about 1/3 of most sessions. I seem to either need a new filter wheel or for me to get up at least once in the night, say around 2:30, and see if still going. Better yet, I see there is a way to send an error message to my phone via email from CCDAP.


  • see what is up with Ha focus. compare a few to LUM. Do direct Ha focuses.
  • Try guiding through in camera guider. See if can calibrate when pointed at the Heart Nebula, then re-initialize CCDAP. Might work when there are enough stars about. Bigger aperture of main scope but much smaller FOV, better chance that dome shutters are not in the way.
  • Run a session with CCDAP Notify set up to email a text to my phone.
  • Take some more darks on the Canon at this November temp. Seems to be 300 seconds at ISO 800.
  •  . . . But cloudy until after midnight.

Given the problems I have had with color, it is tempting to set up the Canon on the TEC 140 with the existing train of filter wheel, rotator and focuser but with the SSAG on the guide scope using PHD2. Do whatever exposures I have been getting darks on. (D:\Photos\BackyardEOS\Dark Library)

9/14/2019 – Finally finished Mexico portion of North America Nebula. Threw out 90% of the frames. Focus, rotator, and tracking problems. Distressing given the expense and expected quality of the equipment involved. The rotator is not to blame–the problem was tangled cables, twice. Focusing is pathetic and tracking almost worthless. My Mexico image has oblong stars. Might be worth trying PHD2 for this reason. Then easier to switch cameras. Should do the lube maintenance or check for vibration.

I will do another focus wizard in CCDAP with 7 runs and see what offsets I get here while the moon is too big for photos. I am more concerned about the inaccuracy of @focus2 and @focus3.

8/13/2019 – My tweaks on focusing didn’t seem to work. Also rotator problems after flip needed trouble shooting. Dome geometry tweaks helped quite a bit but not completely.

To remedy, I ran another focus offset wizard last night in CCDAutoPilot, this time using 7 samples. I also changed the @focus3 subframe to a manual size using most of the center of the frame as per the directions on the Focus page in CCDAP. That worked for the wizard but then did not work for my session run on the Mexico region of the North American Nebula. I had to change the drop down window in the CCDAP Focus page back to automatically select star (something like that). Using the larger frame seemed to really help @focus3 in the wizard run. Maybe I need to check in with John Smith about what is happening here. Try comparing a @focus3 run in TSX with what CCDAP comes up with next time.

Best combination to focus but not too many times is to set CCDAP to focus before session run on setup page (or wherever that is) but not check the focus boxes on the session page itself.

I also spent a long time wrestling with the Pyxis rotator. It was generating errors in CCDAP after the flip and not getting the rotation right. In order to get CCDAP to initialize with the test rotator direction selection, I had to dig down into the driver settings in the ASCOM rotator setup window and change the rotator direction from true to false. Changing the settings in TSX had no effect in CCDAP presumably because it uses the ASCOM selection instead of TSX like all the other selections do. Have to wait and let it home first before settings stick in the Pyxis driver window. But that did allow CCDAP to initialize and I had success last night with the flip, I think.

I am hoping using the focus offsets calculated in the wizard and using the LUM filter to focus every 90 minutes and after the flip is the way to go.

The autoguider seems happier with the 2X binning and autodark, but it still slipped a couple of times last night and still sometimes has to plate solve to find the guide star. Still contemplating switch to the Orion Starshoot Autoguider, using PHD2 and the Broker package with CCDAP, and switching to the Canon Rebel 500D for awhile.

8/9/2019 – Clouded up last night just as the moon set at 1:30. CCDAP did its job and shut down the observatory. So cool. Got 18 H-alpha frames. Guider seemed to often get lost after dither. I expect because it is not always aligned with dome shutters. I went out to observatory and played with the dome geometry in TSX for an hour or more this morning.

Dome Geometry:

Moved Xm from 0 to 2
Moved Ym to 0 (wasn’t careful to record where it was, 2 I think)
Zm same at -22
Checked Xt low in the south that the sign is right. It is. I changed from 15 to 10 by trial and error. It eyeballs at 15″ with a tape. Curious
Yt (advanced) to -4 to compensate for the guider scope. The guider scope is on the left of the TEC 140 six to eight inches at the same Xt

I think this will be an improvement for both scopes and hopefully speed up the guiding after dither and the process all together. I think guiding is working well now when it can see the sky. The 2X2 with autodark at least appears to be big improvement in the autoguide graphic.

For objects in the southern sky I could see that 30 degrees Alt is as low as can go in the west and still have guiding. Around 20 degrees Alt in the east since when pointing south the guider is on top of the TEC 140.

I also attempted to set the Flip Hour Angle (HA) to 0 via the TSX Telescope/Tools/Bisque TCS page as per my Software Bisque forum discussion here.

8/6/2019 – In Torrey. Cloudy. Fixed tangled wiring on rotator. Best practice will be to not turn on rotator until scope is homed.

I did not write this down earlier. Somewhere I can’t recall I picked up the tip to autoguide in TSX at 2X2 and set to autodark. Without autodark it sometimes fixes on a hot pixel. Set 2X2 in TSX and CCDAP setup page. Without 2X2 too dim? Seemed, at least at first, to work great.

8/6/2019 – some recent thinking out loud:

Thinking again about putting the Canon back on the observatory scope. I think I might not have wanted to give up the rotator and Ha filter. But I think I can have both. I believe all the filters are IR blocked. That seems to be normal and not a problem. UV too. I bought a clip in Astronomik “L” Luminance UV/IR filter $95 from Gary Honis for the Rebel. It is required to focus with a refractor. SCT’s front lens brings all the wavelengths to focus at the same point, but not refractors. However, I expect that the Optec IFW filters will do the same thing, so I should remove the clip in.

I am remembering some of the issues of using the Canon Rebel 500D in the observatory. Also need to change the autoguider to the Orion SSA but TheSkyX does not have a driver for it. Then have never quite figured out how to use PHD with CCDAutoPilot. It is possible and I have instructions. So what are other issues?

