Update – Where I am right now!

Hello folks! It’s been a while since I last posted anything on here – was all the way back on the 13th of September! Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning nor neglecting this blog, it’s jus that there has been a lot going on.

This post is going to be quite a long one to be honest, so I hope you bare with me. I’ve been quite busy with my astrophotography and not all of it outside under the stars. I’ve been upgrading my scope to try and alleviate some of the problems that I’ve been having, especially with the coma corrector. I’ve found that once you find a solution to one problem, it creates another three headaches! However, I think I’m satisfied with where my whole setup is right now.

I say ‘think’, because I haven’t had chance to test it out since the clouds and rain have rolled in after the weekend, and looks like it’s here to stay for the next two weeks. Typical!

More Upgrades

Well, where do I start? Lets start with what started this entire push of extras, shall we?

I was searching the usual online action site, as I do to try and find some nice bargains – You never know what might pop up! – and know and behold, a ZWO ASI120MM-Mini shows up. It was advertised as open box, but never used; everything was there that should be. However, it was £160, well over-priced. So I save it in my watch list, and leave it a few days.

I come back to it after a week, and it’s still sitting there; still £160. I do a quick check around on the usual astro-vendor sites and nowhere has them in stock…and I mean NOWHERE. Waitlist 6-8 weeks! And then there’s this one on eBay staring at me, saying “Buy me! Buy me! BUY ME!”

I read through the advertisement again and there was only 4 lines of text. Essentially, it was opened but never used. So I made an offer of a little bit less than RRP, saying that you could buy it brand new for £145. I never expected it to be accepted, but half an hour the money had left my account.

Onto the next problem – a guide scope. I had got eyes on the SVBONY SV106 guide scope, I just had to decide on either the 50mm or 60mm version. The guide scope is identical to many other manufacturers, the most notable being the Orion 50mm. It’s a perfectly black scope, with a 3cm extension tube and a helical focuser. It’s only an achromatic lens, but for a guide scope, it doesn’t need to be an APO.

It was a very hard decision between the two, as the focal length between the two was 50mm difference. The 60mm would have been a better fit for the ZWO camera, but the 50mm version was ALOT lighter. This was the deciding factor, especially with the 9.5KG weight capacity of the EQ5 Pro, although you want to keep it at around 70% of this limit.

I decided to weigh my entire optical tube assembly; including my DSLR and coma corrector. All-in-all, it came to 5.4KG, but that didn’t include any cables and further extras. So to keep the weight down, I went with the 50mm scope in the end.

Fortunately, both the scope and camera arrived within 48 hours, and was mounted onto my scope straight away. I couldn’t wait! When the scope arrived, it came with two metal scope rings and a synta-type finder-bar that could be attached to the finder scope socket. However I wanted to keep the 6×30 scope to help with my star alignment. Therefore, I mounted the two scope rings to the small vixen bar that came with my EQ5 Pro, and then mounted it to the ¼” thread on top of the 130PDS rings.

The next problem was to sort out the tilt and back spacing issues with the Baader multipurpose coma corrector. The back spacing was an easy fix using some Baader T2 Delrin rings. Using an electronic calliper, I calculated my backspacing was 1.4mm short of the needed 55mm backspacing. I went through the pack of the spacing rings, and fortunately I managed to find one that was exactly 1.4mm. PERFECT!

Now onto the tilt, this is where some of the problems started to arise. I probably could have easily sorted it by tapping a third screw into the black plastic ring on the end of the focuser. But that would have been a lot of messing about, and it doesn’t completely fix the tilting. So I looked around on the internet for solutions, and came across compression ring adapters, which there is plenty for the M54 thread of the focuser. However, the design of the MPCC is a little awkward due to the little dip near the top of the 2″ nosepiece. This means that the compression ring doesn’t grip the camera tightly, and can cause more issues that it’s trying to fix.

I did come across though the William Optics Rotolock adapter for the Zenithstar 61. It’s a self centring compression ring adapter for M54 threads, that allows the easily removal and rotation of my camera. The difference with this William Optics is the thickness of the actual compression ring is nearly 2cm. This allows it grip the entirety of the coma corrector. This was a rather expensive upgrade for what it actually is, but it completely removes any tilt. With the removal of the 48mm ring of the MPCC, it also fully inserts into the focuser and the camera now sits flush against the focus tube.

