Hello friends and followers,
time and time again I go out, capturing stars with my equipment. By now I have quite a bit of experience with the capture of the nights’ sky under my belt. Despite only started out a little bit more than a year ago I managed to get a pain-free experience with my equipment that allows me a quick and simple setup. And still despite having a relatively quick setup I still have a lot of automation involved that allows me to capture precisely what I want how I want it.
I have been asked to provide a typical night out to show how a typical workflow looks like for me. And this is what I want to show you now, with lots of images, where I have taken some, in a simple timeline. It isn’t really a typical typical night out, but more than close enough. Enjoy the read.
10:00 – Forecasting clouds
A quick check up on clearoutside.com and meteoblue.com for my current location to check out the approximate cloud cover for the evening. Both sites disagree with each other. Sigh. Okay, I will start preparing anyway.
10:05 – Let the current flow
With my main battery almost depleted and me being strongly dependent on it, I started charging it. Since my 18650 DIY battery is undergoing maintenance at the moment I had to use my 35Ah AGM battery. It’s a painless procedure since it’s just the battery pack and a single connector to swap out to change the battery.
12:00 – Baking goods
The 383L+ was a bit of an annoyance the last few nights out. The main issue being the sensor dewing up completely when cooling it sub-zero. It will then take at least 15 minutes until the dew is completely gone and I can start imaging. So I turned on the oven and baked the included desiccant tablets for 3 hours at 200C. Manual states to wait 24h before using the camera again when baking those, but who has that kind of time?
15:00 – Dinner’s ready
Desiccant tablets are done baking. I let them cool down a bit and insert them back into the camera. Hopes are high that the issues will be less severe or gone completely.
18:00 – Charging once, charging twice
Oh snap, I forgot to charge my imaging Laptop. Plugging it into the charger and hope it gets enough juice to power through the night.
19:56 – Packing the goods
With the camera ready I take my USB3 stick for the data from my PC (forgot it so often it hurts already) and pack it up in my backpack. This backpack includes basically all of my electronics and cables that I need for capture. More on that later. I carried the battery into my car already.
20:25 – Sitrep
Going outside checking the weather and clouds a last time before I head out. It looks somewhat cloudy but meteoblue and clearoutside both say it’s going to be clear around midnight and through the night. I’ll believe them for once.
20:29 – Please wait, loading…
Carried everything down to my car and loaded up. Ready to head out to my imaging site!
20:38 – The Arrival
Arriving on my site, which gladly not very far from my home, the clouds are still up. Well what did I expect with a time difference of barely 15 minutes between the last check and now. Anyhow, time to set up.
20:41 – Level – the leveling of levels
A quick setup of the the mount roughly set up towards the celestial pole (thanks to Stellariums mobile app great GPS and gyroscope feature).
Additionally to that I leveled it pretty closely, since my method of polar alignment requires more or less precise leveling.
20:44 – Dancing on a knifes’ edge
The scope which I will be using tonight with the camera and guidescope was mounted on the EQ6-R. I balanced it in RA and Dec as well as I can without overdoing it. This looks fine to me!
20:47 – Reactor online, Sensors online, All Systems nominal
With my mount PC and having almost all cables already attached to everything the setup is quick and painless. The mount PC connecting to the EQ6-R with a DIY EQDIR cable and to the USB hub mounted on the 383L+ using a 1m USB3 extension cable. One power cable is going to the camera and filterwheel and one power cable is going to the mount and mount PC. On the battery box itself is also a small Wifi router which provides me with connectivity.
A minute later everything is booted up and I am connected to the mount PC using my laptop and a remote desktop connection.
20:50 – Preparation to align
With my PC connected, the first thing I do is fire up NINA and connect to all of my equipment.
Since the next physical step will be polar alignment, I use EQMOD and the Polar Alignment home tool to move the mount to a position where the crosshair is approximately horizontal already.
20:53 – Sun go away please
It’s way too early in the night and the sun is still up and the sky is super bright. No stars, no Polaris is visible. I use the time to open a Bluetooth access point on my smartphone and go on Discord to waste my time until it’s dark enough.
It’s still cloudy, but getting better slowly.
21:01 – I am just cool baby
I start the camera cooling so it gets down to operating temperature.
