Tag Archives: imaging

SharpStar 15028HNT

After months of trying to get my trusty Sky-Watcher Quattro F4 to work with the ASA 0.73x reducer I decided to go all in on an F2.8 astrograph. After doing some research I stumbled across the SharpStar 15028HNT F2.8 Hyperboloid Newtonian Reflector from my local supplier 365Astronomy.

After toying with the idea and speaking to my good friend Nick from Altair Astro and with the idea of going back to a refractor, I decided that I could not go back to slower than F4 and I wanted something that in essence would work with a bigger sensor than my QHY183M, and the Sharpstar looked like it could work for me, so I placed my order with Zoltan from 365Astronomy and collected it the following day.

Unboxing the scope, I was like a young child at christmas, the scope came with a very sturdy protective hard case and removing the scope out of the case you could immediately feel that a lot of time and effort had gone into producing the 15028HNT.

Aperture: 150mm
Focal Length: 420mm
Focal Ratio: F2.8
Weight: 6kg
Tube Material: Carbon Fiber

With the scope unboxed I started to fit my equipment onto the scope. In order to fit my Sesto Senso I had to rotate the focuser 90 degrees clockwise due to the telescope mounting rings, this is when I noticed an isue that one of the grub screws on the focuser would not tighten and I needed to stop the backlash, fortunately there’s another grub screw on the other side that tightened and stopped the backlash.

Before I attached my imaging equipment, I had to ensure that the telescope was collimated, so I stumbled across the collimation guide which after speaking with my good friend Terry Hancock over at Grand Mesa Observatory who was also evaluating the same scope, we both agreed that the colimation guide wasn’t very well written as it mentioned nothing about collimating the primary. One thing that it mentioned is to remove the corrector, Sharpstar include a tool for you to remove the mounting plate and corrector, but here is a word of advice……..remove this when the telescope is cold, take that advice from someone who tried to remove it whilst it was warm!

I performed a laser collimation with my Concenter Eyepiece to check the secondary, and then a laser to check the primary, now the collimation guide says to remove the corrector, I have done validation with both the corrector removed and the corrector in place, and it made no difference whatsoever, so my opinion is to leave the corrector in place.

With the scope closely collimated, I mounted my StarlightXpress Filterwheel and Camera which with the 15028HNT is an M48 thread for the gear to screw onto.

I will post some images as soon as I have completed some, the weather has been pretty poor (probably because I bought a new scope), but the frames I have got so far are very sharp, pinpoint and I can honestly say I have never seen images come directly off the camera so sharp.

My field of view with the QHY183M is around 1.21 Arcsec/Pixel which gives me a FOV or around 1.81°x1.2° and I love the difraction spikes being at 45 degrees compared to the 90 degrees on the skywatcher and I already have a pretty full target list for this scope ready to go this season.

Apart from the couple of product issues I have experienced (Grub screw on focuser and tube clamp thumbscrew being threaded) I am extremely happy with the scope, it is performing really well and here are a couple of work in progress images that I have started

Dark Shark Nebula Moscaic Panel 1 – 51x300S in Red, 25x300S in Green and Blue
Elephant’s Trunk – 51x300S in 6nm Ha
M45 – Mosaic Panel 1 – 12x150S in R, G and B

After a few weeks, the telescope has held collimation very well, I have not had to perform any re-collimation, I will re-evaluate this in the much colder months of winter.

I am so happy with the scope that I am actually considering a second one for an OSC Camera with a bigger sensor.

M101 / NGC 5457 – Pinwheel Galaxy in RGB

M101 / NGC5457 or most commonly known as the Pinwheel Galaxy is a face on spiral galaxy in Ursa Major and has a distance of around 21 million light years from Earth.

