A Christmas image and equipment update

First of all I hope everyone had a fantastic christmas.
I was actually a little surreal as this was the first year in about 10 years that I have not worked at all over the christmas holidays.
Things have been a little slow of late due to the weather but it has given me a chance to tweak a few things.
In the last set of images there was a few things that I was not completely happy with Diffraction spikes did not look right which pointed to a possible issue with the spider vanes and also some slight collimation issues which showed in the flat frames as well.


Having worked on the scope on and off for a week or so and after getting a laser collimator for Christmas I think I fixed some of the issues and any remaining issue should be a little easier to solve. My Flat fields look a lot better as do the stars, there is still a slight reflection issue that I am trying to figure out but nothing unpleasant. Yesterday however I finally got a clear spell to actually get everything out and test. I have been building a library of dark frames taken at various different temperatures and timings so this was a good chance to see how the mount faired with a longer exposure time. Since getting the mount back I have only gone as long as 300 seconds, last night I shot my first set of subs at 600 seconds in less than ideal seeing conditions. Although the PHD guide graph was very erratic due to seeing the resulting images all had round stars and with a zero bin count I am very pleased indeed.


I also installed and setup Astro Tortilla a few days ago and last night was the first time I have got chance to test out platesolving. This was very successful indeed and is going to become a main part of my acquisition workflow. Having to setup the scope each time means that I have to Polar align the mount and then align the scope and sync it using software to get accurate go-to’s.
Platesolving allows me to take the guess work out of this and uses software to calculate where I am pointing, sync the mount and then if required re-slew to the required location with the errors corrected (I hope this makes sense). This is something I will be looking at further over the coming weeks once I have had more time to use it.

Everything back and together again

My Custom Skywatcher 130PDS on Darkframe tuned HEQ5.

Well today the mount came back from DarkFrame and I got the chance to put everything back together for the first time since the recent upgrades.
I am over the moon with how everything has gone back together and tonight I also added the ADM saddle that originally came with the mount (now I have larger dovetails). This should help to give some extra stability as well as enable me to use different scopes in the future. The upgrades have added a little extra weight to the system, I am not too worried as everting is still very much within the weight limits  of the mount. The counter-weights are now located further up the bar compared to before so should actually be better in terms of reducing Inertia in the mount. I have had a slight set back with the new camera in that the T2 Adaptor that I purchased for some reason does not fit, this is being sent back and I have another on the way along.

I can now give you a little more information in regards before and after tuning. Before I go any further I would like to say just how impressed I was with David and Darkframe, I would highly recommend him to anyone. I have been keeping in touch with him through the entire process and he has been more than forthcoming in regards to answering any questions that I had.

The standard HEQ5 Pro Synscan even in its standard form is very good mount however there a few things that we have to consider.
This is Chinese mount that retails for around £750 when new. Now this sound like and is a lot of money however, when compared to other mounts that are out there this is actually at the cheaper end of the market and represents very good value for money.
The mount in its standard form has been tested and will give an average unguided RMS of 20 – 30 arc-seconds and around 3 arc-seconds with a guided setup. Now in imaging terms this equates to an average or around 10 – 40% dropped frames at a maximum of 900 second exposures (at around 530mm) in a guided setup.

This is where Darkframe comes in. Darkframe offer a hyper-tuning service that includes a number of modifications and a few that are unique to them.
The full service includes a popular belt drive modification but also a hybrid ceramic bearing setup which was developed by them.
When you add up the cost of a standard set of upgraded bearings (£50 – £80), the belt drive modification (£100) and the average home tuned mount performance this starts to look like a very good price indeed. The question is how does does the darkframe service really compare?

