November 24, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

My original Astro Journal with my Equipment and Astro Automation pages:

Gathering data...

February 13, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

I finished the night of Feb 9th with a small batch of frames to process--really only enough for this bi-color Ha-OIII of the Rosette. I also shot some Ha frames of IC 443,  the Jellyfish supernova remnant. Both are looking okay, but I need more data. And the weather doesn't look like it's going to cooperate until the weekend--snow and rain.  (I was also playing with the old WO 200mm guide scope with this session, and it went well--Total RMS" in the .60s and .70s most of the time. RMS is the Root Mean Square in arcseconds, the standard deviation of the accumulated star movements over a particular guiding session. Lower is better). Exposures: 28 x 240 seconds of Ha, 26 x 240 seconds of OIII. Equipment: William Optics GT81 APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome 16MP camera (unity gain 139/21), Astronomik filters, iOptron CEM25P mount, INDI/Ekos/KStars running in Stellarmate/Raspberry Pi 3b+

Setup for the night:

Use your backyard astro gear to detect objects at the edge of the solar system!

February 8, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Well, maybe. Astronomers in Japan discovered a new Kuiper belt object (KBO), a rock with a 1.3km radius at the edge of our Solar System. That's more than 7.1 billion km, 4.4 billion miles away. What makes this story particularly remarkable is the equipment used to make the discovery, a pair of Celestron 11" RASA astrographs--basically something I can purchase from many astronomy equipment vendors. That's what is so amazing. Equipment powerful enough to detect 1.3 kilometer-sized chunks of rock at the edge of our solar system is easily available to amateur astronomers. This is my "artist's rendering", with the rock occulting a bright background star, which is the method used by the astronomers to detect it. Here's the article in Nature Astronomy:

Astro Tracker Build - Prototype and Rotation Speed Testing

January 23, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Our beautiful planet rotates on its axis once every 23.93447 hours (23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.091 seconds). This is one sidereal day--sidereal time is based on the earth's rate of rotation measured relative to the stars that are--for the most part--fixed in position. Here we go: 23.93447 hours = 86164.091 seconds. So, we need to do a 360 degree rotation of the right ascension motor shaft in 86164.091 seconds to match the earth's rotation speed. Sounds simple enough. Backing into the time/revolution (360 deg) before the 100:1 gearhead ratio, we have: 86164.091 / 100 = 861.64091 seconds, or 14.3606 minutes / 360 degrees, which is close to what I'm getting for a full rotation with my current test system: NEMA 11 stepper + 100:1 planetary gearhead and A4988 stepper driver running with 1/16 microstepping. I'm probably going to build the second prototype with a NEMA 17 + 139:1 planetary gearhead, but still waiting on that to arrive. And I will most likely continue to run with 1/16 microsteps. The downside is microstepping significantly reduces torque--I'm sacrificing torque for slower, smoother steps, but I'm thinking I will make up some of this with the 100:1 harmonic drive gearhead (CSF-14-100-GH-F0ACB). The idea is to get the motor with the planetary gearbox to do one rotation in a little over 14 minutes, and then by adding the harmonic drive I'll multiply the rotation time by 100, and we should end up around 86164.091 seconds, or one sidereal day. I think that sounds right? (Also, don't forget the direction is reversed with the harmonic drive--clockwise rotation of the wave generator results in the flexspline moving counterclockwise).

The shot below has my attached 3D printed adapter for a camera mount. Once I test the rotation speed adequately, I will try out some long exposures with the Nikon.

Here's the latest component and wiring setup, driven by an Arduino Nano and A4988 Stepper Driver, with the whole thing running off a single 12vdc power supply.  The bottom frame is the entire rotation test taped together and functional.

Harmonic Drive testing

January 21, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Star Tracker Build: the 100:1 reduction Harmonic Drive gearhead arrived today, and I'm planning out the mechanics for the direct drive train and structure for a case (3D printing a prototype case that will hold everything together tonight).  Harmonic drives are the way to go if you're looking for extreme precision, zero backlash, and just plain cool technology: I will be using the original iOptron CEM25P saddle for testing, and the threaded holes in the harmonic drive line up neatly. Gearhead specs here: 


Total Lunar Eclipse 2019

January 21, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

A terrible night for a total lunar eclipse--it's freakin' cold (5°F / -15C) and cloudy, but here's a sequence going into the total.

It's very cloudy out there tonight, but I did manage to capture the lunar eclipse in progress. Not a great shot, but was through the cloud layer.

Direct-drive Star Tracker Prototyping

January 14, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Electronics project for the day: prototyping the drive system for a direct-drive star tracker. This will be driving a 100:1 ratio Harmonic Drive gearhead. For this test I'm using a NEMA 11 stepper motor, also geared down, and a cheap A4988 stepper driver, but I will be experimenting with others.

NGC 2327 "Parrot Nebula" and IC 2177 "Seagull Nebula"

January 2, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

The dust and hydrogen gas of NGC 2327 "Parrot Nebula" and IC 2177 "Seagull Nebula" span 100 lightyears between the constellations Monoceros and Canis Majoris. This is another one from last night (New Years Day). After shooting the Flaming Star Nebula for several hours, I dropped down to IC 2177 for the remaining clear skies (up to around 1am). Neither of these targets are strong--or have anything showing up--in the oxygen bandpass. I ended up cutting the OIII frames and going with bi-color Ha and SII. Exposures: 28 x 300 seconds of Ha, 26 x 360 seconds of SII. Equipment: William Optics GT81 APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome 16MP camera (unity gain 139/21), Astronomik filters, iOptron CEM25P mount, INDI/Ekos/KStars running in Stellarmate/Raspberry Pi 3b+

First astro session of the year!

January 2, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

The star at the core of this nebula is the "Flaming Star", AE Aurigae, in the constellation Auriga (The Charioteer), and all the surrounding dust and clouds of hydrogen is called the Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405). This emission nebula is around 1500 lightyears away and it's fairly large, about 5 lightyears across (roughly 47 trillion kilometers or 30 trillion miles across).

What's interesting is that even though AE Auriga is lighting up the nebula, it was not formed there, but rather is a "runaway star" that was probably ejected several million years ago from the star formation furnace in the core of the Orion Nebula. The star is moving quickly through the nebula, producing a violent bow shock with a wave of high energy electromagnetic radiation. 

Frames: 23 x 300 seconds of Ha, 5 x 300 seconds of OIII (I was not picking up oxygen at all!), and 20 x 360 seconds of SII. Equipment: William Optics GT81 APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera (unity gain 139/21), Astronomik filters, iOptron CEM25P mount, INDI/Ekos/KStars running in Stellarmate/Raspberry Pi 3b+.