The QHY183M picks up quite a lot of the Ha detail in this galaxy without me having to image separate Ha Filter data

Image Details:
101x150S in R
101x150S in G
101x150S in B

Total Capture time: 12.6 Hours

Acquisition Dates: Feb. 27, 2019, March 29, 2019, March 30, 2019, April 1, 2019, April 11, 2019, April 12, 2019, April 14, 2019

All frames had 101 Darks and Flats applied

Equipment Details:
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
Focuser: Primalucelab ROBO Focuser
FIlterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium RGB
Power and USB Control: Pegasus Astro USB Ultimate Hub Pro
Acquisition Software: Main-Sequence Software Inc. Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: PixInsight 1.8.6

PrimaluceLabs Sesto Senso Robo Focuser

Getting the best FWHM in your images is something that I have struggled with when imaging a whole night. As the temperature fluctuates, so does the FWHM in your images, this was a problem I had with my images at the beginning of the season. I looked around and the only focuser I could find was not a stepper motor focuser, so it didn’t offer predictable results. Since I am using the stock focuser for my Sky-Watcher Quattro 8-CF (and it’s a solid focuser at that), I did not really want to change focuser mid-season, so I did some research and landed upon the PrimaluceLabs Sesto Senso ROBO Focuser.

Now my expectations here were pretty low since I tried an electronic focuser and tried to use some sort of Auto Focus routine without any length of success, but when the Sesto Senso arrived I was excited as I looked at it and thought to myself that this would do the job.

Out of the box the Sesto Senso is very solid, good quality feel to it, and came with a bunch of different adapters for different focusers, one specifically for my Sky-Watcher Focuser too. I read the installation instructions a couple of times and set to work on upgrading my scope.

Installation
Installation was fairly easy and straight forward, I removed the slow focusing knob off the focuser and attached the adapter for the Sky-Watcher that came with the Sesto Senso, so within 30 minutes it was successfully fitted. And I can still manually focus with the fast focusing knob on the other side of the focuser:

After all the physical installation was done, I then needed to install the software on the observatory PC, since I image using Sequence Generator Pro, I proceeded to install Sesto Software and the ASCOM driver so that SGPro could talk to the focuser, again this was relatively simple to do. Once this was completed it was important to load up the Sesto software and perform a calibration so that the Sesto Senso knows where the most innner and outer focus positions are.

Setting the Focus Control module in SGPro was a breeze, for this I used a Focusing Mask to get a rough focus and set that point for all of my filters, now the following setting are what works for me really well, but basically:

  • I use 20 data points to achieve focus.
  • Step size between focus points is 20
  • Focus frame is 10 seconds for all filters, this is to get a better normalised focus frame, I was finding 5 seconds was too short and gave un-predictable results.
  • I set it to re-focus after a temperature change of 3.0 Degrees C since the last focus.
  • I re-focus on any centering action which is useful if you use a mirrored telescope like me.
Sequence Generate Pro Auto Focus settings
You can see here that my start off point is 50146, so it will go 10 points either direction of this point at 20 steps per point

I have now been using the Sesto Senso for a few months now and it has not failed me, I maintain a good FWHM value throughout the night and it an awesome piece of kit, well done Primaluce Labs. Is there anything that I would change about it?

Only one thing…….It requires separate power, which in all honesty I can understand why but if I could run the power through USB that would be a bonus.

One problem I have with the Auto Focus routine in SGPro is that in the image sequence, since my filters for LRGB are all parfocal, but my Narrowband filters are not, I only wish to focus on a filter change if it’s going from LRGB to Narrowband to LRGB or Narrowband to Narrowband, unfortunately SGPro doesn’t have that intelligence in the sequence, I am trying to persuade Jared to have that in there to make life that bit more simple.

Anyway I hope this review inspires you to consider this awesome piece of kit, it’s certainly helped me!

