It has been a long time since I posted a blog. Lots has happened, both in the astronomy world and in our personal life. Mars is past opposition as this is being written, Saturn and Jupiter are still being imaged as well. M57, my CSPN (Central Star of Planetary Nebula) focal object is high enough after midnight to image. Unfortunately the weather is not cooperating! Since January 1 we have had 8 clear nights! 6 of those had either telescope issues or computer issues and the others were making sure everything worked as it was supposed to. We need the rain here in northern NM but it is not good for astronomy.
The ST-2000 camera quit and caught fire last fall. It is too expensive to get it fixed so I am using a borrowed SBIG ST-402 with BVIC photometric filters. In January, February and March I was fighting to balance the scope after adding an external autoguider. The ST-2000 had an internal guider so adjustments had to be made when a new camera was installed. At first I went with a 50mm (converted to a finder from a binocular) this worked well but just did not have enough focal length to accurately guide the 11″.
So I built a 70 mm finder from a defunct binocular and lots of tubes from Lowes! It worked well but I started having some balance issues because of it’s size and weight. The scope would slip at certain positions.
So after a spell of rotten, cold weather I went out and looked at everything. I had a 80 mm short tube telescope from Orion and rings to mount it on. It has a good field of view, offers focusing and should be a big step up from my other finder/auto guiders. However, the scope was really off balance with this monstrosity on it! Looked cool but if I couldn’t figure out how to balance it there was no way to use it.
So after much thinking I added a 90 degree weight holder and put a 5 pound scope weight on it. That did the trick! See the image below.
Holding it out at an 90 degree angle on the bottom of my scope counterbalanced the weight of camera and autoguider. So now that I had that problem licked I waited for the next clear night. When it finally arrived the computer quit! It is a dual core Lenovo Thinkcentre (M57) with 4 Gb. It looked like a power supply issue so I ordered another one, installed it and still no go. So I wired in a new SSD drive to my old TRO 32 bit Optiplex computer. It drove an 8″ robotic Newtonian for several years with 2 Gb of memory so I figured it would work OK. It booted up and seemed to work well but would drop the autoguider driver periodically. There did not seem to be a rhyme or reason for it’s unruly behavior. Since it was cloudy just about every night I decided one day to take apart the Lenovo. Turns out that there is an issue with it’s memory slots. If the modules are not completely pushed in and locked it acts like you have a bad power supply. So I shoved in the chips and fired it up. Since it was still cloudy with no relief in site, I decided to upgrade a bit. After some research I found an 18 dollar used quad core processor on eBay and installed it. When we finally had a clear night I hooked up the SBIG ST-402 and my guider camera, a Meade DSI Pro. Worked like a charm! Haven’t had a clear night since! Here is an image of M 3 taken with autoguider and Lenovo upgrades.
The week of July 25-31 our family is moving to Alamogordo, NM. I have accepted a science position there teaching Earth/Space Science and Physics at the high school. I’m sure I will miss my current position as a senior pastor at a church but I am excited about getting back into the classroom as a teacher. We are only looking at houses that will allow a good view of the night sky and will be taking the observatory with us to set up. TRO will be down for most of July and probably August as well. Alamogordo has more clear skies and slightly less light pollution than our current location. Because of Apache Point on the hills behind Alamogordo they strictly enforce a light pollution ordinance. This should improve the output of TRO significantly.
In the next issue of Astronomy Technology Today an article I wrote about my new AR 102 telescope will be featured. I am really excited about getting published! The last blog was a review for Cloudy Nights Website. This was the basis for the ATT review but it was completely rewritten for the magazine. If it ever clears up I intend to write a review of my ZWO120MC camera and submit it as well. It is kind of frustrating to have the equipment but not the cooperating weather!
Keep the Stars in your eyes!