Monday, May 31, 2010

The iOptron SmartStar-G on Gitzo G106

On going to the Post Office to send my DMK 31AF03 to the US, I found that there is a very well stocked screw shop near my home. I bought a long M8 screw together with a few washers, and the iOptron is mounted to my Gitzo G106 successfully.

I placed my Ranger there, and it's a very stable setup. On focusing, the vibration would damp out at around 5 seconds, not bad. Slewing around is smooth and accurate, a good sign of excellent backlash compensation. It's cloudy outside so I couldn't really test it. I turned on the tracking and insert a high power eyepiece (185x), slew the scope to a terrestial target, watch it track. Tracking is pretty stable with some very minor vibration, I don't know whether it's induced by my eyes or by the tracking action itself. Focusing is easy since I've a NGF-CM, so focusing induce zero vibration to the setup.

I've yet to try it on solar imaging, but it looks promising right now.

Orion 100ED on Unistar Lighter + Gitzo G106

On selling my LXD55, I need to see if I still have a mount which can carry it, the situation is even worse since my Gitzo G1415 will be sold with the LXD55 and therefore, I will only have a small Gitzo G106 to use. The G1415 + Unistar should handle the Orion 100ED well since this combination can even hold a C8!

This morning, I pulled out everything to try. Yes, it works apparently and the bottom line is that, it will tip over or fall down by minimum breeze or even a light push. Then I insert a Pentax 40mm SMC XL into the focuser to test, at such a low power 22.5x, it's okay and the vibration induced by the focusing action would be totally damped out in around 5 seconds and with the help of a finger as shock aborber, it will stop nearly immediately.

This is use-able but not great, so I set the G106 to shorter height. It's a 4-section tripod and the shortest part has a very thin leg, so it makes sense to do that to stablize the whole setup.

Yes, it helps. So I pulled out my 13mm Nagler Type 6 for a test. This should be the highest power that I would use without tracking. It translates to 69x but with the huge field of view of the Nagler, it's perfectly okay. I further tighten the friction control knobs of the Unistar Light and it remains very useable.

Conclusion: I shall keep my Orion 100ED at the time being, and I shall further test it under the starry sky when possible.

Friday, May 28, 2010

First Impression of the iOptron SmartStar-G

The first impression is that, it's smaller than I imagined! If you know, astronomical gears are usually bigger than it's otherwise in picture. It's also lighter than I once thought, but it's heavy enough to give a feeling of serious stuff. Not exactly toy indeed.

I don't have a tripod for it, and my existing tripods do not work since it has a M8 screw in its base which is hard to match, I will need to find some additional hardware in order to use it. I have tried to put my Ranger on it, but it fails to balance unless I put a small counter weight on top of it. Slew the Ranger around shows zero problem, very precise and it looks good.

Tracking will begin once you slew to any object in the sky. The little cube assumes that you're starting from your home position, so it knows where it's pointing with the help of the GPS and the real time clock. Slew is quick and quiet - remember it's a relative term, so my reference point is my LXD55 and also a Nexstar mount, as well as a couple of Meade DS mounts which I've tried before.

The GPS is pretty quick, it puts itself in a correct location position before I realize that it might take time for the GPS to engage. Another plus.

I just did some general observaton by slewing to the sun, slewing to the moon at night, as well as some planets. They're supposingly in correct orientation in general, I've no way to tell since I cannot really mount a scope on it yet, and it's also cloudy outside, just as what you would expect when there's any new instrument coming in!

The only downside which I've found so far is that, given its home position, it will place the telescope side on the right, that means, it's the far side from my home window. That said, solar imaging would become harder. Of course, since this mount can be placed closer to the window, maybe it still viable? I shall test it soon.

So far, my impression is that, it's pretty portable but still solid enough. More portable even than my Takahashi TG-SP II, and its 8 * AA batteries compartment should be handy, a local folk tested that by using 8 * 1600mmAh rechargeable, the mount can run for over 6 hours! And that's more than enough for me as I usually stay around only 3 hours at most in a single observation session.

Finally, my mount arrives with a cracked screen. Luckily, it's insured:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Goodbye my LXD55 and the meaning behind

Yes, I finally managed to sell it, after a huge price slash :-)

My life style changes make me sell this one, and the recent "bad contact" problem of the Autostar triggered the price drop. I've ordered a iOptron GPS Cube for indoor solar imaging purpose. I've been going from alt-az tracking to equatorial tracking in the hope to push the quality further, but now I'm going the reverse route since I know that I'm not going to shoot much in high magnification because of the rapid construction work around my home building, my lovely home@walnut "observatory" which is, indeed, an open window from my "playing room".

