PAS 2022 + First Light with the Star Adventurer 2i

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Practical Astronomy Show 2022, which was the first of its kind in the UK for three years! It was an unbelievable show, and I got to meet some amazing people in the process. Most notably I was stood talking to Glenn from AstroBloke for the best part of an hour, who we both use the Sky-Watcher 130PDS for our astrophotography. He has just released a video regarding some upgrades to the 130PDS which I am very tempted to do myself on my rig!

Practical Astronomy Show 2022

I could have easily spent a pretty penny while at the show, especially at the Altair Astro stand. The Altair 269C ProTec was VERY tempting – might be a next year purchase if I attend this show again in 2023. While at the Altair stand though, I did purchase a new vixen dovetail for my Samyang 135mm cradle, as the 3D printed one that came with the rings cannot be easily attached to my new Star Adventurer. The new metal dovetail has a ¼” camera thread built into the bar, which is much safer than a superglued solution. I didn’t trust my DIY solution with the weight of the 135mm lens + camera, all hanging on a thread adapter glued into the bar. I thought it was worth the investment, however this was unfortunately my only purchase from the show!

There was some absolute fantastic rigs at PAS that would be an absolute dream to own! Most notably, a Celestron RASA 14″ on a CGX mount and an Altair 150 EDF Refractor mounted on a pier-mounted iOptron CEM120. You see images on the web of these rigs, but they honestly don’t do them justice…they were truly massive!

Overall, it was a really good day out in Kettering, and I met some new friends that I shall be meeting up with later in the year, all being well!

Later that evening, I had the chance to venture out onto the top of the Long Mynd, Shropshire, along with my friends 14mm Samyang F/2.8. Unfortunately, it was without success. At the time, it was a full moon and we were just starting to experience the Saharan dust that we have currently floating around the UK. To top it off, the wind and the cold was just brutally unbearable, and so the mount was just being blown around like a sail. I quickly packed down and went back inside for a cuppa!

However, later in the week when the moon was below the horizon, I had another chance to use the Star Adventurer in my secluded back garden. Even so, the winter skies were quickly coming to an end at this point, and at 8:00PM the skies were still light; it’s even worse now that British Summer Time has come into effect this past weekend. Despite the sub-optimal conditions, I decided to have one last attempt at the constellation of Orion with my Samyang 135mm.

As the central portion of the constellation around Orion’s Belt is filled with emission nebulae, I decided to use my AstroHutech IDAS NBZ filter to help remove some of that light pollution. The light dome from Wolverhampton and the Black Country was definitely made worse by the ever increasing Saharan dust, and so the filter was certainly the right choice.

Samyang 135mm F/2 fitted with IDAS NBZ Filter

As you can see, the step-down ring and corresponding filter dramatically cuts down on the aperture of the F/2 lens, but surprisingly it only stops the lens down to F/3; equivalent to two stops on the lens. In comparison though, the system is still much faster than my F/5 telescope.

The Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pack is a fantastic little mount with a 5KG payload capacity, it can easily take smaller telescopes such as the William Optics Redcat 51 or 71, or Zenithstar 73. And as this is the new wifi version, it is fully controlled via the ‘Star Adventurer Console’ phone app. It contains the intervalometer settings, dither amount between exposures and how many exposures are to be taken – it saves having a separate external intervalometer which is really nice.

The only two downsides to the mount that I have found in the few times that I have set it up, is as follows:

  • The wedge is pretty much useless! – There’s no way to easily adjust altitude without making the whole system twist from side to side. I’ve noticed that you have to tighten everything down on the wedge, and then make minor adjustments, just enough to polar align…just.
  • The polar illuminator is the same as what I had for my old EQ5 mount, and the same thing kept occurring with that as well. IT KEEPS FALLING OFF!!! Every small knock or jolt the whole thing moves out of line or completely falls off the mount. I might have to do what Alyn Wallace has done to his star adventurer, and fit some luminous tape inside the polar axis. Apparently it’s just enough to illuminate the polar scope.
  • Further more to the polar illuminator, you can’t turn it off without physically taking the battery out completely! Even when you turn it to minimum, there’s still a minute amount of light being produced, which in turn runs down the battery quite quickly. I’ve found its best to take the battery out and flip it over so it’s in backwards, and then put the battery compartment lid back on.

Okay, that’s three points…

Other than these minor points, the mount is truly excellent! Tracking, even unguided, is superb and can easily achieve 60-second exposures when balanced properly using the included counter weight in the ‘Pro Pack’.

The mount also easily attaches to my Benro Trekker tripod with the included thread adapter, and then I can mount the usual tripod ball-head to the top of the dovetail to allow for more flexible framing when using a wide angle camera lens. It just about holds the 135mm, but I don’t trust it to hold, so I use the mount like my standard GoTo equatorial mount; using the right ascension and declination axis to locate and frame my targets. I then can use the cradle to rotate the camera if I really need to.

I haven’t bought the mount for doing deep sky photography with a telephoto lens though, although it’s perfect for this purpose, especially with a small telescope. I’ve mainly bought it to do tracked Milky Way photography during the summer months. As it’s battery powered from 4xAA batteries or via the 5V USB socket on the side of the mount, it’s the perfect travel companion for going out into the countryside with just a camera and an ultra wide-angle lens. And as it’s reasonably small, the tracker does in fact fit into the top compartment of my camera bag, so I can go on adventures with just that on my back and I have everything that I need. As it stands though, the 135mm and star adventurer pro is a perfect combination, as it fits many targets into the field of view, especially during the winter season.

Therefore before I lose it for another year, I trained my lens onto the constellation of Orion one last time, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!

27 Minutes on Orion’s Belt & M42

I managed to capture 27x 60-second exposures before I lost it behind a church spire just up the road from my house. I am honestly quite shocked at how much detail I was able to capture in such a short amount of time; Barnard 33 & NGC 2024, the Horsehead & Flame Nebulae respectively, did not show in any of the single exposures on the back of the camera. However, when the final stacked image was revealed within Deep Sky Stacker, my jaw literally hit the floor! It most certainly needed proper post processing, especially taming the blown core of Messier 42, but you could tell that the final image would amazing!

As Orion was so low on the horizon, the light pollution still had a major effect on the image. There was a massive gradient across the entire image which needed two rounds of gradient removal and colour correction. Other than that though, the processing on this image was relatively straight forward. I did do a small amount of star reduction to allow the three stars of Orion’s belt – (left to right) Alnitak, Mintaka and Alnilam – to really shine while also highlighting all four nebulae visible within the frame.

This image is a fitting end to one of the most infamous winter constellations for another year. As previously mentioned, British Summer Time has just started and so I doubt I shall be able to capture Orion again until the Autumn.

We’re now firmly into the period of the year known as ‘Galaxy Season’, and so it’s back to using the 130PDS on the AZ-EQ6-GT and trying to get those smaller galaxies that are dotted around the night sky. I just hope that this nice weather that we have been experiencing recently holds out for another week, as I am going to my very first star party with my astronomy society. So I’ll be in Bortle 3-4 skies all weekend long with my full rig, as well as the tracker of course. I’ve already planned numerous targets within N.I.N.A., so hopefully I should have some new targets to talk about on here, which is always exciting! I’ll make sure that I take loads of pictures and videos this time around, as I sort of forgot in my excitement at PAS 2022!!!

Anyway, til next time, wherever you are, I wish you all clear skies!

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