  • Cooling
    • But I can come up with temperature matched darks
  • Can’t shoot outside
    • But I haven’t been.
    • Outside is for visual.
    • But what about the Stellarvue SV-80? So, I should use the canon on it. Go to the Antares region.
  • Pro Canon is that while fiddling I can test for vibration. Maybe do the annual lube.
  • Pro Canon is that PHD2 might be better autoguider.
  • Pro SBIG is that CCD is said to be more sensitive to light, up to 50 times. Maybe compare on an object I already took. H-alpha might not work on the Canon? It probably does. Others are getting it too.
  • Pro Canon is that I can’t do both inside and out in one night. Both too complicated and demanding of continual attention.
  • Pro Canon – only requires T-ring to attach to rotator so can have rotator and filter wheel.
  • Focuser? How adapt to SV-80?
  • Pro Canon – larger FOV for mosaics
    • Sigga 2 months ago [-]Try MSFT ICE for stich, work fantastic for me Mark! Plus is free download.

It is not so much trouble to take the SBIG off for a while. Try the Canon and see. But FIRST! Use the Stellarvue in the Sagittarius region with the extender and see what I can get?

While still set up in observatory I should see how the focus offsets work. Ran out of moonless nights already, however. But leave the SBIG set up, see if can piggyback the SV-80 with Canon. Can’t run both cameras on same night. Still have to change autoguiders. What about meridian flip? Will TSX do it?

The answer is no on the flip. TSX and the ME do not flip automatically. For automated session Tom House at Software Bisque recommends setting the “Flip HA” to 0. HA is hour angle it turns out. That can be set by dragging the orange meridian line in TSX, if there is one, or going to the Bisque TCS window in TheSkyX. See http://www.bisque.com/sc/forums/t/36461.aspx

To automate the piggyback I would change the camera in TSX, autoguide with PHD2 using the broker with CCDAP. Benefit from CCDAP including dawn flats, meridian flip, weather watch and from the better mount. Or, go outside and set up but have to go out to flip and re-acquire. Can use the “transit” field in Stellarium to see when transit is. Never did get the broker to work, but given all the autoguiding sturm and drang, might be worth struggling some more. Tonight is forecast to be clear, but very iffy. Moonrise is not showing on Weather Underground. Hmmm.

8/1/2019 – TeamViewer cut me off. They claimed I am a commercial user. Inconvenient of them. Planning on trying AnyDesk but will have to be in Torrey to set up on those two PC’s. It is cloudy there, so would have been stymied anyway.

7/28/2019 – Managed to run focus offset wizard. Answer from John Smith at CCDAutoPilot:

Any time CCDAutoPilot specified a filter for exposures, it will crank in the offsets. Any periodic focusing you choose should always specify the filter used for reference (0 offset). This is generally the most transmissive filter. Specify this on the Focusing page by checking Filter For Focusing and specifying the reference filter previously mentioned. CCDAutoPilot will zero out the offset for the reference filter, focus, then put in the needed offset for a given series filter selection.

How often you focus is pretty much a function of your system. Help/Imaging Strategies/Focusing Techniques has some suggestions for the most efficient way to maintain focus during a session.

It worked to check all the focus buttons in the light session for each filter. Goes to LUM, focuses and then moves focuser by calculated offset. LUM focuses all successful an all nearly the same. Change back to every 90 minutes or even 2 hours to refocus.


Inexplicable rotator error problems. PA on last night’s session all wrong. Maybe something tangled. In SLC so can’t look at. New moon on 31st. Won’t be in Torrey until 3rd or 4th.

7/27/2019 – @Focus3 is often failing during CCDAP runs. I am trying to do a separate focus for each filter. This from TheSkyX forum: “I solved this by actually putting the manual exposure values in the @Focus3 focus exposure settings in CCDAutoPilot on the Focusing page, Filter Factors box.” Next I will switch from “Brightest Star in FOV” to “Focus Program Picks Star.” I think @Focus3 uses the whole frame so that may be moot. See what the @F3 Subframe focus button does. Run the CCDAP Focus Offset Wizard. Find out how the offsets are used. Check how the setup in @Focus3 works. Why is it doing 3X3 binning?

It will be nice to get color pics that are equal to the quality of equipment I have.

7/21/2019 – Observatory mostly functional. Captured some good Pelican and Iris Nebula at the end of June and early July. Tried to get some Lobster Nebula but apparently too low in sky and at least the guide scope is blocked. Then tripped myself up trying to use the internal guider. Not sure why that did not work, but then left settings on internal, somehow, and could not get the guider to work for a few nights. In trying to recalibrate the guider I got stuck with a TSX 554 error where the +X motion was being measured as too small, even though the mount was apparently moving. Playing with the auto select star in TSX it always flashed on lower right of screen in same place where there never a star. A google search turned up a guy with same trouble. His advisers suggested the program could get stuck on a hot pixel and they suggest binning 2X2 and using autodark to calibrate and hide the hot pixels. After I got the external guider settings right (under the SBIG group of camera selections), that worked great. The guider was fast to dither and was shooting a very tight scatter plot last night. Working on the Mexico portion of the North American Nebula.

6/11/2019 – Clear but moony last night. Started an Iris Nebula session at about 2AM as the moon set. Need to turn off autodate in CCDAP to set to run the next day. The focuser and the filter wheel might have not ended up connected. Focuser failed because couldn’t connect. Hmm. But guider seemed to flail around but, at least some, worked well. Got 21 total 5 minute LUM subs before the  4 AM astronomical dawn.

6/7/2019 – Cloudy.  Eve of 6/6 clear after dinner party. Changes did not make for noticeable difference. Some pics look okay. Stuck with @focus3. Results ranged from 2269 @focus3 to 2295 @focus2. @focus3 results a little lower and tighter. Guiding did less plate solving but still slows the session down substantially. Some images had round stars.

