Keeping Track Of The Night Sky With Discrete Logic Chips

As hobbies go, stargazing has a pretty low barrier to entry. All you really need is a pair of Mark 1 eyeballs and maybe a little caffeine to help you stay up late enough. Astronomy, on the other hand, takes quite a bit more equipment, not least of which is a telescope and a way to get it pointed in the right direction at the right time, and to make up for the pesky fact that we’re on a moving, spinning ball of rock.

Yes, most of the equipment needed for real astronomy is commercially available, but [Mitsuru Yamada] decided to go his own way with this homebrew retro-style telescope motor controller. Dubbed MCT-6, the controller teams up with his dual-6502 PERSEUS-9 computer to keep his scope on target. There are a lot of literally moving parts to this build, including the equatorial mount which is made from machined aluminum and powered by a pair of off-the-shelf stepper-powered rotary stages for declination and right ascension. The controller that runs the motors is built completely from discrete 74HCxx logic chips that divide down a 7.0097-MHz crystal oscillator signal to drive the steppers precisely at one revolution per diurnal day. The pulse stream can also be sped up for rapid slewing, to aim the telescope at new targets using a hand controller.

As impressive as all this is, the real star (sorry) of the show here is the fit and finish. In typical [Yamada-san] fashion, the impeccably wire-wrapped mainboard fits in a robust die-cast aluminum case that fits the retro aesthetic of the whole project. The PERSEUS-9 is used mainly as a display and control terminal, running custom software to show where the telescope is pointed and calculate the coordinates of various heavenly bodies. As a bonus, the 40×7 alphanumeric red LED display should be easy on dark-adapted eyes.

Hats off to [Mitsuru Yamada] on another fabulous build. If you haven’t had enough of his build style yet, be sure to check out his PERSEUS-8 or even his foray into the analog world.

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Telescope Rides On 3D Printed Equatorial Table

In the realm of amateur astronomy, enthusiasts find themselves navigating a cosmos in perpetual motion. Planets revolve around stars, which, in turn, orbit within galaxies. But the axial rotation of the Earth and the fact that its axis is tilted is the thing that tends to get in the way of viewing celestial bodies for any appreciable amount of time.

Amateur astronomy is filled with solutions to problems like these that don’t cost an arm and a leg, though, like this 3D printed equatorial table built by [aeropic]. An equatorial table is a device used to compensate for the Earth’s rotation, enabling telescopes to track celestial objects accurately. It aligns with the Earth’s axis, allowing the telescope to follow the apparent motion of stars and planets across the night sky.

Equatorial tables are specific to a location on the Earth, though, so [aeropic] designed this one to be usable for anyone between around 30° and 50° latitude. An OpenSCAD script generates the parts that are latitude-specific, which can then be 3D printed.

From there, the table is assembled, mounted on ball bearings, and powered by a small stepper motor controlled by an ESP32. The microcontroller allows a telescope, in this case a Newtonian SkyWatcher telescope, to track objects in the sky over long periods of time without any expensive commercially-available mounting systems.

Equatorial tables like these are indispensable for a number of reasons, such as long-exposure astrophotography, time lapse imaging, gathering a large amount of observational detail for scientific purposes, or simply as an educational tool to allow more viewing of objects in the sky and less fussing with the telescope. They’re also comparatively low-cost which is a major key in a hobby whose costs can get high quickly, but not even the telescope needs to be that expensive. A Dobsonian telescope can be put together fairly quickly sometimes using off-the-shelf parts from IKEA.

Modified Servo Adds Focus Control To Telescope

Scanning the heavens with a telescope is a great way to spend long, clear winter nights, but using a manual telescope can get to be a drag. A motorized mount with altitude and azimuth control is basic equipment for the serious observer, but adding a servo to control the focus of your telescope is one step beyond your average off-the-shelf instrument.

Having already motorized the two axes of the equatorial mount of his modest telescope as a senior project, [Eric Seifert] decided to motorize the focus rack as well. His first inclination was to use a stepper motor like he did on the other two axes, but with a spare high-torque servo at hand, he hacked a quick proof-of-concept. The servo was modified for continuous rotation in the usual way, but with the added twist of replacing the internal potentiometer with an external linear pot. Attached to the focus tube, the linear pot allows [Eric] to control the position and speed of the modified servo. Sounds like controlling the focus will be important to [Eric]’s planned web interface for his scope; we’ll be looking for details on that project soon.

We like the simplicity of this solution, and it’s a trick worth keeping in mind for other projects.  But if fancy steppers and servos aren’t your thing, fear not — astrophotography is as easy as slapping a couple of boards together with a hinge.

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