Steve’s Place

Photography and Astrophotography

The Observatory

Just a little blog on a project that finally, is almost at fruition. I have been delivering talks on Astrophotography and Aurora’s in both the UK and overseas for about 15 years. I have a passion for photography which is equalled by a desire to share what I have learned so that others can capture photographs they never believed possible. In most cases using relatively modest equipment – perhaps only a camera/lens and often from their own back yard. Though my own dream has always been to setup an observatory along with an imaging group conducting workshops and learning together. Time went on, the dream followed, a change of location with work found myself buying a house in a semi rural location close to Filey in North Yorks. A few test shots of the milky way were very pleasing indeed. They showed definite promise and the project of an observatory build was finally set in motion.
The build …
The Result …

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The MIG Observatory
It took two years to get this far but I now have a Skyshed Pod installed in the garden and recently, power has been installed. I am still sealing the floor to stop moisture rising from the concrete. Six coats already and probably needs several more to be sure. Foam matting lies on top of this with an isolated pier topped with a Skywatcher NEQ6 Pro mount head. Two switched ropelights provide the illumination. White at the bottom and red half way up.
A recent addition of a MESH (Orbi) WiFi router has increased the range of the home network and the observatory is now within the footprint allowing for remote sessions to be carried out – in the future.
Just installed the telescope in the observatory and conducted a “full sky rotation”. The closest it gets to the dome is about 1cm and it balances fine. That means remoting of the scope is now totally safe even if it loses position. I am so pleased I do not have to dig up a ton of concrete and shift it more central. The gamble of not having the mount central has paid off (the reason for offset mount was to avoid zenith block).

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SkyWatcher Equinox ED120 on an NEQ6 Pro
{December 2018}
Due to “capillary action”, water was being dragged under the foam tiles from the outside so another approach was necessary.I have used Black Jack DPM and painted the whole of the inside base, put some bitumen masking (150mm) around the inside perimeter and currently placing decking inside. The frame for the decking is on a 4″ x 2″ frame and raising the floor this high means I have totally covered the electric conduit so zero trip hazard. There had to be a positive for this  😉
I hope to extend the decking into each of the three bays and this would also accommodate “sleeping” bags for those keen enough !!
{May 2019}
Decking has been extended all water ingress has ceased. I have installed a radiator and also a dehumidifier and remote monitoring of humidity levels is being recorded. Humidity levels have in fact stabilised and currently looking for a cheap all-in-one pc with USB-3 ports. I am needing the speed for the high frame rate camera (480fps).
I also picked up another telescope (Celestron C8 XLT Starbright coatings) together with an optical and camera back which is now mounted and balanced.

New decking and scopes – taken using an astromodified camera hence a colour shift

{December 2019}
Celestron C8 swapped for a Williams Optics ZS73 refractor – it will make the imaging workflow easier using 2x refractors.

{January 2020}
I have now remoted the Observatory and can control the telescope from inside the house and also configured the iPad which will provides the same level of control and freedom of movement.
Speed is excellent and the computer is neatly mounted onto the dovetail bar. Second scope now added to the setup and in addition, a bracket for a DSLR so that means 3 guided imaging sessions can be run at the same time. Or two with more accurate autoguiding using PHD or the LVI Smartguider.
Ran out of time today to setup the cameras (CMOS and 2x DSLR’s).
Final job will be cable tidy and balancing but todays progress is massive – also means the existing MESH network works so no need for any other access point.

{March 2020}
Remoting is going well, I still need to focus the WO ASI178MC – when the moon pops up again I will get this sorted. Next job is laying the newly acquired carpet tiles which will help reduce the humidity.

William Optics ZS73 coupled to an astro modded Canon 6D + CLS CCD filter and SkyWatcher Equinox ED120 coupled to a ZWO ASI 178MC CMOS

Cables looking a lot tidier.
Added weatherproofing around the hinges is working – shame about this design flaw with the Sky Shedpod

I have seen photos of mechanical removal of the dome for 360 degree visibility which could be a challenge to consider for the future.

Carpet is now in place and both ropelights lit (red upper, white lower) – children’s toy boxes make ideal seating

Computer and Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox keeping control and cabling neat

{April 2020}

Both scopes now brought to focus and imaging well. The DSLR controlled via Backyard EOS and for the moment, the ASI178MC via Sharpcap Pro. Challenge now is comparing images between both scopes and aligning the camera’s so they both show the same field of view albeit at different focal lengths. The DSLR image is flipped 180 degrees so I will need to address that in software as I need this information for guiding purposes for the CMOS. The DSLR being widefield is more forgiving on object aquisition.
Another big achievement today, I have finally managed to achieve online streaming (video only) on Facebook using the streaming software OBS which created a “virtual camera”. The video quality is not brilliant but then again, neither is the bandwidth. I also have a 20 second buffer to contend – I didn’t realise the MIG was on Mars !!
Currently awaiting a 4th monitor lead to go with the new 4 output graphic card. It appears 2 were delivered knackered, I so hope it is not the card though – {edit – leads were the problem and replacement lead works just fine}.

Startrails above the observatory

{May 2020}

Another enhancement to the setup which unfortunately means losing the DSLR shoe. I have now replaced it with an ST80 telescope together with an LVI Autoguider. This should allow for longer exposure times. Sadly, I did need to tighten up a few bolts meaning I will have to polar align again.

Next jobs:
Try and address the 20 second buffer and test audio.
Conduct a few “live streaming” sessions and use feedback to steer workshops
Obtain a low light IP camera

{Note: I will be continuously updating this blog as “improvements” are made}

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