Sunrise from “Astronomers Headquarters” at the base of Mintaka Hill, Mayhill NM on Thanksgiving morning here in the US
6:30 AM on 11/24. Sunrise over the Sacramento Mountains. I came up to Orion’s Belt last night right after work to work on calibrating the new mount. It’s been a whole month since this key piece of equipment arrived. Since then I have been troubleshooting less than optimal pointing behavior. It turns out I have a lot of backlash in declination! So at least I know what the problem is. Sometimes you need to take a break from all this equipment hassle and just enjoy this amazing universe we live in! A cup of coffee on a brisk November morning with the sunrise could do the trick.
The much anticipated Paramount MEII arrives! This was on October 31st
Current setup which is temporary on this pier until the bigger optics arrive. This is a Tak TOA 130 refractor, Canon 60D
We now have a platform consisting of a mount, optical tube and camera! Yay! Unfortunately the mount is not performing as expected which of course is disappointing but we are determined to fix the problem. I have found with all this imaging stuff the more you spend the more trouble there is! You would think a telescope mount that costs as much as a car would be trouble free. I guess not. Anyway I keep telling myself they sent up the Hubble in 1992 with a mirror surface that was jacked up and required refiguring!! So I guess things aren’t that bad. At least my equipment is still Earthbound! More coffee and sunrises for me.
Well it’s been quite awhile. A little over 2 months since they broke ground on the observatory. Unfortunately things like work seem to get in the way! But we are happy to report the structure is now fully operational and all that is left is to install the instruments! My wife and I painstakingly undertook the many projects leading up to this point: painting and staining the wood, installing the fiber cable and flooring, securing the conduit joints, putting up the sign. No disasters thankfully. The electrician installed the power to the observatory and placed an outlet on one of the 2 piers. The other he couldn’t do because he was unable to pass the cable through the conduit. That was my fault because the conduit on the west side away from the panel was pointing to the other pier instead of toward the warm room. A few too many bends in it getting over there, but we were able to pull cord through it so he will come back hopefully soon and should then be able to use the cord we placed to get his electric cable through
A word about setting up a working observatory for possible remote operation. Obviously you need electric but you also need internet! So prior to observatory construction, there are 2 conduits that are installed in the ground by the contractor and these run from the house to the observatory. One is for electric and one is for internet. You should space them several inches apart apparently so there is no electrical interference.Up here in this development there a lot of folks doing this so I do not have to reinvent the wheel as it were. There are several former IT guys, Johnson Space Center alumni, engineers etc. No shortage of expertise in this stuff. Of course since I have never done this I would have thought: Ok no problem, just run some ethernet cable from the house and you’re good to go. I was told “no..don’t do that! Ethernet is too slow. You need to lay fiber cable!” OK so what is “fiber cable”? It happens to be fiber optic cable. It conducts data at the speed of light! Ok I understand “speed of light”. That is fast! So as it turns out it is not that complicated. We purchased the fiber cable on line. Very inexpensive to my surprise. About 200 feet of cable was only $75. What you need is this box called a “media converter” which modifies the signal from your router so you can then plug in the fiber cable and it will transmit the signal to the observatory optically. When it arrives in the observatory, a second media converter box changes it back so you can then run standard ethernet to your computer and other devices. The difficult part was pulling the fiber through the conduit. Another new experience! How does that work? How it works is you first take a durable plastic cord light weight, tape a plastic bag on the end and place the plastic inside one end of the conduit. Then take a vacuum and place it at the other end. This will suck the bag all the way through. You then have the cord running through the entire conduit. Then tie one end of the fiber cable to the cord and slowly pull it through the conduit. Took us a couple of tries but it finally worked!
This is the internet set up at the house. The router is at the top right. The thing with the antennae sticking up. The arrows point to the media converter and the fiber cables (orange) plugged in. An ethernet cable runs from the router to the converter
Arrows point to the fiber cable entering the east wall of the observatory and going into the warm room
Once inside the warm room, the cables plug into the converter (left arrow). An ethernet cable runs from the converter to an ethernet switch which can receive multiple ethernet devices
Inside the house we had to drill through the closet floor to pass the cable to the outside and into the conduit. Thankfully it was close to where the conduit was and the flooring is basically synthetic. Easy to get through!
We have a local metal shop fashion a sign for the observatory! Notice the dark nebulae in the metal!
2 conduits entering the east wall of the observatory. Left one is electric. Right one is for the fiber cable
View of the inside! For now I’m using my portable set up. Notice the flooring. We used 1/2 inch rubber work-out tiles! These are great because they eliminate static electricity which does happen up here with the dryness! Also it is a softer surface to walk on
August 4th the Backyard Observatories crew completed their mission in a most efficient and professional manner! I highly recommend BYO for anyone considering one of these. Unfortunately I missed a couple of days due to my work schedule. In any event Orion’s Belt Observatory is now complete!- sort of. Next is connecting the data and electric, painting and setting up additional equipment for remote operation. First light with the 16″ is not expected to happen until next Spring but it possible we could have our 5″ refractor operational by the end of the year.
You can see the entire build at orionsbeltobservatory.com!