NGC6888 – Crescent Nebula in SHO Narrowband

This object is a little tricker for me since I only have a 3-3.5 hour window per evening due to trees and the house blocking my view, this is also the first image that I used the drizzle function within PixInsight to be able to provide a detailed up close version of the image, I was very happy to have captured the brown “Globules” within the nebula to

Crescent Nebula in SHO Narrowband
Same object but with a 2x drizzle function in PixInsight applied

Image Details:
Red Channel – SII Data – 89x300S
Green Channel – Ha Data – 64x300S
Blue Channel – OIII Data – 109x300S

101 Darks, Flats and BIAS Frames used 

Equipment Used:-
Imaging Camera: QHY183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Skywatcher Quattro 8″ F4 Newtonian
Guide Scope: Skywatcher Finder Scope
Guide Camera: QHY5L-II
Mount: Skywatcher EQ8 Pro GEM Mount
Focuser: PrimaluceLabs ROBO Focuser
Filterwheel: StarlightXpress 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader 7nm Ha, SII and OIII
Acquision Software: Main Sequence Software Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: Pixinsight 1.8.5

Pegasus Astro Ultimate PowerBox

I spent a lot of time looking at PowerBoxes/USB Controllers, the late Per Frejvall had developed a very nice Remote USB Hub but of course with the passing of Per, these are no longer available. I looked at two hubs, the HitechAstro Mount Hub Pro abnd the one I settled for was the Pegasus Astro Ultimate PowerBox.

Unboxing the PowerBox I was pleased with the build quality, they even ship mounting brackets for you to be able to mount it onto your setup, here’s an image of mine mounted on top of my Sky-Watcher Quattro:

Pegasus Astro Ultimate PowerBox on Imaging Setup

I loaded up the software onto the observatory PC and again pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get started and configure the names of the powered devices connected as well as names for each of the dew heaters, in the following image you can see my power connected devices and my dew heater for my guider camera:

Screenshot of Control Software

I configured the software to automatically power my devices the moment the unit is switched on, so what do I have connected to the PowerBox?

  • QHY5L-II Guide Camera
  • StarlightXpress USB Filterwheel
  • PrimaluceLabs ROBO Focuser
  • EQ8 Pro Mount PC-Direct Cable

I didn’t connect my QHY183M at the moment as I discovered that during image download it seemed to cause a timeout on the QHY5L-II Camera, I have raised a ticket with Pegasus Astro on this one. From a Power perspective, I only have my QHY183M and my Rear Fan assembly/heater connected as I currently do not have the power cable to connect directly to the hub for the EQ8 Pro (On Order). There is also a temperature sensor for the ultimate version, which works well as an interface for Sequence Generator Pro and my Auto Focuser routines.

I have been using the Hub now for a good few months, I am pretty happy with it, am I totally happy you might ask, well to be honest there’s a couple of niggly things that I have emailed Pegasus Astro about (awaiting a response):

  • Voltage. I am running 13.8V regulated bench power supply capable of delivering up to 15A which is powering the hub, however when devices such as the camera, dew heater, fan assembly are all running, the voltage level drops down to around 12V according to the software, I would not expect this to do so, I would expect it to remain 13.8V. My EQ8 Pro mount is powered by the same supply (but not through the hub currently) and during slew the voltage in the software does not change, so it’s obviously something being caluclated within the hub somewhere.
  • Issue with USB3 Camera (QHY183M) is still outstanding
  • When you set the power to the dew heater for example I always run it at 170, however when the software restarts you have to manually go and set this again
  • Ability to reboot or “Disconnect” a specific USB Port remotely would have been nice.

The main reason I wanted something like this was the ability to reboot the hub remotely, with standard USB Hubs this is not possible, as above, I would love to have a bit more granularity on this and have it on a per USB port but it works well for me right now.


QHY183M Review – Part 1

After much waiting (due to delays on Sony Sensors) I have finally received my QHY183M ColdMOS camera from QHYCCD which I collected from ModernAstronomy last weekend, so I apologise for the really bad weather we’ve had.

