Capturing Stars – A night out with darkarchon

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 and 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.

Packing efficiently

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.

Blind trust in forecasts?

20:29 – Please wait, loading…

Carried everything down to my car and loaded up. Ready to head out to my imaging site!

Just never unload so you don’t have to carry as much


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.

Why did I go out so early?

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).

It looks so naked without the scope

Additionally to that I leveled it pretty closely, since my method of polar alignment requires more or less precise leveling.

I’d say that’s more than close enough

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!

Dressed in black and white, so unusual again to only use one counterweight

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.

This ain’t cable hell anymore, thanks USB hub!

A minute later everything is booted up and I am connected to the mount PC using my laptop and a remote desktop connection.

Booting up the hardware is already half the job

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.

Starting the software is the other half

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.

Thanks EQMOD. Without it everything would take much longer.

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.

Might as well shitpost in Discord when I’m at it

It’s still cloudy, but getting better slowly.

Why did I trust weather forecasts again?

21:01 – I am just cool baby

I start the camera cooling so it gets down to operating temperature.

The high temperatures really let the cooler work, a lot.

Sadly the desiccant still does not prevent all dew from forming. But it’s better than it was before so I cannot complain really.

It only took 10 instead of 20 minutes to fully disspiate

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!

I remember again why I trust forecasts, they’re not that wrong

21:16 – There you are

Oh hey it’s dark enough that I can see Venus. That’s a start.

It’s that tiny dot between the clouds, I swear!

The camera is on operating temperature and all dew is gone.

Yeah! Ready for imaging! Where is my darkness?

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.

Sleeping somehow beats not sleeping at all

21:26 – Nothing’s brighter than Vega

Finally I am able to see Vega, can’t take long for Polaris to show up!

Yeah uh, my phone really can’t into astrophotography

Imaging Setup

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!

I have no idea how it ended up at that Alt

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

That ended up with less than 2 arcminutes of error, good stuff

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.

StellariumScope isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, but it does its work for me

For that I will slew my mount to Vega, since it’s super bright and easy to see and find.

I’m just used to it and Stellarium is fancy

Once slewed I take an image to see how it looks like. Looks like I am not that far off, but still off.

Way closer to Vega than expected without any alignment done

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.

Whoever invented plate solving is literally god, this helps so much

A few seconds later the plate solve was successful and my mount is pinpoint aligned on Vega.

Boom, Headshot! Can’t get more precise than that.

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.

Smaller frame = faster download, makes sense, right? CCD download is really slow otherwise…

I place a Bahtinov mask on my scope to get pinpoint focus…

It might be partially broken, but it still works just fine

…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.

Narrowband focusing is a real pain, those dots should be lines

I still fiddle around with it and end up with this focus.

No idea if this is actually better or worse than before

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…

Comically oversized, I even made an insert so it holds onto 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.

Because I need 10s flats I got the regulated flat panel. It helped me a lot.

Then I set up a flat field sequence in NINA for the filter and wait until it’s done.

NINA makes my life also way easier, setting up sequences for the appropriate filter and image type is just simple and works

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.

The only downside of Stellarium framing is that you literally can’t frame on anything but stars

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.

I want to stress here how much easier life is with plate solving

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.

I think I accidentally rotated my guidecam so I had to recalibrate

Meanwhile I set up the sequence in NINA. 25 shots of 15 minutes each will do just fine and end up at around dawn.

I ended up actually doing less because of cloud cover for around half an hour

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.

Whatever, my pixel scale is 2.34″/px anyway

Finally, I start the sequence in NINA.

If you haven’t tried NINA, really, try it out. It’s simple, powerful and free!

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!

Let’s hope it stays clear for the night!

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”

  1. Really enjoyed this post. I wonder if I have a partner here locally that can teach me thing or two about astrophotography.

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