Progress on Remote Astro Setup/Control in AZ

Discussion in 'Astro Photography' started by Mike Lewis, Mar 19, 2020.

  1. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    So in spite of pulling the plug on my trip to AZ due to coronavirus concerns, with my friend's generous help I have been able to have my gear set up and do some checkout and even a little imaging. The weather has been usable most of the nights, and now that my gear is assembled, I could potentially have a few more nights of opportunities before he packs stuff up to store in AZ and heads back to CO.

    Here is what the setup looks like. Mine is the smaller mount/scope in the background. :


    We are setup on carefully aligned piers that are not physically mounted in the ground but secured with heavy sandbags. A compromise over a true observatory setup, but better than setup/teardown every night. Once aligned, the critical gear can be removed and re-installed and if done with some care, the sky alignment is not disturbed. With the powerful TPoint software in TheSkyX, I get sub 50 arcsec pointing all over the sky, and can also use a closed loop slew to even more accurately point to any object, visible or not.

    My gear was set up Monday, and so far I have had portions of 2 nights to work with it. Here are the takeaways:

    1) The remote link has been reliable, other than some self induced issues when Matthew and I were trying to 'redesign' things to maximize the outgoing data rates. The 1MBit uplink rate has been somewhat problematic, and would be a complete non-starter if there were any other users using uplink bandwidth (either locally at my friend's house of elsewhere remotely.) This was something we were not able to really evaluate prior to getting set up though, and is not a totally unexpected result. There are some options to increase the rate for more expenditure per month - we will likely talk through that after the fact.


    2) The integration of the On Axis Guider (ONAG) has predictably been a somewhat slow and complex process, but I have managed to make some progress. This is a cool device that allows you to guide with your main scope, using the primary light path, giving you a full frame available to both the guide camera and the imaging camera by using a dichroic beam splitter (i.e. cold mirror.) With this set up properly, I can guide on the full scene (not using stars but using image analysis of the full frame to indicate drift) and also if both cameras are parfocal (i.e. focusing at the same place on the scope focuser) I can then autofocus in real-time, while imaging, using the full scene, without having to slew off to another temporary targeted star to periodically check focus that way. Super advantageous, but a bit tricky to integrate, especially without being there. I can pass on some links and/or additional info for anyone interested.


    3) ONAG guider focus is not fully parfocal yet, but I think that with perhaps one more session outside and my friend manning the helical focuser this could get dialed in. This has been a little strange though, as previous adjustments have resulted in what looked like an improvement only to be followed by unstable readings.


    4) The main scope autofocuser from Optec continues to work well, and when paired with @focus3 inside of TheSkyX is giving results that seem to be equivalent to the Bahtinov method which is very nice. The SVQ100 also seem to be very stable focus-wise, having come up last night still in perfect focus. I did have some focus drift with temperature over the evening I think that I did eventually detect and fix. This is the type of thing I hope to eliminate when/if I can get the system parfocal between the 2 cameras and use the ONAG autofocus software.


    5) I am running a 50 point T-Point model and in general doing fine. Pointing is spot on, but tracking has not been quite what I have wanted, The guider astigmatism is a 'feature' for the ONAG software, allowing it to autofocus in real-time, but with the coarse guider focus still not quite dialed in, the resulting lozenge shaped stars are not compatible with either PHD2 or TheSkyX guiding algorithms. Monday night I was able to make no progress with the ONAG software due to a config problem, so was unguided. I shot a couple of 5 minute unguided exposures and was not really happy with the results. Tuesday night I did get at least the ONAG full sky autoguiding online for a couple of periods during the night. The combo of ONAG guiding and reducing my exposure lengths to 3 minutes (and turning up the camera gain) seemed to work pretty well, and brought my star eccentricity down a bit, although not perfect. One VERY interesting thing I noticed right at the end of the night was that according to the detailed plots on guider performance supplied by the ONAG software, I was able to notice that my guiding in the X direction was actually INCREASING my tracking error. Sure enough, when I turned off guiding in the X direction I could see my percent guiding error in the X axis start to decrease. The software is able to plot this because it keeps a separate record of both what the guided tracking accuracy is, and also what the unguided tracking accuracy would have been if no corrections had been applied. Kinda neat, and now a quantitative way to see when one is 'over-guiding' their mount, something I have suspected I was having issues with multiple times in the past.