As you all know, for the past few years I have been using an Atik 383L+ Mono 8.3Mpx CCD Camera, so when QHY announced the QHY183C I immediately asked them if there was going to be a mono version to which they said….Yes!

So firstly you might ask why I chose the QHY183 camera?  Well the simple reason for this is that it offered me a higher pixel resolution for almost the same field of view that my Atik 383L+ offered, however there were other factors that swayed my decission:

  • Back Illuminated Sensor
  • High Quantum Efficiency (QE)
  • Optimal Cooling
  • Lightweight

So let’s first of all talk about the back illumination and what this means to astrophotography.  Typically CMOS sensors are orientated with the light receiving surface and the transistors/wiring facing the light, so when imaging it is possible to get reflections of light bouncing off the circuitry, with a back illuminated sensor, all the circuitry are on the underside of the surface that faces the light, thus elliminating the possibility of reflections bouncing off the transistors, the following image shows this in a bit more detail (Courtesty of QHYCCD):

So obviously the more light we can get to the imaging surface the better it is for our data acquisition, every photon counts right?!

The QHY183M has an extremely high Quantum Efficiency (QE) of 84% which means that more data is absorbed by the chip than my previous imaging camera which had a QE of just over 60% based on the KAF-8300 sensor from Kodak.

One of the first things I tested when I unpacked the camera was the cooling system, I wanted to know how good the cooling system was, QHY stated between 40-45C Delta, so considering the outside temperature was +5C I managed to get the camera down to -41.6C which was a delta slightly above the 45C promised by QHY, so considering I typically image at -20C this now means I can image when the outside temperature at night is even as high as +25C which typically doesn’t happen in the UK.  I also noticed that the QHY183M uses less current than my 383L+ did to get ot the same temperature, so another bonus of less power requirement.

Weight is always an astrophotographers enemy, so it was much to my delight that the QHY183M weighs a lot less than my ATIK 383L+ did, the 383L+ weighed in around 700g and the QHY183M weighs in around 450g.

Out of the box
My first impression of the camera is that it is well built, a bit more of a compact design in comparison to my previous camera, has a USB3.0 connector (even though I am still using USB 2.0) and has a port to connect a dessicant tube to if required.

Software Installation
Driver installation was relatively straight forward, if you are using a third party imaging program like Sequence Generator Pro, make sure you install the ASCOM drivers so that SGPro can then speak to the camera.  In SGPro there are options for Gain settings, according to QHY the unity gain for the 183M is 11, so I have mine set to this value in SGPro.

Image Download Speed
After completing my dark frames library, I noticed that the download speed from Camera to Observatory PC was much much faster than my Atik was, even though I am using the same USB 2.0 Hub, on the Atik it could take anywhere up to 20 seconds to download the image at 1×1 binning, obviously the QHY183M is a much bigger sensor at 20mpx, however the image download time is circa 5 seconds which reduces image acquisition time greatly for multiple exposures.

Dark Frames
My dark frame library is completed, below are four different exposure times, 90, 180, 300 and 600 seconds, each image consists of 25 frames combined using PixInsight

90 Seconds:

180 Seconds:

300 Seconds:

600 Seconds:

As you can see the darks are really good, if you stretch out the images you will see the AMP glow on the right side of the image, this will be removed in dark frame subtraction and is a common artifact on all CMOS based imagers.

I did have the occasional icing issue on my 383L+, however the QHY183M has a heated optical window, so time will tell on how often I will need to use the dessicant tube.

