Blog

Atik460 CCD Service

The cooling fan on my Atik460EX mono CCD started to make a disturbing sound one Spring night during an imaging session setup. Given it is some six years old I decided it was time for a much overdue service.

I contacted Atik support via email and enquired on the cost of a service. The reply was quick, the estimate for a fan replacement/service was around £80 exc vat and shipping. I sent it via Royal Mail insured/recorded delivery and I was updated when it was received at the office. I was updated again when it had returned back from the labs in Portugal ready for delivery to me. This allowed me to make arrangements to be at home in order to sign for the parcel.

Atik support informed me that the failing fan had been replaced, a faulty temperature sensor replaced, the desiccant recharged and the Sony CCD sensor cleaned.

Previously the 460 struggled to reach 15-20℃ below ambient when the product literature states that the device should be capable of reaching 25℃ below ambient. This was a real problem during the recent summer nights where the CCD barely reached 0℃ at full power.

Once I was told the temperature sensor was faulty then suddenly made my past cooling experience made sense. I performed some simple tests in a 14.7℃ ambient temperature room via a PegasusAstro Environmental Sensor. At 100% power (1A single stage Peltier cooler) I was able to get the CCD down to -18℃. Now the CCD can run happily at 100% power all night without detriment but I set the cooling temperature to -10℃ and the power usage dropped to 73%, which was a ~25℃ delta.

All in and all I’m happy that the camera so is now back to functioning normally as it should. It is now in a better shape ready for the up coming BASEG trip to Southern France in September. I guess now is the time to create a new darks library for the various temperatures I’m likely to use.

Thank you to Jo and Andrew at Atik Support for the great service.

Spring BASEG trip to Hacienda in La Palma, Canary Islands April 2020….we hope!

Patio at Hacienda

Alan, Paul and I (Dave) are back off to the beautiful island of La Palma in April assuming the current Coronavirus 19 pandemic has not shut down the TUI airline we are using. We are booked to stay at Tobias’s finca’s at the lovely location some 4,000 ft altitude on the North-West of the island in a vineyard off the beaten track. Turns out to be great fo self-isolation!

I will be taking my large 4″ binoculars, due to weight restrictions by TUI whilst Alan and Paul will be taking travel scopes for astrophotography. During the visit we have 2 finca’s and I hope to get some more objects ticked off my list from the Night Sky Observing Guide (NSOG) book I used last visit doing visual and recording some of my observations as drawings with my new set of pastel materials for my birthday.

One of the finca rooms

Autumn BASEG Trip – September 2020, Massaguel, South France

Chateaux

So after much debate and research at the end of 2019, we finally settled on a group expedition to the south of France. The destination is Massaguel which is just South-East of Toulouse.

Chateaux at Massaguel

We have rented an entire Chateaux within the grounds of a private estate to sleep all 10 of us in separate rooms!

one of the many rooms

Below is the website address

https://www.homeaway.co.uk/p10085221

We have arranged car sharing for the trip, some of us are going to travel down over 2 days and also back over 2 days also. Some are going via other destinations where they are lucky enough to be retired. I am personally taking my new Tesla Model 3 on the road trip and will be going via the Tesla Supercharger network with my friend Shane as a co-driver. We will stop overnight at a hotel with a supercharger on the way down and a different one on the way back. We are also going to travel via Eurotunnel.

Car route for Tesla

The location affords us the ability to take as much kit as we can carry in our vehicles. This helps as we have more recently been affected with tighter and tighter restrictions on luggage capacity on planes.

My own setup required 4 x 25kg suitcases so going in the car is great. The only other way is to fly British Airways and pay for 4 x luggage or to fly business with them and get 2 x 32kg as standard and upgrade for the rest.

A view from the front

The chateaux looks beautiful and is owned and run by a local couple. It resides in a nature reserve and has acres of grounds with enough space for us all to spread out. In conversation with the owners we can run extension cables which we will need to bring with us, outside from internal sockets to run our equipment all night.

Outside

The internals of the chateaux affords us many rooms to gather in, meet, cook, hang out as well as sleep

We are all really looking forward to the trip and hope dearly that by the time September comes, the current Coronavirus 19 pandemic is over.

