Keith B Quattrocchi, MD, PhD                                                                                                                                                                                         December 20, 2005

 

                  

 

Brief Comments:  Equipment and Software Used

 

Equipment:

            A more detailed account of the equipment used can be found on the homepage link to my observatory.  The basic concept employed in building my observatory was to have a reliable system for deep sky imaging.  This required several principals to be followed.  The first is a solid foundation for the telescope (my pier has a 5x5 foot base of concrete sunk 5 feet into the ground).  With our radical weather conditions I choose a roll-off roof observatory built by modifying the “Sky Shed” design (www.skyshed.com).  The entire system, including the roof, can be robotically controlled using Windows XP desktop remote.  A reliable and accurate mount with robotic capabilities was needed and for this Software Bisque’s Paramount ME (www.bisque.com) was installed.  Since my main interest was and is deep sky imaging I chose, as my main telescope, an RC Optical Systems 16” Ritchey-Chrétien Truss Reflector (www.rcopticalsystems.com).  The system has held up well, and works flawlessly in weather conditions ranging from -20° F to 100° F.  For deep sky observing of small objects I use the RC-16 (image scale of 0.51 arc-sec/pixel with a 9 micron pixel camera) and for wide field astrophotography I have a Takahashi 106 FSQ (www.takahashiamerica.com/catalog/TAK_about.php)  piggy-backed onto the RC-16 (image scale of 3.5 arc-seconds/pixel with a 9 micron pixel camera).  There is an RCOS field flattener since my cameras have large chips.  These cameras come from SBIG (www.sbig.com) and include and STL-6303 for the RC-16 and an STL-11000 for the Takahashi 106 FSQ. The filters I use are Astrodon L,R,G,B and H-alpha filters with NIR blocking. These filters have excellent RGB overlap and excellent NIR blocking with a near 1:1:1 RGB weighting with most CCD cameras (with my SBIG STL-6303 the weighting is approximately 0.8:1:1.2.  These filters (and the great support that goes with them) can be found www.astrodon.com/oldsite .  To the optical train I’ve added a Van Slykes Megaport Sidewinder (www.observatory.org/vsengr.htm).  This allows me to use an off axis guider (SBIG 402-XME) and use the slider port for planetary imaging or viewing (all without affecting the image train and, therefore, the T-point model).  In addition I have an SBIG STV (with a wide field lens) attached to the Takahashi 106 FSQ.  This is controlled with the “STV Remote” software and acts as a robotic/remote finder scope (especially useful in centering planets).  The visual feedback is via a separate coaxial line to the observatory (the software feedback is slow). Getting the STV lines through the Paramount ME’s mount required dismantling and reassembling the STV’s output wiring. 

            The only thing I wasn’t able to do was change the weather patterns over New England.  There are observatory sites available through “New Mexico Skies” (www.nmskies.com), which is a definitive trend for scopes with long focal lengths. Much of the “fun” for myself, however, is in having the telescope nearby.  Things are not hopeless for those of us in New England, as one can partially “make up” for the poorer seeing by increasing the amount of data collected and waiting for those ‘fewer’ days of “good” seeing (less than 2 arc-seconds/pixel, as a general rule).

            In order for this system to work remotely (the observatory is some 30 feet from my house and 100 feet from the office which controls the observatory) a USB extender was used.  Specifically, and Icron Ranger (www.icron.com/products/usb/usb_ranger_110_410.php) was used (USB 1.1).  There are USB 2.0 versions becoming available.  A category 6 Ethernet cable carries the signal through the Paramount ME’s mount.  With the Icron Ranger 410 there are 4 USB ports available (I use all 4).  One port is used to convert the USB signal into a serial signal, as is required by 4 of my devices.  For this a Digi Edgeport/4 was used (www.digi.com/products/usb/edgeport.jsp). I also use all 4 of the serial ports provided.  The USB ports used include: 1)  USB to Serial Port (ie, interfacing the USB signal from the Icron Ranger to the Edgeport, which provides serial signals), 2)  Phillips ToUCam for planetary imaging, 3)  SBIG STL-6303 imaging camera and 4)  SBIG 402-XME off axis guiding camera. The 4 serial ports used with the Edgeport include: 1) interface of “The Sky” to the Paramount ME, 2)  RoboFocus interface, 3)  Remote STV control and 4) RCOS TCC for the focus/temperature/rotation interface between the computer and the RCOS-16. 

            John Smith (www.hiddenloft.com) was the consultant for this project.  What was done correctly I attribute to him.  I strongly recommend anyone undertaking to build a free standing observatory look for assistance and ideas in every way possible.  A consultant, such as John Smith, is an invaluable asset.  The mistakes (most of which have been corrected) and a few nuances in the set-up are my own.    

 

 

 

Software:

            I have endeavored to keep my software as simple as possible (if such a thing is possible).  I haven’t always updated to the newest version of each program if the current one does the job well.  However, it’s a good principal to try and keep most programs up to date, as everything is in a state of flux and one can easily be left “in the dust”.

 

Telescope Scripting (robotic control):  CCD AutoPilot II ( www.ccdware.com ). 

 

Virtual Sky:  Software Bisque’s “The Sky6” (www.bisque.com )

 

Camera Control:  Software Bisques CCDSoft (www.bisque.com )

 

RC-16 Temperature/Rotation/Focus Control:  RCOS TCC, short for telescope command center (www.rcopticalsystems.com )

 

Focus:  FocusMax.  The focus interface for the RCOS-16 is the TCC (with the built in

RC-16 secondary focuser).  With the Takahashi 106 FSQ “RoboFocus” was attached and is controlled by FocusMax. FocusMax can be found at  

( http://users.bsdwebsolutions.com/~larryweber )

 

Robotic “finder scope”:  STV Remote

 

Image Calibration and Registration:  MIRA AP 7.25 ( www.mirametrics.com )

 

Planetary Image Processing:  K3CCDTools ( www.pk3.org/Astro )

 

Deconvolution: AIP4Win ( www.willbell.com/aip/index.htm )

 

Color Combine and de-bloom:  Maxim DL (  www.cyanogen.com )

 

Color Processing:  Adobe CS (plug-ins include Kodak Digital Gem Professional v2.0.0).  The site is www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite/main.html .

 

T-Point Modeling:  Software Bisque’s T-Point Telescope Analysis Software and Automapper II (freeware for Automapper II, courtesy of Software Bisque, can be found at www.newastro.com/newastro/downloads/automap2/default.htm ).

 

Periodic error Correction:  Software Bisque’s PrecisionPec (www.bisque.com ).