Tuesday, December 31, 2019

#266 - Monday, December 30, 2019

I disassembled my rigs before I went home for Christmas and brought them inside to keep them safe since I would be out of town for a week, so I spent the day re-assembling them.  I had left the tripods set up outside though (covered in the scope covers), so it was easier to get everything back up and running since the alignment models should still be quite close.

To better balance my Newtonian on my Celestron AVX mount, I took the opportunity of having everything taken apart to swap out the dovetail for a longer Vixen one that I had around.  This also allowed me to swap out the wooden bar that I had my finderscope and guide scope for the metal one that was previously the dovetail that I used to attach it to the mount, so that should be a little more stable.  It's hard to tell whether the AVX is properly balanced, however, because the axes are so tight. But I gave it my best guess.

One of my cats, Nova, was "helping"

After sunset, I went out and ran re-calibration of the T-Point model on the Paramount, and also ran the Accurate Polar Alignment routine, using the star Hamal.  It was already quite close, woo hoo!

Once the T-Point model was done running, it was nearly astro-dark, and I stood outside for a bit, admiring the sky. The constellation Orion shined brightly overhead, Sirius burned bright but low on the sky, while the stars of the Pleaides Cluster sparkled up high.  I looked at orange Betelgeuse -- did it look dimmer?  There's been news circulating that it's been dimming more than usual.

Once the Paramount was off and rolling with my Takahashi FSQ-106N refractor and ZWO ASI294MC Pro camera (with a light pollution filter, the Astronomik CLS-CCD), I went inside to make some dinner.  You know, I've been at this hobby for about four and a half years, and it's still as thrilling as it was in the early days when everything is ready to roll and the images start capturing.  It's just so exciting!

After dinner, I went out to try to collimate my 8-inch Vixen f/4 Newtonian using SharpCap's experimental collimation assistant tool.  I couldn't get the calculated field lines to stay on though, and I wasn't sure which bolt I needed to move which way, and my brother-in-law texted me back about playing some Borderlands 3 together tonight.  So I put the cover back on that one and just rolled with the Paramount.  There are so many degrees of freedom in collimating a Newt!  I need some expertise to help me out.

I watched the sequence from inside before going to bed, and a tree blocked the guide scope while it was on the Cone Nebula before that part of the sequence finished, so I bumped up the time to slew to the next target, the Medusa Nebula.  Rawr.  Maybe I should swap places with my other mount...

Since I wasn't imaging on the Newtonian, I went ahead and set up my other camera, the ZWO ASI1600MM Pro, to take darks using my other laptop.  I played some Borderlands 3 with my bro-in-law, checked on the scope and how the darks were going, and then finally went to sleep at 12:45 AM...so nice to not have classes for a minute :)  I still have studying to do for my prelim exams, but I could sleep in once in a while.

When I checked on things in the morning, the sequence had stopped running on the Paramount after the Medusa Nebula.  The log button (the simplified log, showing errors and warnings) has disappeared in the new version of Sequence Generator Pro, so I opened up the actual log file, but it was so verbose that I couldn't really tell where the actual failure was after scrolling backwards for a while.  Dang it!

Single 5-minute color subframe on the Medusa Nebula, ZWO ASI294MC Pro, Takahashi FSQ-106N

Friday, December 20, 2019

#265 - Thursday, December 19, 2019 - Star Wars

Once again, the forecast called for cloudy skies, but it ended up clearing up.  One of the reasons I love having my scopes set up in the backyard is that I can just run out there with my laptop and get rolling quite quickly.  Which is exactly what I did!  I went and saw the new Star Wars movie, #9: The Rise of Skywalker with some of my classmates, so I got home a little before 11 PM.

I had updated Sequence Generator Pro to a new version that came out, and to my delight, the autofocus routine was adjusted to fit a quadratic function rather than the intercept of two lines.  However, it encountered some Star Wars of its own -- trying to autofocus was not going well.  It kept failing to get a good fit, and kept trying and trying and failing and failing, and I couldn't figure out why.

