Tuesday, June 30, 2009

20090630 Sun

I have waited for so long... finally got a short moment of clear sky! The sun looked featureless today, but on close up, we always have something. I told myself, there is no featureless sun indeed... :-)

Telescope: Tele Vue Ranger
Filter: Coronado Solarmax 40 with BF10
Camera: DMK 31AF03.AS
Mount: Meade LXD55
Barlows: Tele Vue 5x Powermate (for close up only)

1559 (GMT+8):-

1604 (GMT+8), close up with 5x barlows, I zoomed in only due to the filament, but I found it is indeed a tiny active area:-

So much fun!

Monday, June 29, 2009

20090629 Waiting for blue sky

Patches of blue sky are around, but just not in the direction of the sun. Telescope was setup but waiting... finally I gave up since the wind was getting strong. I only managed to get the scope roughly focused.

Equipment time:-

1. I pulled out my Ranger to reinforce the connection to the 410 head quick release plate, by removing the original focuser, I also removed its dovetail for mounting, I've yet to find a better way to mount my Ranger. I measured it to be 3" in diameter. Time to hunt for good mounting rings or clamshell.

2. TG-SP II mounted on window frame: this is just a test of concept. I found that the L bracket for locking the window frame pretty suitable for a test, so I mounted the TG-SP II wedge on it, it's simple. Of course, this thin plate is insufficient to support the whole mount plus the telescope, etc.

What I learned from this proof of concept is that, I probably need a thicker plate for this purpose, and I probably need a longer plate so that I could use the 3/8" hole rather than the 1/4" hole. Time to put the mount on the wedge, and this is a test shot:-

Guess what, the whole thing keeps vibrating. And as I can see from this test of concept exercise, I would still need an offset plate in order for the Ranger to reach far enough outside to catch some sunshine during the summer.

That brass gear is part of the undergoing project about motorizing the DEC, I still need to figure out how to mount the motor in a suitable position. By handhelding the motor in the position, I found the small motor is just enough to drive the DEC knob, the bigger motor should be far better but the gear is not big enough so that there is insufficient room for the motor body plus the gear box.

3. TG-SP II project: the newly ordered gears do not match well with my existing one, and none is big enough to allow me to use the big motors. Now, I could:

- fall back to use shaft coupler, but this would cause balance issue
- order some more gears and two more small motors... so I would use all small motors

The first option is cheaper, and the second option is neat but more expensive (need to sink $50 more just for the hardware)... both would need assistance from "the" local folk


I have just finished my dinner and saw the moon hanging outside, so I setup my Ranger in the hope to have a look of the moon, and mabe take some snapshots... Unluckily, after I pointed to my target, it was soon covered.

Finally, I got around 100s of cloud free moments...

Ranger at prime focus, DMK 31AF03.AS, everything on Meade LXD55.

And I'm very happy since Registax runs much faster than before, and dual core CPU really allow you to multitask... before that, when I was Registax'ing, I could only turn off my LCD and wait, and now I can still do something else without any noticeable slow down.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Equipment re-organizations

It's cloudy, typhoon comes and goes and that's why I remained silent for so long. Glad that you are still here around reading this.

For some amateur astronomers, after several years in the hobby, we might begin to buy and sell. First of all, our observation habits might change, let say from visual to photographic, from deep sky to solar observation, from highly portable to bigger aperture, etc. That would push you to sell and buy something else. Secondly, we might make wrong buying decision, we would also need to sell. Thirdly, when you reached a certain critical investment, you will not pour too much extra money so that you can control yourself, and in that case, you will also need to sell. And there are far more reasons to buy and sell. Therefore, equipment trading seems part of the life of some amateur astronomers. Yes, if you're a regular visitor to astromart or similar website, you will probably agree with me.

Recently with the change of my life style, I did quite a lot of selling and buying. In terms of astronomy, I'm even more "portable" mind now and I spent far more time on solar imaging than anything else. Basically I know what is my cup of tea right now and thus some equipments which I found useful once upon a time, now I found them less valuable to me. Selling them will give me some cash so that I could buy something else.