Entry door on the west wall. Roof opens to the north
East wall looking west
Inside the observatory. The 2 foot drop down panel is seen to the right. We had the roof insulated to prevent excessive heat build up in the summer
The warm room! We have a 4 foot window on each side to monitor the operations of each pier
Roof motor just outside the warm room
Inside the warm room. It’s about a 5 1/2 foot depth. Plenty of space!
Day 2 of the build was actually yesterday. Once the flooring is in, it goes pretty quickly except the crew got rained out. They are hoping to finish by week’s end
Bright sunny day to start off as the walls go up!
Entry door is on the west wall. This is where the walking trail takes you from the house.
The south wall has a 2 foot drop down to facilitate viewing of the precious southern deep sky objects! The wall height is 7 feet. I can adjust the pier height accordingly. I kind of got tired of ducking every time I go into the smaller structure I have in Las Cruces and I am over 6 feet tall myself
To the north is the warm room. The great thing about a roll off is you have the option if you make the structure big enough to have more than 1 pier. Since I will have 2 piers, I will also have 2 stations in the warm room. The weather is starting to turn for the worse. It is our “monsoon season” this month.
Floor detail showing the 2 piers.
Detail of the framing inside the structure
Two things really surprised me last night while I am spending the weekend up here on Mintaka Hill watching the observatory build. A while back I purchased a used Tak FS102 refractor basically for visual use up here in the dark sky. The Tak FS is a fluorite doublet, since discontinued by Takahashi in favor of the TOA and TSA triplet optics mainly for the supposed imaging advantage, the perfect color correction. Anyway the older Taks have a superb reputation and I can’t tell you how amazing the views are through this thing. However, as an imager by nature, I just had to see what the images were like. Now I am used to big optics with self guiding dedicated ccd cameras. This is completely new to me, which is just one of the things so great about this hobby in that you can discover new things all the time…even if it’s not dark matter! I had also acquired in the past a Celestron AVX equatorial mount also for the purpose of goto visual observing. But wait a minute! There is a “guide port” on the mount. So now we have a scope and a mount that can guide. I looked into this at length and of course there is a “Celestron VX” Yahoo group. It turns out that yes you can guide! And you don’t even need to connect the mount to your computer to do it! So next thing was to figure out what to use. This set up was not going to hold much weight so next thing I needed was a guide scope and a lightweight guider. I decided to go with a lodestar guide camera and a small 50mm scope compatible with my set up (shown below). With my Canon 60D which can easily reach focus on the longer FL Tak and a freeware guiding program called “PHD” I was able to test the new platform! I was blown away by how accurate the guiding was for only rough polar alignment. I’m still learning how to fine tune that on this mount. Perhaps more on that in another post. Anyway you be the judge. The stars are not perfect. They may not even be in the best focus since I had to do that on the fly. But I think you can agree that this is going to be a worthwhile activity going forward! So the 2 things I learned that surprised me:
- The Tak FS102 CAN take very good images. Also the field is pretty flat.
- You can guide accurately with the Celestron AVX with no planetarium program and no direct connection from the mount to the PC!
Portable visual/ imaging set up. Tak FS 102 on a Celestron AVX. 50mm guidescope is mounted on the Tak as you can see. How guiding works: Connect your dslr as you would normally to your computer. Attach the guide camera to the guidescope. You should have 2 cables with your guide camera. One cable is an ethernet like cable that connects directly to the guide port on the mount. The other is a usb cable that connects to your computer. Download the freeware program “PHD guiding” and follow the instructions. When asked to select your guiding configuration, choose “on-camera” which means the camera is connected to the mount. That’s totally it!
This is a completely raw unprocessed image of our good friend in the Milky Way, the Lagoon Nebula. 4 minute exposure using the set up described above. This was with very rough polar alignment. I was within about 20-25 arc minutes of the pole in both altitude and azimuth!
The BYO (Backyard Observatories) crew finally arrives and construction starts on Orion’s Belt Observatory! Completion of the structure is expected in a week. Day 1 went fine. No disasters. The foundation was a little off level to the north and west so they had to put shims but otherwise no issues.
The crew finally arrives! Construction begins. View to the West
Completion of subflooring and connecting the conduit from the piers to the electrical panel and warm room
Flooring is done. It appears to be pretty level with the piers. One data conduit per pier enters the warm room
Day one is in the books with floor done and 2 walls
A successful day 1! View to the north from Alnitak Trail
Probably everyone who visits a dark sky site with any regularity has the urge to take “that shot” of the southern Milky Way. With spectacular weather up here for the 4th that’s exactly what I did at about 1 AM when the Milky Way was just past meridian. So while I don’t have the observatory up and running yet, we have a large deck where I can set up a camera and tripod, and with the aid of the Polarie Star Tracker (Vixen Optics) I took 24 frames each 3 minutes long. The Polarie device is basically a small synchronous motor, battery powered with 2 AA batteries, that you can screw your camera onto and it will allow time exposures of the sky. There is a small site hole in the body of it to site on Polaris. The tracking is decent. I used a Canon 60D modified with a 10-18mm zoom set at 10.
Southern Milky Way from Mayhill NM. Single raw image 3 minutes. Canon 60D, 10-18mm lens set at 10, 1600 ISO, Polarie Star Tracker. About 1 AM Mountain Daylight Time