Well that was a short life for Vista on my observatory PC. I only upgraded from Windows XP Pro to Vista Business in January, but I wanted to add an SSD (Solid State Drive) to my observatory PC to speed things up, so now was a good time to install Windows 7 Professional.
Why Professional? Well, so I can control the observatory PC from the house using the in-built Remote Desktop Connection software.
I have already installed SSD’s in both my laptops and the speed increase is amazing, no more noisy spinning hard drives for me. The price of SSD’s has also decreased. I bought a Samsung SSD 240GB for my home desktop PC and a Samsung SSD 120GB version for the observatory PC. They cost (in 2014) £85 for the 240GB and about £50 for the 120GB version.
I have decided to keep the previously used hard drives inside the PC but use them for storage of the images and video when they are being recorded by the telescopes, so leaving the SSD drives with just Windows and my astronomy programs on.
If anyone missed the talks that Mick and I gave at the Cambridge Astronomical Association on 16th July 2014, then you can download them in PDF format below:
They cover the basics of webcam imaging and the webcams that I have used together with some tips on lunar and solar imaging.
This M81 image was actually taken in April 2013, just processed it in March 2014.
Taken on my Altair Astro 8″ RC Telescope on an EQ6 mount. Used my Atik 314L+ CCD camera and took LRGB frames with exposures of 5 minutes each. The scope had a x0.67 reducer fitted.
The focus could have been sharper, but at the time I had not really trained my FocusMax profile for this telescope very well.
Click on the image to see the full size version:
My new EQ8 mount was delivered the other day and I noticed straightaway the handset port has changed since the EQ6 version which was a 9 pin serial RS232 type connection.
The new EQ8 handset connector is a standard Ethernet type connection. So this meant I needed a new EQDIR connection cable. Yes I know, I could have taken apart the EQ6 one and made my own cable. But this time I could not be bothered.
So anyway, I bought a HitecAstro EQDIR cable, the newer ones where there is no box of tricks, just a cable. These cables also work with the EQ5 and EQ6-AZ GT.
I started off installing the Prolific USB to Serial drivers, which I got from the HitecAstro support pages, and then I plugged in the cable into the PC and into the EQ8 mount. The cable was recognised by Vista and given a COM port number. Great so far!
I then fired up EQMOD Toolbox and tried to get the toolbox to find the COM port for me. But it could not find the COM port the computer had given the cable. This always worked for me, when on XP. So immediately I thought there was something wrong with the cable, had I bought the wrong one etc.
So I emailed HitecAstro and David Jackson replied nearly straight away, he then offered to phone me back and walk me through the set-up. That’s brilliant customer service. Well once I had provided my phone number to David and he phoned up I had sorted it out.
The problem was that the auto COM port selection just did not seem to work anymore – it must be Vista. I decided to choose my COM port and then just connect to EQMOD – and it worked!
So if the auto searching for the COM port does not find your mount port, then don’t worry straight away. Just select the one it should be and try it out.
I already have a rather large pair of 15×70 binoculars. These are fine and give you a great view, but sometimes too much magnification, that you don’t know where you are in the sky. Plus they are also very heavy and you can’t keep them still in your hands for too long, they really need to be attached to a tripod.
So I wanted a pair of binoculars that were the complete opposite to the ones I have. So I went for the lowest power magnification I could find at 7x but I still wanted to gather a fair bit of light so went for 50mm objective lenses.
The Helios Nature sport 7×50 binoculars provided me with the specification I wanted, plus they were rubberised and quite light.
I did have a budget, but didn’t want a cheap pair as I am always worried about cheap binoculars and how they may easily go wrong. I paid £60 for the Helios Naturesport binoculars.
One of the major benefits was that these binoculars are ‘focus free’. There is no middle focuser on the binoculars. I think that’s a bonus, as that’s another part that can’t go wrong. The focus is fixed using a specially designed eyepiece that allows the image to be perfectly sharp from the near focus point of 20m to infinity.
I was amazed to see how these ‘focus free’ binoculars actually worked. When I bought them I only managed to look down a street in the daytime. But I was pleasantly surprised how sharp the view was to infinity and as close as 18m away.
The binoculars come with a padded carry case was well as end caps and cleaning cloth. They also have a binocular screw hole so you can connect them to a tripod if required.
The anti-reflection multi-coatings and BK7 optics (all lenses and prisms) deliver excellent light transmission and sharp high-contrast image replication.
So what are they like at night time for astronomy? Well, you can see Jupiter and its moons. You can easily see the Pleiades with a lot of sky around them. The moon is not that big but you can just make out the craters along the terminator. I would suggest more magnification if you want really good lunar views.
For an idea of what the field of view is like, you can fit the whole of Orion’s belt and sword into the field of view and make out the Orion Nebula.
The great thing is you don’t have to focus, just point them up to whatever you want and view! Easy.
Twilight rate: 25.8
FOV: 114m @ 1000m,
Dimensions: 185 x 62 x 170mm
Close focus 15m
by Daniel Coe
Will we see a wide range of discounts at Astrofest in 2014? I do hope so, as there was very little discounting at Astrofest 2013.
