Up until 2017, I was using SGP to perform all my astrophotogrphy work. Along with PHD2, ANSVR, and PixInsight, I had a pretty good and established workflow for all my captures in my small observatory in Madina, Saudi Arabia. From a local gulf astrophotography group, I learned from Jasem Mutlaq about KStars/Ekos in mid 2017. Jasem was asking for some feedback on KStars, and I downloaded it and gave it ago my Windows 10 system.

kstars 

Frankly, I only spent a few minutes looking around, and it seemed like a rather simple program with limited functionality. It doesn't appear as complex as SGP or MaximDL or SkyCharts, so I left it as is and went back to using my usual workflow. While I had many successful good runs, I had to spent a lot of time actively monitoring everything from guiding, to meridian flip (had to do it manually since I could never get to work with SGP), to eventual parking and shutdown of the system. Futhermore, the startup time was significant. Focusing took 10+ minutes to achieve decent results, and alignment only works partially as if the results are produced from the roll of dice. Fast forward to late 2017 where I began to look to for altentatives to expedite my workflow, and after a brief discussion with Jasem, I realized I completely missed the one feature of KStars I truely needed: Ekos.

 sequence

After watching a few Ekos videos online, I was thrilled about the potential. Alas, there is no native device support under Windows since Ekos depends on INDI, and INDI drivers are currently available for Linux & MacOS. This is the first time as a Windows user that I feel left out! The solution to this was StellarMate. It is a small WiFi gadget with USB and Ethernet ports that you hook your astro equipment to. It's quite affordable (to think I was actually considering EAGLE2 a few months before!) and the setup is quite straight forward. Most of my equipment were already supported by StellarMate, with the exception of Primaluce Sesto Senso. After informing Jasem, he developed an INDI driver in just a matter of days! Afterwards, I was ready to begin my journey with StellarMate.

In addition to KStars & INDI, Stellarmate even comes preinstalled with a built-in astrometry solver. Ekos (KStar's Astrophotography Tool) is quite feature rich. No need to ditch extra $$$ for unlocking feature X or addon Y where such additions are supposed to be part of the main program. StellarMate adopts a simple scheme, you pay once and you get all. This is probably a disasterous idea marketting wise (Editor: I've been told that before!), but excellent for us end users who do not need to battle endlessly with licenses and addons. Suffice to say, now Ekos sets the bar for what to expect of any astrophotography software. Besides the excellent support and fast response times the team behind Ekos & INDI are renouned for, I managed to automate my workflow.

screenshot

Now focusing takes a couple of minute instead of 10+, auto meridian flip works like a charm with my iOptron mount. Remote solver is surprisngly fast, though it's not still as reliable as the online solver. The cream of the crop is Ekos Scheduler. It took me a few months to finally trust the complete workflow, but now my observatory is completely in the hands of Ekos Scheduler. I pick my target, select my sequence, and let it do its magic.

Recently, I wanted to compose a Mosaic of the Sadr region in Cygnus. With Moravian G2-8300 and Primaluce Airy 65 telescope, it would present a challenge to image Sadr's ~3 degree wide field of view. I fired up Ekos Mosaic Tool, and then with the HiPS overlay active, I created a 2x3 wide panel. For this to work correctly, all the camera & telescope information have to be up correct of course. After checking all settings and then clicking Create Jobs, Ekos created a patch of jobs for each region. It was then only a matter of starting to scheduler to get process rolling. Since I didn't put any constraints on startup times, it began the startup procedure as soon as one the target regions was above the minimum altitude limit of 30 degrees (Editor: which is configurable). 

create mosaic ekos

The schduler unparks the mount, slew to one of the regions, then it performs the usual Focus & Align & Guide steps before starting the capture process. Using the scheduler relieved a significant amount of time I was investing in getting everything in order before I was able to properly capture before. Of course, it's not all sunshine and roses. There are some occasional bugs that creep by, which I usually report to Jasem along with a copy of the logs. Over the last few months, I've seen Ekos grows more stable and reliable thanks to the efforts of an international team of volunteers across the globe. The last bit in my observatory that is not automated is my roll-off roof. As soon as I complete its integration with INDI, I can proudly say I have a truely robotic setup!

