Dobsonian Telescope Adds Plate Solver

The amateur astronomy world got a tremendous boost during the 1960s when John Dobson invented what is now called the Dobsonian telescope. Made from commonly-sourced materials and mechanically much simpler than what was otherwise available at the time, the telescope dramatically reduced the barrier to entry for larger telescopes and also made them much more portable and inexpensive.

For all their perks, though, a major downside is increased complexity when building automatic tracking systems. [brickbots] went a different way when solving this problem, though: a plate solver.

Plate solving is a method by which the telescope’s field of view is compared to known star charts to determine what it’s currently looking at. Using a Raspberry Pi at the center of the build, the camera module pointed at the sky lets the small computer know exactly what it’s looking at, and the GPS system adds precise location data as well for a quick plate solving solution. A red-tinted screen finishes out the build and lets [brickbots] know exactly what the telescope is pointed towards at all times.

While this doesn’t fully automate or control the telescope like a tracking system would do, it’s much simpler to build a plate solver in this situation. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to star hop with a telescope like this, though; alt-azimuth mounted telescopes like Dobsonians just need some extra equipment to get this job done. Here’s an example which controls a similar alt-azimuth telescope using an ESP32 and a few rotary encoders.

3D Printed Newtonian Telescope Has Stunning Looks, Hadley Breaks The Bank

Have you ever considered building your own telescope? Such a project can be daunting, especially if you grind your own mirrors. But with a 3D printer, hardware store bits and bobs, and some inexpensive pre-made mirrors, you too can be the proud owner of your very own own Hadley — a 900mm Newtonian Telescope that can cost less than $150 USD to build! Check out the video below the break to get a good scope on the project.

Astrophotography is possible with the Hadley

The creator’s stated goal is to “make an attractive alternative to the shoddy, hard to use “hobby-killer” scopes in the $100-200 range“, and we have to say that it appears to have met its goal admirably. The optics — the most complex part of any build — can be easily purchased online, and the rest of the parts are available at your local hardware store.

While the original build was provided in Imperial measures, a metric version is now available. Various contributors have created a rich ecosystem of accessories and alternative versions of various parts, all in the interest of making the telescope more useful. Things like tripod mounts, phone mounts (for use with your favorite star chart app) and more are only a click away. The only real question to answer is “What color filament will I use?”

Of course, sometimes light waves can get a bit long in the tooth, and for those cases you’ll want a radio telescope, which can also be DIY’d thanks to the availability of satellite dishes and SDR dongles!

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StarPointer Keeps Scope On Target With Stellarium

On astronomical telescopes of even middling power, a small “finderscope” is often mounted in parallel to the main optics to assist in getting the larger instrument on target. The low magnification of the finderscope offers a far wider field of view than the primary telescope, which makes it much easier to find small objects in the sky. Even if your target is too small or faint to see in the finderscope, just being able to get your primary telescope pointed at the right celestial neighborhood is a huge help.

But [Dilshan Jayakody] still thought he could improve on things a bit. Instead of a small optical scope, his StarPointer is an electronic device that can determine the orientation of the telescope it’s mounted to. As the ADXL345 accelerometer and HMC5883L magnetometer inside the STM32F103C8 powered gadget detect motion, the angle data is sent to Stellarium — an open source planetarium program. Combined with a known latitude and longitude, this allows the software to show where the telescope is currently pointed in the night sky.

As demonstrated in the video after the break, this provides real-time feedback which is easy to understand even for the absolute beginner: all you need to do is slew the scope around until the object you want to look at it under the crosshairs. While we wouldn’t recommend looking at a bright computer screen right before trying to pick out dim objects in your telescope’s eyepiece, we can certainly see the appeal of this “virtual” finderscope.

Then again…who said this technique had to be limited to optical observations? As the StarPointer is an open hardware project, you could always integrate the tech into that DIY radio telescope you’ve always dreamed of building in the backyard.