Equipment trading could be great in another sense. Somehow when you found the need to sell, you will choose between your gears. Which of them are truely useful to you?

A question which pops up from astronomy forums regularly. It's something like which telescope would you settle if you're allowed to own only one of them? Which single (or up to three) eyepiece you would keep if you're allowed to keep a certain number of them only?

You will not be able to answer these questions in a very real manner unless you're going to do that in real life!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Another source for gears (TG-SP II project)


I just ordered a couple of gears from the above surplus supplier. It includes a small one with 1/8" bore which should fit my small 6V 10RPM motor which I might use for motorizing the RA manual knob of my TG-SP II, and it also includes another set of two. For that set, they have 1/4" bore so that one of them could fit the RA manual knob of my TG-SP II, thus working with the first gear as a pair. The second one of the set would be used on a bigger 12V 5RPM motor which I will be using it for motorizing the DEC of my TG-SP II.

Both motors were tested to work with the motor controller box which I've finished yesterday. Adding a ST4 style autoguider jack for this controller box would require a simple pull-up resistor so it's very simple indeed. However, I will not go this step until I've the chance to get a guiding adapter like Shoestring GPUSB or a guiding camera, but then I believe that I won't go this step in short term since I will not go for longer than 200mm.

Someone offered to buy my 9mm Meade reticle, so I will not be doing manual guiding via eyepiece afterward, instead, I will guide manually via my DMK with a CCTV lens by looking at the video output rather than the eyepiece.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stuff that could be sold...

Could be sold:

1. Binoviewer with two 20mm Tele Vue Plossls - SOLD
2. Meade LXD55 with Gitzo G1415 tripod, platform plate, counter weight (keep it first!)
3. Meade illuminated reticle 9mm (adjustable) - SOLD
4. Tele Vue 3x optics in Chinese barlows tube
5. PST hacker's version with ERF - SOLD
6. Shoestring Astronomy FCUSB

DIY motor controller box finished

This is a handkerchief box of my elder daughter, she graduated from the kindergarten and we had four or five or them at home, it seems perfect as a project box.

I have installed four buttons on the bottom, two 3.5mm mono socket for DC motor control as well a DC input socket to provide power to the motors. My circuit requires at least 6V to work, and it can support up to 26V, the speed of the motors could be controller by adjusting the input voltage.

The 3.5mm socket on the side is controlled by the two "horizontal" buttons, and the 3.5mm socket on the top is controlled by the two "vertical" buttons", a DC input socket is placed on the top as well.

Openning the box will show all the "grass" inside, you can see that I ain't really skillful in terms of soldering.

Anyway, it works. I have tried this control with a JMI focusing motor and it works without any problem. As soon as the DC motor is mounted on the TG-SP II, this controller box can then be used for motorized guiding operations.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

20090617 Sun

It has been pretty long last time I took any images. It is clear today and there're some solar activities today, not bad indeed. I've upgraded my PC and that's the first time I really use it for image capturing as well as image processing. It's an entirely new world altogether, I can reduce the image size during capturing, I can listen to MP3, and whatever during image capturing and there's no drop in performance, I got 30 fps with whatever setting... and I can get 15 fps without the need to set 15 fps when I drop below 1/30s exposure. Registax is even better... I used to have a habbit that I will start registax before I tear down the equipments and I did it as usual, but before I managed to pack up all the stuff, the processing was finished!

Okay, back to the images. Seeing like 3-4/10, transparency 7-8/10 after extensive raining.

First two were taken with my Ranger, 0.5x corrector in the nosepiece of BF10 as usual.

1508 (GMT+8):-

1509 (GMT+8):-

With 5x Powermate, 1514 (GMT+8), high gain:-

With 5x Powermate, 1516 (GMT+8), exposure extended to 1/15s, high gain:-

Fixing the Autostar at zero cost

I know that there's some compound you could buy to do this, but how about doing it for free? I tried and it works!

