THP Entry: Making Amateur Astronomy Easy

explrad With the advent of electronics in everything, amateur astronomy has never been easier. Telescope mounts that point in the direction of any astronomical object automatically have been around for decades, and the Telrad – a device that paints 0.5, 2, and 4 degree diameter circles in your finder scope’s field of view are available if you’re just too cool for letting a robot do your job. [Christoph]‘s explorad takes the concept of a Telrad and adds a somewhat more electronic twist: it still displays the field of view circles, but adds highlighting of interesting astronomical objects from a custom telescope mount, a huge database, and a few sensors.

By far the biggest challenge to any homebrew finder of astronomical objects is figuring out where the observer is. Not only does [Cristoph] need to take into account the location on Earth (GPS helps with that), but also where North is (electronic compass), where the telescope is pointing (optical encoders on a two axis mount), but also the universal time and current sidereal time. Living on a rotating planet that orbits a sun makes for a lot of code.

The current progress on the star finder to beat all star finders is a bit of code that draws the ‘telrad circles’ and displays placeholders for each patch of sky with a small triangle. Tilting the device or turning the azimuth pot moves these triangles and loads new ones on the fly. Now the name of the game is a sky object database for all the astronomical objects [Cristoph] wants to view.

AVR Barn Door Tracker for Astrophotography


[ZigZagJoe's] first foray into astrophotography is this impressive AVR barn door tracker, which steps up his night sky photo game without emptying his bank account. If you’ve never heard of astrophotography, you should skim over its Wikipedia page and/or the subreddit. The idea is to capture images otherwise undetectable by the human eye through longer exposures. Unfortunately, the big ball of rock we all inhabit has a tendency to rotate, which means you need to move the camera to keep the night sky framed up.

Most trackers require precision parts and fabrication, which was out of [ZigZagJoe's] grasp. Instead, he found a solution with the Cloudbait Observatory model, which as best as we can tell looks vaguely similar to the tracker we featured last year. Unlike last year’s build—which uses an ATmega32u4 breakout board— [ZigZagJoe's] tracker uses an ATTiny85 for the brains, running a pre-configured table that determines step rate against time.

[Read more...]

Open Source Telescope Control


Telescope mounts connected to computers and stepper motors have been available to the amateur astronomer for a long time, and for good reason, too. With just the press of a button, any telescope can pan over to the outer planets, nebula, or comets. Even if a goto command isn’t your thing, a simple clock drive is a wonderful thing to have. As with any piece of professional equipment, hackers will want to make their own version, and thus the openDrive project was born. It’s a project to make an open source telescope controller.

Right now, the project is modular, with power supply boards, a display board, motor driver, an IO board (for dew heaters and the like), and a hand-held controller. There’s an openDrive forum that’s fairly active covering both hardware and software. If you’re looking for a project to help you peer into the heavens, this is the one for you. If telescope upgrades aren’t enough to quench your astronomical thirst you could go full out with a backyard observatory build.

Danke [Håken] for the tip.

Building a Barn Door tracker for astronomical photography


That’s a pretty amazing image to catch peering out from your back balcony. The rig used to record such a gem is seen on the right. It’s called a Barn Door tracker and was built by [DCH972]. Details for this build are scattered all over the place, there’s a video (also found below), another album of some of the best images, and plenty of background info in the Reddit thread.

This design is also know as a Haig or Scotch mount. While we’re dropping links all over the place check out the Wikipedia page on the topic. The point of the system is to move the camera in such a way so that the stars appear to hold in the same place even though the earth is moving. There’s an ATmega32u4 breakout board riding on top of the breadboard. It’s doing some pretty heavy math in order to calculate the stepper motor timing. That’s because the mount is like a photo album, hinged at one side and opened on the other by a ball screw. This linear actuation needs to be meshed with the change in angle of the mounting platform, and finally it needs to sync with the movement of the earth. But once a series of images is captured correctly they can be processed into the composite photograph shown above.

If missed that SDR galactic rotation detector from last May you should find it equally compelling.

[Read more...]

DIY PC to telescope interface cable

If you’re serious about astronomy these days, you want to have a computer controlled telescope. Although you can easily purchase a pre-made cable that connects the two devices, where’s the fun in that? [Charles], being an avid Maker, has created a nice step by step guide so you can build your own.

This is a great weekend project, and one that even a novice electronics hobbyist should be able to tackle. It’s straight forward, rather quick, and very easy. Strip some insulation off both ends of the cable, then cut off the unneeded wires. (You’ll only be working with three of them.) Prep everything with heat shrink tubing. Crimp one end of the wires into an RJ10 plug, then solder the other end of the wires into a DB9 connector. Secure the heat shrink tubing in place, attach the housings, and you can call it finished!

[Charles] said the whole procedure only took him around 15 minutes. Total cost? Less than $17 in parts.

Motorized binocular chair has you stargazing in comfort


It seems like something out of The Red Green Show but this motorized stargazing chair is a serious piece of astronomical hardware. It has a shelf that places a set of high-power binoculars directly in the user’s line of sight. The elevation is easy to adjust. And a power drill lets you take the whole thing for a spin.

The base has been outfitted with cogs and a chain from an old bicycle. The gear reduction lets a power drill rotate the platform. This worked well enough but [Gary] found that making fine adjustments was rather difficult and more often than not he ended up moving the binoculars to avoid overshooting when adjusting the platform with the drill. Luckily he didn’t give up on the idea. On the eighth and final page of his build log he refines the rotating setup with the help of an ice cream maker. It’s gear box is used as a speed reducer so that a very slow drill speed results in an extremely small heading correction. Now he can view the stars in peace, freed from frustration by a well-refined hack.

Another great backyard observatory build

With a little help from their friends [Jeff Fisher] and his dad built this observatory in their back yard. Their use of simple building materials and techniques show that you can create a respectable home observatory without breaking the bank.

It starts with a footing for the telescope mount. This is completely separated from the building that surrounds it so there will be no issue with vibrations affecting the images it is capturing. From there a foundation made of cinder blocks was laid before placing joists and installing a sub floor. It was during this process that they trenched and placed conduit to run power to the building. With the floor in place the walls were stick built and a carefully crafted dome was assembled and hefted in place by this septet of gentlemen.

Four months was all it took to get to this point, but [Jeff] and his dad are still working on a deck to go around the observatory. They’re using a very nice telescope that they purchased, but it is also possible to build one of those yourself.

[via Reddit]