Unusually it was a clear Friday evening. I did plan to be ready to go as soon at the pole star was visible but my imaging PC insisted on updates and the local hard disk was running at 10MB/s (replacement SSD on the way).
By the time I was ready, mount setup, polar aligned and balanced it was already late. I decided not to use the latest SGPro or NINA beta but just use the existing SGPro version. I was delayed starting as I was having issues with SGPro hanging when it couldn’t talk to the SQM (ASCOM Conditions Observing Hub) on a previous COM port, I need to report this back to the devs as a bug.
At this point Peg-Leg Dave joined me on a video call and we discussed imaging M45 in different modes on the QHY268C OSC. So we moved the scope to Alp Ari and proceeded to plate solve in SGPro, sync’d the scope Cartes Du Ciel and calibrated OpenPHD2.
Using the SGPro framing and mosaic wizard to decide on the framing for the target sequence I wanted as much of the reflection nebula as possible rather than being dead center.
I’ve used the multi-star guiding in OpenPHD2 since it was first released in an earlier beta and I know Dave is looking forward to using it when he moves from using an OAG on his 12-inch RC to a 90mm guide scope to make it easier to get more guide stars or even one star.
Whilst trying some mode/exposure tests the guiding started acting up in RA, so parking the mount and disengaging the clutches I redid the balance of the scope. It was only marginally off but it was enough to cause issues for the CEM60 …. it is not forgiving !
We decided to increase the Gain/Offset to 15/75 and use the Extended Full-Well mode (#2) of the QHY268C, testing the star brightness levels of various exposure times we opted for 180 seconds as that was under the maximum brightness level.
As I currently have no IP camera outside I like to see the mount position using GSPoint3D as I like to view where it is especially during meridian flips. NINA has this built-in now in the recent version 2.0 betas. As SGPro lacks this functionality I can use the view via this is standalone version that connects to the ASCOM mount.
SGPro paused the guiding just prior to the meridian flip. Following the automated flip, the guider and the imaging sequence automatically restarted after a plate solve and auto centering were performed.
It gradually got cloudier just after midnight and the quality of the subs declined so I decided to stop acquiring data even though we really wanted over 4 hours of exposure.
I proceeded to take calibration frames. Using a target ADU of ~23,000 the SGPro flat wizard on the Pegasus FlatMaster (100%) gave an exposure time of 9.68s for the Optolong L-Pro filter, 25 flat-frames were taken followed by 25 dark-flat frames of the same exposure time and finally 25 dark frames of 180 seconds.
It was at this point that I realised that the FITs header showed a gain level of 0 and not 15, the offset was correct but I can’t be sure if the EFW mode was used as it’s not in the FITs headers. Only when using the native driver in NINA can you set the mode within the sequence, in SGPro the mode is set in the external ASCOM driver when the camera is not active in SGPro even though though it’s in the ASCOM API as the Camera.ReadoutModes property.
Also for some reason the default setting in the QHY driver is to NOT disable the overscan area which means I have black borders on my images which will make processing the data in Pixinsight a challenge !
I actually got to bed after 3am even though I had planned to stay up until the dawn. Next morning I noticed that my counter-weight had slipped and rotated on the bar. This may have also caused some of the issues with the guiding so I need to set-up earlier and check things more thoroughly in future to avoid these mistakes.
So although it’s not the data we planned it will be worth processing over a wine. The evening was a really a useful experiment and hopefully lessons will be learned …. if I remember the next time.
Holiday time! Well at least a week off work. It’s been a cold and cloudy Winter so far. So a night where I can get out the travel telescope and setup in the vegetable patch, the construction site of IMT3b is a good thing. The challenge I have is my ribs still hurt somewhat from being broken after an unfortunate accident 4 weeks ago. So I will go careful.
Earlier in the day I had Luke help me setup the equipment in the garden. First the binos to have a good look round.
Then we setup the Skywatcher Esprit 120 ED on the Paramount MyT.
Lastly we setup a “warm room” temporary in nature and fairly cold I would later find out 🥶 in the greenhouse.
So the night came and after Pizza with my wife I set off out to the garden to start imaging.
I connected the Polestar camera first to see what my alignment was like after placing the tripod down in a fashion I though condusive to being polar aligned.
I then set about measuring the difference in Polaris to determine how much I would need to move the scope to align it.
I then fiddled with the altitude and azimuth knobs to align the scope.
Next I slewed to the first object for the evening which was M45, the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. I started EZCap and look at the focus which was not far off from the last time I was out a few weeks and it is good enough.
I then took an image of M45 to make sure it was in the field of view. I also setup the Planner in EZCap to with the sequence for capturing the data. I set the camera to Gain 7 and Offset 20 with a temperature of -30℃.
I set PHD running and that was when I hit a problem. To cut a long story short, I had forgotten to plug in the ST4 guider cable into the ZWOASI290 camera and then into the Versa plate of the Paramount MyT. Without this there is no successful calibration within PHD. It took me 1 hour to work out I needed a cable and a further 45mins to find it since the move of house. Your IQ really does drop when it is dark and cold!
Eventually the calibration completed once the cable was fitted and I could start to see the gusts of wind in the data. I set a sequence running for M45 and was impressed with the results. I took 10 x 90s and 10 x 180s.
