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I remember in my early days my old astronomy club had a monochrome CCD camera from SBIG which was used for scientific projects. The club opened its doors to students allowing them to discover new supernovae and other cool features in the night sky involving fotometry.

Years passed by and as an amateur astronomer I’ve dealth with DSLRs for the most part of my observing sessions. While DSLRs can be suitable for using them both at day and at night, unfortunately they can’t compete with dedicated astronomy cameras.

CMOS technology has advanced more and mover over the years as well, bringing their sensors to a very competitive level vs. CCD. In a market the recipe to success is very simple and that comes with manufacturing cost. While CCD manufacturing has struggled enormously to lower its costs, CMOS has prevailed in the technology area and made itself more dominant over the years. Availability and cost efficiency are the two major factors in its success. Both sensors eventually convert light to electrons so the end result will be the same.

Thus, it brings us to the point of my blog entry here. I’ve recently acquired ZWO’s monochrome ASI1600GT. A camera that has a very effective cooling capability, high reliability, built-in filter wheel and lightweight. ZWO has done an awesome job and provided amateur astronomers with a very competitive and strong camera. I can’t wait for the California weather to offer me the chance to try it out very soon!

With my purchase I’ve also acquired a set of OIII (Oxygen), SII (Sulfur), H-alpha (Hydrogen) 7nm narrowband filters with a set of LRGB filters from SVBony as well.

Calculating Power Consumption

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When you’re planning to head out for astrophotography, one of the things in your check lists it to figure out your power consumption (or it should if you haven’t figured that out yet!). Some people rely on batteries, others again have a steady power supply from a plug in their homes/outdoor observatory sites, and finally some would rely on a power generator.

To figure out how much power your equipment consumes per hour, there’s a simply calculation method. If you know your Watt-hours and Volts (most astronomy equipment is powered by 12 Volts) to Ampere-hours you can use a simple formula to discover the amount. Supposedly your Watt-hours is 240 then we get;

Ah = \frac{Wh}{Volts} => \frac{240}{12} = 20Ah

Now, to convert how much time would that give us, create a simple list of all your equipment and how many Amperes each one of them consumes. In my case,

  • Mount (NEQ6 Pro): 4 Amp
  • Cooling Camera (ASI1600GT): 2 Amp
  • RCA Dew Heaters (1 Amp each): 2 Amp
  • Lakeside Focuser: 1 Amp
  • EAGLE Pro (Mini-PC + Power Management Unit): 1 Amp

That would give us a total of 10Ah. Supposedly I’m using a Duracell battery of 20Ah, then my power consumption would end up discharging my battery source after 2 hours (20 Ah / 10 Ah).

Instead, in my case I would then need a steady powersource for much longer than that. In average my observing sessions are no less than 3 hours (on mediocre nights) or even up to 4 or 5 hours when there are really beautiful night skies making it worthwhile to stay up longer.

A battery would be enough to just observe visually, but definetely wouldn’t take me a long way for astrophotography. And to make matters worse with batteries, they shouldn’t go below 20% of their total capacity if you want them to be long lived, or say goodbye to an expensive battery after just a few sessions!

I’ve decided that, for my own personal gain to buy a power generator that would provide me a reliable power source for many hours at end, without risking killing any expensive batteries, damage my equipment or to abandon a beautiful night sky. Additionally it gives me great independence from anything when it comes to sudden power outages, people around, or ending up running out on battery sources.

The downside is of course a solid power generator would become heavy to carry around (the one I’m looking at is 48 lbs) and the other downside is of course its loudness (~50 dB which corresponds to light rainfall) when its operating. You’ll also need a long cable to avoid having it too close to cause vibrations during your astrophotography session.

Ultimately nothing beats a steady power source offered by a wall outlet… But you can’t ask to have everything right?

Celestron Power Tank 17

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Maintaining batteries can be tricky if the weather doesn’t permit us from practicing our hobby over extended periods of time. 2021 was an exceptionally bad year for astronomy. Wildfires, wet winter with lots of precipitation and snow in the mountains. Unfortunately deep cycle batteries need to be taken care of and not allow them discharge below 20% of their capacity. It should be enough letting them charge over a couple of hours once a month. Unfortunately, just like many other users, I forgot to follow that routine, ending up with a dead battery. The replacement process is easy when you follow this YouTube guide below from another fellow astronomer.

I ended up buying the Duracell (DURDC12-20NB) battery instead which made it of course an upgrade.

Celestron Power Tank 17 and its original battery on the left

PrimaLuceLab & Enabling Hotspot on Windows Startup

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Finding yourself in the midst of planning an observing session somewhere remotely means you’re already aware on the amount of equipment and checklists that you need to prepare. It is very easy to forget something that would ruin your excitement once you’re on site and realize you’re missing a cable, or other important gadgets.

To make things worse, with today’s technology and computers you also have to remember even more stuff. Charging the laptop to full battery, bring your cell phone, etc.

PrimaLuceLab EAGLE Manager

For PrimaLuceLab’s Eagle owners (astronomy dedicated mini PC), there’s one more caveat to be aware of. And that is namely the setting under EAGLE manager module. Supposedly you don’t have access to an HDMI monitor, or mouse or keyboard to enter in the ongoing Windows session, and for some odd reason your last hotspot settings aren’t starting, there’s a great workaround.

