Reviews

ZWO’s ASI1600GT

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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
powershell.exe -encodedCommand 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
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.

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

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

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!

Cosmic Watch

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IMG_2346

I’ve had the pleasure to be in touch with the creators behind Cosmic Watch app which can be found either at iOS App Store or at Google Play for Android devices.

The new version has a plethora of new features to access a range of beautiful settings in regards to constellations, planetary position, the solar system position in correlation to our galaxy, switch between locations on earth and keep up with time zones, day/night time settings, while you can still browse back and forth in time to find out what the night sky looked or will look like ahead of time.

I must say I’m impressed by the beautiful design and easy way to access all these features and how quickly the app responds to each setting. I really recommend this app for kids and adults alike if you’d like to explore and learn real-time how the earth’s orbit around the solar system works and how constellations move around over time.

 

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The app was created by,

Concept & Design: Eduardo Santana
Advisor: Markus Humbel
Software Engineers: Reto Spoerri, Adrian Pflugshaupt
Astronomical Algorithms: Jean Meeus

Cosmic Watch can also be visited on Facebook if you’d like to ask questions to the creators behind this software.

The new version 2.0 has also a built-in point-and-view feature that helps you learn constellations, star names, planets, etc and explore the night sky at real time! That’s a super neat feature that is very helpful for everyone who wants to learn more on how to find things in the night sky. A perfect tool for families and educators

IMG_2355

Niklas Henricson

Fires and nature around us is changing

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Many times as an amateur astronomer/astrophotographer you’re trying to locate good places with good seeing and local weather to accomodate your needs in astronomical observations. Many amateur astronomers have spotted favorite spots away from modern civilization’s disturbances such as lights, traffic, curious individuals that approach you with headlights in the middle of the night, such as dog owners, hunters, security guards, the local police force, etc.

I’ve met all of these types of people in the middle of the night and believe me sometimes they scare you more than nature wildlife sounds might do. California is rich in wildlife, such as snakes, bears, mountain lions, etc. Animals however always want to keep their distance to your nightly activities and are less curious than human beings on what you’re working on during a photographic session.

There are many stories I can tell you about these meetings, but this blog entry is more about loosing the beauty of nature that once was there protecting you from city and traffic light, dew, and temperatures. The devastating fires in my immediate close area last summer was different. I live with my family very close to California’s most aggressive fires that happened in this state’s history ever before.

The so called Carr fires in Shasta county (including Hirz) then later on the Camp fire in Butte county where the most devastating wildfires that I’ve ever seen. Loosing forests so drastically, not to mention cities and home societies that were wiped out of the map is a weird feeling. You realize how vulnerable we all are against the climate changes and you literally end up loosing everything. At my job we all know someone, either close family relative or a family friend that has lost property and even family members. It feels as if we are in a war zone and you can’t do anything about it. Human lives, wild and domesticated animals, acres of both forest and farming land was lost in matter of a week from the moment those fires started.

Insurance companies are now facing huge issues in trying to pay back all those incoming claims from their insurance policy members which effects everyone financially. Local businesses are lost and people end up moving (migrating) away from the areas. I saw people camping in parking lots and had nowhere to go and no family to take care of them.

It was most noticeable this past November in 2018 when Thankgiving was around the corner when you realized how many people wouldn’t celebrate one of the biggest key holidays in US, freezing cold that night in their cars completely alone from the warm homes that once protected them.

Everyone is making new year’s resolutions about gym, career, health, but I believe my new year’s resolution is to try and bring awareness to people about our nature changes and do my best to document and write more about the climate change and its effects on all of us. There’s a major disbelief that climate change is hoax, but you can’t simply ignore the fact that all these people and animals have died for something we all could have done something about.

Wikipedia documentation on all the wildfires in California 2018

While east coast is starting consequentially experiencing annually the wrath of hurricanes and extreme storms here in California we got something called Fire Season… It is unbelievable, you know it’s going to happen again every year and every time with more devastating effects. California’s once proud forests are slowly turning out to its neighboring state Nevada… A Marsian looking desert.

Forests are more than just nature’s lunges… They protect us from landslides, they improve home living from high summer temperatures and people who suffer from medical conditions end up living close to those areas to ride out California’s extreme summer heat, they provide us with knowledge, they improve local businesses and trade by bringing over tourists and campers, they host threatened from extinction animals and insects and many other things.

Let us hope 2019 will be more hopeful with less fires and nature disasters against our natural monuments and our homes.

 

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Niklas Henricson

Lick Observatory

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Lick Observatory Entrance
Lick Observatory

For my 40th birthday my wife took me to the Lick Observatory. It was in my to-do list a very long time but we never found the right time to just go and visit it. It is resided just 3 hours from where we live, but the road there is very curvy.

Lick Observatory was built 1887 on the top of mountain Hamilton facing San Jose with a breath taking beautiful view. The name of the observatory was in honor of James Lick who founded the building of the the world’s first mountain-top observatory accompanied by the time the world’s largest refractor (lens) telescope.

We had a great time and the observatory is family-friendly. We had the luck to arrive 10 minutes before a guided tour was about to begin. Normally the observatory isn’t open for visits, but around this time of the year they open to public. Much of its funding is done through the gift shop, so if you drop by that’s a great place to make donation to keep the free guided tours alive.

There are many discoveries that have been made by the Lick Observatory, such as the distinction of the several different rings on Saturn, played a key-role in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the expansion of universe, discovery of exoplanets, among many other successful research discoveries.James Lick

Parts of the observatory are still used for science and research with the latest modern equipment. There are other domes that house these aside the infamous Lick telescope dome that occupies the highest point.

At the bottom of their 36-inches Lick telescope is James Lick buried right at its base. I recommend people visit this historically important observatory. There are so many things to look at and read about hanging at its walls and at the exhibition area, such as fragments of meteorites, old generation CCD sensors and cameras and log books from astronomers in the past.

 

 

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