I then switched targets and headed over to M42 and M43 along with the Running Man nebula, also known as SH2-279 and NGC 1977. I took 30 x 60s, 30 x 30s and 10 x 180s.
Next and what would be last on my list tonight was M35 along with NGC 2158. I took 10 x 90s and 10 x 60s starting around 23:45.
Now the clouds at a high level started to roll in. So I decided to take some Flats and then take the darks tomorrow morning.
So I packed up and had one last look up at the night sky.
It is clear! It has been some time, at least for me, when it is clear at a weekend. It is cold. Skippysky.au/europe tells me it is good seeing, the transparency is excellent and the Jet Stream is way South of the UK. The Moon is around 70% and the local temperature is -2 degrees C with a slight frost already. I have come out with my 100mm binoculars to star hope around.
I had just finished a call with the BASEG society, most whom I had not seen in some time as we are still in lockdown. I came out to a Moonlit garden with a carpet of ice twinkling and crunching as I walked. It is nice to see this new garden at night and get a feel for where I may observe in the future.
I setup the binos in the vegetable patch next to the building works for IMT3b. Not one but twice I stumbled down the trench dug for the cables, so I must be more careful. I then pointed the binos at the Moon and took a look.
The view was splendid. There is something wonderful about seeing the Moon through binoculars and seeing just how deep you can go. Clavious was crips and easy to spot as was Tyco. I spent some time here and then Luke came out to view. We looked at the Moon first then I moved to M42 which, whilst washed out by the Moon, was still bright enough to see the distinct wings. The trapezium was also very clear indeed.
After a call to Gingergeek, who incidentally was having problems with a disconnected wire in his focuser, I moved onto M45 Pleiades to identify each of the 11 major stars fro Atlas in the West to 18 Tau in the East. Electra, Merope and Alcyone were all rather bright. I then swooped across to Aldebaran before moving across to Mars, the bright planet a small circle in the binos. I then star hopped to M33 to find the surrounding stars without being able to see the galaxy itself.
Mark Radice then called and we chatted about his C11 and the Sinus Iridum mosaic he was imaging tonight whilst sitting in his warm room. We spoke about things to look at and Mark remotely star hoped me to the double cluster, which surprisingly could be seen naked eye, even on this bright Moon night. He then guided me to Uranus which I found in a pattern with 2 other stars making up an isosceles triangle with Uranus being distinctly blue to the bottom right. I was then fairly cold so bid farewell to Mark and headed off indoors to warm up.
So early on as always I opened the dome to cool down. Tonight Bob, Gingergeek and I want to image Venus in the Pleiades. Even before it got dark and as I slewed the telescopes to Venus, it was visible straight away so I took a quick image, 0.001s from both the 12″ and Bob’s FS102.
I then went off to watch TV with Helen whilst Gingergeek and Bob grabbed some more images of Venus.
Around 10pm I re-joined Bob and GingerGeek and we set about imaging Venus as it passed by M45 Pleiades in the Tak FS 102. We then went on to perform autofocus on the Tak followed buy setting up the autofocus on the Esprit 120ED
Before the clouds decided to put a stop to play, we took some images of M53 the globular cluster on the Esprit around 00:10am using the Luminance filter.
So I have arrived in Tenerife and for a few nights only I am up at the MONS observatory, using the plateau (concrete platform with power) outside the dome.
It was dark when I arrived at 20:15 so I am setting up by head torch and given the tripod and mount and scope are all in bits it has taken some time to put it back together.
I setup in the corner where Bob normally sits as thee were a bunch of students using the scopes normally kept in the sheds outside. After setting up I panicked as I had forgot my UK to EU plug ! I asked the lady leading the student outreach and she let me in the MONS and I searched for a plug and found one, despite everything being emptied out due to the MONS having work done to it. However on testing the plug it did not work 🙁
A call to the operator did not produced anything. So I tore down the scope and packed in the car, very disheartened. As I was just about to head off the operator arrived with another plug ! I took my laptop and tried it, but it did not work either. It took a while to work out but of course the power had been turned off from the fuse box and flicking the RCD produced power and so reluctantly I emptied the car and went about setting back up 🙁
By this time it was approaching midnight and I had been at this for some 4 hours. I started the laptop, found I was pointing almost spot on to Polaris, so using my Polemaster it took a few minutes to adjust. I then set about slewing to a nearby object, syncing and then finding a guide star, at this point my troubles where just about to begin. It was now 1am.
So after setting the temperature of the camera to -25℃ and the gain to 7 and offset to 20 I found the scope would not guide. It was bouncing all over the place, some of it was the wind, but some of it was erratic behaviour of the mount, so it seemed like it was overcorrecting. I started to change some of the settings but t no avail. All I could do was to shortened the exposure to around 90 seconds and try and get some data, even if the stars were slightly trailed. I would try to take a longer look at the guiding tomorrow night.
So I slewed to one of the objects I was to target, a galaxy called NGC 891 in Andromeda and started collecting data. All in all I grabbed 44 images before the guider was causing so much of an issue even 90 seconds was too long (processed image below)
I then slewed to M45 in Taurus but still the guiding problems persisted. I took 4 x 90 second images and then decided to call it a night at around 3:30am.
Now for packing up the scope and the 1 hour 20 minute drive back down the mountain. How I miss observing from Hacienda on La Palma!