Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Astro-Imaging Setup!

This year I am going to take imaging more seriously! So, I sold my LX200 8" and Milburn Wedge late last year and purchased a new imaging platform. I have been researching equipment a lot and am really happy with my choice!

As you can see in the photo above, my new imaging platform consists of the following:

1. Celestron CGEM Mount and Tripod: Several months ago a mate of mine demonstrated this mount's abilities, from the super-easy setup procedure to GOTO operations. I was really impressed with it, to say the least. I tossed and turned between this and the Orion Atlas, but liked the easy setup process of this mount. It is a very stable platform, apparently capable of carrying up to 40lbs of equipment. It has a very well-designed system menu, runs very quietly.
2. Astro-Telescopes 80mm, F7 ED Refractor: I didn't have too much money to play with in terms of an imaging OTA. I looked at various model refractors, reflectors and even the newer Astro-Tech 6" RC scopes. This 80mm ED refractor is the same scope as offered by Astro-Tech, just without the fancy labeling. A few reviews gave it a really big thumbs-up, and for the price ($100 less than anything else of comparable size) I thought I'd give it a go.
3. William Optics 66mm Petzval Refractor: Okay, I have had this scope for a while and have imaged through it a fair bit. This has now become my guide scope and is well suited as such for guiding the CGEM and 80mm ED.
4. Scopestuff Dual Scope Saddle Plate: The perfect accessory to have my two refractors mounted side-by-side upon the CGEM.

First Light Report

Tonight was cold and clear. Most of the US is in the grip of an arctic cold blast, and Austin, Texas, did not escape it. While there is no precipitation, temps dropped down to 19 degrees Fahrenheit. My plan was to get to the local observing spot before sunset and test out the new rig for a couple of hours before the cold got unbearable.

Setup was really a snap. I set up the tripod first, and then loaded the CGEM mount onto it. The counterweight bar and weight itself was easy to install, as were the two azimuth adjustment knobs. I attached the accessory tray (which has a few 2" and 1.25" holes for eyepieces, very handy!) and then leveled the scope using the bubble-level built into the mount. The Scopestuff dual saddle plate easily slid into the CGEM dovetail mount and was secured with the two mount bolts very easily. I then mounted my WO66mm onto one saddle and then the newer 80mm ED to the other. There was enough room between them, although the space between the two focuser knobs on each scope was a bit tight, but bearable.

As the sun set a few other folks rocked up, including the chap who showed me the CGEM and has answered a few emails about it, too. The night remained clear and crisp, despite poor transparency being predicted. I doulbechecked that all of the various bolts were tight, and then had some help with checking the balance of the scope before switching it on.

The menu system was very easy to navigate. I thought I would have issues coming from a Meade system but really experienced no difficulties at all. First I let the scope know that I was using a dual scope saddle plate by going to the appropriate setup area, so that it would accurately account for this with GOTO and tracking (using such a saddle plate places the scopes at a 90 degree angle from the standard homer position). Then I gave the scope's computer the information regarding my date, time and location. Easy stuff.

Now for the scary part! I started the alignment procedure. It asked me to select the first alignment star, and I selected Deneb in Cygnus. The scope away on its business, its quiet motors churning as my two OTAs were guided towards the alignment star. To my utmost delight, the scope placed Deneb square in the center of the 80mm's field of view! I then selected Betelguese and the same thing happened again - dead center! I confirmed both and then used Formalhaut and Rigel as further calibration stars. It was ready to go...

To start off with, I instructed the scope to take me to a few different objects - the Double Cluster, the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy and the M37 Open Cluster. All objects were placed squarely in the middle of my scope's field of view, without fail. It was very impressive!!! The computer was very easy to use, and I liked the additional information that the hand conroller gave me about each object.

