The processing begins

Now we have returned from the Tenerife trip, sorting through the data accumulated, in my case some 0.72 Terabytes, starts. Most of the data comes in the form of movie files for the Moon and planets through the MONS telescope. The rest is a mixture of deep sky objects and a small portion of night time shots around the observatory. An example is this shot taken from the ridge overlooking the observatory.

So what types of image am I processing right now? Well here is one I processed in the past few weeks whilst I start to work on some shots of Mars. This is an image of NGC 7023, the Iris nebula. What you are looking at is a reflection nebula, containing dust and gas which has it’s electrons excited by the star within. The rest of the image contains a lot of stars and a huge amount of Interstellar Flux Nebula, pervading clouds of dust within this region of space.

So I will go back to processing some more images and see if I can crack through the 10s of images yet to come from our successful week away.

Tenerife9 2018 Session Ends Early – Saharan Dust Stops Play

The group has had to bring the session to an early close due to the Saharan dust levels wiping out the sky quality. Known as the Calima, hot winds from the East bring Saharan dust across to Tenerife which destroys the sky quality needed for deep sky imaging.

We monitored the SONG (Stellar Observations Network Group) weather page throughout the week to assess our chances at clear sky imaging. When the red level is breached then the resident telescopes at Teide close their domes. For our purposes we were looking for dust levels around 0.001 which is below the yellow line.

Reproduced with kind permission of the SONG Telescope (data values by STELLA)

Before the Calima arrived the SQM was measured to be around 21.68 mag/arc sec2 (Bortle class 4) compared to around 20.5 (Bortle class 4/5) in the UK local area. Bob’s image also shows the visible layer of Calima dust :

Calima dust layer blocks the view to Mount Teide

It was a good week for all regardless of the common issues many of us encountered that stopped initial imaging attempts but once into the groove some nice images started to appear both for the portable deep sky imagers and those using the Mons Telescope for spectroscopy and lunar/planetary imaging (Mars/Jupiter/Saturn/Neptune/Uranus).

The founding BASEG members

We would like to extend our gratitude to the IAC for allowing us to the use of the Mons Telescope and the associated facilities ….. gracias amigos 🙂

Packed for Tenerife9 2018 Trip

July  2018 sees another trip to Tenerife with friends from the Basingstoke Astronomy Society Exped Group.  I had such a great time last year I can not wait to return again….Super excited.

From Tenerife, the planets will be high in the sky, the summer milky way will be glorious and there are a reasonable hours of darkness (unlike home where it isn’t getting dark at all!).  Not only is the site perfect for observing (assuming it is dust free) we also get use of a 20” f15 cassegrain and facilities such as a warm room (table, chairs, kettle), outside electricity to power equipment and access to a toilet.  A pleasant change from being in a layby on the hillside.

A solar system full house

I am really excited to be able to observe the planets.  Being located in the far southern sky for some years to come the major planets are out of sight from my observatory, hidden behind nearby trees. The major 3 will be well placed: Jupiter, Saturn and Mars*.  In the evening sky, Venus and Mercury are visible and in the morning sky Uranus and Neptune are returning.

I am wondering if it will be possible to observe all major bodies of the solar system in one go?  The planets are all well placed – plus there is the minor planet Ceres, asteroid Vesta, the crescent Moon, solar observing during the day, zodiacal light, the moons of the outer planets – and in the foreground we have earth’s Mt Teide (the highest mountain in Spain).  Faint Pluto is possible but at mag 14 it will be a challenge.  I have observed it with the 20” dobsonian at Les Grange in France so assuming I can star hop (which is a challenge as the telescope can be rather ungainly) it should be visible.  There are is also a relatively bright (mag 10 or so) Comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner that we can track from night to night.


A key question is what equipment to take.  We have access to a telescope which is fantastic for observing the planets but it is always well utilised by the group.  While I would love to fill my boots it wouldn’t be fair to use it exclusively so I am taking my 6” Maksutov and a tracking mount (all second hand) along with my binoculars, camera, eyepieces, sketching equipment etc.  I paid extra for my flight so I can take a hand-carry suitcase.  This means I can take all my delicate optics with my in the cabin while the heavier, more robust tripods, extension cable etc can go in the hold.

