I had seen a photo about a comet that had brightened and since tonight was the first clear night in a few weeks, it was a Friday and I was free, I thought I would venture out. The comet was C/2020 F3 NEOWISE and was very low, around +6.8 degrees altitude in the North at sunset, dipping down to +3.0 degrees around 1:30am and then starting to rise again.
I asked on the BASEG WhatsApp group where people would go locally with a good horizon and JBS (John Barrie-Smith) came back and said, come on over to my place at Lasham Gliding Club and see the comet from there. A flurry of messages and Lawrence, Gingergeek, Shane, Bob and I were now on for a night out!
We arrived about 9:20pm and all gathered at the gate to the airfield, we then followed John in convey around the airfield to the observing site for the night on one of the airfield pads. We then proceeded to setup and see if we could see the comet above the trees…..
To our surprise the trees looked high but due to the distance the comet was high above them. What follows are a selection of images from the nights observing, taken by myself (Dave Shave-Wall) unless otherwise stated. The comet can be seen in most of them.
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.
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.
Update – 01/08/2019 The recent beta version (184.108.40.206) of SGPro now has support for the FlatMaster.
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).
After a couple of trips to Tenerife with my Canon 5D Mkii, Canon f2.8 200mm prime lens on an AstroTrac as my main imaging kit, I’ll be adding a Takahashi FS60-CB with a flattener and an ATIK Infinity Mono camera to the mix.
Recent imaging for the dstl Project Argus has helped resolve adapter issues with the FS60 / Canon DSLR combination as it is a FS60 special and not a regular Wide EOS adapter that is required. Live broadcasting to YouTube will also be a new possibility this trip with the ATIK Infinity camera.
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)
Box of accessories (~6Kg)
PSU, cables etc
Clothes …. I guess
Cabin bag1 (~7Kg)
Tak focal reducer
Atik 460 CCD imaging camera
Lodestar guide camera
Lakeside focuser control unit
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 –
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
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.