Sadly the desiccant still does not prevent all dew from forming. But it’s better than it was before so I cannot complain really.
21:10 – Can’t see shit, Captain
Camera cooled down, dew almost gone completely, Polaris still nowhere in sight. The clouds are mostly gone, though!
21:16 – There you are
Oh hey it’s dark enough that I can see Venus. That’s a start.
The camera is on operating temperature and all dew is gone.
21:24 – Sleeping hobo style
Since I have nothing to do and Polaris is still not up I decide on setting up my makeshift bed in my car. I expect to spend the night and I don’t want to stay awake honestly.
21:26 – Nothing’s brighter than Vega
Finally I am able to see Vega, can’t take long for Polaris to show up!
21:31 – You were the one I was looking for
After rotating the EQ6-R in the AZ axis for a bit I finally was able to see Polaris. Time for Polar alignment!
At 21:34 the Polar Alignment was complete. Thanks to my method this was a quick and painless process! Read about it here: Polar Alignment in 5 Easy Steps
21:35 – The pole is done, now on to the stars
I fire up StellariumScope and connect to my mount. I will be now doing star alignment.
For that I will slew my mount to Vega, since it’s super bright and easy to see and find.
Once slewed I take an image to see how it looks like. Looks like I am not that far off, but still off.
Time to plate solve the image. Thanks to NINA it’s a one button process and super simple. I start the plate solving and the mount will recenter itself on my target.
A few seconds later the plate solve was successful and my mount is pinpoint aligned on Vega.
21:41 – Sharpening things up
Now I need to focus my scope with the OIII filter. I switch to OIII capture in NINA and it automatically switches my filter wheel to the correct filter. I also enable subsampling so I only see the star and nothing else. That makes it easier to focus and quicker download times for the image.
I place a Bahtinov mask on my scope to get pinpoint focus…
…and take a 10s shot. Since I’m doing narrowband I really need long exposure times for focusing, even on bright stars like Vega. My focus is already pretty close to pinpoint, since I used my H-a filter the last time to focus, which is parfocal with my OIII filter.
I still fiddle around with it and end up with this focus.
21:45 – The most important kind of frames
I put my flat field panel (which comically is way larger than the telescope, but I bought it for both of my scopes really) on the scope…
…and take looped 10s example shots. I need 10s long flats, since I get shutter shadow otherwise, which is not optimal at all. I tend to take flats before the imaging nowadays for various reasons. I adjust the flat field panel brightness until I get a decent exposure for the image.
Then I set up a flat field sequence in NINA for the filter and wait until it’s done.
21:49 – Target acquired
While NINA and my camera take flat field images I use Stellarium and frame my target precisely like I need it. Thanks to the Stellarium imaging mode this is super simple. And since plate solving also tells you the rotation you can even enter that to get a super precise framing.
21:55 – Pinpoint accuracy
Now the flats are done and I slew the telescope to the target. Since I really need pinpoint accuracy I plate solve again so the scope is really accurately aligned. With that plate solve I guarantee that I will get excellent shots of exactly where I need to be.
21:56 – Guiding it to victory
I fire up PHD2 and connect my hardware to it. PHD2 will allow me to take super long exposures by adjusting the mounts movements exactly to a star profile. I start the calibration sequence.
Meanwhile I set up the sequence in NINA. 25 shots of 15 minutes each will do just fine and end up at around dawn.
22:09 – 3…2…1… we got takeoff
Somehow a few things got lost. Basically I ran the guiding assistant in PHD2 which told me a polar alignment error of just 2′. That’s great and around what I was expecting. Then I played around a bit with guiding settings for this specific night since I was not too happy with the guiding as it came. But for now it is fine I guess.
Finally, I start the sequence in NINA.
And that is about it. Now the imaging is rolling and I sit back and relax. Actually I didn’t relax at all and started writing this post. Let’s hope everything works out tonight and you’d get a pretty nice image in the next days, then!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions feel free to ask me in the comments or literally anywhere where I posted this!
2 Replies to “Capturing Stars – A night out with darkarchon”
Really enjoyed this post. I wonder if I have a partner here locally that can teach me thing or two about astrophotography.