Conclusion so far…before imaging

Pros:

  • Excellent design.
  • Lightweight.
  • Very predictable cooling system cools to -45C below ambient.
  • Cooling system is much quieter than my previous camera
  • Less current draw versus my previous camera.
  • Easy software installation.
  • Very fast download speed of around 5 seconds per frame at 1×1 Binning.
  • Very high QE of 84%

Cons:

  • AMP glow, I am probably being a bit mean considering all CMOS based cameras are subjected to this.
  • M42 thread on the camera is not long enough for the StarlightXpress EFW, I had to place a piece of card between the camera and the Filterwheel otherwise the camera just keeps spinning round and doesn’t tighten.
  • There’s no electronic shutter like my previous camera, which means for my dark frames it has to be completely dark in the observatory

I hope this review is beneficial to you all, especially if you are considering either the 183C or the 183M.  I will post part 2 of my review when I have actually got it all focused and acquired some photons from the sky.

Skywatcher Quattro 8-CF Imaging Newtonian

After much deliberation and conversations back and forth with Bernard at Modern Astronomy, I finally decided to go for the Skywatcher Quattro 8-CF 8” F4 Reflector, there was a number of factors that helped me reach this decision, most of it was the British weather being so unpredictable that I needed to get as many photons for my images in the shortest available time.  I was used to imaging at F7.5 that the F4 was going to give me significantly faster optics, I also opted for the Carbon Fiber version purely from a thermal expansion perspective as it was going to perform better than the steel tube version.  I also opted for the 8” as the Native focal length of 800mm suited me perfectly, and I plan on getting the Keller reducer to bring it down to 560mm @ F2.8.

Setup and Collimation
When I received my telescope and optically matched Aplanatic Coma Corrector, I was impressed with the build quality of the scope itself, internal baffles to boost contrast as well as eliminate stray light, and the focuser is pretty sturdy for a stock focuser, and quite easily handles the weight of my CCD and Filterwheel.  I mounted the telescope next to my Guide scope on my Skywatcher EQ8, I wish they had provided a Losmandy plate with the telescope, but the Vixen style bar still worked out well.  After balancing the scopes on the mount I was ready to check the collimation, for this I used my Farpoint Collimation Kit, firstly the laser to ensure it hits the centre spot of the primary, and the laser return reached the centre point of the laser collimator itself, the adjustments required were very minor.  After this I verified the collimation with the Farpoint Cheshire and it verified that the collimation was correct, only thing left to do was a star test, for this I used a 10mm Eyepiece and a fairly bright defocused star, the star was spot on, I could see all the concentric rings.  I then proceeded to perform the same star test with the CCD and the Aplanatic Corrector to verify, which of course it did.

Scope Details:
Focal Length: 800mm
Apperture: 8 Inch
Focal Ratio: F4
Tube Composition: Carbon Fiber
Focuser: 2″ Dual Speed Linear Power Focuser

First light
My first target for 2016 is the Iris Nebula, my first set of frames came through and for a 5 minute exposure I was impressed with how much data I had collected, data that would have taken over 15 minutes to collect on the F7.5 refractor I now use as a guide scope, I managed to finish a target off within a few days of imaging rather than over a multitude of nights

I have also not had to re-collimate the scope or adjust the focuser on the scope over the few weeks I have had it, so overall I am above and beyond happy with my decision and I am now able to image targets in a shorter timeframe which in the UK you have to grab every clear sky you can

A few months on
I have had to re-collimate the scope 0 times, even after removing the primary mirror assemply for cleaning, the focuser is still rock solid and holds the camera gear extremely well.   I have made an addition to the scope, I have added a fan system to the rear of the primary mirror, the fan also has some nichrome wire which allows the air being blown around the primary to be just above the dew point which prevents dew forming on the primary and believe it or not the secondary also, even in high humidity sessions.

Build Quality: Extremely pleased with the build quality of the scope, even the focuser is sturdy and holds all of my gear really well

Collimation: Extremely easy with the right tools, it has required no further collimation in the months that I have now owned the scope

Improvements: Could have come with a fan assembly, most of the other F4 scopes from other vendors do

Conclusion
After months of usage, I have produced some really good images in short timeframes due to the fast F4 ratio, I am looking forward to using this scope again next season with 3nm NarrowBand filters and possibly the Keller Reducer to bring it down to F2.8