Viewing Report 24th August 2019 – Salisbury Plain

Viewing time period – 21:30 – 00:37

Salisbury Plain

An impromptu invite from Mark Radice to head out to Salisbury Plain and observe, tempted me to pack the car with me travel scope. This would be the first time I had taken my new travel setup out and so it would prove to be both a shakedown for the scope itself and a practice for me to see if I could remember everything.

Small travel scope

So with the car full I headed off to Salisbury Park, the service station on the A303 to meet Mark and Lawrence.I arrived slightly early due to good driving conditions, Mark a short while after then Lawrence in his very large Land Rover with his new special Ursa Major number plate.

Nice astronomy plate!

A short chat and then we headed off to Salisbury Plain near the shooting range. On turning left into the range we headed up and out onto the plain with its wide open and pleasantly hight with great horizons, parking up in the dirt and dusty car park again on the left.

I started to setup around 9:30pm, however 3 other friends of Marks turned up and pleasant chats ensued. Over the course of the next 2 hours I setup the scope from scratch, chatted about astronomy to my new friends and tucked into some brownies from Mark to celebrate his birthday and some coffee from Lawrence which was very nice indeed.

Setting up

Mark setup his fantastic bino chair which looked like the gunner position of the Millennium Falcon, which I did not get chance to use unfortunately due to the time it then took to setup.

Bino Chair

Meanwhile on the setup scope front, I polar aligned ok and then connected to the QHY168C CMOS camera to EZCap on the Mac. I could cool the camera down and take a preview, however I could not use the Capture page to take an image, it just came out black. I tried everything including applying different histograms. Anyway, I sort of gave up and even restarted the software to no avail.

However the most channelling part of the evening was the Flares being used by the army, the tracer fire and the convoy of trucks speeding past us several times and kicking up dust.

Review – Pegasus Astro FlatMaster Panel

Whilst we were at the Professional Astronomy Show 2019 (PAS) held at Kettering I bumped into the Pegasus Astro guys. Now having already purchased and use a Pegasus Ultimate Power Box , I was keen to see what new products they had coming out.

The one product that immediately caught my was a flat panel, this was very timely as my DIY flat EL panel had broken the month before. The panel was not available for purchase at the time but Evan stated it would be shipping shortly after.

A month or so wait and the UK Pegasus distributor Altair Astro was advertising the availability of the panel for £125. Another week or so wait after ordering and it arrived in early May.

With a useful travel bag, adjustable spacers, USB2 cable, only 180 mm x 180mm x 9mm size and 300g in weight it makes for  an ideal portable light panel for garden and travel. The panel can support illumination up to lens diameter of 120 mm. The pegs are removable and adjustable to support dew shield diameters up to

The required 5 volts is delivered via the USB2 mini connection is at the rear of the panel along with the manual dimming control (5 settings).

 

Connecting the panel to the computer will result in the panel being at maximum brightness by default. Unfortunately the FlatMaster software could not see the USB-COM port even though the Windows Device Manager could on COM9 🙁

I received the parcel on a Saturday so I wasn’t expecting any reply but I sent a quick email to Ian at Altair Astro to inform him of the issue. Fortunately for me Ian answered promptly and after a quick exchange of information he forwarded it onto Pegasus Astro. On the Sunday I was pleasantly surprised to have an email from Evan requesting to Teamviewer into my PC to diagnose the issue.  It didn’t take Evan long to locate the issue with the USB identity, remotely update the EPROM and then the panel software could connect to the flat panel – version 1.2 was released with the updated change.

At the moment the flat panel can only be driven by the Pegasus FlatMaster software but according to Evan there will be an imminent SGPro release. That means it will support the panel via the ASCOM switch driver at which point I should be able to use the SGPro Flats Wizard feature.

My gratitude to Altair Astro and Pegasus Astro for resolving the issue so promptly.

Reproduced with the kind permission of PegasusAstro
Reproduced with the kind permission of PegasusAstro

Update – 01/08/2019 The recent beta version (3.1.0.211) of SGPro now has support for the FlatMaster.

