A Christmas Eve Adventure

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

All except maybe myself with my telescope, lugging the thing outside on a bitterly cold night! It was the first clear night in what seemed like ages, and it was the first night that I have had been able to test everything with my new Intel NUC miniPC.

I booted everything up and connected via Microsoft Remote Desktop on my MacBook easily; no problems connecting and controlling at all, I’m so glad I went that route. I loaded up N.I.N.A and connected all the equipment with no problems.

I thought, “this is going well…too well…I’m suspicious…”

Being the first time out with the NUC, Unfortunately, I had to make a PHD2 profile for my mount and guide cam. This also entailed making a new darks library, and calibrating the guide pulses. In PHD2, I made sure that the new ‘Multi-star Guiding’ was selected within the Brain.

On a side note; I figured out that if I manually selected a star to guide on, it didn’t highlight multiple stars. However, if I let PHD2 auto-select a star, around 4 or 5 stars were then circled in green. I figured that I was only using a developer beta version, so hoping it will be fixed in the final release.

Once I hit calibrate though, I noticed something was drastically wrong…

For each calibration step it was only moving 1 or two pixels, and with my constant backlash issues with my EQ5 Pro, I was going nowhere fast. This meant that to move the required 25 pixels to complete calibration, it was counting up to the 32nd or 33rd calibration step – it was only meant to be 12 steps. It’s never taken that long to calibrate before, but it did finally calibrate. I thought it was just another bug of the developer release.

So with everything seemingly okay, I started my initial imaging run on Messier 45 – The Pleiades. A soon as the first image came through, I noticed something wasn’t quite right; the images that were being debayered within N.I.N.A. had all the colour channels mixed up. I wasn’t getting the strong blues that I was expecting, instead it was a shade of green.

M45 – The Pleiades

Another thing, within PHD2 I noticed that my guiding wasn’t as good as it has been in the past, but the wind was picking up, so figured that might have been the cause. Initially, I was baffled by it all, and started to flick through all the programs trying to find an issue. I just so happened to be looking over EQMOD and noticed that both the ‘Guide Speed’ for both RA and DEC axis’s were set at 0.1x. SO THAT’S WHY IT WAS TAKING FOREVER TO CALIBRATE! Definitely a facepalm moment!

So I re-calibrated with guide speed at 0.9x; the resulting star trails were greatly reduced and my guiding accuracy was much better. Afterwards, I realised that the guide speed should have been set on 0.7x for both axis’s – so that’s now set for next time!

One Problem fixed at least!

Now for the colour issue; I double checked the Bayer Pattern in the equipment options and it was set correctly to RGGB for my Canon 600D. The saved files though were coming out blue as was expected. So, it had to be something to do with the debayering settings within the Nightly #32 version of N.I.N.A.. On Christmas morning, I reverted back the ‘Version 1.10 HF2’ to take my flat frames, and it seemed to fix the issue, but I’ll have to double check with another imaging run in the future.

Going back, I continued my imaging run on M45 for around half an hour while I was trying to fix the colour issue. Eventually I lost it behind the TV aerial, so I went back outside just to check that all connections were still seated corrected and to run another Bahtinov Mask focus routine. I just so happen to look southwards and I noticed that Messier 42 – The Great Orion Nebula – was just starting to become visible between the two houses. I quickly re-focused and started another imaging run for the limited time that it’s visible.

M42 – The Great Orion Nebula

As you can see, the colours are still completely wrong, with the nebula being green and purple. I double checked the saved files again and I could see the correct pinky-colour in the image preview, so I carried on for as long as a could manage. All in all, I managed to capture 30x 30-second exposures before it disappeared behind the apex of my house.

Now to talk about the power of the Intel NUC; I cannot fault it at all – It was as stable as a rock! Platesolving with ASTAP was seemingly instantaneous; I was honestly taken by surprise at how fast it solved and corrected the mount. I wasn’t expecting the CPU to have such an effect on platesolving speed. I’m so glad now that I went with the i5 version over the i3.

When it came to stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, I was also surprised at the speed it stacked all the images and applied the calibration frames. Admittedly the 24x light frames wasn’t as demanding as a long imaging run that I usually aim for, but it still loaded my standard 30x calibration frames for Darks, Bias and Flats and applied them a lot faster than what I was expecting.

When loaded the saved 32/Bit TIFF into photoshop, I tried to pull out as much detail out as possible. However with only 12-minutes of data, I could only do so much without over processing. Even so, I’m really happy with the final image, and I’ve managed to keep the detail within the core section of the nebula. At the next chance I get, I need to take some longer exposures – 3-minute or 5-minute – to reveal the detail on the outer nebulosity.

M42 – The Great Orion Nebula

But for now, the weather is set on sun during the day, and clouds in the evening. It’s making me think of getting some solar film and doing some solar observing in the new year; an area that I’m interested in, especially with more sunspots becoming visible.

Oh well, plans for the future! With only a few days left in 2020, I’m looking forward to next year and seeing what it may bring, especially with galaxy season coming up in the first quarter of the year.

So till the new year, I wish you all a Happy New Year, and clear skies!

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