    6) So with all that said, I took some data on the Jellyfish Nebula. Throwing out any test frames, frames not well centered on the object, and other unusable data, I think I may have somewhere between 2 and 3 hours of narrowband captures on the object. We will see how the star shapes, signal levels, noise, and focus end up looking once the data is back here but potentially an image to come out of that I am hoping. A very cool object I have liked since seeing my other friend Dan's great results, and it was fun to see the OIII and SII signal levels swapped from what I am used to, with OIII not very prevalent and SII really showing up. I have no efficient way to get data back over such a slow link so will have to wait to get this and any other data I might be able to capture until my friend returns at the end of this month.


    So that's about it. With rain in the forecast last night it was time to catch up on other family responsibilities and sleep, but if the forecast in AZ for tonight holds then hopefully some more progress and more data before my friend is heading back at the end of the month.

    If I operate the system tonight there will be something very fun about operating gear and shooting sky images when there is snow falling right outside my window here in CO :)

    ML
     
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  2. Ben Egbert

    Ben Egbert Forum Helper
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    Wow, this is a fun read for a retired Engineer who will never do this, but who likes gear. You are one dedicated guy.
     
  3. JimFox

    JimFox Moderator
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    This is really interesting Mike! Quite the journey to get your gear installed outdoors like that and then to have you operate it 1000 miles away in Colorado.

    I kind of understood some of what you said. Parts of it terms I have been seeing more, so some of that is falling into place, but overall I understood the process you were describing.

    Now the funny thing is as we have been discussing your moving your gear remotely down there for almost a year I think is that I had a totally different picture of it in my head. Now that’s probably my mind mixing up other things I have been reading, but somehow I thought you were installing your gear into a garage that had a retractable roof.This setup is better as you have pretty much the whole sky open to you. So I don’t know where my other visual css as me from, so thanks for posting a photo of it so I can actually have an accurate image in my head.
     
  4. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    Thanks everyone! Ben - yes, there is a lot of engineering geeky-ness that comes into the hobby, which I guess is why so many engineers are drawn to this. Our little group of 4 from my office are all of us engineers, so probably not a coincidence.

    Jim, Well the overall best outcome would be to be inside of a roll off roof or dome structure observatory. In that case, no gear is removed, and the entire operation can be automated. The setup I am showing in this post is a compromise. Certainly much cheaper than a dedicated remote controlled observatory, but only usable with someone on-site to remove tarps, replace critical gear back onto the mount, and turn power on. Last night it rained there, so my friend took the scopes, computers, and cameras in and covered the mounts with tarps. With a dedicated building that can have sky access controlled remotely, that is not required. Or even better yet, have Andrew's situation where his observatory is on his property permanently. He is likely only 20 minutes away from being up and imaging on any clear night.

    I still intend to someday have my own observatory building (or have a pier in a larger shared building) somewhere, but this is the best compromise for right now. My friend is only going to be on site for short periods for now - maybe move there permanently later.

    ML
     
  5. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    Update:

    So far took data on The Jellyfish Nebula one night and a 'group' portrait M81 and M82 together another night. Hard to really assess the quality of the data over the link, especially when someone does a bonehead thing and upgrades their astro post processing software on the remote system and clobbers the license. Fixed now, but an unnecessary bit of hassle. The galaxy pair image session also had clouds roll in so I am guessing likely not a lot of great sub-frames in that data set.

    The engineer in me has also been unable to refrain from wasting some otherwise good imaging time trying to get the ONAG focus dialed in, which may just be too hard to do remotely with my friend having to interrupt his activities to try to adjust things in the blind.

    Maybe good weather out there tonight though, so time to decide if I wish to add the the M81-M82 stack or find something else.

    ML
     
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  6. Jameel Hyder

    Jameel Hyder Well-Known Member
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    That's some serious gear and setup.
     
  7. AlanLichty

    AlanLichty Moderator

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    Makes my DSLR habit seem rather inexpensive.

    Does the harsh Arizona sun cause any harm when you leave the setups outdoors like this?
     
  8. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    Alan,

    The gear is covered during the day. And if it is longer than a few days or in the heat of the summer, we would not leave the telescope and cameras outside in any case. The mounts are pretty hardy - can't let them get too wet, but they are designed for temperature extremes. The plan though for this type of setup is to bring the gear back to CO for the hottest part of the year, and do whatever imaging as is available due to the weather in CO for those months. Unfortunately, there is frequently not much imaging to be done around here that time of year, but then the monsoon hits the AZ area in the late June start of July period as well.

    Now conversely, if a person had a permanent observatory building, you would air condition it during the day, and open the roof at night and still be able to get something done during the summer if you were in either location. The sky usually clears off in CO in the midnight to ~2 or 3 am range. Too late and not enough night left to set up from scratch, but with an observatory with some automation, you can still open the roof, be imaging right away, and get an hour or 2 of data. Over time that adds up.

