March, 2018

March madness is all the rage. To me, that means everyone’s following the follies of over-paid athletes running around like a bunch of neanderthals! Sorry and I know I’m the outlier. But I’d rather be playing with my telescope!

Meanwhile, it’s been a long winter of cloudy nights and freezing temperatures. You may recall that last winter’s cloudy doldrums lasted throughout spring, but I’m hoping for better luck this time. I’ve used the time to perform equipment maintenance and upgrades and to begin experimenting with auto-guiding equipment and software.

My December project was to replace the nylon azimuth ball-bearings with stainless steel bearings, and adding a counterweight system to balance the CPC-800 for better tracking (homemade of course – the weight is a pill bottle full of nails!). I’ve also been cleaning eyepieces and performing other basic maintenance tasks.

I’ve been experimenting with the open-source project iAstroHub running on a Raspberry Pi micro-controller. My experience with open-source software has been poor, so I decided to try this incrementally. I started by installing the software on a micro-SD card and using that to boot the Raspberry Pi. That went pretty smoothy, so I continued.

After installing the software, I strapped the Raspberry Pi to one arm of the fork, added an ASI120MC-S guide camera to my finder scope and dress all the cables. The Raspberry Pi recognized the camera without difficulty. I cut a makeshift adapter from a piece of 2″ PVC pipe to attach the camera in place of the finder scope eyepiece. The Raspberry Pi runs from a 12v to 5v DC/DC inverter which is also strapped to the fork arm.

So far my experiments with iAstroHub and lin_guider – the linux-based guiding software that’s integrated into iAstroHub – has been mixed. My tests have been limited to quick hacks using less than “stellar” polar alignments made in freezing cold weather. lin_guider seems to track a star and send corrections to my alt-az mount for a while. But the declination axis quickly looses track which is something I need to work on. Still – it’s enough to get a feel for things and to perhaps move forward when the weather improves.

Meanwhile, I’ve used iAstroHub efectively to control my DSLR camera wirelessly. Piggy-back mounting my Canon camera the CPC-800 in the backyard has yielded some interesting wide-field photos, and I’ve been able take pictures and see initial results from inside my cozy home!

Stay tuned. The weather is improving and I’ll be sharing some of those wide-angle shots soon.

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