Now back to the Mosaic images, I only captured this patch in Hydrogen Alpha filter. This is a sample of a single frame:

single frame

Then I used Microsoft Composite Editor to stich them togeather. While I could have used PixInsight, I wanted something quick to check the results:

stitching

Here you is the final result for HA. You can check the full resolution image at 8395x4435 on AstroBin.

final image

Now with this nice result, I plan on capturing the mosaic in other filters to create a color composite.

Update 2018-08-15: Here is the final color composite:

My name is Turki AlAmri, and I am health care provider with a strong passialamri observatoryon for astrophotography.

I work from my own neck of the desert in Madina, Saudi Arabia where I continue to pour money, time, & effort into this hobby along with phonomenal patience and support from my beloved wife. You can find more about me on Instagram & Twitter.

INDI development team is happy to announce the release of INDI Library v1.7.0. This new exciting release builds on the maturity of INDI Library and comes with many new supported devices and fixes for existing drivers. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Updated QHY SDK.
  • FLI drivers are now based on libusb rather than legacy kernel driver.
  • New driver for CEM120 mount.
  • New driver for Explore Scientific PMC8.
  • Several memory leaks were fixed.
  • Added support for background flushing for FLI CCDs.
  • Added preliminary support for CCD rapid captures on the millisecond range.
  • SX CCD driver updated to support ICX453 & M25C.
  • SX AO driver updated to emply INDI serial connection plugin.
  • Fix timing issue with GPhoto making it stuck in busy state after initial capture.
  • ASI driver enhancements. Video format recall fix.
  • MaxDomeII driver refactored and updated.
  • Several fixes for Gemini Integra driver.
  • Polling period for most drivers is now customizable.
  • GPhoto driver supported Abort exposure. Subframing fixes.
  • GPS driver can set system time from GPS source.
  • Astrophyics Experimental Driver with multi-parking support.
  • Numerous OnStep driver fixes and updates.
  • SkySensor2000 Pulse guiding support.
  • Prevent sandbox ACCESS_VIOLATION on Gentoo
  • Celestron driver refactoring and support for high-precision formats.
  • Fixed script execution in scripting gateways
  • Fix flags for Cygwin.
  • Fix non-standard POSIX C functions.
  • Replace deprecated usleep with nanosleep.
  • CCD & Telescope simulator updated so that can be used effectively in any combination with physical devices.

Thanks to all the great open source contributors who made this release possible.

Indili TSC

TSC is a project initiated about 1.5 years ago out of my frustration with available telescope controllers. My main instrument is a very heavy 13" catadioptric, stationary mounted on a rather large fork mount. The solution I had definitely choked on driving the NEMA 23 steppers with a maximum coil current of 2.8A. Thats where the idea for TSC was born, which is a controller based on a Raspberry Pi Model 3 B and two industrial drivers with a maximum voltage of 30 V and 4A per coil. Soon, the list of desired functions for a controller was defined:

  • Full motion control with a wireless handbox and WLAN-based communication with laptops, tablets or smartphones.
  • User - defined catalogs for standalone operation of the controller.
  • Full access for configuration via graphical user interface.
  • Communication with planetarium programs (e. g. KStars or CdC) over the classic LX200 interface via USB or TCP/IP. WLAN connection via SkySafari Pro is also supported.
  • Support for LX200 via ASCOM 6.3.
  • Support for external autoguiding via ST4.
  • Support for standalone autoguiding using INDI as an interface for common guiding cameras.
  • Control of DSLRs for single exposures and imaging series including dithering.
  • Optional support for up to two additional small focuser steppers.
  • Use of a battery-buffered realtime clock and parking to freely available reference positions.
  • Support for a temperature sensor.

Many more things are still in the queue, like scaled down driver boards for smaller mounts or GPS support for mobile use. However, TSC operates my telescope now for more than a year and a beta was released recently, which includes the C++ sources, all PCB designs in Fritzing format and Arduino IDE compatible MCU code for the additional microcontrollers. Upon request, an image of the modified Raspian stretch operating system with INDI installed is available so that basic fucntionality can be tested. Links to the github repository can be found under https://tscatm.wordpress.com/.

If you want to get a closer look on the project, a recommended starting point is the user manual: https://tscatm.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/tscuserguide2.pdf   

Wolfgang (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

 

What is Radio Astronomy?