By pressing Windows + R you can open your Run window and type “Shell:Startup”. That will open up your startup folder which executes every time you restart, startup Windows. In our case we will be adding a bat file to execute a command to easily switch on our hotspot for our EAGLE.

Right click within that folder and create a new text file. Inside the text file copy & paste the following command,

@echo off
timeout /t 120 /nobreak
Hotspot.bat file

Save the file as Hotspot.bat and you’re done!

The command above waits for 120 seconds before it enabled your hotspot and we do that while waiting for the Wi-Fi to connect from your cell phone (provided your have hotspot covered by your account wireless provider).

Hotspot on Windows Startup

The encoded portion of the command can be found here

For Windows 10 you’ll need to allow PowerShell script execution. That is done by enabling the developer mode from Windows Settings.

North America Nebula – Canon 50D

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North America Nebula… An object I always loved and I always feared. But still beautiful and amazing in its detail and charming appearance. I also see the symbolism behind it now when I’ve moved to US with family and kids. It was time to grab the bull by its horns and look at it straight in its eyes.

This image consist of 12 separate exposures between 2 and 2.5 minutes each at ISO 1600 with a Canon DSLR taken 10/26/2019. I’ve made an unprocessed blog post earlier about this nebula, but really never had the time to technically deep dive into post-processing and stacking. I thought since I’m about to write an article on the Observer in its coming issue about postprocessing and I’ve chosen Nebulosity, why not give it a try. I’m kinda allergic to try something more expensive than that, such as PixInsight. One day I’ll get my hands on it too.

So here we are… Behold The North America Nebula a.k.a. NGC 7000. Quite wide object (120 x 100 arc minutes) in one of the most interesting constellations of the northern hemisphere, Cygnus.

Image was taken through William Optics FluoroStar 110, with a Canon 50D DSLR, EQ6 Pro mount.

But all in all… I still don’t give up on this object… I’ll be back soon to collect more of its distant and faint magnitude 4 light!

Niklas Henricson

Canon EFS 24mm f/2.8 lens for Milky Way photography

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Finally got my hands on my newly ordered lens that’ll aid me for Milky Way photography. It has a lower f-stop than what I’ve used before so I’m really excited to go out once we get the new moonless nights ahead of us in three weeks or so.

This suppose to be one of top three lenses for Milky Way among landscape astrophotographers using Canon cameras.

Niklas Henricson

Sharing the passion for astronomy and astrophotography

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July 30th, 2020 was the International Friendship Day and I had the pleasure to meet Maxx, Sunita and their friends by having our own little star party. We had a short walkthrough on the main summer constellations and the ancient Greek tales behind them (the stories behind king Lyacon, Callisto and her son Arcas, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Medusa, Kraken and Perseus, Hercules and the serpent dragon Draco) We spoke a little bit about the constellation of Scorpio sent by goddess of hunting Artemis that bit Orion.

Planets Saturn (aka Kronos in ancient Greek mythology, son of Uranus and Gaia or Earth) and Jupiter (aka Zeus in ancient Greek mythology) were very prominent and right above the meridian, as well as the moon

Transparency: Transparent (Above Average)
Seeing: Poor 2/5
Darkness: Magnitude 5.0 (Moon altitude 26.5 degrees)
Wind: 0 – 5 mph
Humidity: 40% to 50%
Temperature: 68F to 77F degrees
Elevation: 5283 ft.

We used the cellphones and photographed the moon, Saturn and Jupiter through afocal method by aligning the cell phone cameras in the eyepiece field of view.

Niklas Henricson

Milky way

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Haven’t done the Milky way in a while and this time I’ve chosen with a Canon 50D and a Canon 35mm lens. The settings were AWB, ISO 1600 and 14 seconds of exposure by using the 500-rule (500/lens mm).

The foreground is Henry Grieb Observatory – Nyack Airport in Blue Canyon, CA. Right above the dome Saturn to the left and Jupiter to the right.

I’ve now ordered Canon’s EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens which apparently is one of the top 3 Canon lenses for Milky way astrophotography to try and get some better results. The lens I was using for the image above isn’t really suitable for Milky way due to high f-ratio, making it a “slow” lens in allowing faint light coming through. That night was also illuminated by the moon (the moonlight reflection can be seen on the dome itself) which makes things worse for Milky way to become more prominent in the photos.

Below are examples of how higher f-stop/f-ratio allows less light through, thus increasing your exposure time, which introduces noise and other issues such as shaking, star trails, etc.

Niklas Henricson

C/2020 F3 Neowise

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There’s once in a while a comet coming by and I missed some really good ones in my life… I thought I won’t let this one go by unnoticed … I took light gear with me in the car and off I went to the highest point in Folsom to overlook towards the eastern horizon. Fortunately I scouted a nice little area that is not surrounded by tall buildings around. The photos were taken with my William Optics Megrez 72 FD APO and a Canon EOS 50D camera. Various exposures from 2 to 3 seconds depending how high it was climbing during the sunrise and the sunlight began dominating… ISO settings were varying between 800 to 1600 as I was playing around. Tripod, remote shutter hand controller…

Niklas Henricson

Father’s Day

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Wifey and kids made me a Cameo father’s day gift. My favorite standup comedian Brent Terhune gave me a personal father’s day dedication by raising his emotional beer! WOOT!