Ekos powerful Capture Module recently added support to automated capture of flat field frames. Using the capture sequence queue, it was always possible to capture flat images with manually-specified exposure times, and now completely automated flats are supported!

Once you select a flat frame from the Type drop-down list, click the Calibration Options button to open the flat calibration options dialog. In the dialog, you can set the flat field frame Source and Duration as following:

  • Manual: The flat field light source is set and turn on/off manually by the user.
  • Dust Cap: Use a dust cap device (e.g. FlipFlat) as the flat field light source. Ekos will park (close) the dust cap if it was not already parked when capturing the flat frames.
  • Wall: Before capturing flats, slew the telescope to a specific Azimuth/Altitude position on the wall where an evenly-illuminated panel is installed. If the light panel is controllable and is connected as an INDI device, Ekos will turn on/off the panel light as needed.
  • Dawn/Dusk: Future options reserved for dawn/dusk flats but might not be implemented due to the unreliability and limited time of dawn/dusk flats.

After selecting the flat source, you need to specify the flat desired duration:

  • Manual: No changes shall be made to the flat exposure duration. The user specified duration in the capture module shall be used.
  • ADU Percentage: Analog to Digital Units (ADU) are the dynamic range of pixels values in your CCD. For a 16bit CCD, the maximum possible ADU is 65535. The actual maximum ADU depends on your CCD. ADU count is proportional to the electrons excited by incident photons and CCD gain. Set the desired ADU % and Ekos shall adjust capture time until target ADU % is reached. When using this setting, it is recommended to set the exposure time to 1 second and Ekos will adjust it accordingly.

Optionally, you can select to park the mount and/or the dome if required before the flat frames are captured. Please note that this will suspend any ongoing guiding process. Furthermore, once parked you cannot capture any light frames, so capture the flat frames either at the beginning of the session or at the end.

Tip: Using a controllable flat field light source (e.g. Flat-Man) can save a lot of time since light intensity can be adjusted per filter thereby reducing exposure times for narrowband filters considerably.

Hubble-like super wide field images of galaxies and nebulae are truly awe inspiring, and while it takes great skills to obtain such images and process them; many notable names in the field of astrophotography employ gear that is not vastly different from yours or mine. I emphasize vastly because some do indeed have impressive equipment and dedicated observatories worth tens of the thousands of dollars. Nevertheless, many amateurs can obtain stellar wide-field images by combining smaller images into a single grand mosaic.

We are often limited by our camera+telescope Field of View (FOV). By increasing FOV by means of a focal reducer or a shorter tube, we gain a larger sky coverage at the expense of spatial resolution. At the same time, many attractive wide-field targets span multiple FOVs across the sky. Without any changes to your astrophotography gear, it is possible to create a super mosaic image stitched together from several smaller images. There are two major steps to accomplish a super mosaic image:

  1. Capture multiple images spanning the target with some overlap between images. The overlap is necessary to enable the processing software from aligning and joining the sub-images.
  2. Process the images and stitch them into a super mosaic image.

The 2nd step is handled by image processing applications such as PixInsight, among others, and will not be the topic of discussion here. The first step can be accomplished in Ekos Scheduler where it creates a mosaic suitable for your equipment and in accordance to the desired field of view. Not only Ekos creates the mosaic panels for your target, but it also constructs the corresponding observatory jobs required to capture all the images. This greatly facilitates the logistics of capturing many images with different filters and calibration frames across a wide area of the sky.

Before starting the Mosaic Job Creator in Ekos Scheduler, you need to select a target and a sequence file. The Sequence File contains all the information necessary to capture an image including exposure time, filters, temperature setting...etc. Start the Mosaic Job Creator by clicking on the icon next to the Find button in Ekos Module.

On first use, you need to enter your equipment settings including your telescope focal length in addition to camera's width, height, and pixel dimensions. Finally, you need to enter the rotation of the camera with respect to north, or the position angle. If you don't know this value, start Ekos and slew to to your desired target then use the Align module to solve the image and obtain the position angle.