Radio astronomy is a relatively new scientific discipline that employs radio waves to probe astrophysical phenomena from interstellar gas to extragalactic quasars. Since the dawn of radio astronomy in the 1930s, it has played a crucial role in developing our modern understanding of astrophysics. Most famously, the 2.725K cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation was discovered by Penzias and Wilson at Bell Labs in 1965, using radio telecommunications equipment. Penzias and Wilson soon realized that the pervasive signal they were detecting in their antenna was the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, the very fires of creation. Radio telescopes are also responsible for the discovery of quasars (accreting black holes at the centers of distant galaxies) and pulsars (magnetized neutron stars, the remnants of exploded stars).

Perhaps even more significant than these famous discoveries of rare and exotic celestial objects, radio astronomy allows us to map out the distribution of cold hydrogen gas, the material from which all stars form. 

INDI Detectors

INDI is evolving fast, and gives every day a new chance for astronomers and amateurs to give their contribute in knowledge and passion.Amateur Radio Telescopes

Now INDI permits the exploration of the Universe in a wider range of the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from visible, to infra-red, into the lower radio spectrum.

Some kind of devices, unlike CCDs, permit to observe in the elementary size of resolution: the single pixel. These devices are called by INDI Detectors.

The Detectors are of these kinds:

  • Radio Receivers
  • Photon Counters
  • Spectrometers
  • Light Detectors

With the Detectors many field of studies are available for exploration, ranging from:

  • Radio observation in both continuum and spectrum
  • Tracing light curves in variables and double-stars
  • High-speed and Classical photometry
  • Exoplanet hunting by spectral drift or occultation methods
  • Interferometry
  • Sun radio observations
  • 3K Cosmic radiation studies
  • Pulsars, Quarks, AGNs
  • Other kind of studies

The RTL-SDR Receiver

The first Detector being implemented is a software-defined radio based on the Realtek RTL2838 DVB-T dongle. These devices can range from 24MHz up to 2GHz raw reception. When connecting such dongles to satellite dishes Low-Noise-Amplifiers, you can detect many extraterrestrial signals including pulsars. An interferometer can be built using radio astronomy components to achieve this.

SpectraCyber Receiver

The most abundant element in the universe is hydrogen. Hydrogen makes up 75% of the mass of baryonic matter in the universe, followed by helium at 23% , and all other elements at 2%. Due to its abundance, hydrogen has been studied thoroughly at its natural harmonic frequency of 1420 Mhz. By studying the kinematics and distributions of hydrogen clouds in the universe, we can gain a better understanding of the history and evolution of our galaxy and the universe overall.

INDI supports Radio Astronomy Supplies' SpectraCyber hydrogen line spectrometer @ 1420Mhz. The 1.42Ghz frequency or the 21cm line is being emitted by hydrogen clouds in the disk of the Milkyway. It supports all the functionality provided by the spectrometer including scanning continuum and spectral channels.

By gathering data from SpectraCyber, not only it is possible to construct contour maps of power densties of the galactic hydrogen distributions, but it is also possible to plot rotational velocities as a function of distance from the galactic center.

What's Next?

As we continue to develop the necessary software drivers to support radio astronomy detectors, we also plan to develop front-end clients in applications such as KStars to make radio astronomy accessible to more users across the globe. If you'd like to contribute to this ongoing project, please let us know in the INDI Forums!

Ekos VM

The INDI team is happy to announce the release of Ekos VM 1.6 on April. 16th, 2017.
 
Ekos VM is a virtual machine based upon Kubuntu 17.04. It Includes KStars, Ekos, and INDI Library including all 3rd party drivers. The VM includes the latest bleeding edge releases of Ekos & INDI, and can easily be updated whenever new builds of the software are available. This virtual machine is intended for new INDI users who want take a look to this software without the work of installing it in his own system or for users of other operating systems not supported by INDI. The virtual machine was created with VirtualBox but it is stored in the Open Virtualitzation Alliance (OVA) format so it can be used with different virtualization software.
 
The file size is large (~ 1.8 GB). Please use a dedicated download manager for your browser such as DownThemAll for Firefox and ensure the downloaded file MD5sum matches the MD5 on the download page.

To get MD5sum, open a terminal and type:

md5sum ekos.ova

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