6/6/2019– On both The Eyes.2 and Iris Nebula sessions I have fuzzy, oblong stars. I used @focus3 and it focused “successfully.” Tonight I hope to compare @focus2 results to @focus3.

I made some changes. I had binning in autoguider at 2X2 which would screw up the image scale calculations I used. So changed back to 1×1. Also had Reverse X checked for some reason in TSX. Should not be checked with CCDAP. I had 0 in the “Guider Time Sec” box in the CCDAP session and changed it to 5 secs. Upped the guider target ADU from 5,000 to 7,500.

Also changed focus from 3X3 to 1X1 and reran @focus3 recharacterization with results of search span of 79. I upped samples from 1 to 3. In CCDAP I changed focusing focus method to focus program chooses star from brightest star in FOV.

Forecast looks pretty good for tonight but clouds in neighborhood. Also dinner party. Hope to try all this out before too late.

6/5/2019 – Two almost successful sessions in a row. Everything worked on last night’s 5 minute sub unguided remote session except stars are now coming out decidedly oblong. Back to trying autoguided sessions. Instead of 10 minute I will try 5 minute subs and see how much guiding slows down the session. I turned down aggressiveness to 3 since can almost go without guiding. I don’t know if I have TheSkyX auto-reverse X figured out. If I recall it should be checked if running session for TSX but not if with CCD AutoPilot.

6/3/2019 – Mostly clear on night of 6/1 but we were camping in Cathedral Valley. Cloudy all the other nights including last night. New Moon tonight. Forecast is for clear. Heading back to SLC so will test the latest PC setup.

5/26/2019 – Probably managed to finish Coma B last night. First session since April 23. Month started with trip to Idaho, then lost the TeamViewer connection, then clouds with moon. Wet spring in Utah. More rain coming.

5/21/2019 – Got to Torrey on 5/16 and could not tell what was hanging the PC up so that TeamViewer would not connect. PC had also gone to sleep or into hibernation and the problem was no longer there when it woke up. Since then full moon and stormy. I put new hard drive in my Asus VivoBook and will switch the Torrey PC back to my robust HP Windows 7 machine. And have that machine reboot itself every day. Test day today.

5/9/2019 –  No reason to hurry and drive to Torrey to reboot the PC there:


5/8/2019 – Out of town in Idaho at Greenfire Ranch for WWP May 2-5. Then on 5/6 TeamViewer seemed to have an error on Torrey PC end and now will not connect. PC is still broadcasting weather. Quarter moon (half illuminated) on 5/11.

4/29/2019 – Got some more Coma B on 4/24, but then clouds. No rain, a lot of clouds.

4/14/2019 – Cloudy, then travel, now moon.

4/10/2019 – Two days ago the HD part of my laptop’s SSHD drive went belly up. It was not a total surprise. A month ago my feet got caught in wires and the running laptop was pulled off the shelf under my desk and onto the hard floor. It didn’t like it and sometimes went through a disk repair routine. Finally the last repair dismounted the whole D: drive and it can no longer be found. I was backed up except for the last two acquisitions. I still have all the raw data but only have this low resolution processed version downloaded back from Facebook of M99. This was about 14 hours of LRGB.

M99 Coma Pinwheel
M99 – Coma Pinwheel galaxy in constellation Coma Berenices along with galaxies NGC 4302 and NGC 4298 in left of frame. 13.6 hour LRGB exposure.

Stormy week in Torrey this week.

4/6/2019 – Cloudy last night. Got some more darks from both cameras. Spent a lot of time processing M82, an experiment in HaRGB for a galaxy. I need sharp LUMs and could have used the Ha to blend into the red channel. Something was amiss from the start. Ha subs would not align. I used session flat subs and made new darks, but no joy. Maybe the darks were not right temp? I think I got the temp right. Yes, I did. Temp shows in in image information window in CCDAP. Next would be to get some sharp LUM frames and use Ha only to blend in the red channel. Tonight looks safely clear. Get another set of the Leo M99 galaxies and call it good on that one. The color frames on M82 aren’t much good either so I think I will let that one go.

3/31//2019 – finished up M82 for a total of 175 five minute frames–14.6 hours. Have not looked to see how many are good. Not guiding so will shoot away even if  a little cloudy. Too cloudy and CCDAutoPilot will shut the session down.

3/25/2019 – Cloudy and moonish most of this month. Weather still unsettled. Got a little more color and more Ha on M82

3/13/2019 – Everything working but constantly cloudy. The West is having a stormy spring.

3/9/2019 – Last night blizzard then clear. But Torrey House Press board and staff at the Torrey house. Got a few shots for HaRGB of M82 on 3/7 before it clouded up.

3/6/2019 – I finished up the Owl Nebula on night of February 11. Somewhere not long after that it snowed. After it cleared the webcam went offline and I could not verify that there was not snow on the observatory dome. During this favorable moon phase it has been mostly cloudy. Processed the Surfboard Galaxy/Owl Nebula last night in Torrey.

2/9/2019 – Just got to Torrey this evening. To my surprise, the router was on and working. Since I could not access either computer remotely with TeamViewer and the router was not coming back on after its twice daily power recycling, I was expecting to see a dead router.

Instead, it looks like a power outage for a few hours was the problem. The observatory PC would have gone off immediately. The reason it did not boot back up when the power came back on like it is programmed to is that the web power switch controller appears to power back on with all switches in the off position. The laptop in the house was programmed to go to sleep after fifteen minutes in battery mode which cuts it off from Team Viewer and from the asleep mode did not perform its daily reboot. The BIOS on this laptop does not have the option to boot up when power comes on so I have set it to never go to sleep with or without power. The laptop battery will probably last 4 hours or more.  I could try to make the web power switch accessible via the web, but I think the risk is low enough I won’t bother for now. I think it would involve creating a static ip address, perhaps creating a security risk and a bit over my head to set up.