Next, enter the desired number of horizontal and vertical panels (e.g. 2x2, 3x3...etc) and then click Update. The target FOV shall be calculated given the number of panels and your camera's FOV and the mosaic overlap shall be displayed. By default, the percentage of the overlap among images is 5%, but you can change this value to your desired value. You can also move the complete mosaic structure around to fine tune the position of the mosaic panels. When satisfied, click Create Jobs and Ekos shall create an observation job and a corresponding customized sequence file for each panel. All the jobs shall be saved to an Ekos Scheduler List (.esl) file that you can load on any suitable observing night and it will pick off where you left. Before starting the Mosaic Job Creator, check that all the observation job conditions, constraints, and startup/shutdown procedures are as per your requirements since these settings shall be copied to all the jobs generated by the Mosaic tool.

With Ekos Scheduler, multi-night imaging is greatly facilitated and creating super mosaics has never been so easy. Get started with Ekos now and don't forget to post your results to INDI forums!

When operating a remote observatory, complete control of the devices rest with the remote INDI servers and drivers. In case of a communication loss, the observatory should be capable of performing a graceful shutdown until communication is established again by the client.

Since the actual shutdown procedure can be unique to each observatory, the user should be able to configure the exact required shutdown procedure. But for most users, the usual shutdown procedure involves parking the mount followed by parking the dome, if one exists. Using INDI WatchDog driver, the user can secure their remote observatory by setting a heart beat timeout threshold. A heart beat is a signal from the client to the watchdog driver to inform it that communication is OK. The user can configure the heart beat timeout in minutes in the WatchDog driver. If the driver does not receive the signal after the heart beat timeout threshold, it initiates the shutdown procedure. To disable the heart beat check, set it to zero.

The shutdown procedure is currently composed of the following steps in order:

  1. Park Mount: The mount driver specified under Options tab will be commanded to park. After parking is successful, the driver proceeds to the next step, otherwise it aborts the shutdown procedure.
  2. Park Dome: The dome driver specified under Options tab will be commanded to park.
  3. Execute Script: Execute a custom shutdown script as specified in the settings property. The script must be executable and exits successfully for this operation to be considered successful.
To park the mount and dome, the driver needs to act as a client as well in order to issue such commands. You need to specify the indiserver host and port where the dome and mount drivers are running. This is usually localhost at port 7624 which is the default value. The shutdown script can be used to perform any additional shutdown functions (e.g. turn off power, send email...etc). You can use Python INDI Client library to command devices, or INDI's built in scripting tools. All values can be saved in the config file by going to Options and clicking Save under the Configuration property. On subsequent runs, all values shall be loaded automatically on start up.

 Tip: When starting INDI server on a remote PC/Raspberry PI via SSH, make sure to run indiserver in the background so that if you get disconnected, the indiserver is not terminated. This is accomplished easily by adding & after the command. For example: indiserver -v indi_watchdog indi_eqmod_telescope indi_qhy_ccd &

 Getting Started

As more Single-Board-Computers such as the Raspberry PI, ODroid, Beaglebone..etc become more powerful with every release, they become closer to replacing the traditional desktop PC for trivial non-graphic intensive tasks. One of the nuisances of astrophotography is the necessity to be in close proximity to your equipment during the typical astrophotography workflow. Your telescope, CCD, focuser..etc are usually connected to a desktop or laptop running your favorite astrophotography software. In addition to freezing temperatures you might encountered in your neck of the wood in winter, it is often far more convenient to operate everything remotely from the comfort of your living room, and it's even better if it's done wirelessly.

