So, if you follow my blog here or follow me on Instagram you know that on my last night of gathering data for my Rosette Nebula project I ran into a snag with alignment – do to my own misdeeds – and it frustrated me to the point that I gave in and began asking around about connecting my mount to a PC and using software instead of the SynScan hand controller included with my mount for alignment and GoTo movement. Thanks to a lot of people of Twitter and Astrobin.com, I was able to get over my anxiety of trying new things and I set up my current rig to run strictly off the PC.
The idea, as shown above is to have the mount connect directly to the PC with no hand controller and with no ST-4 connection from the guide camera. The guide camera also connects directly to the PC. My mount, the Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro, has a USB connection builtin, a lot of mounts do not. For those you will need a special cable that connects from the ST-4 connection to the USB on your computer. I use a powered USB hub that I have mounted on the tripod legs to run all of my USB cables – the one from the mount, the one from the guide camera and the one from my imaging camera – to that then feeds into one USB port on my laptop. My hub has 7 total ports so if I want to add in an electronic autofocuser in the future I can. I am still working on my cable management but with this setup I lose one cable all together and another cable gets simplified, so it is getting there!
Now, with this setup, everything, and I mean everything can be ran off of the computer. This includes polar alignment, star alignment, and goto actions – and because there is software that can do what is called Platesolving, the accuracy of you being on your target is essentially 100%. The other huge benefit is that the guiding is done by pulse through the PC connection versus having to go directly through the camera with the ST-4 connection. Couple this with PHD2’s multi-star guiding and barring issues, you will guiding will be golden.
Once I am setup, I can begin my evening by using SharpCap Pro (you must have the paid Pro version) to polar align. I use my mount’s polar scope to ensure Polaris is visible then I turn on SharpCap. I begin in home position (mount should be off) and use the SharpCap Polar Align Feature. It will tell me what to do step by step and once I am done, I can return the mount to Home and begin my alignment process.
To align – I use my image capturing software – I use Astro Photography Tool (APT). I turn my mount on, then turn APT on, connect to my mount and camera and then select a bright star to go to. It does its initial movements, then I platesolve, it adds corrections and moves again. This process repeats until the star I chose is centered – automatically! I then ensure my focus is good and select my target for imaging. I repeat the above process of platesolving and aligning then when it is complete I open up PHD2, connect my guide camera and mount and begin calibration. Note: If my target is not close to the meridian, I try to use a star for my initial alignment that is close to the meridian (right now Capella works well) to do both my initial alignment and focus as well as my PHD2 calibration. Unlike with ST-4 – once calibrated you can move from target to target without having to calibrate again.
Once I am on target and and goto is finished and I am guiding, I simply begin my imaging plan. That is it! One note I will make is, if you are not planning on doing a meridian flip – you just want the mount to keep going, make sure you check your driver software – in my case, and in most cases, EQMOD and ASCOM – and uncheck the box that will stop the mount when it hits the meridian. It will not continue to track the target if that box is checked.
The main issue I had was that it was really cold! Around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees C) for most of the time I was out. Regardless, I was able to get some new data on NGC 417 and the Tadpole Nebula as well as get additional data on NGC 2264 – The Cone Nebula / Christmas Tree Cluster.
The last thing I did was attempt a 10min (600s) exposure. The results are shown above! The first image is a single 10 minute long exposure on M81 & M82, the second image is that exposure combined with five 5 4minute long exposures. All in all I was happy with how everything ran and the ease of setup. Looking forward to getting back out there the next time the sky is clear!
If anyone wants any information on how to setup the mount, etc, or any questions on general, please feel free to leave a comment.
Update: It was pointed out to me that I hadn’t mentioned any of the equipment that I use, so here is as full a list as I can think of:
- Mount: Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro
- Imaging: Meade Series 6000 Triplet APO / Canon EOS Ra
- Flattener / Reducer: Astro-Tech 0.8 Reducer or Hotech Flattener
- Filter: Optolong L-eNhanced or L-Pro
- Guiding: ZWO 30mm f4 Mini Scope / ZWO ASI224mc
- Computer: Old Alienware laptop
- USB Hub: TP-Link USB 3.0 7-Port Hub with 2 Charging Ports
- Cables: (all cables go from the listed equipment to the USB Hub)
- Canon EOS Ra: USB Type C Cable, Anker Powerline III USB-A to USB-C Fast Charging Cord (10 ft)
- ZWO ASI224mc: C2G USB 3.0 SuperSpeed A to B Cable M/M – USB cable – USB Type A (M) to USB Type B (M) – USB 3.0 – 10 ft – black
- Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro: Amazon Basics USB 2.0 Printer Cable – A-Male to B-Male Cord – 10 Feet (3 Meters)
- Power Supply:
- House Power
- Generic extension cord and generic power strip
- Sky-Watcher AC/DC Adapter – S30105
- Field Power
- Orion Dynamo Pro 155Wh AC/DC/USB Lithium Power Supply – 02309
- House Power
Software I use: SharpCap Pro (polar alignment), Astro Photography Tool (imaging / GoTo / alignment, etc), Lightroom (exporting images to main PC), DeepSkyStacker (stacking), Photoshop with Topaz Suite, Astronomy Tools Actions and GradientXtreme plugin. I also have Astro Pixel Processor that i mainly use for extracting channels for simulated palettes.
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