The optical path of this adapter was a little bit concerning though as it adds 28.2mm to the focuser length; meaning it has to be wound in nearly 3cm to achieve focus. This can be seen in the image above. This causes another problem with the focuser though; ‘pacman’ shaped stars in images. This is caused by the focuser encroaching into the light-path on the left hand side of the scope. To help with this I moved the mirror further up the optical tube, to the maximum of what the collimation screws could manage, enough to get my whole finer inside the scope.

Moved Mirror in the 130PDS

Doing this, allowed me to move the focuser outwards to achieve focus, while also reducing the ‘pacman’ effect on stars. I’ve only got to watch the light-leak now from the bottom of the optical tube now. A rear cover would be a good idea!

This is the end of all the physical upgrades to the scope, but I didn’t stop there! Oh no!

Going Fully Computerised

Due to the fact that I am now guiding, I might as well go the full hog and go fully automated through a computer! I have had to resort to using the family laptop for now, but I am planning on buying an Intel Nuc i5 mini-PC to sit at my mount, and control everything via TeamViewer. I have tested it with the laptop, and it works a treat even from the middle of the back garden.

I had to decide what program to use to capture my images. There’s the well known Astro-Photography Tool and Sequence Generator Pro, however both of these are not free. Being on a budget after my big upgrade splurge, I decided to go for a new up-and-coming software that ticks all the boxes. Best of all, it’s completely open source and therefore free! I chose to go with N.I.N.A. or ‘Nighttime Imaging ‘N’ Astronomy’ to give it its full title.

Some people do not seem to get along with the user interface, however I found it very easy to find everything and connect all my equipment. Except one thing, which is not a N.I.N.A. problem, it’s a Sky-Watcher problem.

THE USB SOCKET DOES NOT WORK!!! That’s right, the USB socket on the V5 hand-controller doesn’t work with Windows 10! When the hand-controller is plugged in, a COMport is meant to be become available due to the Prolific 2303 series chip housed inside. However, that specific chip was stopped being supported past Windows 7, and so therefore my Windows 10 laptop would not even pick it up when being plugged in. So I ended up going the EQdirect route, and remove the remote completely.

Any slew commands now come from N.I.N.A. and corrections are made through plate solving with ASTAP. Everything is connected through the Ascom platform. The total list of programs required are listed below:

  • ASCOM Platform
  • ASCOM Drivers for ZWO ASI Cameras
  • PHD2 Guiding
  • Nighttime Imaging ‘N’ Astronomy
  • EQMod
  • Stellarium
  • Canon Utility (Holds the Canon drivers for my 600D)

It’s quite a long list, but when they’re all working together it’s a well oiled machine!

N.I.N.A. has truly blown me away! I did a quick 1 hour test on the Western Veil Nebula – NGC 6960, and utilised PHD2 Guiding and imaging sequencing to take all lights, darks and bias. Everything was clearly labelled; it was easy to find the correct files the following day to stack everything in Deep Sky Stacker. The ‘Flat Wizard’ is also an amazing tool to achieve the perfect exposure of my flat frames!

NGC 6960 – The Western Veil Nebula

To get all the USB leads running to my laptop, I’ve mounted a 4-port USB3.0 hub on my telescope and run a 5M active USB3.0 extender to the laptop. This means all the USB leads go to a single point, and then it’s just a single cable running to the USB3.0 socket on the laptop.

The other thing I’ve ordered is a USB power supply for my DSLR camera; I just use my USB power bank to power that. Unfortunately, I can’t power it from the hub, as the current draw is too high from the single USB socket. A future power distribution box perhaps?

All my cable management can be seen in the images below:

For anyone who is looking at taking the plunge into computerised imaging, I would highly recommend Nighttime Imaging ‘n’ Astronomy. A good guide for setting up N.I.N.A. can be found on the YouTube channel, ‘Cuiv, The Lazy Geek’. He goes through setting up your astrophotography PC from scratch and connecting all your equipment within N.I.N.A. He got me up and running within a single day!

And so, that’s where I am at the moment. I’m sorry for all the cloudy weather that is coming across the UK for the next fortnight! But hopefully I’ll be able to do more and more imaging from now on, especially with the winter constellations now starting to rise earlier and earlier. I cannot wait to be able to image the numerous nebulas in Orion as we head deeper into winter. I going to have to figure out a way to image out on the front driveway though, while contesting with two LED street lamps…that should be fun!

Anyway, it won’t be as long between posts as this one was, as long as the weather plays ball that is. And I’m sorry again for this ridiculously long post!

Anyway, till next time.

Wherever you are, clear skies!

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