It would look good, and then...

After enough failures, I just turned off the autofocus routine and hoped for the best.  If the temperature stayed about the same the rest of the night, it should be fine.

Then, SGP started freezing up, and then my entire machine, so I had to go out there to see what was up.  Task Manager showed that a "System Interrupt Process" and OneDrive were eating up all my CPU, so I force quit everything and started over.  My last Microsoft Surface 3 tablet worked really well, but my new (refurbished) one after busting the screen on my last one, despite having the same specs, has some issues with CPU and disk usage sometimes.  Sigh.

I was finally imaging again by 11:40 PM, and I had to get to bed.  My Quantum Mechanics class oral final was in the morning, and I should get some sleep.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

#264 - Monday, December 16, 2019

Despite my complaining on Saturday, I got a third night in a row!  Woo hoo!  Another defiance of the forecast.  I once again had my ZWO ASI1600MM Pro and H-alpha filter on my Takahashi FSQ-106N refractor loaded onto my Paramount MyT.  The sequence was still the same as the last few nights: California, Cone, and Medusa Nebulae.

I got home around 8:30 PM after spending all day on my 24-hour take-home Electricity & Magnetism final exam, so the sequence didn't start until well after dark, unfortunately.  It was likely going to cloud out later, although I figured I would try and get as many frames as I could before then -- it doesn't cost me anything, I get to just set it up and go to bed!  If it clouds out, the scope will try for a while, and then go park itself.

I did manage to get a few Cone Nebula 10-minute exposures, and all of my California Nebula shots came out really great -- nice round stars.  Clouds did indeed roll in before the Medusa Nebula ran though, so I yet again didn't get any on it.  Sometime, I will!!

California Nebula, single 5-minute frame, ZWO ASI1600MM Pro, H-alpha filter, Takahashi FSQ-106N

Monday, December 16, 2019

#263 - Sunday, December 15, 2019 - Surprise!

The forecast promised clouds, but much to my delight, it cleared out!  I set up at 5:15 PM, well before dark-out, and went inside to eat dinner and participate in the TAIC call.  I set the first target to start at dark-out.

During the TAIC call, I remoted into my tablet from my desktop to see how things were going -- and it got started with no problems! It was happily snapping up photons from outer space without my intervention.  I feel like a proud mama :D

I read the Robofocus manual and started working on training the temperature compensation.  It would be difficult because the temperature was pretty stable, but I figured I could get at least a couple points tonight.

Tonight's targets are another round on the California, Cone, and Medusa Nebulae, until 2 AM.  Soon enough, it'll be time to put one of my Schmidt-Cassegrains on for the longer focal length to properly capture those itty bitty galaxies.  I might put my 8-inch on instead of my 11-inch, since my 8-inch has very little mirror flop and has never lost collimation, while my 11-inch has some significant mirror flop.  Unless I get a focuser soonish, which would help compensate for the mirror flop issue.  We'll see.

By the morning, I got several 10-minute H-alpha frames on the California Nebula and Cone Nebula, but none of my Medusa Nebula frames came out -- the tracking was, once again, not great, which may have been due to clouds.

Not the most contrast, but not terrible...
Cone Nebula, single 10-min subframe, ZWO ASI1600MM Pro, H-alpha filter, Takahashi FSQ-106N

Sunday, December 15, 2019

#262 - Saturday, December 14, 2019 - Rain Rain Go Away!

Berkeley tricked me! When I was here in March for the graduate student open house weekend (aka, "Hey yo please come to our school" weekend), it was sunny and warm.  When I moved out here in August, it was sunny and warm.  And it was sunny in September, October, and most of November too.


