The Night Sky Observer Guide Series

When I started attending the Practical Astronomy Show held at Kettering I picked up my first copy of “The Night Sky Observers Guide Volume 4 – The Glories Of The Milky Way to -54°” written by George Robert Kepple and published by Willmann-Bell inc. These were sold at the Kettering show by the very helpful and knowledgeable staff of The Webb Deep-Sky Society for around £20.

Then in December 2019 ‘The Global Human Malware’ happened and the world went nuts, the Astronomy shows were cancelled year on year and I forgot to complete acquiring the rest of the series. Then suddenly in late 2020 it was announced that the publishers Willmann-Bell had closed and their entire portfolio went out of print.

Unfortunately I did not see the announcement until late Jan 2021, however I managed to obtain a copy of “Volume 2 – Spring & Summer” (ISBN 0-943396-60-3 (V2)) from Zoltan at 356 Astronomy but he told me he was out of stock for the rest of the series.

I contacted the Webb Deep-Sky Society to see if they had any available copies in stock. The president of the society Owen Brazell very promptly replied but informed me that they had sold their remaining stock just days before. He was extremely helpful in trying to help me source any remaining stock but eventually to no avail ! I recommend any avid astronomer should consider subscribing to the Webb Deep-Sky Society here …… I just did 🙂

Example of Webb Deep Sky Society Digital Issue

Fast forward to 16th August 2021 and it was announced that the American Astronomical Society would acquire the inventory and related assets of Willmann-Bell. Luckily by January 2022 I noticed that FLO (First Light Optics) in the UK had managed to obtain a few copies and I promptly ordered a copy of “Volume 1 – Autumn & Winter” (ISBN 0-943396-58-1 (V1)) for £35.

Well, it arrived this morning and I apologised to my regular postman for having to carry it around by hand all morning.

As with the other volumes the information, maps, diagrams and descriptions are very useful for planning imaging or observing sessions.

The King of the Northern Winter Constellations – Orion
The fantastic Perseus Galaxy Cluster

I now have only Volume 4 “The Southern Skies” left to purchase but as that would only be a reference for objects I can’t see from the UK it would go mostly underused unless I start using my remote telescope account or travel around or below the equator.

I would like to thank Owen Brazell for all his time and for the ongoing activities of the Webb Deep Sky Society and hopefully we will see them at the next Practical Astronomy Show in March 2022 …. fingers crossed !

FSQ85 Flattener & QHY286C CMOS

I’ve taken the plunge and dipped my toe into the CMOS world. Since I didn’t have any OSC experience I chatted with DSW (has a QHY186c) and decided on the QHY286C. This I purchased from Bern at ModernAstronomy who has always provided excellent service.

The issue with APS-C sensors when coupled with the Takahashi FSQ85 is that the edges start to show signs of star elongation, I already see this on my Atik460. This can be corrected with the FSQ-85 flattener (ordered from FirstLightOptics) which has the effect of slightly increasing the focal length but also reduces the back focus from the native 197.5mm to 56mm.

Effective Focal Length455mm (f/5.4)
Image Circle Diameter44mm
Metal Back Focus56mm
FSQ-85 EDX with Flattener 1.01x

This means that I can’t use my existing Atik OAG->Atik EFW2 and Atik460 because it’s total distance is 59mm (22mm+24mm+13mm) so it’s out by 2mm even once you include the filter effect on the back focus. Note – This is also true for my Starlight Xpress configuration.

I do not understand why Atik could not have got to within the 55-56mm range by shaving off a mm here and there 🙁 I may need to replace all Atik gear when I convert to mono CMOS or replace the OAG with a guide scope.

So onto the QHY268C, the OSC CMOS unfortunately has a CAA tilt adapter instead of a direct thread connection. This wastes 11mm of precious back focus giving a total distance of 23.5mm whereas the recently released QHY286M CMOS has a 12.5mm back focus !!!!

Also the QHY268C does not have an IR/UV cut filter in place so you need to buy an additional filter and holder and add that to the cost and factor in the adapter and distance needed …. I’m starting to regret this purchase more and more !