Together with it, I'm going to pass the Gitzo G1415 along with the deal. This tripod has been serving me since I was using the excellent Giro + GiroDrive combination. It's my primary foundation for planet imaging, and again, I know that this is going to an end. Indoor planet imaging is no longer do-able for most of the time for it's even harder than solar imaging. When I sold my Giro + GiroDrive, I know it's finished. Another important duty of my G1415 is for my portable "C8 anywhere" project and it's a huge success as well. Of course, I'm not going out to the darker sky as much as before. All that means my G1415 has accomplished all its purpose with me, I really have to thank its excellent service - light weight, portable, excellent stability, versatility! :-)

Now, I wonder if I could use my Orion 100ED with my Unistar Light on a oh-so-light Gitzo G106 tripod, if not, I'm going to do another huge price slash for my Orion 100ED.

I will remain a solar "addict" with my coming iOptron GPS cube for indoor solar imaging, I will do some casual visual observation like before, and I will continue to do some toy planet and lunar imaging. Finally, some light weight wide field imaging with my TG-SP II plus DSLR, and if possible, to do eclipse chasing.

Only time will tell, I might go for a C5 again for planet imaging later.

The miscellaneous stuff to the mount and tripod, and they are to be handed to the new owner together:

This is also part of the reason why I've to sell it. It's heavy to me, it's bulky so that I only managed to get it out once or twice. And it's so easy to miss one or two parts.


I'm trying to sell my Orion 100ED including the rings at $3300 HKD, let me know if you're interested. This is an excellent telescope, light weight and portable despite you might imagine it's not. A Unistar Light can be offered at the same time at $1200 HKD additional. Notice that this special offer is valid for my local Hong Kong blog viewer ONLY.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

20100526 Sun

My usual setup, nothing special today, that active region (AR1072) remains small and it seems dying down as well.

20100525 Fun with the moon

Didn't really try the Lumenera on the moon, got a chance tonight.

First up is a mosaic stitched by 4 frames with Tele Vue Ranger + 2x barlows.

And then try to push the power up with a 5x Powermate:

Finally, a true prime focus shot without any barlows:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

20100525 Sun

I've mounted my Ranger upside down today, and it has better balance and the sun arrives my view earlier! A good strategy indeed.

White Light with APM Herschel Wedge, B+W 1.25" ND3, Generic green filter.

H-alpha with Solarmax 40 and BF10.

Both taken with the Ranger and NGF-CM.

1452 (GMT+8):-

1505 (GMT+8):-

1519 (GMT+8):-

Sorry for my dusty CCD.

Monday, May 24, 2010

20100524 Sun

Seeing 3-4/10, transparency 8/10, a rare blue sky!

1524 (GMT+8):-

Sunday, May 23, 2010

23 May 2010 Moon with DSLR

Canon 450D in movie mode, Canon 100-400mm at 400mm and Kenko 2x. Seeing 2/10, transparency 7/10.

2251 (GMT+8), 5x crop:

2253 (GMT+8), no crop:

2255 (GMT+8), 5x crop:

Seems like the compression is too much, so the stacked image is kind of soft.

Friday, May 21, 2010

20100521 Sun

Today I setup my gears earlier so as to avoid the sun falling into the shadow of that crane! I found that the sun was partially blocked by the window frame, however, but I can be solved by waiting a few minutes. So the feasible time window is quite short indeed.

The long filament is still around, and there're some really nice prominences. The Autostar still works today, but some ugly characters appear randomly despite they do not affect the functionality of the mount.

1516 (GMT+8), full disc with reducer:-

1519 (GMT+8), closeup with reducer + 2x barlows, I should have removed that reducer first, and this one is not focused accurately:-

1521 (GMT+8), closeup with reducer + 2x barlows, I should have removed that reducer first, and this one is not focused accurately:-

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oops... 20100520 Sun

A picture says it all... the sun is "eclipsed" by a crane from a nearby construction site! In the summer, the sun used to be in a poor location from inside my home, I can workaround this problem by using an offset plate on my LXD55, however, I found that the active construction work around my home is finally invading my indoor imaging site!

1538 (GMT+8):-

I love that long filament...!

There's a good news to me, my Autostar works again... I believe the HBX cable has some problem, maybe some bad contact somewhere.

iOptron SmartStar-G

I was told that it's shipped with tracking number: CP518870465US.

The seller did international priority with insurance and thus, I will probably have to pick it up from Yau Ma Tei central post office. I expect that it will arrive next week, probably at the time during the preparation of my Hebrew final examination.

Anyway, I shall take it after my Hebrew examination day, and then to send the cable modem back to the ISP on the same day. A day of local travelling.

This mount should replace my LXD55, once it arrives and after testing, I shall detach the motors and sell them independently.

This mount should be far more portable than the LXD55, for it requires no counter weight, and it's more compact to take around. It does not have a similar loading capacity, but then I don't need it except with my Orion 100ED.

Therefore, the new use cases analysis of my stuff would be:

1. Indoor solar imaging: Cube mount + Ranger + Solarmax 40/BF10 + Lumenera
2. Outdoor solar imaging: Takahashi TGSP-II + Ranger + Solarmax 40/BF10 + Lumenera
3. Deep sky observation: Unistar Lighter + Orion 100ED
4. Wide field imaging: Takahashi TGSP-II + Canon 450D
5. Outdoor ad hoc observation events: Cube mount + Ranger

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just a record: Lunar Occultation with Venus

went out as planned, just less stuff as the sky was totally white, full of cloud.