First of all, let me describe the problem and why we should fix it. Autostar (or Nexstar) controller will become not as responsive after some years of usage. When you press a key, you have to press it hard, or really hard, in order to have response. That happens mostly for the four directional buttons, and any buttons which you always press like the ENTER, and the MODE buttons.

I will not repeat how you to disassemble the autostar, you can do a simple google search and you will find it. In short, you need to remove four screws, and then you have to remove a clip which holds the flat cable to the LCD and that's it.

Okay, we have the keypad now. Notice that we're trying to fix the black dots (or circuits) behind the rubber buttons. Here you can see another keypad from another remote control which comes from a dead DVD player.

Gues what... Yes, I'm trying to cut the black dots from the useless remote control and to stick it on the Autostar! Of course, I did it for one button first as an experiment:

And then I tried the Autostar by assembling it and power it up, it works! And it's just very responsive now! Therefore, I proceeded to work on all the buttons which I frequently used. It takes around half an hour to do all these.

Now my Autostar is working as great, or even better than when I first received it. And a final word of warning: don't fix it unless you absolutely have to and it will definitely void your warranty if there is any. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Standalone autoguider

In the days of ST4, standalone autoguiding has a special market since it's bulky to bring and expensive to buy a laptop computer when you go imaging. However, the market landscape has changed so much so that the whole situation requires re-considerations. The low cost of consumer webcam is definitely important since they are not just cheap but they can also be used for planet imaging, they can also be used for guiding as well. Another important factor is the growing popularity of netbook, these small laptop computers are powerful enough to do autoguiding, they are small to bring and they are cheap to buy. And just like a webcam, it has multiple purpose, you can browse the internet, you can use your electronic star atlas, you can even control your DSLR but not just guiding.

In terms of cost, both are so similar these days. However, for the functionalities, you will simply find it hard to beat to webcam + netbook combinations! Of course, the simplicity of standalone autoguider could still be attractive, but it's not overwhelmly simple like in the ST4 era.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Upgrading my PC: DMK camera flickering problem

I use my PC for image capturing since I usually do solar imaging in an indoor environment. Most new motherboard has no Firewire and few PCI slots. For my last PC, I got 5 PCI slots and I found that if my Firewire card is installed in certain PCI slot, I will have some "flickers" during image capturing. Luckily, there're one or two slots which will not suffer from this problem.

Yes, I'm upgrading my PC, and there're only two PCI slots. When I plugged in my Firewire card, that "flickering" problem appears again! Hey, I tried to put it in another slot, yes, the flickering problem is reducing, but it's still there... So, what could I do? I only got two slots!!!

I upgraded the driver as well as IC Capture to a downloaded version, and fortunately, it works now. If you suffer from similar situation with your DMK, try it out. And I hope it will work for you, too.

Now, IC Capture will go up to 30 fps in any setting, previously, I cannot resized the capturing screen, I have to keep it 1:1 or else it won't get up to 30 fps. Software ROI, if not small enough, will not give me 30 fps. Luckily, I was able to get 30 fps without ROI. Cropping eats up little CPU but that's enough to bring down the frame rate throughput. Registax runs much faster now and I can still do other stuff since I've more than one CPU core.

Don't get me wrong, I am not interested in upgrading, but I'm forced to do so since my AGP display card failed and it's hard to find a new replacement these days.

Motor controller box progress

It's cloudy and will be cloudy for some more days. So I took out my motor controller box out for further work. Last time, I drilled four holes and fixed the buttons there. These buttons are far superior than those on the Autostar/Nexstar controller, they're great to press, and they're not likely to reduce in sensitivity over time.

Those switches are normally closed, so I connected them both to high as default to the Solarbotics L298 controller kit. Since both terminals are high and thus, no current will flow through the motor drivers. When I press either one of them, the high signal will be broken and current will flow from one direction, pressing the other button will reduce in a reversed direction. Very simple indeed.