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Watching A Spacewalk In Real Time

If you go to, say, a football game, you probably don’t get to see as much of the game as close as you do when you stay home and watch on TV. But there’s something about being there that counts. That’s probably how [Sebastian Voltmer] feels. While we’ve all seen video of astronauts and cosmonauts spacewalking, [Sebastian] managed to take a snapshot of a pair of spacewalkers from his telescope.

Of course, this wasn’t your ordinary department store Christmas gift telescope. The instrument was a Celestron 11 inch EdgeHD Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a very expensive GM2000 HPS mount. An ASI290 planetary camera took the shot. You can see the gear and more about the photos in the video below.

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30 Days Of Terror: The Logistics Of Launching The James Webb Space Telescope

Back during the 2019 Superconference in Pasadena, I had the chance to go to Northrop Grumman’s Redondo Beach campus to get a look at the James Webb Space Telescope. There is the high-bay class 10,000+ cleanroom in building M8, my wife and I along with fellow space nerd Tom Nardi got a chance to look upon what is likely the most expensive single object ever made. The $10 billion dollar space observatory was undergoing what we thought were its final tests before being packaged up and sent on its way to its forever home at the L2 Lagrange point.

Sadly, thanks to technical difficulties and the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be another two years before JWST was actually ready to ship — not a new story for the project, Mike Szczys toured the same facility back in 2015. But the good news is that it finally has shipped, taking the very, very slow first steps on its journey to space.

Both the terrestrial leg of the trip and the trip through 1.5 million kilometers of space are fraught with peril, of a different kind, of course, but still with plenty of chances for mission-impacting events. Here’s a look at what the priceless and long-awaited observatory will face along the way, and how its minders will endure the “30 days of terror” that lie ahead.

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Quick Reaction Saves ESA Space Telescope

Once launched, most spacecraft are out of reach of any upgrades or repairs. Mission critical problems must be solved with whatever’s still working on board, and sometimes there’s very little time. Recently ESA’s INTEGRAL team was confronted with a ruthlessly ticking three hour deadline to save the mission.

European Space Agency INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory is one of many space telescopes currently in orbit. Launched in 2002, it has long surpassed its original designed lifespan of  two or three years, but nothing lasts forever. A failed reaction wheel caused the spacecraft to tumble out of control and its automatic emergency recovery procedures didn’t work. Later it was determined those procedures were dependent on the thrusters, which themselves failed in the summer of 2020. (Another mission-saving hack which the team had shared earlier.)

With solar panels no longer pointed at the sun, battery power became the critical constraint. Hampering this time-critical recovery effort was the fact that antenna on a tumbling spacecraft could only make intermittent radio contact. But there was enough control to shut down additional systems for a few more hours on battery, and enough telemetry so the team could understand what had happened. Control was regained using remaining reaction wheels.

INTEGRAL has since returned to work, but this won’t be the last crisis to face an aging space telescope. In the near future, its automatic emergency recovery procedures will be updated to reflect what the team has learned. Long term, ESA did their part to minimize space debris. Before the big heavy telescope lost its thrusters, it had already been guided onto a path which will reenter the atmosphere sometime around 2029. Between now and then, a very capable and fast-reacting operations team will keep INTEGRAL doing science for as long as possible.

More Than Just Hubble: The Space Observatories Filling The Skies Today And Tomorrow

Amidst the recent news about the Hubble Space Telescope’s troubles (and triumphant resurrection), it is sometimes easy to forget that although Hubble is a pretty unique telescope, it is just one of many space-based observatories that are currently zipping overhead right now or perched in a heliocentric orbit. So what is it that makes these observatories less known than the iconic Hubble telescope?

Hubble is one of the longest-lived space telescopes so far, and it is also the only space telescope that was both launched and serviced by the Space Shuttle. None of the other telescopes have this legacy, the high-profile, or troubled history of Hubble’s intended successor: the James Web Space Telescope (JWST).

Even so, the mission profiles of these myriad other observatories are no less interesting, least of the many firsts accomplished recently such as a long-term moon-based telescope (Chang’e 3’s LUT) and those of the many upcoming and proposed missions. Let’s take a look at the space observatories many of us have never heard of.

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