La Palma Expedition May 2019 – ATHOS Star Camp

So Bob, Alan and I (Dave Shave-Wall) have set off on our next expedition, this time back to La Palma but to a different resort, this time ATHOS Star Camp near on the North West side of the island and some 2,000 ft further down the mountain than when we stayed last November at Tobias’s Finca, Hacienda. I made sure to look out of the window and glimpse our other island we travel to in Tenerife on the way.

I arrived 1 day after Alan and Bob due to a work trip to New York so I flew from there to Madrid, waited 5 hours for my connection and then flew direct to the island landing at 1:30pm local time.

I set off to ATHOS star camp after collecting my hire car, the most direct route would be through the tunnel on the island cutting across East to West, however I was super keen to see the Observatories and MAGIC telescopes and see how the Visitor Centre was coming on since our previous visit. So instead I headed up the mountain to the Roque de la Muchachos to see the sights and then head down the other side to ATHOS.

The MAGIC telescopes and various observatories of course looked wonderful as always. The visitors centre had not change, still being unfinished in only the way the Spanish manage with unfinished projects at scale.

I then headed down to ATHOS where Bob and Alan were already settled in. Alan had warned me about the accommodation before I arrived so I set my expectations low. The accommodation on arrival was what the British would think more akin to a Bournemouth Beach hut, ok slightly bigger but not by much, but the biggest problem were the ants!!!!!

In fact the problem was further compounded by ants also being in the Orangery,  a beautiful building where would be astronomers sit and eat and prepare food. Unfortunately the ants were all over the sides in the kitchen and thus any food you put down! It was a further surprise that nothing had been done to solve the problem. The accommodation Alan and I were to share was so small that the 2 single beds pushed up against the wall had really a narrow gap between them meaning sharing with a friend was very close. Once we had our luggage in there was really no room to move.

By the following morning, after a night of cloud at the this low vantage point on the island at around 2,000 ft and below the inversion layer (we all went up the mountain some 40mins drive to perform our viewing), I woke to find ants in my pyjamas, in my bed too of course, in the wardrobe in my clothes, in the bathroom on washbag and toothbrush. Whilst Alan and Bob are less bothered, I refused to pay good money for this accommodation both in terms of size and quality. So I called our previous host Tobias who owns Hacienda and between him and Christian on site, they found me alternative accommodation that day, which is perfect for me, no ants and at around 4,000 ft so 2,000 ft higher and only 25 minutes drive from the visitors centre rather than 45 minutes up the mountain.

To be fair we should have realised there were going to be problems with ATHOS since the whole booking and confirming the trip had been a nightmare due to poor communication. Not only did we have to call the owner of ATHOS several times, months went past with little or no communication at all to confirm the trip, which to be honest makes you worried about turning up with nowhere to stay if it is not confirmed. Compare that to Tobias at Hacienda and they respond within the hour.

ATHOS star camp is a nice idea, but to be fair to the owner Kai, he needs to improve his communication, booking process and the quality and cleanliness of the accommodation. The site itself is ok from a viewing perspective and the observing pads are a nice touch, also the equipment hire, albeit expensive is there and useful, but that said I would not go again.

So a costly start to the expedition, but by the second day I was delighted to be in comfortable accommodation and to have started some observing up the mountain the previous night.

Viewing Report 7th May 2019 (Night 5) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 21:00 – 03:00

I started this evening by taking another look at the Moon through the binoculars. I showed our host Christian who was amazed how much detail you could see.

I then took another look at Omega Centauri, just because it is so spectacular.

Then I finished my other blog viewing reports and waited for the Milky Way to rise around 3pm so I could do some more visual.

@03:00 I spent some time looking at a number of objects in the Milky Way, but only briefly and I did not record any with the pencil tonight, it was purely a pleasurable evening of seeing across the Milky Way that was at this time still slightly on her side. I looked at M7 the open cluster near the base of the scorpion’s tail, sparkling in the night sky. I then moved to the globular clusters M62 and M19 nearby which could be seen just with Direct Vision. I then peaked at M20 the Trifid and could make out some of the structure in the reflection nebula. Finally I took in M26 and M11 both Open Clusters in Scutum before heading to M17 the Swan nebula and open cluster which as when we viewed a few years ago through the 12″ dob on the island, looked very much like a swan through the 4″ binos.