To proceed further, I will need to buy two 3.5mm mono socket so that I can connect the L298 kits motor driver output to them. They will be controlling two motors. Since this is a DC geared motor controller kit, it's going to work as a motorized focuser control. I will need to buy a power socket so that I can give 6-20V DC to this controller to drive the focusing/autoguiding motors. Maybe I can add a rheostat before the power supply socket so that I can adjust the speed of the motor as well, but this should be the next step.

Once this is done, I shall proceed to mount the DEC motor on the TG-SP II first, and RA autoguiding motor will be next, finally, I shall add that ST4 socket to the whole controller! The current controller box might be too small to have that ST4 socket attached, but I will leave this currently.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fixed the screws of the focuser on my Orion 100mm f/9 ED

The screws which hold the shaft is not in good shape. The screw head has been "screwed up" and thus they could not be removed by normal way. Being unable to remove that plate, the "smoothing" effort on the focuser draw tube was not completely done.

Today I used a drill to kill that screw altogether and I managed to remove it without any damage to the focuser. After that, I have replaced all four screws there with much better screws. I guess those original screws were killed by one of the previous owners in order to put on the JMI focusing motor. One of them was not original when it comes to my hand.

Now, they're all the same and I wish that I can DIY another focusing motor for it myself after my TG-SP II motorizing DEC project.

DIY Notes: Screw Specifications and others

These are notes for myself for the coming (or potential) DIY projects:-

1. Big 12V 5 RPM Geared Motor

- computer back panel screws will work
- 6mm shaft (~1/4")

2. Small 6V 10 RPM Geared Motor

- M1.5 will work
- 3mm shaft (~1/8")

3. TG-SP II enagement knob

- M6, so lower profile screws should reduce or even remove the "dead" position

- The 1/4" base can be removed very easily and thus, it could be replaced rather easily, one may make a base with 3/8" screws so that the attachment could be stronger, or one may even extend it sideway to make room for a polar scope, etc.

Monday, June 08, 2009

2008 Total Solar Eclipse Reprocessed

10 shots combined.

Friday, June 05, 2009

20090605 Sun

Not much new activity, all taken with my Ranger with Solarmax 40 and BF10, NGF-CM, tracked by Meade LXD55 and captured with my DMK 31AF03, close up with my Tele Vue 2x.

1534 (GMT+8), prime focus:-

1544 (GMT+8), at 2x:-

In the searching of 6-pin 1394 notebook

It's just hard, I only came across one which is the old Mac Book, but newer models seems to have it removed. Nowadays, even 4-pin port is not very common, and I guess maybe it's time to get one before it obsolete?

Yesterday, I tried to find some longer 6-pin to 6-pin 1394 cables and it's also hard. Shorter cables are everywhere basically, but longer cables were only sold from one or two shops. Unluckily, every time when I ask, I was told that it was all sold. I couldn't buy any as well.

Without a long 6-pin to 6-pin cable, a 1394 hubs is therefore a must, just to extend the cable length, but then also means adding power through the hubs is not much trouble as well, since I will need that hubs anyway. Therefore, it makes a 4-pin notebook equally attractive.

4th of June: Moon

Just back and saw the bright moon outside, setup my Orion 100ED f/9. Originally, I wanted to use my Tele Vue 3x but I ended up with a 5x since 3x requires too much outward travel which is hard to go in an indoor setting. Low frequency seeing at around 3/10, transparency 3/10 when I took most of the shots. All shots tracked by my Meade LXD55, and taken with my DMK 31AF03.

2251 (GMT+8), the only 2x shot (i.e. 1800mm focal length):-

2255 (GMT+8) at 4500mm:-

2257 (GMT+8) at 4500mm:-

2259 (GMT+8) at 4500mm:-

2302 (GMT+8) at 4500mm:-

I also have a look with my 7mm ortho, very sharp and nice. I turned off the motor to drift across the field of view, that feels like flying inside a spaceship and looking out from the window. :-)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

4th of June: Black Spots

We have some black spots today.