Darkframe are one of the few companies that actually test mounts and even better publish their data.
A HEQ5 once tuned by them has been tested to give an average unguided RMS of between 3.5 – 6 arc-seconds and as low as 0.9 arc-seconds in a good guided setup. When it comes to imaging that can equate to a little as between 0 – 10% dropped frames at a maximum of 3600 seconds (tested at around 500mm). One thing I would like to make clear here is that every single mount and setup is different and there are number of factors that have to be taken into consideration when looking at these figures (weight on mount, mount age, seeing conditions, polar alignment and focal length etc…). David spends a LOT of time working on and testing every single mount him self until he is happy with the final result. If you would like more information and data regarding the HEQ5 and other mounts or the tuning services that he offers take a look HERE.

To say I am happy with the mount so far is an understatement. I have not had a chance to get it out under the stars yet and test it however just from the difference in feel and the way the mount reacts and moves is a massive improvement over the standard setup. One thing that I have also noticed is the noise, or lack of. The belt drive cuts down on a lot of this but the tuning that is done really does take it to another level. The mount is quieter, smoother and a lot more rigid. The original mount setup has a fair amount of play and backlash in it, not any more,

I will be updating with further findings and test results as the weather permits.

New Camera DIY

Well the camera that I purchased arrived yesterday after a delay due to the weather.
My intension from the start with this camera was to modify it for astrophotography. There are a number of ways that this can be done but they all have their plus and minus points.
I wanted to still retain the ability to focus at infinity with lenses as well as with a telescope which meant either going down the clear filter route or using the Baader filter which would also act as a UV/IR filter. Due to the cost of a dedicated UV/IR filter along with a clear filter I went with the Baader as this does two jobs at once but is not a full spectrum modification like the clear filter version.

I set about stripping the camera down which actually is not as hard as you would think as long as you take your time.  As with anything like this I would advise anyone doing this uses some kind of Antistatic mat and wrist strap. As you can see in the corner of the photo there is a sheet with all the screws put into sections and held down with tape, this makes life a lot easier when you come to put it back together and also prevents loosing any if knocked.

After replacing the required filter and allowing the glue to dry I then put everything back together. At this stage I began initial testing to make sure everything was working and due to the design of the sensor on the 600D I also have had to make sure that the sensor is aligned and flat.
The first test proved that everything was working however I could not get infinity focus, for telescope only use this would not be a problem but I wanted to use standard or adapted lenses as well. I have since stripped the camera down again and adjusted the float screws slightly on the sensor and retested it. At this stage everything is working and looks to be aligned, I am now also able to focus at infinity.
For testing I used a standard 50mm f1/8 that I borrowed.

The final test is going to be a star test, close inspection is required of the centre and all four corners making sure that there is no tilt in the sensor.
I will post an update once I get a chance to do the final test. For anyone looking for more information on doing this please get in touch or take a look here.


DIY Guide rings and the third screw

Having previously made a more stable mounting solution for my guide scope I have since found that I needed to take it to the next level.
A decent set of guide scope rings from what I have seen cost around £80 – £100 and not something I was prepared to pay.
The main reason behind wanting a better solution was so I could align the guide scope with my main scope and enable me to platesolve targets.

I set about doing a bit of research and found a number of different DIY solutions so decided to have a go at making a set myself.

Guide scope and rings completed
Guide scope and rings completed Skywatcher 9×50 guide scope and QHY5L-IIM Camera

A quick search on ebay resulted in my buying a section of Aluminium tube, the best part here was that the company offered a free cuttiing service.
I ended up purchasing a 100mm section with 10mm walls, 70mm outside diameter and requested they cut two 20mm sections for me.
A few days later this arrived as stated and was ready to start working with.

At this stage I employed the help of a good mate who let me borrow a drill press and a few taps.

I marked and drilled three holes for each of the bolts and a fourth to mount the ring to the dovetail bar.
The three bolt holes on each ring then got tapped using an M5 tap and the fourth was a 1/4″ Tap to match the holes on the skywatcher dovetail bar.
One everything was tapped I then gave the rings a quick going over with fine sand paper to get any sharp edges off and cleaned everything with Isopropyl Alcohol.
I used M5 Stainless steel bolts to prevent rusting and hold better than normal nylon bolts found in some of the cheaper guide scope rings that I had looked at.
The rings are then bolted to the dovetail using 1/4″ Hex bolts.