2/2/2019 – Got unstuck. The key may have been to “synchronize” a few big stars into the tracking model. Sync was under the telescope start command or a nearby menu item. I went to Betelgeuse, which shows up unmistabably, used the telescope position buttons to center it while continuously taking photos under TheSkyX Camera/Focus tab. Then sync, then same for Rigel. From that point the automatic T-Point run worked perfectly. As per 1/30 below, previously it had not worked at all. It also helps to run the T-Point at 3X3 and to use the image scale suggestion feature in the T-Point setup. Ran 110 point T-Point successfully, then calibrated autoguider in vicinity of the Owl Nebula, the target I was after. Focusing worked first time too. Ran a CCDAutoPilot session on the Owl Nebula.

Separately I worked with Software Bisque forum’s Daniel Bisque to try to find out why TheSkyX goes into “Not Responding” mode whenever a Camera or Autoguiding window is first opened. He asked everything except the color and year of make of the shirt I was wearing but has no idea how to fix the issue.

Finally, a day or two ago the router in Torrey went offline and has not come back even after a couple of days of being powered off and on. Probably heading to Torrey by the 5th.

1/30/2019 – After some recent success (cloudy for the lunar eclipse earlier this month) I started running into problems where the dome was not aligning well enough for the guide scope to see out. Last night it cascaded to where the scope often could not see out either. I had noticed that for the Seagull Nebula the image link / plate solve was half a frame or so off. Then I noticed the T-Point model was gone. I tried to start a new one but that made things so bad that image link no longer worked.

Having to do manual image link ran into the continuing problem where TheSkyX goes into a “not responding” mode for several minutes whenever it has to open a new camera or autoguide window.

Stuck for now.

1/9/2019 – Returned to Torrey yesterday. I was gratified that the camera was not laying on the floor in pieces. The mount was in a very strange vertical position, obviously up against a limit. I do not know why. I released the manual clutch, re-positioned the mount and homed it successfully.  The camera power cord had also become unplugged. I rerouted the camera cords and added a couple of loose tie wraps which helped for the particular position the camera is in when the mount is homed but may not in others.

Very high pressure just now with low clouds, almost fog and high clouds making for complete cloud cover. Forecast is same for next few days.

12/17/2018 – Worked on processing IC 63 – Cas Nebula last night. I ended up with 34 hours of 10 minute subs in Ha. Only 118 were usable. The processing took me about 7 hours with a number of setbacks. A few things learned:

  • start with a full calibration. Sometimes darks and flats seem to do more harm than good. But last night the darks were essential for the color channels and helped immensely. Flats are introducing some junk. I used them in the color but not Ha. Ended up using darks in both.
  • Save the stack right after sorting through images to keep in CCDStack
  • Flat orientation remains highly suspect for PA West and PA East. They look the same to me. Maybe they are. If camera rotates then I guess they are and I don’t need both. Hmm, about time I thought that through.
    • experiment required? No, I think the dust spots will have the same orientation to the object because the camera is rotated in the flip.
    • the junk might be a slight difference in PA between lights and flats

12/12/2012 – A few cloudy nights. Clear tonight but camera still not connecting and now scope won’t slew. Probably tangled wires but surprising that the mount would not slew.

The comet pics came out pretty well.

12/8/2018 – Traveling for last few weeks including to HI and PA, plus a little weather. Not using observatory remotely unless I can drive to it the next day if necessary. Shooting Bubble Nebula again tonight. Guiding looks excellent. New moon last night.

Re previous post, the Reverse X does not apply when using CCDAP and should be unchecked. TheSkyX forum post about it is here.

By 10:15 or earlier the guide star became all distorted again. The Bubble is probably getting near the house.

Mostly successful session. Worrisome camera connect error at end, again.

Also experimented with acquiring shots of comet 46P/Wirtanen LRGB with autodarks. Paused CCDAP sesssion successfully. Will see if short results without any subs works.

11/18/2018 – The autoguider was also losing the guide star in TheSkyX alone. Smith suggested I go to Software Bisque for help. I did and I also went to Cloudy Nights. No response at all from Cloudy Nights but the Software Bisque staff and users jumped right on it. A few notes.

Here is an autoguider calculator at CCDWare. Great site. It may not help with losing the guide star but it may well be very helpful in improving guiding. By using the image scale of the guider setup it is possible to set up minimum and maximum moves so that the guider only corrects when needed and useful. Note there is a difference between maximum allowable movement and maximum allowable error.

There are many dangers.

I was confused about when to check the autoguider reverse X box in TheSkyX. It should be setup in the Camera Setup – preferences box to Auto Reverse X for GEMs and then the autoguider box disappears. I had seen the preference box but thought reversing was already automatic for a Paramount run by TheSkyX. I thought wrong. I hope checking this box helps.

Finally, it was suggested to come up with a “calibration library” to add darks and bias to the autoguide images. I will look into that.

Separately, this could be cool. In poking around on the Software Bisque TheSkyX Pro forum I noticed they are adding a “Live Stack” button in the camera tab. This is for star parties and could be just the ticket.

11/16/2018 – Still having problems with guiding using CCDAutoPilot. John Smith, the software author notes that the mount is not responding to the apparent CCDAP prompts but everything appears to be functional on TheSkyX side. I will experiment with dithering and guide star re-acquisition tonight using TSX alone.

11/14/2018 – Struggled last two weeks to get color shots of Cas Nebula IC 63. Guider did poorly and always had to waste time reacquiring the guide star after every dither. Only about a 50% success rate on slow sessions that could not complete. On 11/10 the rotator tangled in its own wires again. I was in Torrey to fix it. There have been intermittent disconnects with the camera which caused CCDAP to shut down. But, by running most nights I managed to get about 19 hours of Ha for IC 63 and, hopefully, some color.