Armed with my Canon 450D plus 100-400mm, and a Canon 10x30 IS for my daughters Alby and Almy, we walked for around 15 minutes. And on the way to our destination, we managed to see the Moon with Venus on and off. We even witness the first contact and the second contact... but then no more view afterward.

Due to the unpromising sky condition, I didn't even bring my tripod, so these are the best shot processed to bring out more detail at the expense of noise.

Alby and Almy :-)

Alby managed to use the 10x30 IS by herself without problem, but Almy had a hard time pointing it to the target, anyway, they both enjoy the visual view more. Yes, the Moon and the Venus is big enough and bright enough.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lunar Occultation with Venus

Since my wife will be working and my domestic helper will be off, I will need to take both kids with me. I won't bring too much stuff and I can't go too far. And it's also dinner time. Given all these parameters, I would:

1. Go to a place where it's close to my home, probably here:


This is where I took my partial eclipsed sunset last time, I can get there within 15 minutes walk.

2. I shall bring my Canon 450D + Kenko 2x + Canon 100-400mm to shoot on a short tripod, it's portable enough to bring with my kids. The Kenko 2x might be or might not be used.

3. I shall bring also my Canon 10x30 IS for some visual observation.

This is my tentative plan... and of course, before all these I will have to cook dinner and to eat earlier with the kids at home!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

20100509 Sun

Seeing 2/10, transparency 5/10, cloud moving rapidly around, strong wind blowing occasionally.

Ranger with NGF-CM + reducer, Solarmax 40 with BF10, Meade LXD55 with a long offset plate, Lumenera LU070M with K3CCDTools.

1537 (GMT+8):-

I didn't do this kind of shots recently since the bigger dynamic range of the Lumenera can do it all at once, 1538 (GMT+8):-

Notice that the amount of detail in the first shot is more than the second one, since the shutter speed is faster and therefore, it freezes seeing better. So, I really have little reason to take a longer exposure shot for the prominences.

Monday, May 03, 2010

20100503 Sun

My head is still dizzy but that could not stop me from solar imaging. Today, I pulled out my long offset plate which would only be used during summer when the sun is in a bad position from inside my home. The LXD55 still works flawlessly, except the Autostar shows nothing on the screen... it tracks and it slews around without problem.

Full disc was taken with the reducer, and close-up were obtained by adding a 5x Powermate on top of the reducer, not exactly the best combination but it's just easier to setup. You know, I'm even too lazy to remove the BF10 and unscrew the reducer from its nosepiece... another point is that, the Powermate is close to parfocal, and so by keeping the reducer in place, the amount of re-focusing would be negligible, a quick fix is enough with my NGF-CM.

AR1067 and AR1068 can be seen easily.

1517 (GMT+8):-

1520 (GMT+8):-

1521 (GMT+8):-

1529 (GMT+8):-

Sunday, May 02, 2010

20100502 Sun

I'm sick today, but I cannot resist pulling out my telescope for a short observation session. Actually, setting up and tearing down everything means 15 minutes to me, so there's no reason not to do so.

Cloud was moving in and out, but after stacking (averaging), they were all gone. Taken at 1519 (GMT+8).

A few days ago my Autostar has some strange characters coming up on the display, feels like Japanese or so... I realized that it could be software issue and then I tried to upgrade the firmware to see if it can fix the problem... after upgrading, no more display, so I guess it's hardware issue.

Anyway, I can still press a few MODE and then press ENTER to enable tracking. That's enough for me, I don't need GOTO for the sun, I just need tracking and simple slewing and it works.

A dream dual purpose camera

For solar/lunar/planetary imaging, you need a fast frame rate camera with a smaller chip and less pixels.

For deep sky imaging, you need a camera with cooling with a bigger chip and more pixels.

But you don't often see these two coming together, it is because if you want high frame rate, you will need to give up the amount of pixels or else the data rate would be too high so that you will be forced to give up on the frame rate.

To solve this problem, the best thing is to have ROI (Region of Interest) and it is something like the video mode of the Canon 550D, in that mode, you are capturing only the center portion of your CCD under high frame rate. Lumenera did support this by hardware, and the frame rate can actually increase with a smaller ROI. So, this could be a great starting point for such a dual purpose camera. The ROI of DMK is another story, since it's just software cropping, the frame rate would be the same with this kind of cropping.

Since I still have a couple of Lumenera LU070M with me, I might want to add Peltier cooling to one of them? Since it's a board version camera, adding a cooler would be easier and I actually have a Peltier chip with a matching cooling fan around sitting idle. So, the first job is to find a suitable case for it! Let's see what I would have!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

20100501 Sun

Sunny holiday! Went out to play with the kids and after lunch, we're home... there's still plenty of sunshine and so I pulled out my solar gear to have a snapshot. there're some activities here and there, nice sun!

1556 (GMT+8):-

Taken with the Lumenera, since my registered K3CCD is ready!