A simple Guided DSLR setup.
A simple Guided DSLR setup.

This should give me ample scope for adjustment and I can honestly say is as solid as a rock. For reference the Scope is a skywatcher 9×50 finder scope with a QHY5L-IIM camera, everything needed for this including the adaptor to mount the camera can be at Modern Astronomy who I highly recommend.

Whilst I was at it I also decided to create a setup that I was able to use without the telescope for guiding a DSLR. Drilled an extra hole towards the rear of the dovetail
Large enough for an M10 Bolt. This has enabled me to mount a Ballhead at the rear of the guide scope and attach a DSLR and lens.
This I am hoping to use for imaging a wider focal lengths than I could with the telescope but still retain the ability to guide.
In total the entire cost of making the guide rings was around £15 including the Alu tube section and bolts. Additional costs would be involved if you wanted to setup the guided DSLR ring but again would not cost the earth and would not total more than £50 depending on the ballhead.


One of the other issues that I have faced since day one is camera tilt. As standard the standard focuser although very good only has two screws holding the camera


and coma corrector in place. I have to be very careful when attaching these otherwise I get a small amount of tilt in the imaging train that shows up in the resulting images. I had looked to see about getting a replacement such as a clicklock or something but there seemed to be very little around.

A ended up going down the route of adding a third screw to the standard adaptor instead. The standard bolts are perfectly fine for the job however they are very small a not easy to turn with cold fingers or gloves.
A quick search on ebay and a few days later a set of better M4 bolts arrived with larger knurled tops. These are large enough to be able to grip a lot easier but not so big that they get in the way of anything.
I drilled and tapped a third hole and everthing is complete.

The third screw I can tell streight away has made a massive difference and mating the camera and coma corrector to the focuser tube is now a lot easier and with no tilt at all.

I will post an update in regards to how the guide scope rings perform once I get a chance to get out and test them and all being well will also be able to give a bit of a more in-depth look at platesolving as an alternative to star alignment.


Fettling and Flocking

As stated in an earlier post I have sent my mount off to be hypertuned.
There had been a number of things that I have thought about doing come next summer however with the mount being sent away I decided to bring the timeline forward and get them done.

One of the first things that I had wanted to do is flock the scope. As standard the scope is already pretty good and is lined with a matt finish paint.
I had on a number of occasions whilst collimating notice just how reflective this coating still was and even more so the focuser tube.
Knowing that I would have to strip the scope down to its bare compoinants I also decided to double check the focuser collimation and the centre spot on the primary mirror.

The first task was to strip down the scope. This actually turned out to be pretty easy and the only issue I had was getting the primary mirror cell out as it was wedged in fairly tight. Once everything was stripped down it became even more apparent just how reflective the standard coatings are on the tube and focuser.

img_20161020_2023461The first step once stripped was to wipe down the entire surface with Isopropyl Alcohol to remove any residue either from manufacturing or from dust from imaging.
You can see from the image just how reflective the coasting are and even more so the silver on the outside of the focuser tube.

Now there seems to be somewhat of a debate in regards to what you should use to flock the scope. The main goal is getting something that stays together so to not end up with tiny fragments of the material over time. One of the suppliers that I have come to trust recently is First Light Optics. I found that they also sell flocking material by the roll at a very reasonable price (See Here).
Given that the tube is not the largest I quickly opted to line it in strips. I cut the strips and lined the tube allowing a small gap between each section to allow for expansion and contraction. Once complete I set about cutting out all the holes with a scalpel blade and gave the tube a good hoover to get rid of any fragments that may have come loose during the cutting process.


There wimg_20161021_0157171as a  very viable difference once completed and I actually used less than a single roll doing the
entire tube. The next phase was to flock the focuser tube and black out everything else that mattered.

This took two different approaches. The focuser tube on the outiside a silver finish and a matt finish the same as the scope on the inside.
The focuser tube runs on runners and I did not want to impede these so opted to flock up to the runners and then black out the small remaining strip with a black sharpie.
After measuring the inside it was clear that there was also more than enough room to be able to flock the inside of the tube. Again this was done in strips up as far as the threads at the end.