    And yes, this has made my camera gear seem to be inexpensive...:)

    ML
     
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  9. JimFox

    JimFox Moderator
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    How did it turn out Mike? Did you get any data you could process?
     
  10. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    So with the tonight's AZ weather a bust, that brings to a close the first remote setup, testing, and imaging session. In general, it was a success, especially considering I had to cancel my trip down to AZ at the last minute and relied on my friend to set up my gear for me.

    For those interested, here is a report on what was accomplished and what was imaged:

    • The ONAG, which was supposed to be the a powerful addition to the setup, allowing for autoguiding on the full frame with no separate guide scope, no off axis guiding, and no guide star required, and also enabling automated unattended real time focus WHILE imaging, proved to be too daunting to get set up properly, at least without being there in person. The original plan was to get it all figured out before the trip, but with work and weather issues, that proved not to be. I have not given up on it yet, but the jury is still out on whether I will be bale to make it work or will have to go back to an external guidescope arrangement.
    • With a large sky model I was able to run unguided for as long as 6 minutes in a few cases, although I mostly shot LRGB stuff that required much shorter exposures. Hard to evaluate the quality of the subframes captured over the too slow RDP connection, but I am hopeful to have gotten maybe some stuff worth processing at least.
    • I ended up taking data on at least parts of 5 nights (if you include one cloudy night doing darks and bias frames) so pretty good. Gotta say sitting in front of your computer inside the house and running things while warm and comfortable is something I could get used to! :)
    • Here are the targets I took data on:
      • Jellyfish Nebula (IC443) - a faint supernova remnant that I imaged in narrowband (Ha-OIII-SII) More SII emission than most objects. Sky quality was not the best, with high cirrus messing up the contrast. Will see if anything good enough to post comes out of this one
      • M81 - M82 - wider field of these 2 galaxies that each are good subjects in their own right but make a very nice pairing at the 580mm of the telescope I am currently running remotely. Shot in LRGB with some Ha added to hopefully pull out some of the starburst parts of M82 and some star forming regions of M81. Contrast was coming and going through the night again on this one, but took more data so hopeful enough good frames to process something.
      • Markarian's Chain - An area of the sky that is jam packed with galaxies. Usually is not a particularly colorful area, but the proliferation of galaxies in the frame makes for a fun image, and really puts the scope of the visible universe into some perspective. I got a lot of data on this one, albeit on shorter images, so will be interesting to process and see what kind of signal and potential noise reduction I can get. Guessing I might have close to 5 hours of total data in LRGB.
    So that's it. My friend will (hopefully) be driving back to CO starting Friday, but tearing down to store gear starting tomorrow, so no more collecting on this trip. The data link is so sluggish that I would not even attempt to bring the data back that way, and so will wait until he gets back and we can make arrangements to get together to get my data, hopefully sometime next week. Can't wait to be able to start working on my first significant data sets since June of 2018! Ya, this hobby is completely is only for the completely insane!

    ML
     
  11. Colorado CJ

    Colorado CJ Well-Known Member

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    Looks like a great place to image!

    Have you looked into a Telegizmo 365 cover? They seem to work great from what I've read. They are fully waterproof and fully insulated, so the cover will protect your equipment pretty much year round. I was looking at one for my backyard before I built the dome. My only problem was my house is a corner lot on a very busy street, so I was worried about security. That doesn't seem to be a problem with your friend's place.
     
  12. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    Andrew,

    Very good suggestion. I already have another company's version of the Telegizmo cover - although I would say the jury is still out on whether it is of the same quality. It has been used to protect the mount itself outside through both a summer and winter in Castle Rock, CO, and now also in AZ. In the winter there is also a heat tape being used to keep the mount temp to something approaching reasonable. I have seen the same excellent feedback on the Telegizmo cover though, so when/if my existing cover wears out or proves to be inadequate, I will be buying one of those in the future.

    As far as the rest of the setup goes, I have never been able to convince myself that keeping the expensive optics, camera, and filters outside 24/7 was wise, unless in the shelter of a observatory building of some kind. That may still be in the future, but for right now the set up is completely intact while my friend is present and we are imaging, but since it is not fully deployable remotely, with tarps and lens caps on it, at least the imaging stack (camera, ONAG, filterwheel) and the OTA would be removed. Of course due to heat concerns, at some point in the late spring/summer the gear was to move back to CO. Under present circumstances, we will have to see how that goes.