AR1019 is still around, it's getting weak in white light but it's still going strong in H-alpha.

White Light: Tele Vue Ranger stopped down to 52mm, and then full 70mm at 5x.

At prime focus, stopped down (I forgot to detach that solar adapter), 1500 (GMT+8):-

Close with with 5x, adapter removed, 1513 (GMT+8):-

H-alpha: Tele Vue Ranger, Solarmax 40 with BF10, then close up at 5x.

1523 (GMT+8) at prime focus:-

1527 (GMT+8), with 5x:-

Handheld HDR Moon

Saw that when I went on the bed, pulled out my 200mm f/2.8 to shoot it. It's a HDR combined shot of 7 individual exposure, notice that internal reflection of the moon...

I didn't use the Kenko 2x this time, but this internal reflection is still there, so I guess maybe it's due to the filter? I really hate that for those images taken in my first total solar eclipse trip.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

20090602 Sun during the short cloud gap

I got it! It was cloudy this morning, I even thought it would rain. After lunch, we had a very short moment when the cloud was partially cleared. I setup my solar gears immediately and took a few AVIs, nearly all of them were suffered from moving cloud, but one of them is okay! So this is the one and only one AVI which could be processed. Guess what, it's totally covered afterward.

Telescope: Tele Vue Ranger with JMI NGF-CM
Camera: The Imaging Source DMK 31AF03.AS
Mount: Meade LXD55
Filter: Coronado Solarmax 40 with BF10
Taken with a 0.5x reducer at the nosepiece of the BF10

When I was about to push up the exposure, I could see two very big prominences but my hands were slower than the cloud, and thus I failed to capture anything afterward.

20090601 Moon

Just found the moon hanging outside, my little daughter asked: "who put the banana on the sky?" Funny girl. :-)

I took a few shots with my Ranger, the NGF-CM definitely helps for improving the focusing accuracy. Poor seeing is something really bad, it hurts the contrast especially when I'm working with a 5x Powermate. ;-)

A small mosaic to cover the area which I loved, 2250+2253 (GMT+8):-

2252 (GMT+8):-

Monday, June 01, 2009

20090601 Sun after cloudy weeks

We got the sun again! Better yet, we have a white light sunspot! I took my Herschel wedge and removed my 52mm adapter so that I'm using full 70mm aperture of my Ranger. I've used a green filter instead of the polarizer this time to see if it helps on showing granulations. Very poor seeing today at 1/10, occassionally it gets up to 3/10 during the best moments. Transparency so so at 3/10. No complain here especially after cloudy weeks!

First up is white light, one taken at prime focus and the other one take with a 5x.

1514 (GMT+8):-

1520 (GMT+8):-

Taken with a green filter, so the above is false color for sure.

Then, I pulled out the camera to have a look with a 13mm Nagler (5x), the contrast is simply fantastic! Herschel wedge is really nice to squeeze every little detail out. I'd say if the seeing is good, I shall have seen granulations, but this time, only floaters. By using a 7mm Japanese Ortho at prime focus, this view is sharper, no more floater but still no granulations.

Next, I placed that 52mm adapter back together with my Solarmax 40/BF10, I did a full disc shot with a 0.5x corrector at the nosepiece of the BF10, and then I proceeded to do 5x on AR1019, it's entirely different in H-alpha than in white light. Both are fantastic especially for a solar addict who had been hungry for so long!

1535 (GMT+8):-

1538 (GMT+8), 5x but slightly resized (around 85%) to reduce the amount of noise... poor seeing results in less stackable frames and thus the noise:-

Equipment list:

1. Tele Vue Ranger
3. Meade LXD55
4. APM Herschel Wedge
5. DMK 31AF03
6. Tele Vue Powermate 5x
7. B+W ND3
8. Generic green filter
9. Solarmax 40 with BF10
10. 0.5x binoviewer corrector