Source – QHYCCD.com

Back to the Takahashi Flattener (TKA37852), the back focus is 56.2mm but we add on the filter thickness as it changes the light path (2mm/3=0.66mm) so ~57mm (56.9mm), the imaging train is as follows :


Adapter
Distance (mm)Accumulated Distance (mm)Connector
OU03122M54(M) -> M54(M)
QHY 02077046M54(F)
QHY Spacers14.420.4screw
QHY OAG-M1030.4screw
QHY 0200552.532.9screw
inc filter0.633.5
QHY CAA adapter639.5screw
QHY268C CMOS17.557screw
FSQ85 Flattener to QHY268C imaging train

The combined weight is 1365g so I may need to adjust the balance of the scope a little as it heavier than my Atik460/EFW2/OAG setup at 1080g.

Completed – Imaging train ready for first light

I may have to adjust the spacers a little but I won’t know until I have received a 2-inch Optolong L-Pro light pollution filter which is currently on back order from FLO.

Transmission chart for Optolong L-Pro

QHY268M

The recently released mono version of the QHY268 looks like it has a proper screw face plate with a more acceptable back focus of 12.5mm. This is more reasonable and would allow me to couple a filter wheel and OAG as well not requiring a IR/UV cut filter.

Like SyedT on StarGazersLounge I could go back to using a guide scope and ditch the OAG and then the imaging train could incorporate a rotator :

ComponentDistance (mm)
QHY268M CMOS12.5
QHYCFW3M-US17.5
M54 (M) to M54 (M) adapter2
Pegasus Falcon Rotator18
M54 extension ring5
M54 (M) to M54 (M)2
Total57
FSQ85 Flattener/QHY268M Imaging Train – Credit SyedT

I was thinking of a rotator for the remote Esprit120 which has a generous back focus of 76mm so I should have no problems there but that will be another adventure for the future !

Optec Flip-Flat Service – Vendor Review

So during the ongoing Human Malware situation we have been concentrating on imaging asteroids, comets and more recently performing exoplanet measurements on the 12inch RC than long exposure deep sky astrophotography.

Astronomy is one those hobbies that is for most part is sole activity for the dark early hours of the morning and these days is usually done remotely. It was therefore disappointing that when one of the team went to use the Sky-Watcher Esprit 120ED for a night of astrophotography and found that he was unable to open the Optec Alnitak Flip-Flat. As the lockdown and travel restrictions progressed due to the initial wave of the human malware situation the issue was soon forgotten as we continued our focus to performing exoplanet observations on the 12inch RC for the ESA Ariel Mission.

Now that IMT3 has been decommissioned ready for it to be reborn as IMT3b at it’s new rural darker sky site I decided to take the opportunity to retrieve the FlipFlat and diagnose the issue at home on my desk.

Using the Alnitak controller software, I could hear the motor running but it never seemed to complete the close or open. All it continued to display was the TIMEDOUT message as shown below.

Timing out !

I sent an email off to the vendor I purchased it from but after a month I got no reply. In the hope I would not be left with an expensive paperweight I reached out to Optec. After quite a few weeks of getting no reply I was pleasantly surprised to receive a message from Jeff Dickerman (President) of Optec. Jeff apologised for not responding earlier and offered to help resolving the issue. The error message seemed to be a known issue and it was generally an easy resolution which required taking the box apart. Jeff sent me instructions on how to take the unit apart and fix the problem.

You’ll see the motor is attached to an internal wall with a modified shoulder screw and stack of Belleville washers.  These spring washers are used to allow the arm to slip when someone grabs the lamp and physically tries to force the cover closed.  Unfortunately they can also allow the arm to slip during an open or close operation which leads to that dreaded “TIMED OUT” message.  Optec have redesigned the stack a bit to eliminate this issue going forward. 

To correct, you might be able to adjust the washer stack by removing the lock nut and sliding off the washer stack to the pivot arm.  Check carefully to see if the shoulder screw protrudes beyond the pivot arm.  If so, rather than installing the cork washer next, install a 5/16” ID washer first to cover the exposed shoulder.  Next add the cork washer and stack of Belleville washers.  Finally screw the lock nut back in place and tighten while holding the shoulder screw near the motor (this is important to avoid breaking the internal motor gears).

Step 1 – Pry open clamshell
Step 2 – Shows what to secure
Step 3 – Tools needed
Step 4 –
Step 5 – Check shoulder visibility
Step 5a – Shoulder
Step 6 – Washer Stack

In the end I decided to courier the unit back to Optec for repair as I did not want to render my unit completely useless in case I made a mistake.