I then took an early night off to be by 3:30am whilst Alan continued with his Messier Marathon at the other site and Bob continued his imaging.

Viewing Report 6th May 2019 (Night 4) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 21:00 – 2:30

This evening I finished a lovely conversation for over an hour with my daughter and then headed up to the roof of my new accommodation to setup the binoculars and the camera. By 21:30 I started to shoot some scenic photos of the Moon and Aldebaran over the roof of the old house I find myself in alone.

Soon enough and by 22:00 it was dark enough for me to take a few shots of Orion as it was setting in the West, again over the roof creating a lovely photo. I also glimpsed the 1.9 day old Moon at 4.5% illumination through the binoculars which is a wonderful sight. You can actually make out some of the larger craters on the Moons edge with clear definition through these wonderful binos.

@ 23:11 I quickly went out to find Omega Centauri again through the binos as it was such a good sight the other night I wished to see it again. This time I caught this massive glob just as it was setting behind a leafy bush. The fact it almost fills my field of view is amazing, now surround this with the silhouette of the plant it is almost magical. I really wish I could capture the image on camera it was simply breathtaking as I watched for 10mins as it gently moved behind the leaves.

@ 23:19 I put the binos on M67, an Open Cluster in Cancer, which I found by initially finding M44 in the binos then I decided it was easier to put Regulus in Leo, which is a brighter star at mag +1.36, in the frame and then sweep downwards to M67 which was obvious as an open cluster when I found it. The stars come and go looking with averted vision, but I managed to draw a bunch of the stars before moving to the next object.

@ 23:54 I moved to NGC 2903 a galaxy in Leo that was supposed to be fairly large and bright through a small scope, however it was pretty faint. It may of course of been I was not dark adapted, which given I had just come out from inside was probably fair.

@ 00:01 on what was not the 7th May, I took a look at the Trio in Leo. This was a much brighter set of objects and very clearly visible. I could see immediately why Charles Messier missed NGC 3628 as it has a much lower surface brightness than that of the other two galaxies in the Trio, namely M65 and M66. The grouping was very pleasing with a handful of brighter stars within the field of view. I spend 5-10 minutes drawing a rough positioning of the Trio and surrounding stars.

@01:18 I used the new Canon Camera 6D MKII to take a photo of the Plough so Ursa Major as a constellation and single image. I was amazed to see that even in a single 1 minute exposure I could see the spiral galaxy M109 very clearly.

Straight after this I took the camera and took a couple of skyscape shots with two different palm trees in that were being lit from the light from the house which took me round to 2am.

Finally I then went in and started writing up some of my journal, reviewing my objects in the NSOG and of course having a glass of wine and tonight some Tortilla Chips 🙂

 

 

Viewing Report 5th May 2019 (Night 3) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 21:00 – 02:30

So this evening it is clear both at Athos star camp and at Hacienda, so we have decided to observe from both locations rather than head up the mountain. Alan and Bob from Athos and I (Dave Shave-Wall) from Hacienda.

At 20:45 the first challenge this evening was from Alan. He asked we go after the 0.8 day old Moon which was only 0.9% illuminated. This was going to be a tough challenge. The newest Moon I had bagged was back in 2015 also from La Palma but 1.8 days old. So I decided to find Aldebaran in Taurus the bull once the Sun had set. The Moon would be below this slightly to the right. The approach I took was to wait until on SkySafari on the iPhone the Moon was just above the horizon then try to find it. Finding Aldebaran was not so bad, I finally adjusted my eyes against the relatively bright sky and could see it. Now I could put the binos on it, then I would head directly down to the horizon and sweep right , up a bit and back to the left. Finally I found it in the binos! Next I had to get the camera on it. That proved more difficult due to the focus not being set for the camera. I used the 6D MKII with a 100-300mm lens attached and manually focused on the distant clouds on the horizon. I then pointed the camera in roughly the right direction as the binos which was helped by a foreground bush pointing the way. I then used the zoom on the display to get to 5x and then panned around, finally finding the 0.8 day old Moon, this was @ 21:25 and I was delighted!