I sprayed the camera USB/serial connections with WD 40 electrical connection cleaner. Maybe that helped. No aborts last night. I also set the USB power settings to stay always on.

Last night I decreased the dither in increased the tolerance for error to get started in CCDAP and that seemed to help a lot. The images I watched were even guiding better. Last night’s session completed even though thickening clouds apparently moved in. It remains to be seen if the reduced dither is adequate. I hope I got color 2X2 frames for the Bubble Nebula. Most of the Ha last night were clouded. Tonight forecast clear but going to wedding celebrations. Will see how autopilot does.

11/1/2018 – Weather and moon until recently. Got 28 out of about 40 ten minute H-alpha frames of IC 63 in Cassiopeia. Other 12 frames had fat stars. Guiding or focus, I am not sure. Transparency and seeing were poor. A bit too cloudy on night of 11/2.

10/18/2018 – Having connection problems on the 12th then hit the road for the Grand Canyon. Cloudy, rain and snow much of the time anyway. Clear tonight but muddy around observatory and I was up at 4AM, so need some sleep. Moon waxing gibbous.

10/12/2018 – Rainy week or 10 days. Everything working pretty well, otherwise. Remember to set the PA W or E for dawn flats. Comp frames did not work at all on the processing of Crescent Nebula. Not sure about why. Darks made holes in the color images. Flats introduced junk and vignetting that wasn’t in the light frames. Odd. Some of the junk came out in the dust and scratches step in the HaRGB Starizona processing.

9/20/2018 – Drove back down to Torrey to troubleshoot. Indeed, the lamp timer was not recycling the router because the timer’s slider switch had moved to always on. There are many dangers.

Severe clear, waxing gibbous moon. I decided to go for more Eagle Nebula and Crescent Nebula on the premise that if the problem was seeing it should show up differently. Last night was much better. Eagle gets sloppy stars and so does Crescent as they get too low on the horizon. Crescent still had a few double star stutters. I wonder if it went behind the eve of the house or such. I am going to let those two objects go until next summer. I have about five good hours of Ha on the Eagle. Now I am wishing I had thought to get 10 minute -10 degree darks and bias frames on some of those cloudy nights. There seems to be a little light leakage in the dark frames in the day and it is harder to hold temperature in the day. Tonight is forecast as clear again with good seeing.

9/16 -19/2018 – Internet down in Torrey. TeamViewer cannot connect. Evidence points to the lamp timer meaning the router is not getting a power reset. I expect that the lamp timer has a little slider switch on its side that sets it to be a timer or to stay on. If it is switched to “on” it would not reset.

9/15/2018 – Back in SLC and internet connection already lost. I don’t understand.

9/14/2018– Drove to Torrey for one night to see what is up with the internet connection. Found a router with internet light on but not connecting. Not clear why the lamp timer power offs and ons did not reset it. I doubled the number of daily resets from two to four.

Results: Everything worked first time. Guiding was tight and excellent for the first six 10 minute frames. Then, while I watched, the guider looked liked it had a few drinks. I let it go thinking maybe a little bad seeing drifted by. But it never got better.

I suppose I need to experiment. It will waste a few nights. Get a night of 10 minute frames without guiding and see if the mount picks up a jiggle? Or five minute frames all night that might actually be usable. If those work maybe I can mix them in with the 10s that worked. If five minute frames all night show no jiggle then it is safe to say autoguider. Then try with PHD2 either with the batch program and CCDAutoPilot or with TSX and PHD2 running at same time for some long series that won’t be dithered. Try the batch program first.

If PHD2 works then the question might be for Software Bisque about why their autoguider isn’t cutting it.

9/13/2018 – Still no internet connection. By now the router has powered off and on with the lamp timer several times and the PC has rebooted. Yet Something else is amiss.


It is becoming clear that it is hard to get the equipment in the observatory to work and even harder to get it all to work remotely. It is so difficult that it is not realistic to expect success. The only time it will work is when everything in the observatory is working (rare), it is not cloudy (sometimes), I am in Torrey without guests (less than a quarter of the time), and a small moon phase for everything but the Ha narrow band filter (half the time). What does that Venn diagram look like? How often will those things overlap? Not every month. It has been 5 months it has not all come together now. Right now all the ducks are in a row except I am in SLC and cannot get an internet connection.



I do not believe I have ever seen a forecast like that. Severe clear. And the TeamViewer page shows that the router in Torrey has gone offline. I won’t be connecting to the observatory PC until the lamp timer recycles it. Which will be about 5AM. A perfect night goes under the what-can-fail-will-fail bus.


Reasonable success. A couple of late images have stuttered stars but most are usable. I got the RGB’s for the Eagle Nebula. Need some more greens for the Crescent. Then at least 3 nights (I only have until about midnight before the Eagle flies to close to Boulder Mountain) of Ha for the Eagle. I will gather more Ha for the Crescent along the way. I will have a lot of Crescent.

9/10/2018 – Good news from John Smith at CCDAutoPilot:

What may have happened is this. A session abort [due to weather] was in process which, among other things, parked the telescope. The rest of the abort process continued properly. Then, there was a clearing which may have attempted to restart the already aborted session. The non connection… Error 200 may have referred to the mount.

While this is messy, I don’t think there is a problem with your system.

I will try to start getting some Ha of Eagle Nebula until it gets too low around 12:15 and then back to the Crescent Nebula until about 4:30. Then some dawn flats.

Result: Ran an entire night without system failure! @focus2 did not return an error although it missed the focus first time and wasted four or five frames. Autoguider calibrated okay. BUT, more than half of the frames had double stars. John Smith at CCDAutoPilot thinks the mount is not working smoothly. Makes sense although very surprising. Today I will check the RA and DEC tightness and re-balance. More likely too loose than too tight. Would explain disappointing T-Point/slew accuracy.