I’m extremely grateful to Jeff, Tina and the team at Optec for all there help, patience and understanding. I’m a very happy customer and the flip-flat will be rejoining the Esprit120 when the IMT relocation is complete at it’s new rural location. I can then do a Homer Simpson and annoy Dave with “Flap goes open, flap goes shut, flap goes open ……”

AllSkyEye – 0.9.17.1 Pro

So for a short period of time we had settled on using AllSkyEye. Recently we noticed that the author had issued a Kerogram and stretched horizon generate of the latest image but only available in a new Pro Edition.

The Pro edition was only £20 for a 3 user license, the author gives this purchase as a donation to the charity of his choice – good man ! So now we have AllSkyEye Pro in use at the IMT2 and IMT3 domes.

Latest Image with custom text overlays
Latest Image Horizon Projection

A Keogram is an image composed of slices taken from images in a sequential time order.The slices (which are always taken from the same location and with the same shape) are stitched together to form an image displaying a timeline of the selected part of the image as shown below.

Keogram

We still have the dark map to take to remove the hot pixels from the image but at the moment it gives us a nice view remotely before we decide to open the dome – that’s if the AAG Cloudwatcher limits agree and it thinks it’s safe to do so of course !

Bob noticed we had our local security guard aka Fluffy watching over his night’s imaging and turning to watch an ISS pass.

Fluffy stands guard at the weather station as the ISS passes over

AAG CloudWatcher Installation

We recently decided to replace our existing weather station with one that had better ASCOM integration. I had previously looked at the AAG CloudWatcher but at the time felt it offered more than we need but that turned out to not be the correct choice.

We ordered the AAG with an internal humidity sensor, the optional anemometer, mounting kit and 10 meter communications cable. Due to the ongoing human malware situation it took two weeks for it to arrive from Spain and was delivered to the IMT3 chief TOSA.

Once the new PSU arrived the Chief TOSA then set about removing the existing weather station and installing the AAG cloudwatcher.

All Sky Camera, AAG CloudWatcher, Unihedron SQM and another rain sensor

This also meant connecting the safety relay circuit wires to the Pulsar Dome, installing the AAG software, downloading the ASCOM boltwood driver and configuring SGPro. Within SGPro we have set the safety status set to be “OK to image” where the required conditions are more stringent than the conditions for the dome to open. The reason being that we want the dome to open as the light begins fade and allow the scopes to cool down but not be okay to image until it is dark.

On the first night of operation we ran into a problem. Unlike the other sensor readings and graphs we would see the temperature and cloud readings have an expected shape but the sky brightness sensors kept going up and down at a regular interval then gave the graph a saw-tooth shape.

Unfortunately this resulted in the safety status going on and off until we overrode it. We sent a quick email to Lunatico reporting the symptoms and asking for advice. It didn’t take long for Jaime to reply informing us that another customer reported the same issue and asked for a few days to investigate.

Good to his word we received an email from Jaime explaining the issue and asking if we could perform a firmware upgrade. Now due to the current lockdown restrictions this meant that I had to co-ordinate over the phone with the resident Chief TOSA to physically disconnect and reconnect the power whilst I remotely set the firmware update. The initial issues encountered were due to PEBCAK (Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard) as I had not read the documentation correctly !

New Firmware 5.73 loaded

That evening we watched and the Sky Brightness line graph was now as expected and not looking like a cog shaped wheel. Well done Jaime@Lunatico.es for the quick response and fix, Chief TOSA was a happy dome dwarf again and that’s what counts !

At the moment we are trying to get the cloud sensor to be more accurate to what we visually observe, this is an ongoing effort. We decided to record the AAG Sky Brightness sensor readings at various times and compare with our SQM readings :

EventSQMAAG Brightness Value
Civil Darkness13.08949
Chief TOSA setting OK to open 13.892100
Nautical Darkness18.9228588
Astronomical Darkness19.0328588

Using the above values it looks like we could reduce our chosen threshold level of 2100 to 1000 in order to allow the dome to open and the scopes to cool down. The Sky Brightness does not appear to change beyond Nautical Darkness. We are now investigating the correct value for the early morning from the AAG logs. This is so we know what the Sky Brightness value should be at which to stop imaging and close the dome in the early morning when unattended.

We still have at lot to configure and read up about using the AAG CloudWatcher but at the moment our initial experience is a positive one. Obviously we will be chatting to Lunatico about our level settings and make some suggestions regarding the software.