    ML
     
  13. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    As a further status update, I got a lot (6+ hours) of new data on my M81-M82 composite image last night, running from about 8:30 to 3:30 AZ time. Data collected unguided in Ha (300 sec frames), Luminance (90 second frames), and RGB frames(120 second frames binned 2x2). The ASI1600 does not really support hardware binning like a CCD sensor camera, so I have not binned it up till this trip. We will see how the software binning frames work out. PixInsight should be able to seamlessly upscale and align the RGB data to the Luminance and Ha data. I have some additional frames taken in the earlier portion of the 'trip' that could also add to the stack, although the seeing and sky contrast was seemingly very good last night compared to the earlier session. I now consider myself to have 2 very large (for me anyway) data sets on both Markarian's Chain, and M81-M82. I have smaller narrowband data sets on the Jellyfish Nebula (IC443) and the Seagull Nebula. As the moon starts to get more prevalent i plan to shift over to adding more data to those data sets, as time, weather, and my friend's availability allows.

    For his part, he has been imaging with an EdgeHD 1400 14" OTA, and really getting close up and personal on both M81 (by itself) and M51. He also has some good stacks on NGC 2403, and The Antennae Galaxies, which I am REALLY looking forward to seeing. Alas, he has not published ANY of his images online anywhere, so for now it is still a hard sell getting him to start posting here. I will keep working on him tho :)

    ML
     
  14. JimFox

    JimFox Moderator
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    Hey Mike,

    That’s a great update!

    For sure it would be really awesome to have your friend be a part of FocalWorld. It would be so cool to get him to join us, his inputs and thoughts would be great. Does he shoot anything besides Astro?
     
  15. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    No. unlike the other 2 members of the astro group (who already belong to FW, but I o not think they post) my friend in AZ is strictly an astroimager. His stuff is available nowhere online as of now.

    ML
     
  16. Mike Lewis

    Mike Lewis Staff Member
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    So another quick update. I have over 50GB of data now collected from just this last few weeks alone. That is very exciting. I have tried to focus in on getting more data on fewer targets, to hopefully be able to improve the overall quality of the images I am able to produce. Fortunately for me, although I still am unable to get the ONAG guiding and focusing to work as intended, my MyT mount continues to do well unguided, with even many of the 6 minute long exposures taken last night showing very good star shapes, and the autofocus routines built into TheSkyX are working well for the most part too. I may have some aberrations at the edges of the FOV, but that is an OTA problem separate from guiding. The inability to get the ONAG to work as intended though is proving to be a little frustrating at this point. I will keep the vendor in the loop in the hope I can get it sorted out.

    So I have added more data to the Jellyfish Nebula in narrowband, taken some Ha data on the Elephant Trunk that could turn into a nice mono image, and now started taking data on the Eagle Nebula (M16). That is coming up very late in the evening right now, so I cannot start on it until about 2AM AZ time (3AM here in CO.) I have been able to start an imaging run with embedded autofocusing steps, and go back to bed, and then get up to shut things off before dawn. With the moon almost full atm, I am pretty much restricted to narrowband targets for the best results. If I can get a couple more nights of data on M16, then perhaps I can get an image from that as well. So right now the data haul for prospective final images looks like this:

    • M81-M82 - imaged in Ha RGB. Lots f good data, confident of an image from this stack
    • Markarian's Chain - imaged in LRGB. Also lots of good data, confident of an image from this one too
    • Jellyfish Nebula (IC443) - imaged in Ha/OIII/SII. A decent amount of data on this one, a fainter target, but quite hopeful of a good image there too
    • Elepant Trunk Nebula - started imaging in full narrowband, but not much to pull out at lower altitude in anything but Ha. Hopeful of a mono Ha image out of this stack
    • M101 - Short widefield stack taken while waiting for other targets to appear. Probably could make an image from this smaller stack
    • Eagle Nebula (M16) - so far 2 hours of full NB on this target. Got better as night wore on. Needs more data to make a good image I would think
    Due to COVID issues, my friend has extended his stay which has helped me get a lot more data. However, I have no good way to get the data back here unless he comes back to CO or maybe at some point mails an external HD back to me with my data. Right now I am of course more concerned with his safety and the safety of everyone else than worrying about when I might get data to process. But if he stays out there through the next new moon cycle, I may have to worry about filling up my astro computer hard drive at some point.

    ML
     
  17. JimFox

    JimFox Moderator
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    That sounds very promising Mike. It looks like for the vast majority of us where the Coronavirus has really impeded our photography, it's been a boon to you since your friend had to stay in Arizona longer.
     

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