Got some Ha frames for Crescent Nebula and Eagle Nebula. Tonight I need to front run the moon and get some color 2X2 frames for each.

September 9, 2018 – CCDAutopilot crash might have been caused by connecting to the wrong ASCOM Pyxis driver. There is a universal Pyxis driver that connects but seems to cause the crash. There is another Pyxis driver that needed to be clicked down into properties and then Setup and then told to use COM3. That may be working . . .

I gave up on the PHD2 with the batch file interface as guider and reinstalled the remote head guider cam. Found out Orion Starshoot Autoguider (SSAG) will not work with TheSkyX in 64 bit mode, period. Wrestled with new settings for the autoguider and autofocuser. Seemed to be getting closer. Getting a good V curve on focus graph and using autoguider in both axis working best. Need to note the settings for both here.

I am skeptical that CCDAP can handle the flip. Had to be recalibrated and started over after the flip tonight. The dither is giving me a lesson. The scope moves then the autoguider reacquires the guide star and move it back into apparent center/same place but the scope has moved by the dither amount. I hope. Either that or the scope moves and the autoguider moves it back, which would be bad.

. . .

It clouded up but at 1:48AM CCDAP was going to try again and then apparently crashed. I got 6 frames out of 36. Progress of sorts but back to the forum again.

September 8, 2018 – It is good I am keeping this log or I might not be keeping my sanity. Another night wasted. Without the log I would not be able to recall what in the world went wrong that I could not acquire an image since May.

CCDAutoPilot initialized with PHD2 and PHD_broker closed. But it crashed after focusing whether those programs were open or closed and even after I returned CCDAutoPilot to its initial state. More on forum thread here. Focusing with @focus2 quit working, too.  Way too damned finicky.

Another wasted night.

September 7, 2018 – CCDAutopilot will not initialize. Sending the error codes to CCDAutoPilot forum.

Then . . .

The whole camera train fell out of the telescope!

All the wiring caught it. I had it as tight as I could by hand but rotator wiring previously getting caught must have loosened it. Could have been disaster but everything seems to work except for software above. Used wrench tonight to tighten camera on telescope. Wiring seems to be arranged and stable. Sheesh. I don’t think this is related to CCDAP problem.

Stymied yet again, I am taking an hour of 10 min Ha subs without CCDAutoPilot through TSX and guided with PHD2. There is no ability to dither since PHD2 and TSX don’t know the other one is running and can’t communicate. I could take more but I can’t afford to stay up late tonight. Plus, I am not sure why I am taking these shots.

September 5-6 – Cloudy. It even rained a trace. Clear Dark Sky forecast wrong again.

September 4, 2018 – CCDAutoPilot renewed my father’s annual software license ($80) in my name. Good of them. Now to retry PHD2 broker package with all of the new features, including pre-slew, in CCDAP working.

No testing tonight. Cloudy.

September 3, 2018 – Ran a new T-Point automated mount calibration model with about 100 points. Seemed to work okay.

Success too with the hard drive clone. I did not replace the drive in the PC but I am glad to have a backup. I downloaded Macrium Reflect Free software on the observatory PC and used the instructions here.

Clone setup

The clone was the end of my short success streak. I installed the PHD2 broker package to work with CCDAutoPilot but no luck. There is a pre-slew function in CCDAutoPilot that seems critical but is greyed out. Waiting for advice from the support forum here. — Answer is there is a much buried–and separate process to execute–requirement to renew the CCDWare license annually. I knew about that but it was not asked for in the upgrade and there was no apparent place to renew. Plus the existing license and password is in my father’s name. I am now waiting on advice for that . . .

I downloaded PHD2 manual and saved it in Observatory Docs. The manual suggests using an ASCOM mount driver and if you have an on-camera ST-4 mount connection, as I have, then use the ASCOM mount driver in Aux Mount. I downloaded the appropriate ASCOM from Software Bisque as directed by ASCOM standards page. It seems to connect. In PHD2 the ASCOM driver in Aux Mount only functions to receive declination info so a calibration is not required for every new declination. Will see.

The new CCDAutoPilot upgrade did not keep track of the link needed on the Settings/Control Settings/Cloud Sensor/File Path. Somehow it is in the log but not in the software (if it is not there, how did the log find it??):

(I found the closest file to this name and type and used it)

I also could not find the log to send to the CCDAP forum. Hint was in the read this first thing: See Help/Data Organization for the default location of the log file. Answer =
(My) Documents\CCDWare\CCDAutoPilot5\Images\

2 AM. PHD2 wouldn’t calibrate. That is a first. Re-ran the brain/first time wizard and then it worked. Also had a sudden and long struggle with @focus2 in TheSkyX with a focus failed to converge error.  I don’t know why that happens. Maybe something to do with not liking particular stars. Wrestled with these finicky components until 3AM.

Cloudy nights now forecast. I am hoping to get the autoguider working and to get some 10 minute or even some 20 minutes sub-frames this lunar cycle. Been awhile since I got anything usable.

September 2, 2018 The Torrey House Press staff is coming today so some of my night will be as a star guide. Fun enough. I only note it here to remind myself later of what actually happens to the time where I am not able to get images.

At this point before imaging I need to:

  1. clone the observatory hard drive
  2. set up to use PHD2 with CCDAutoPilot: √
    1. install Orion Starshoot Autoguider √
    2. install the respective batch code and set up. The instructions are in observatory docs and link to download here.
  3. Run a new T-Point calibration. This is not absolutely necessary but I think the calibration could be a lot more accurate than it is currently. Read up on and review how first.
  4. Entertain the THP staff with Torrey’s dark skies.

September 1, 2018 In Torrey. Spent about five hours trouble shooting the issue that Windows showed I had WiFi and internet connection but I still could not browse. There are apparently some common problems with a “winsock” stack that can be cleared but that was not it. It turned out to be the AVG antivirus software was itself corrupted and was blocking the connection, even with a “clean boot.” One clue was that I could browse in safe mode. Another random way to waste a night.