Satisfied with the performance of the mount, I turned my attention to my new ED80mm refractor. I'll provide a more detailed review another time, but here's a brief observation report. The scope itself is excellently constructed, and came with a very large case with foam inserts. It also came with very solid tube rings and a Vixen style dovetail, all very solid and stable. The 10:1 dual speed focuser is lovely - very smooth and stable. It has stepper markings for reference which is a good feature. Here's what I observed and thoughts on each object:
  • Double Cluster: Beautiful image, very contrasty. Stars were tack sharp (and I mean REALLY sharp) to the edge of the field of view with my Panoptic 22mm.
  • M42 Orion Nebula: Later in the night this made for excellent viewing. I could see wispy nebulosity, and the trapezium was very clear indeed. Nebula was detailed at the core, very nice. I could see some nebulosity in the Running Man nebula region as well.
  • M37: Fainter than the double cluster but still nice. Could detect a lot of stars.
  • M1 Crab Nebula: Typically very faint anyway, the 80mm ED revealed the presence of the nebula and I didn't have to use averted vision to see it.
  • Jupiter: While it was relatively low on the horizon, I could see the planet's disc and distinct cloud bands using a Televue Radian 10mm.
I checked out a few other objects, and the scope revealed lovely detail and terrific contrast. I couldn't get over how sharp the stars appeared!!!

I decided to attach my Nikon D40 and try a few quick images to test out the scope. I am very happy with these results. Remember, these are just short test shots to test the mount and ED80mm. No guiding, flats, darks, bias frames were used.

Double Cluster
  • 7*25 second exposures @ ISO800
  • Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
  • (I like this, excellent wide field with sharp, contrasty image to the edge of the field of view)

M42 Orion Nebula
  • 5 * 25 second exposures @ISO800
  • Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
  • Noise removal in NeatImage
  • (Even with a 25 second exposure, some Running Man nebula detail came out quite nicely)

So, this new imaging setup shows a lot of promise, and I can't wait to get it out to some dark sky sites and try out guided imaging. I am confident this will yield better results than my previous attempts.

Stay tuned...


Johany said...

Hi Phil,
I love the pictures. Very nicely done, even in such cold weather that we're having! Brrrrr!!!

I wanted to let you know that I featured you in my blog on the following article:

Your astro articles kick ass! They are awesome and I felt that it really has helped me soooo much. So you came very highly recommended on my article post. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Can't wait to read more wonderful posts! Keep them coming!

Phil said...

Hi Johany,

Thanks for featuring the blog and enjoying my articles! I am glad that someone out there finds them useful and informative.

Hopefully with the new scope I'll have a great year of imaging.

You have a great astro year, too!


Polaris B said...

Awesome! You are going to have a wonderful time! The new scope looks like it has first-rate optics. Congratulations! I look forward to many wonderful images!

Kelsey said...

I have a dual scope saddle which I would love to start using were it not for balancing issues. I'm trying to put an Orion 80ED with a heavy Deep Space Cooler Meade DSI III pro and filter wheel next to a WO66 with a Meade DSI Pro.

I just can't figure out a good way to balance these. Do you use and extra weights on your dual saddle system?

Phil said...

Thanks, Polaris! Hopefully some good images coming up soon...

Hi Kelsey. I have ONLY just put this setup together. I am mounting a Nikon DSLR (very light) to my 80ED, and a DSI-C to my 66 for guiding. I tried this entire setup two nights ago and honestly didn't notice any balance issues. It seemed to be okay, and the drive sounded/worked fine. I am not sure about balancing out a saddle plate... Have you tried sliding the plate within the main dovetail one way or another to balance it?


Phil said...

Kelsey - for example, slide the dual saddle plate towards the direction of the smaller scope, so that the bigger scope is closer to the center of gravity of the mount? (Not sure if that makes sense, or if you have enough room to safely slide the dual saddle plate in this fashion)

Old Man KLC said...

Hi Phil,

Yes, I've tried that. The dual saddle thing gets really confusing since the center of gravity for the DEC axis is a lot less straight forward. You have to balance the saddle plate back and fourth, each scope back and fourth, and then any off-axis irregularities about your scopes such as finders or in my case, moonlight focusers with heavy stepper motors sticking out one side.

I just aquired an AT 6" RC to pair with my 80ED so I may try balancing again. Not sure how successful I'll be.