Keep your eyes out this weekend for retailers who also offer astronomy discounts online as well as at the show, if you cannot make it.
So far I have found:
Cambridge University Press – discounts released Friday 7th February here: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/conferences/astrofest-2014/
Telescope House – 10% off all in stock items (except Skywatcher telescopes and mounts nor megadeals) online or at the show.
First Light Optics – discounts on Skywatcher and Helios products for Stargazers Lounge users only with 50+ posts.
If you find more please tell me.
By Daniel Coe
This was taken on Sunday 19th January 2014. I took it on my Altair Astro 8″ RC with a 2x Televue Barlow and an Imaging Source DFK21 (Colour Camera).
It took me a while to get the options in the ic Capture Imaging Source software correct, but then I stacked it in Registax 6.
I imaged for about 50 seconds at 60fps. But maybe only ended up using about 500 frames, the seeing was not great.
The support for Windows XP is finishing in April 2014. So really it was time to upgrade the observatory PC. I was previously using Windows XP Professional 32bit edition for quite a while in the observatory. I had no real issues with it, and I know a lot of people still use Windows XP on their Laptops or Desktop PC’s for running their observatories.
I had a spare copy of Windows Vista Business 64bit lying around, so I decided to use that, instead of paying £50 or more for a copy of Windows 7. Come to think of it, it would have been a lot more as I would ideally have wanted the Business edition of Windows 7 which can be quite pricey (as I like to remotely control the observatory PC from in the house by using Remote Desktop Connection and that’s only available if your Windows PC is the Business or Professional editions).
My main worry when upgrading was drivers, and especially 64bit drivers! I went for a clean install of Vista and after it was complete I was amazed to see that the internet was already connected (so the ethernet driver had been installed for me) and the sound was working (so sound driver installed OK), and it had installed the driver for my USB Hub PCI Card. As I use about 8-10 USB ports on my observatory PC.
A great surprise and my biggest worry was my old NVidia graphics card which runs 2 monitors, but once Vista started to do it’s hundreds of extra updates – which took it to service pack 2, the graphics card was recognised and the driver came from Microsoft and everything worked.
So that was the basic drivers, now came the main astronomy software, namely:
ASCOM 6 Sp3EQMOD
Lakeside Focuser drivers
Starlight Xpress filter wheel drivers
Imaging Source ICapture and Drivers
Before the install I had backed up my FocusMax settings, Maxim Configurations and my EQMOD settings (as my EQ6 mount was still parked).
I had no problems installing any of the software on Vista 64bit, and once the main software was installed I overwrote the default settings files with my own backed up ones.
The only problem I ran into was with the classic USB to Serial adaptor software drivers, as I have 3 of these. 1 for EQMOD, and 2 for the Lakeside Focusers. There are so many different USB to Serial adaptors. I bought mine from eBay. I kept the original CD driver disks, but there are usually newer drivers if you know where to look and make sure you get the correct driver – as there seem to be hundreds of different ones.
Then it was a matter of checking which adaptor was set to which COM port and then telling EQMOD and the Lakside ASCOM software which COM ports these were. I then fired up Maxim and checked all the connections worked to the cameras (QHY5 and Atik 314L+), filter wheel and EQMOD.
Early days yet, as there is no real test like actually opening the observatory roof up and doing some observing or imaging to really test the software and Vista 64bit.
I am glad I left the PC in the observatory whilst doing the upgrade, as it meant I did not need to unplug any of the many cables in the back of the PC. Plus as it was a Professional version of Windows I could go into the house and use Remote Desktop Connection to remotely install and test the software without sitting in the observatory.
Now I shall stick to Windows Vista until they drop support for that, which hopefully will be a while yet. Then I suppose I shall be installing Windows 7 Business 64bit.
BTW my PC specifications are: Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU, 3GB RAM and 500GB SATA Hard Drive.
This was taken on 14th November 2013. I took it using my Altair Astro triplet 80mm refractor with an Atik 314L+ camera through an Astronomik OIII filter.
I took 20 frames of 1/1000th of a second (the lowest exposure the Atik 314L+ will do). I then stacked it in Maxim DL. I did not remove any darks or take any flats. I then took it into Photoshop and sharpened it and then used a high pass filter on it to sharpen it a bit more.
Not my best lunar image, you can tell the difference between doing this image on a 80mm refractor compared to an image I took using a 120mm refractor. The 120mm just gives you more contrast, light and generally a better image. You can see the 120mm moon image here: http://www.astronomylog.co.uk/2011/09/15/harvest-full-moon/
But if you want really sharp lunar images then a webcam type camera is a better idea, where you can take up to hundreds of frames a second and just take the best frames and stack those all automatically in programs like Registax. Here is an image where I did just that and created a mosaic: http://www.astronomylog.co.uk/2013/03/20/moon-mosaic-with-altair-astro-8-gso-rc/