August 31, 2018 Lost web connection from SLC. TeamViewer worked but could not connect to web power switch, the webcam and Weather Underground weather station was offline. Another lost night. Previous two nights my uncle was in town and staying with us so no time to fiddle here.

August 28, 2018 Back in SLC, I tried to get 24 ten minute guided Ha frames of the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus. I got maybe 2 good frames. Three more have oblong stars. The rest were star streaks. The autoguider is unimpressive when it works at all and then it goes completely to hell after the first re-focus. CCDAutoPilot can’t handle it without frequent intervention. A guy might still have to stay up all night, or not refocus, or both. The fact that guiding was lost after about six frames makes refocus suspect. I am also concerned that the scopes are not always centered enough in the observatory opening and that the guide scope might get eclipsed by the dome.

To try:

  1. Set up TSX to save the autoguider frames to see if getting eclipsed by dome.
  2. Monitor CCDAutopilot to see what happens after re-focus
    1. temporarily set refocus for 20 minute intervals
    2. If inexplicably fails send log to forum for help
  3. See about using PHD2 with CCDAutoPilot
    1. John Smith at CCDWare says, “Yep! See the links under Help/Version History for version 5.09.8.”

It took 3 hours of wrestling to get the oh-so-finicky TheSkyX autoguider to calibrate. I did finally get one good ten minute frame with better stars than unguided. With that I went ahead with a CCDAutoPilot session but it failed. Do I go back to five minute frames unguided? I have a dark sky and can take long exposures but not without autoguiding. PHD might work but apparently not with CCDAutoPilot. Daily serving of frustration with a side of sleep deprivation.

Zero streak since May continues.

August 27, 2018 Mostly wrestled, until 1 AM with TheSkyX autoguider. Calibration was almost impossible and even when calibrated guiding made things much worse, not better. Morals of story:

  • Select “Imager’s built-in autoguider” and with camera connected choose external guide head in Camera Setup/Settings.
  • Needed T-adapter to get focused with remote guide head on ST-80.
  • There is no place in CCDAutoPilot to choose PHD that I can see so working with finicky TSX settings is only choice.
  • See what 10 minutes unguided looks like. 20 too. Then try with Y axis corrections only. Try only correcting every 60 seconds using autoguider exposure delay.
  • If use internal guider, not remote guide head, then probably need to change telescope focal length in settings.
  • Try calibration again with backlash set to 0, and
    • DEC/x-axis(?) relay turned off,
    • switch to SB’s “Direct Guide” instead of relay,
    • calibrate in optimal place with one dominate star before moving to target,
    • turn down aggressiveness from 10 to 6
    • use camera image short exposure delay (2X autoguide image time) to give autoguider chance to recenter after image download.
    • ???
  • Trouble shoot tips TSX pp. 486
  • I may still have a problem with too small an opening on the observatory shutters. Keep in mind if guiding is lost.

See notebook page 81 for other notes.

I was also having the usual problems with the rotator. I got an image link and set the position angle and FOVI to the image. CCDAutoPilot could not now find the ASCOM driver (WTF?). There was some sort of conflict suggested back when by John Smith at CCDWare that had me using the ASCOM driver instead of TheSkyX for the rotator. Common sense suggests that if everything else is run by TSX, the rotator should work from there too. I turned off a setting in TSX that homed the rotator every time it connected. Once on power up should be enough. Seemed to work with TSX in CCDAP last night. Question is how to set the rotator position angle. Is the CCDAP initialize enough or is an image link/sync PA required in TSX every time?

√ Check for ability to open shutters further and tighten drive wheel on dome.

Still no successful image acquisition since May.

August 26, 2018 With help of Daniel Bisque of Software Bisque, I troubleshot the failing COM connection for the rotator to a failed port on the 8 port serial to USB hub (equipment failure). The trouble-shooting was a brute, straight forward process of elimination. The support forum thread is here. The filter wheel was not connecting because the IFW controller box had been shut off (pilot error).

I also got the blue screen of death on the observatory PC for the first time. I PM’d Christopher Erickson, one of the moderators at Cloudy Nights, to see what particular software he thought I should be backing up. See conversation here. He said he probably had the Meridian Controls file structure stored away somewhere. He also recommended cloning the observatory PC hard drive asap with a new hybrid hard drive. In addition he sent some links to new dome controller sources here. His links show just a bare printed circuit board as the new solution. It promises to be quite involved. I hope to nurse the Meridian Controls along for a good while longer. But Meridian probably doesn’t work with Windows 10, the Erickson solution is less than $200, and it works with USB instead of RS232 (not sure what Meridian is using, maybe USB).

August 25, 2018– On site in Torrey. I have been trying to figure out if the C14 is worth using. Wave theory has it that resolution = wavelength/aperture. I seem to understand that this equation would hold except that light is both a wave and a particle/photon and so is a quantum thing. This introduces uncertainty where noise, as Poisson figured out, is the square root of the number of events (photons). More intuitively one has to ask about the quality of the optics in the old C14 versus that of the higher quality TEC-140. The C14 has the big aperture and so has the main element for resolution. But the TEC-140 is better glass. The question is then how to measure actual results. If it is the measured FWHM of the stars (found in CCDStack and DSS), then knowing the camera pixel size and focal length of the scope it is possible to measure the size of the resulting stars in an image. Some of my prior results seem to indicate the C14 was getting about 3.2 arcsecs and the TEC 140 is 4.3 arcsecs. Hmmm. Also it is possible to say what angle of space a pixel in each camera sees. The TEC 140 with the SBIG 10/XME is 1 pixel = 1.4 arcsecs.  (see page 77 in my Moleskine log for equations) The C14 with the Canon 500D is 0.246 arcsecs and 0.431 arcsecs with reducer. If true, it is worth working with the C14 again next summer during galaxy season. On the other hand I understand that seeing blur is often greater than one arcsec so the C14 might be overkill. But then why would any telescope need to be bigger? Bigger sensors? As in sensor arrays?