Nowadays, the hardware and software technology stacks make this possible thanks to INDI/Ekos and cheap Single board Computers. INDI is the software that talks to your devices and controls them. INDI is a server and does not require a Graphical-User-Interface (GUI) nor a powerful PC, and hence INDI can run on devices such as the Raspberry PI. Ekos is the graphical client used to control the devices exposed by INDI. It offers powerful capabilities to capture, focus, guide, and plate-solve your images. Ekos requires a modern Linux distribution with KDE. Any desktop or laptop that can run Ubuntu/Kubuntu can run Ekos without any issues.

DBUS is a very powerful and versatile inter-process communication system used in Linux and other OSes. DBUS replaced DCOP in KDE4 and has since became the standard for IPC messages in KDE. With KStars (>v.2.3.0), it exposes a new INDI DBUS interface in addition to the existing KStars's DBUS interface giving you a fine control over most of KStars functionality.

In this tutorial, we will learn how to perform basic control of a telescope and CCD using DBUS and Python. We will utilize an external FITS viewer fv, you can install it in Ubuntu:

Introduction

There’s always point where you have to decide in any expensive undertaking, such as amateur astronomy, where it’s best to apply your hard earned currency. For any given piece of equipment, you have to determine what feature set is required, decide what commercial products, if any, suit your needs and finally, what your best purchase option may be. For me, there’s always been a desire to see if I can build a more cost effective solution first, before I proceed to purchase.

With that in mind, it’s been my goal for some time, to complete my automated and remote solution for my personal astronomical observatory. Not having found a cost effective remote focusing solution on the market, I decided to see about low cost DIY alternatives. During my search and evaluation I turned to the INDI platform for ideas.

The Raspberry PI (RPi) is an ARM-based credit-card-sized single board computer. It costs around $35 (PI 2) and therefore it is a very attractive choice for amateur astronomers to control their equipment either locally or remotely. It can be used over Ethernet or WiFi to control your equipment remotely. 

Due to power limitations of the RPi, it is recommended to connect all devices to a powered USB hub. INDI Library v1.2.0 packages in addition to 3rd party drivers are available for the RPi (Raspbian Jessie, Wheezy packages are no longer offered). Furthermore, if you install Ubuntu Mate for Raspberry PI 2, you can get all the bleeding edge INDI and KStars directly from the Ubuntu INDI PPA, no need to download and install packages manually!

You typically would run an INDI server on the RPi and connect to it remotely from Ekos. While it is technically possible to build Ekos in RPi, it would not run smoothly; therefore it is recommended to run INDI server on the RPi and Ekos on a more powerful machine.

With EQMod & Ekos, you can finally put the alignment woes to rest. No more two or three star alignment, no more trying to recenter that star in the eye piece, all you have to do is to point your mount north, and Ekos does that rest. After the first sync, you can expect your desired object to be dead center. You don't have to build any complicated models, every time you slew to a target, you can use Ekos Alignment Module to verify the location and slew to the real coordinates if necessary. This is all made possible thanks to the astrometry.net solver.

So What do you need in order to achieve sub-arcseconds GOTOs?

  • Recent version of KStars.
  • INDI Library v0.9.7 or higher.
  • Astrometry.net v0.45 or higher (for offline plate solving). Ekos supports both online and offline solvers.
  • Mount that supports EQMod.
  • CCD.


INDI library v0.9.7 or above supports joystick integration under Linux. To control your telescope under INDI, you need the following:

  • Wired or wireless controller supported by Linux.
  • Telescope driver that supports joystick integration.

To date, all LX200 based (LX200 GPS, Autostar..etc), Celestron, and EQMOd drivers support joystick integration.

So, how do you control your telescope? In this tutorial, I will be connecting my ThurstMaster Wireless Joystick to an LX200 GPS telescope.

Follow the steps below:

Start KStars

Go to Device Manager under the Tools Menu --> Devices.

Select your telescope driver from the Telescope devices tree.

Select the joystick driver from Auxiliary devices tree.

Login

3rd Party

Choose from the numerous 3rd party INDI drivers to suit your needs!

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