Jun 27, 2011

Some Starizona Love and a Proper First Light

And thus is how I shall characterize the odyssey that was my weekend.  I had committed myself this past weekend to preparing for NEXT weekend - a five day astrophotography trip to Northern Arizona and 7000 feet of elevation under skies so dark that they can only be described as "ridonkulous" - but I digress.  Since making the jump from DSLR to OSC CCD back in April it's been nothing but a constant war bending the imaging system to my will.  And if I'm being honest it's been a war that I'm clearly losing.    Thursday night's backyard session ended again in frustration fighting tilt in the imaging train that left the Hyperstar looking like the leaning tower of Pisa.  I resolved to do something that is expressly forbidden to my typically male genetic code.  I decided I would ask for help.  I spoke with Scott at Starizona on Friday and decided to make the 140 mile drive down to Tucson for their public viewing session on Friday night where I could get a little assistance in figuring out what was going on with my whole rig.  So I packed up the essential pieces of the rig and made the southern trek with my amazing 14 year old daughter and co-pilot who insisted on making the trip with me.  We arrived about an hour before sunset and spoke with Dean about the whole situation and the chronology of events.  "Sounds like it could be the telescope itself.  Why don't you bring it in and let me take a look at it" he said.  My daughter carried the OTA into the shop while I dug out the CCD camera and Hyperstar as well.  When I got back into Starizona, Dean had mounted the C11 Edge HD onto a nearby AP900 mount to begin his assessment.  "That's it!! The OTA just needs a little 'spa' time!" I thought to myself.  This is predicated of course on the idea that just hanging out on an AP900 has to be the telescope equivalent of a nice massage at the local day spa.  It looked so glorious up there that I was stupified for a few moments.  Soon however, I came to my senses and went back outside to grab my cell phone and snap a picture of such a handsome scene - my scope kickin' it on the Astro-Physics mount.  Before I could get back outside Dean pointed out the overall collimation of the scope itself.  The entire corrector plate/secondary assembly on the Edge HD had slipped down and to the right very significantly.  This, he believed, was the source of all my troubles.  He told me he'd have it fixed really quickly and set out to do just that.  I went to the truck to get my cell phone and it's camera for the previously mentioned photo opportunity.  By the time I returned to the shop, the scene can only be described as one of instant horror.  It was like one of those sci-fi movies where the teenagers take a vacation to a posh tropical island only to wakeup on the beach and find that someone has stolen a kidney from them. 

My corrector plate was gone!!!  I found it on the other end of the room where Dean had begun his work on it.  The shock of finding that Dean had already disassembled the scope was so great that I did forget to snap a better photo of my beautiful scope on the AP mount.  Dean took apart the secondary assembly itself and replaced a plastic gasket with one that he'd specifically developed at Starizona that resolves the particular issue that I was having. 
After spending a good hour on the scope working at the secondary assembly and putting everything back together he declared it to have a clean bill of health and I setup in the parking lot to line out the remainder of my collimation/tilt/alignment issues.  I was again optimistic about the trip the next weekend.  Almost 4 hours of imaging and tweaking and poking and prodding the Hyperstar and CCD camera frustration had again set in.  Dean was perplexed as well and asked me to leave the entire rig with him so that he could look more closely at the camera the next day. 

I made the drive back home and returned on Saturday night where Dean again gave me far more of his time than I deserved in an effort to help resolve the issue.  We spent much time fighting the tilt/tip ring that is supplied with the QHY cameras these days.  Just for the record - the tilt/tip ring on a QHY camera is the most ridiculous solution I've seen in my life.  If we had arrived at a solution that required me to use that idiotic piece of equipment there would be a QHY8PRO on Astromart right now at a fire sale price.  Alas - and thanks entirely to Dean - that ended up being not necessary.  I even told him toward the end of the evening not to worry, that I'd go back to the DSLR for the time being and I was going to get rid of the camera. 
To make a long story short, by eliminating the tilt/tip ring and using a spacer that is about 4mm shorter than is typically called for with the QHY camera bodies, everything snapped suddenly very close into place.  Some minor adjustments to the collimation of the Hyperstar and suddenly - things were very, very close to perfect.  Having spent almost 8 hours in the Starizona parking lot trying to resolve the issue I snapped a quick set of images just to prove to myself that the CCD camera was indeed useable.

As such, here is what I can now call the proper first light from the camera, and I have the crew at Starizona to thank for their patience and persistence in helping me to get this resolved.  As is typical with any trip to Starizona, I didn't get out of there unscathed.  I picked up a Hyperstar compatible dew shield and lens cap for the scope.  Money has a way of getting spent when I'm in that place.  

So here it is - M13, a stack of 10 exposures at 30 seconds each, unguided from the heavily, heavily light polluted parking lot of Starizona on Saturday night.  The collimation is still just a touch out in the bottom left corner - but it's far, far better than it was before.  I'll tweak the collimation a final time this Thursday and hopefully I'll return from the cool pines of Northern Arizona with an enormous amount of data to process.  Not a cloud in the forecast with daytime temps around 85ºF (30ºC) and night time temps around 50ºF (10ºC) for all 5 days.