If I do work with the C14 again I should plan on focusing often. If remote, focus every hour. If on site and ambitious I should focus and lock the mirror until the meridian flip, then unlock, refocus, relock. Compare how that works with unlocked frequent focusing. And get a lot of data. Also found a site that says Canon 500D optimal ISO is 1600. So go to that. I might also get a expandable saddle for the G-11 so can more easily side mount and try the C14 outside. Might be cool for viewing.

To get a lot of data and take advantage of Dad’s observatory capability, and thereby also get some sleep, use CCDAutoPilot (AP). AP only delivers FITS files, not camera RAW somehow. So start a new library of dark files for the Canon 500D. DSS can stack FITS files so I can use Dark Master to match temperatures of the dark files.

  • Today I will switch scopes:
    • check tightness of all fittings on SBIG camera train There is still the tiniest bit of play coming from somewhere. Seems intrinsic and probably okay.
    • change the observatory “dome geometry” back (from Xt = 17 to Xt = 13) In Dome Setup
    • take the Robofocus off the C14 and reinstall on TEC 140
      • C14 parts are in a marked baggie in observatory. Should leave the Robofocus drive axis set screws loose until manually focused, first for eyepiece, then with camera. Otherwise manually moving focus knob strips the set screws. Once any set screws are set only move focuser with Robofocus. The Robofocus step motor cannot be moved manually. Don’t try to do it with focus knob.
    • take down the C14 and stow in garage
    • put on TEC 140
      • start with eyepiece to:
    • see how T-Point calibration is and start new calibration if necessary. Big moon will help get established if necessary.
    • install camera train and balance
    • @focus2 with Robofocus
      • write down what hash marks show on the TEC-140 _____________
    • get a few closed loop slews and start a new T-Point
    • SBIG remote head with ST80
    • autoguiding setup in TSX (focus on Moon? Vega?)
    • get some 10 minute darks at -12
      • As of night of 8/25 not successful in getting filter wheel and rotator to connect.

Had idea to get a pier extension to see over the wall for planets. Already ordered before I check to see if will work. Having it delivered to Torrey post office. Stay tuned.

August 20, 2018– The NGC 6946 images from the 19th were all out of focus. Now I am running out of summer Milky Way season in which I want to get some HaRGB. Moon is out now but I will be taking off the C14 until next year without ever getting a usable capture. The 36 frames of NGC 6946 that I have are crummy, probably because not tight enough focus. Conclusion is that with the current C14 setup (BackyardEOS running the Canon DSLR on the C14) I need to be onsite to manually do the meridian flip and to unlock mirror, refocus, and re-lock the mirror. Next year for galaxy season I will consider creating a dark library of FITS files so that I can run CCDAutoPilot. With autopilot I can refocus often (and thereby go without locking the mirror?), automatically flip, shut down if it clouds up, and close down when the session is over.

August 2018- Early August a private star party with Lynn and Patrick DeFreitas. Lovely guests. C14 was a beast to observe through in the observatory. All ladder work right over the desk. And discovered Venus and Jupiter too low to see over the wall in the outside pier in the summer. Saturn and Mars also up. Later, because I was still getting oblong stars, I spent about three hours collimating the C14. Good two ladder workout. It made the stars a little better, I hope. Looked better visually and in pics. Painted the trim on the observatory. Now wishing I had used a zippier color like midnight blue. Kelsie Moore from NPR affiliate KUER came down with Aaron McMurray to get some video for the NPR program Science Friday. Radio West at KUER has started a Radio West Films where Kelsie is the film maker. Results expected next month. Kelsie was tough about staying up and getting the shots, mostly time lapse. I also did a time lapse. I expected to have a 30 second clip but ended up with three seconds. In addition to her dark sky work, Kelsie and Aaron set up elaborate lights and mics to interview me. Very smokey all month and often cloudy. Still virtually no rain. On 8/6 and 8/12 and 8/19 I tried to get some more data on NGC 6946, the Fireworks Galaxy.


July 2018- worked on M106. Short nights! Changed the dome’s geometry to better fit the C14 so that it could see out the shutter opening. I bought a new PC in part so I could leave my rugged, reliable Windows 7 HP laptop in Torrey. Removed the GFI in the garage that controlled the observatory power line. Both somewhat helpful in making remote internet connection more reliable. M106 results included oblong stars. I found the images unusable. Our week after new moon on July 12 was clouded out over with no rain. Achingly dry in Torrey.

June 2018– Kirsten and I traveled some in the Banjo in June including a trip to Idaho for the board meeting in Boise for Western Watersheds Project. At the end of the month we held the Torrey House Press board and staff retreat in Torrey. Moon, clouds, people. No photos.

May 27, 2018- With the C14 focused I discovered a still mysterious vibration problem. Photos were terrible with dancing stars and large objects like planets and the moon could be seen dancing around in the viewfinder. At Software Bisque I posted my problem on the Paramount ME support forum here. Daniel Bisque there was more than helpful, literally. Some of what he asked me to do to trouble shoot set me back substantially. What seemed to finally do the trick was lubricating the mount as Software Bisque’s video describes how here.  Stars in photos are still slightly oblong. This troubleshoot took a long time. I had to leave Torrey and then lost my internet connection to do some of the troubleshooting requests I had from Bisque.

May 7, 2018 – Put the C14 on for the first time in Torrey. I could not get the focuser to work and had a extraordinary exchange on Cloudy Nights here to figure out what was wrong. I posted here about the Zen-like lesson of sitting with a problem and letting all the clues come to bear, from wherever they may.

May 15, put Canon Rebel on the C14

April 14, 2018 – Star party with friends/donors of The Nature Conservancy of Utah. Used the TEC 140 with 20mm wide angle eyepiece.

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