This means I can be:

  • Observing inside the dome when it is free
  • Using my 6” telescope in the meantime
  • Chilling out with my binoculars in the summer milky way
  • Taking wide field shots and timelapses

I made a video of the set up I am taking and how it all fits into 2 suitcases below :

A report and video of the amazing sights we saw last year is also below

* Jupiter is just past opposition (it was at opposition on 10 June) with Saturn only a week past opposition and Mars nearly at opposition (it reaches opposition on 27 July just after we return).

Preparing for my first Tenerife trip

So since I don’t have a mobile setup like the veterans of the group I’m resigned to fact that I need to take most of my UK setup with me abroad. This means some serious weight to transport, so basically I have the following to pack and carry :

  • Hold bag1 (~18Kg)
    • Skywatcher NEQ6 mount
  • Hold bag2 (~18Kg)
    • Skywatcher Tripod (7Kg)
    • Counterweight (5Kg)
    • Box of accessories (~6Kg)
      • PSU, cables etc
    • Clothes …. I guess
  • Cabin bag1 (~7Kg)
    • Tak FSQ85
    • Tak focal reducer
    • Atik 460 CCD imaging camera
    • Lodestar guide camera
    • PoleMaster camera
    • Lakeside focuser control unit
    • Unihedron SQM
    • ADM Scope plate
  • Cabin bag2 (~6Kg)
    • Atik EFW2 and filters
    • Laptop & NUC
    • Various digital items (GPS, USB hard disk etc)
    • ADM mount puck and scope rings

Hopefully the scope bag will in in the overhead with it’s precious contents….don’t drop it ! The laptop bag should fit under the seat….hopefully.

I won’t be sure on the final weights until the digital handheld scales I’ve ordered arrive tomorrow.

At the moment I’m just finishing the calibration and setup of the Lakeside focuser and it’s configuration in SGPro.

Update : The digital scales arrived so now I have weights for a few items and move things around a bit –

  • Hold Bag1 = 19.3kg
  • Hold Bag2 = 22.5Kg
  • Cabin Bag1 = 8kg
  • Cabin Bag2 = 8.85Kg

Sky Quality Meter

So I recently received from First Light Optics (FLO) the Unihedron Sky Quality Meter (SQM-LU) USB device. The box contained the SQM-LU device, a 2 metre USB cable, CD containing all the necessary software, a hard copy of the user manual and a calibration report.

The device was already factory calibrated and was shipped with latest firmware. The Unihedron Device Manager (UDM) is the standard way to access the device and provides all the necessary options for a simple plug and play experience.

The device can also be connected to a GPS device via the configuration tab to get the location and time so it can be written to the data headers. Measurements can be written on a configurable interval and the file can even be transferred to a remote machine via FTP or SCP (not tested  yet). There is even a simulation mode for when you want to just test the device during the daytime.

The log file structure and protocol is well documented shown above but summarised below

# UTC Date & Time, Local Date & Time, Temperature, Counts, Frequency, MSAS, MoonPhaseDeg, MoonElevDeg, MoonIllum
# YYYY-MM-DDTHH:mm:ss.fff;YYYY-MM-DDTHH:mm:ss.fff;Celsius;number;Hz;mag/arcsec^2;Degrees;Degrees;Percent

There are included examples on the CD showing how to connect the device directly using various languages such as Python and via a RaspberryPi. There is also a freeware program SQM Reader3 with basic functionality  that can be used instead of UDM, they also produce a more fully functional program (SQM Reader Pro) at a cost.

There is a third party ASCOM driver that allows integration with imaging automation software such as SGPro via the ASCOM Observing Conditions Hub

and this value is written directly to the FITs header (SKYQLTY field) of your acquired image.

This device will of course will be joining us on the trip to Tenerife so the measurements can be provided to all and sundry.