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First Light

After spending the better part of a month taking what bits of time were available to sort out issues with focusser, cameras, back focus and dome synchronization, the observatory is now functional.


A relatively clear, altho somewhat murky night last night with poor seeing, this is the first long exposure attempted with the ST10XME attached to the TOA-130 mounted on the EQ8.  Taken thru the L filter, guided using the guide chip in the ST10.  This is a 5 minute exposure on M51 with no calibration, just a mild stretch for screen display.

The evening started off on the wrong foot.  Yesterday afternoon in daylight I changed all of the camera connections so that the nosepiece was removed, the Tak camera angle adjuster added, and all connections threaded to get a solid mount on the camera.  After dusk, I discovered there was not enough back travel to get the system focussed.  I ended up taking it all apart in the dark and inserting an extension tube, then re-assembling it all.  When I got everything remounted correctly, I forgot to turn on the camera cooler, so the above image is uncooled.

The ST10 is an NABG camera, so there is one bright star that produces blooms.  NABG is desireable for science observations, but, not so much when making ‘pretty pictures’.  It remains to be seen if we stick with this camera or change the camera for this telescope.


Dome Slit Alignment

When we first started trying to synchronize the dome with the telescope, much to my surprise, there were many areas of the sky where the telescope would end up pointing at the dome, not the slit.  After going thru the math carefully, a few discrepancies were uncovered and corrected.  For us, this turned into a rather critical piece to get fixed as the slit in our dome is somewhat narrower than some other domes on the market.  The dome itself is not exactly large.

After fixing the math, I did a series of tests.  Test setup is ideal for doing this.  I have a webcam mounted right under the telescope, then a pair of alligator clips at the end of the telescope that create an effective optical axis just under the scope.  The axis from the center of the webcam corresponds with the hinge on the alligator clip, clearly visible in all the shots I took at various cardinal locations to validate the pointing.  I have a centerline marked on the inside of the shutter to get precise feedback on how well it’s pointing.  Tests done in broad daylight, shutter closed so we can see the shutter marks in the webcam, and there is enough light to illuminate the webcam.

What i did learn from this exercise, getting the measurements for dome geometry correct is critical.  In order of importance, the MOST important detail is to get the dome properly aligned with the real world directions.  If it’s off by 4 or 5 degrees, expect to see the telescope pointing at the dome roof in many directions.  It is equally critical to get the distance from the mount rotation point to the optical axis exactly correct.  For ‘dead accurate’ pointing, you must also get the north, south, and vertical offsets correct.  A couple of cm discrepancy in these measurements will result in many more cm of pointing error over the distance to the dome from the telescope.

On to the test results. First shot is for reference, telescope is parked, and dome slaving  enabled.


Second test, point the telescope down to the horizon in the north, with scope on the east side of the pier, take the shot, then slew the telescope thru a meridian flip to a point just on the other side of the meridian.  End result of this first test:-



As you can see, telescope is pointed right at the base of the dome ring, and the reference line is right in line with the alligator hinge clip.

Next test, repeat the above but now pointed to the south.



Next test, head off to the east and west horizons



Now that we can see all the cardinal points look correct, go thru a few more points higher in the sky.  Northwest, Northeast, and SouthWest at an alt of roughly 45 degrees




And finally, a shot high near zenith, altitude 75 degrees.



I am pleased with the final result, we can now point this telescope anywhere, and when the dome slaving is active, it’ll be looking thru the center of the slit in every direction.


The build continues

First dome is up, and now we have the first mount in with a telescope on it.


After the electrician finishes getting the network out to the dome, still waiting on the optical fiber, then we’ll start cleaning up the wiring and mounting some cameras.