This made a massive difference and I can see this really helping with stray reflections and brighter targets.


The next step was one of the parts that I was in two minds about doing, the primary and secondary mirror.
I opted to not flock the back and sides of the seconary but instead black them out again using a few coats with a black sharpie. Trying to get the flocking material at the right size and shapes was not something I wanted to tackle and the sharpie worked fine. The primary mirror once in the housing did not seem to have too many issues so I opted to leave this at least for now.




dscf1100The next step was to check the centre of the primary mirror spot and it also quickly become clear that I needed to do something that puts the fear of god into even some of the most experienced people, cleaning the primary mirror.
I had already done a bit of research on this and decided to use a combination of two different approaches to get a clearer picture of things.
The first was to draw around the primary mirror and then cut it out and make a small circle in the centre to give me the centre of the cell.
The second was using a photographic approach. Both came out with pretty near the same conclusion, the centre spot was out by around 2mm.
I had already worked this into the project and ordered a replacement centre spot at the same time as ordering the flocking material.
You can see from the state of the photo just how far out the centre spot is and the condition of the primary mirror.

I first marked the centre spot using the circular template I had made and then set about removing the original centre spot.img_20161021_0154321
The entire processed that I followed came from a popular you-tube video on the subject (see here).

I set about with some acetone (Nail varnish remover) and slowly worked at the centre spot to remove it. the standard centre spot came off pretty easy but being very careful not to remove the new centre mark I had made. Once this was done I then cleaned the surrounding area again with Acetone and applied the new and improved centre spot (more about this further down)
The next step was cleaning. I used to own a Marine aquarium and just happen have had an RODI machine setup. this is what I opted to use instead of the standard distilled water. The issue I have with any kind of water like this is that its very quick to take contaminant form the air around it and the container its held in. The RO water that I used came out with a 0 TDS and is about as pure as you can get (as used in labs).
After cleaning the mirror as described in the video and giving it a good rinse I allowed it to dry.
At this point the focuser was put back on and checked for correct collimation and the scope put back together.

I was lucky enough to have borrowed a laser collimator from a friend and I must admit it did make aligning the primary a lot easier.
The idea behind the new centre spot is that as well as giving a better contract for when you are collimating, it also is shaped in such a way that you are able to know instantly which of the primary bolts need adjusting. When putting the primary back into the housing its a simple case of making sure that each of the three point correspond to one of the collimation bolts on the rear to the primary mirror cell. This instantly made collimating a lot easier. With the scope back together I was over the moon with how everything looked and how much better I think it will be once out under some dark skies. I will give more of an update on this once I have had a chance to test it.

As far as doing this I would recommend flocking to anyone. As long as you have some good sharp cutting tools and patience there should be nothing stopping anyone with a basic knowledge from doing this.
On the flip side cleaning and re-spotting a primary mirror is not something I would say was for the faint hearted. Under normal conditions you should be able to go a number of years without needing to clean a primary. It is only down to the fact that my location has a lot more dust in the air that it got in the condition it did so quickly and re spotting the primary did make a few marks which needed additional cleaning as well.

New dedicated website and a massive update incoming.

Well its been far too long but the weather and further equipment issues have meant very little in the way of updates until now.

First I would like to welcome everyone to the new dedicated website.
It became clear to me after speaking to various people that this site deserved its own space, this has been an ongoing plan for a few weeks that has only just managed to get put into action. Over the coming weeks there may well be a few changes but the core is now up and running again.

The last few weeks have been very hit an miss in regards to weather but also in regards to my guiding. I have been experiencing some very strange guide graphs and could not figure out what was going on. After getting a polemaster (more on this later) I should have been getting better guide graphs compared to before with my less than optimal alignment. Over the space of a few evenings thing went further and further down hill. After a lot of investigation and stripping the mount down I ended up sending it off to be repaired and hypertuned by Darkframe optics. All being well I should have the mount back over the next week or so ready to image with the new camera and modified scope (more updates to follow).

