This page describes the current status of the Observatory.
Since initial operation in 2010 I have had a constant string of upgrades as I have tried to improve the
operation of the observatory and improve the picture quality.
Photos of the Observatory
Note I modified the lower shutter to only partially open. Given
my high horizons this does not obscure the sky while offering me some
relief from local light sources.
click picture for full size
Note: older AP 900 mount is shown
Equipment on Bench
Detail of Sky (left) and Guide Cameras
The Sky Camera gives me a wide
angle view of the sky. That way I can see if the scope is
pointing at clouds.
My Clarity weather sensor is good at detecting weather that is
potentially dangerous to the observatory. It is not as good for
sensing high clouds. I considered several solutions, but settled
on using a surplus Orion StarShoot Autoguider with a Tamron lens
(originally intended for security cameras. I attached this to the
bracket at the top of the telescope. I can now monitor the sky and
confirm there are really stars up there.
Clouds are gathering
I knew clouds were a possibility when I opened, but this confirmed
it. At this point the Clarity was still saying the sky was
clear. Shortly after this picture was taken the clouds were thick
enough that it triggered a weather alert.
Not Ideal. 3 streetlights are
visible plus the neighbor to my north has backyard lights.
Quality of the Site
Not an ideal location for an
observatory. I am at least in the pink area. This is why I
am going to focus primarily on Narrowband.
December 2015 - March 2016
Tube sag due to the heavy instrument package has been a concern
since day 1. In early December I tried to reinforce the focuser
extension tube using a Parallax ring. Unfortunately when I
measured the results I had made the system significantly worse!! After
some advice from the AP maillist I narrowed the cause back to the
Parallax rings I installed more than 4 years ago. They never fit
properly and thus the scope was never square to the declination
axis. (or so the current theory goes).
I have now replaced front Parallax rings with Takahashi rings.
fit my AP mounting plate unlike the parallax rings which required me to
oval the holes. I am still planning to support the focuser extension,
but this time with ADM rings. These allow me more ability to
adjust once the scope is in place.
Due to El Niño the scope has been in the house since December.
I was not able to resume full operation until April. The good
news is that the scope is now tracking perfectly. For most of the
time since April I have not used active guiding. As of June I
turned it back on, but only on a "Best Effort" basis. If it has
problems I revert to self guiding.
After talking with the AP folks at AIC I bought an AP sourced Baader
Varo Finder kit and put my SBig STi back to work. Initial tests
are mixed. I got excellent results near the equator, but poor
results for M 81.
After much deliberation I decided to go ahead and purchase the
1100AE. The absolute encoders have dramatically improved my
tracking performance. Also the 1100AE is better suited for remote
operation since the 1100 eliminates cable tugs. The encoders permit
setting a hard limit and provide a means to recover from a "lost scope"
February 2013 - April 2014 Upgrade
It seems like I am doing something each February. In 2013 I
planned to replace the first generation SBig 8300 with a camera that
had a better cooler. Little did I know that this cycle would take
I settled on a FLI Proline 16803. The primary goal was to improve
the cooling, but the 16803 will also give me a greater FOV at the cost
of less resolution. As a part of this I also had to replace the
filter wheel and chose to get a more robust focuser. Due to
weight concerns I initially bought a CFW-4-5. With this filter wheel I
could only configure my system for either Narrowband or Nb4Stars +
Hydrogen, but not both. The order took FOREVER and once it
arrived I had to redo the optical path because the camera/filter
wheel.focuser was too heavy for the CAA.
The Orion ST-80 even with the new focuser had enough wiggle to wreck my
tracking. Thus I replaced the guide scope with a simpler and
lighter Hutech that screws together. After experimenting with
several guide cameras I ended up with an Orion SSAG. The images
are noisy, but the camera is very sensitive and has very small pixels.
Thus it is perfect match to the Hutech (Orion sells a similar scope,
but with a "design to cost" mount).
The limitations of the CFW-4-5 proved too much for me. Thus I
ordered a CFW-5-7. This allows all my of Narrowband and NB4Stars
filters to be used at the same time.
I also took the time to redo the
lower shutter system. Now it works reliably.
During the summer of 2013 I analyzed some of the initial photos in this
new configuration. Sadly it looked like a mishap I had with the
scope 2 years before had damaged its optics. So the scope took a
journey back to Japan. It returned in April 2014. Once
everything was together and running the system now works perfectly.
I have perfect guiding, wide field in focus across the entire
frame, and all of my filters.