Which, in the Bay Area, means clouds and rain.  On the other hand, there's no snow, and the temperature hasn't yet dipped below freezing, which is a nice break from the winters I experienced in the Inland Northwest and the Midwest.  But clouds and rain mean no astronomy! :(

After all the clouds and rain from the past few weeks, finally having a sunny day felt a little like the one hour every seven years that the clouds break on Venus in Ray Bradbury's short story All Summer in a Day.  

It was still cloudy after sunset, but I checked again after dinner, and it had cleared!  I had the Takahashi refractor on my Paramount MyT mount loaded with my ZWO ASI1600MM Pro camera with an H-alpha filter.  I was going to work on collimating the Vixen 8-inch, f/4 Newtonian under the stars using SharpCap's experimental tool, but I also wanted to relax a bit and watch some TV.  

Around 10 PM, I checked in on the imaging from my cell phone while I sat on the couch with my kitties, and I saw that my latest California Nebula image was out of focus!  The autofocus routine in Sequence Generator Pro is a little touchy, since you have to start out already quite close to focus.  Maybe I should try and train temperature compensation on my Robofocus focuser so that SGP can start off already clouds.  I didn't want to get up off the couch, so I turned on the Frame & Focus mode in SGP and took a few guesses on adjusting the focuser until I got it close to focus, and then let SGP run autofocus again.  It worked better this time, so the sequence got rolling again.  

My other two targets for the night were the Cone Nebula and Medusa Nebula; I have plenty of H-alpha on the Rosette Nebula, so I gave that time to the other two.  Unfortunately, as we inch toward Galaxy Season, there aren't really any H-alpha targets for the Takahashi's wide field-of-view after about 2 AM, so I had the sequence end about then.  The moon was too bright to collect color data, which would open up a few more latter-half-of-the-night targets.  I wish I had an H-alpha filter that I could put into my filter wheel so that I could do both in the same night!  

Looking at my data the next morning, some clouds definitely rolled through the Cone Nebula images, so I lost most of those exposures.  I got a few more out of the Medusa Nebula set, but there were some tracking problems that streaked the stars in those ones.  Maybe the guide camera was seeing some tree branches?  (It's not co-boresighted exactly with the main scope).  I should consider swapping the mount positions -- putting the AVX where the Paramount is, and the Paramount further away from the tree, especially since it should handle meridian flips better.  But then I'd have to re-align both...so much work! 😒

Monday, December 9, 2019

#261 - Sunday, December 8, 2019 - Finally!

It has been raining for pretty much the last two weeks, and we finally had an unexpected break in the clouds!  Earlier in the day, I went out and checked my power boxes and the scopes and mounts to see how they were holding up, and everything was nice and dry.  Woo hoo!

Snug as bugs in rugs

Before I got to start imaging, however, I was at the Eastbay Astronomical Society's holiday potluck, which was a lot of fun!  I got a perfect Molly mug:

When I got home, I also had to update the times in my sequence, so I didn't start imaging until about 10 PM.  I couldn't really find any targets in the eastern sky after about 2:30 AM for my Takahashi refractor, since we're coming up on Galaxy Season, but it looked like clouds were going to roll in about then anyway, according to the forecast.

Since I'm going to be swapping in my 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain soon, I need to finish up the targets I've been working on, mainly the Cone, California, and Medusa Nebulae.  I went inside after getting everything rolling, and then checked on the first frame that came back.  There was a huge shift in it!  It looked like the worst tracking of all time.  What the heck!  I went and checked the autoguiding in the PHD software, and come to find out, the guide camera was out of focus.  Oops!  I went outside to re-focus it, and noticed that the screws had become a little loose.  I got it all nice and focused, and then resumed the sequence and re-centered the target.

When I went outside in the morning, everything was covered in dew!  Except for my dew-heated telescope apertures :) I took some flats, and then went inside and checked through all of the exposures.  All of the Cone Nebula ones had somewhat elongated stars.  Maybe the transparency or seeing was bad by then?  They did look a little low-contrast, indicating hazy clouds.  Oh well, the other frames came out fine.