I will be posting more about the polemaster, new camera and the modifications over the coming days along with a few images I did manage to acquire before sending it off.

First lunar and planetary images

With the sky not really being dark enough for Deep sky imaging I thought I would take the opportunity to try out lunar and planetary imaging for the first time with this setup.
I managed to get another xbox live vision camera and removed the lens housing to expose the sensor. This was then attached to an old film canister to make a nose adaptor for the telescope.

My first target was  the moon. For this I used the camera without a barlow and attached it direct to the scope.
I took a quick look at the size of the image and decided to go for a complete mosaic, this was using 6 panels in total and 500 frames per panel.
Once all the panels had been completed I stacked them as individual panels and then brought them together in Microsoft ICE.

The second target I decided to have a go at was Jupiter.
This was taken using a 2x Celestron barlow. The imaging conditions happened to be less than ideal and seeing was terrible.
I managed to grab 500 frames in between clouds to make up the final image.
Seeing jupitor and its moons for the first time really was something special, I can that I am going to spend a lot more time on this.
first jupitorI am very happy with these images for a first attempt using the new setupand looking to get a better camera to aid in this type of imaging.

M81 and M82 (Bode and Cigar Galaxies)

Well last night I got my first image from the new setup.
After fine tuning a few settings I managed to get the guiding setup to a point where I was happy to start imaging for the first time.
There are a few bits to look at further and there is still room for improvement with my polar alignment.

The tool that I can honestly say is an absolute must have is the Bahtinov mask. this made focusing a lot easier. the idea being that once the centre spike is central then you are in focus.

Once I was in focus I set about dialing in the best exposure for the conditions.
The final image was taken using 24x180s exposures at ISO800, 8x Darks, 10x Flast and 10 Bias Frames.

M81 and M82 - Bode and Cigar Galaxies
M81 and M82 – Bode and Cigar Galaxies

Teething troubles and some DIY

Over the last week or so I have been taking another good look at the setup.
It started by taking another good look at my collimation. after using a combination of a home made eye piece from an old film canister and a Cheshire collimator I thought I had it pretty good. After coming across a video I was given an idea that would make life a whole lot easier.
I set about building a camera from an old webcam to make a camera that would aid in collimation.
After a little work I managed to get everything setup and managed to fine tune and tweak the collimation a little more than I could ever have done by eye.

I have been forced to take another look at my guiding setup and and think I may have found solutions to a lot of the issues that I have been faced with in my first few sessions.  Although I can see north, my eye sight is not 100% and the polar scope is very hard for me to see through.
I have set my self on using drift aligning to get a good alignment (better than I ever would by eye anyway).
My first few nights have been somewhat interesting. I had major issues at the start with calibration and then further issues with my drift alignment.
DSCF7551I got everything setup and seeing my first set of graphs I knew there was a problem. This I have since found to be a combination of things that I have set about putting right. Some are equipment related and some have been user related.
The graph and guiding really was all over the place, some of this I have put down to a combination of flex in my guide scope setup, some in various issues with my mount (Periodic error and backlash) and I have since found a lot also to do with the way that I am going about it.
One of the first things that I have done is strip the mount down and make take any play out of the worm gears and adjust everything.
This was not as bad as I thought but was worth doing to make sure nothing had moved during transit.
The next thing was address any possible flexure that I may have been having with my guide scope setup. This is something that I had been told about from the very beginning and though it was a good time to rectify the any possible issues that this may have been contributing to my problems.  A decent set of guide scope rings are not cheap and something I refused to pay that amount of money for.
I set about finding an alternative and came across a setup that looked to tick all the boxes. The setup involved a little DIY but has cost 1/10th of what it would have cost for a guide ring setup.

I am looking forward to getting out the next time and seeing just what a difference everything is going to make.
Going forward I am also going to be looking a better finder scope. the one that comes with the scope is fine but again due to my eye sight and using a full GEM trying to look through it can be taxing when the scope is in a number of positions