I found I was also surrounded by trees which were great for framing skyscapes. I took one of a conifer with Omega Centauri to the right hand side over the house which was very pleasing.

@ 00:13 I moved the binos to M61, a small galaxy Virgo which was easy to find and relatively bright. Otherwise this was fairly unremarkable. I made a quick rough sketch to record its position against the stars.

@ 00:23 I moved to another Messier object, this time M49. This small galaxy has a small NGC galaxy nearby, namely 4492, once again fairly unremarkable through the binos and again I made a quick sketch to record the positions.

@ 00:31 I moved to M104, the Sombrero galaxy which I was really excited about viewing. It was easy to find and bright and pencil thin long. It stood out clearly with Direct Vision and was next to a pleasing grouping of stars that I recorded in a pencil drawing. I could not resolve any details within the galaxy disk itself.

@00:46 I received a WhatsApp from Bob that he was imaging Omega Centauri the rather large Globular Cluster. I made a quick calculation as to it’s position and upon sweeping the binos towards it I nearly fell off my feet at how absolutely massive, bright and detailed it was. It was simply stunning and the best thing I have viewed this trip. It looks akin to M13 when viewed through a 16″ scope, but this is through my 4″ binos, it is truly a monster glob! I could resolve countless stars within the cluster, a rough sketch was made as I would simply get lost trying to record the individual stars.

@01:04 I set the camera up with the 50mm lens to image again Omega Centauri above the top of the house, interestingly I have inadvertently picked it up the previous evening in a photo without realising.

@01:26 I took an image of Coma Berenices perched atop a conifer tree.

I then performed some further viewing through the binoculars moving around the night sky before retiring to my room around 2:30pm

 

 

Viewing Report 4th May 2019 (Night 2) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 22:00 – 03:00

So once again it was cloudy at both Athos star camp and also at Hacienda. Although it should be noted that Athos was below the cloud layer and Hacienda was in the cloud. So Alan and I headed up the mountain to the Visitors Centre whilst Bob stayed at Athos to see if it cleared.

When we arrived it was in time to see Orion starting to set in the West. Given it is now May it seemed strange to see this remnant of Winter, but good to see an old friend. I took a few images with the 6D MKII and then proceeded to look at the Orion Nebula through the bins.

@ 23:00 I was scanning the Virgo region of sky to start to view more of the Markarian’s Chain, when I came across an orange streak across the sky. Immediately I remembered a news article I had read stating that in October 2016 they were starting tests of the sodium laser for the ELT on both the WHT and INT on La Palma. Amazingly if you looked in the sky with naked eyes it was almost impossible to see, however I could just make it out, but through the binos it was clear as day!

Alan and I then followed the laser back to its source confirming that it was indeed the sodium laser called WLGSU emanating near both the WHT and INT and then both with the binoculars and cameras traced the laser to a region in Leo around the star Regulus, the laser reaching some 80km high in the sodium layer of the atmosphere.

@ 23:43 I got back to visual astronomy and the Markarian’s Chain. This time M58 was my target and I spent 20 minutes or so drawing the tiny galaxy through my binos. I noted straight away I could make out the Siamese Twins set of interacting galaxies to the South of M58 and these could be seen with Direct Vision but clearer with Averted Vision.

@ 00:11 on the morning of the 5th May I star hoped my way to M3, a lovely globular cluster in Canes Venatici. The tight ball of stars could be easily resolved and presented a pleasing view. I decided to draw the cluster and surrounding stars which was easier said than done.

Soon enough it was time to head down the mountain back to what transpired to be a clear Hacienda after dropping Alan back at Athos star camp. I then setup the binos and camera for some more viewing.

I took a lovely skyscape of what transpired to be Omega Centauri over the top of the house. Unfortunately I found later the camera had focused on the house rather than the stars. A chat with Alan later the following day, informed me that I needed to stop down the camera get a better depth of field and focus on both the house and the stars, something I did much better in the nights ahead.

By 3am I was tired and went in to write up the notes from that night in front of a roaring fire, a glass of wine and some nibbles. A good night indeed.