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HiMARC Ground Testing Equipment & Software

February 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Lots of folks have been asking what instruments, software and equipment I use for HiMARC ground tests and my astrophotography in general. I shall try to keep this list up to date as the project goes on and my inventory changes. Most items below can be purchased from optcorp.com who have loaned me much of my testing equipment in support of HiMARC!

HiMARC Ground Testing Equipment Hardware and Software
 
Item Purpose Owner/Supplier
Optics to see physics

Coronado H-alpha 80mm solar telescope

Solar imaging, testing atmospheric lensing & lucky-imaging techniques on high SNR data (the Sun). Hydrogen-alpha single stack tunable etalon interferometer filter operating at 656.26 nm with a bandpass of only 0.7nm! Used for every solar image taken thus far as part of HiMARC ground tests. Purchased from OPT for $3500, yikes! / optcorp.com

Meade 8'' LX-200 SCT

200mm aperture fork-mounted Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. 2000 mm focal length (f/10). Used for most lunar and planetary images taken as part of HiMARC ground tests, sometimes with 2-5x barlow lenses. Good go-to performance and thermal stability in tube, but not suitable for extended exposure astrophotography without a wedge (ours cracked). Courtesy Pumpkin Inc. / Meade Instruments

Astro-Tech 8'' f/4 Imaging Newtonian

Wide-field astrophotography and some planetary and lunar imaging with 2x teleconverters. Fast f/4 scope is very sensitive to collimation errors, so a good Cheshire eyepiece is a must. Used to take most of my wide-field astrophotographs (800mm focal length) with a DSLR or other camera mounted and Orion Autoguider on the CG-5 or CGEM mount. Must be used with a coma-corrector and then some.. Purchased from Astronomics for ~$600 / Astro-Tech

Astro-Tech coma corrector

2'' coma corrector for the Imaging Newtonian purchased for ~$220 / Astro-Tech

Hutech IDAS Light Pollution Filter

 

It has a very convenient bandpass for Palo Alto-like locations: Purchased for $220 from Hutech / Hutech
Celestron 14'' SCT on CGEPRO A beast of an SCT - this is really only suitable for planetary and lunar imaging. Try autoguiding at 4000mm focal length and f/10! On loan from the generous folks at Oceanside Photo & Telescope. Used for HiMARC ground tests on lunar and planetary targets where noted. Contending with dew on the corrector plate is no small task - even after pumping 80 watts to the plate with nichrome heating elements! Setting up alone in the mountains is comical... On loan since June 2012 from OPT!
Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 Used for wide-field astrophotography mounted piggyback on the bigger scopes. One of the few Nikon lenses with ok coma performance wide open at f/2.8. Purchased for $950 / Nikon
Orion Autoguider Package Used in conjunction with PHD auto-guiding software on CGEM mount for extended exposure tracking. 80mm refractor coupled to ~1MP CCD suitable only for short focal length telescopes.  Purchased for ~$450 / OPT
Mounts    
Celestron CG-5 Does the job for solar imaging sessions, without the weight. Not very accurate for extended exposure astrophotography, even auto-guided. Purchased for ~$700 / High-point scientific

Celestron CGEM

The main mount I use for extended exposure astrophotography with an autoguider. Capable of handling the 30+ lbs of equipment I stack on top and much easier to operate than the CG-5. Polar alignment feature works fairly well if you know what you are doing (read, hours of learning the pain-staking way in the cold). Purchased for ~$1500 / OPT
Cameras    
Nikon D800 36 MP DSLR I use for general photography and wide-field and prime-focus astrophotography Purchased for $3000 / Nikon

Nikon D7000

16 MP DSLR I use for general photography and prime-focus imaging on the Newtonian. APS-C sensor size helps reduce areas of coma on the Newt. Purchased for ~$1300 / Nikon 

FLI Proline TEC CCD

MicroLine Logo

Still trying to get this to work without icing over the sensor. Stay tuned... Borrowed from Pumpkin, Inc., price astronomical / FLI

Point Grey Flea3 USB 3.0 3.2 MP monochrome

High speed imager for testing atmospheric lensing theory & lucky-imaging. 3.2 monochrome sensor used for Venus Transit imaging, ~3 micron pixel size. Software extremely buggy with crashes common on multiple systems. USB 3.0 is very new and bandwidths require SSD drive or thunderbolt speed interfaces.  Courtesy NASA / Point Grey

Point Grey Flea3 USB 3.0 1.2 MP monochrome

 

High speed imager for testing atmospheric lensing theory & lucky-imaging. Go for the 3.2 MP sensor unless you like tiny fields of view. Very suitable for planetary targets though. Software extremely buggy with crashes common on multiple systems. USB 3.0 is very new and bandwidths require SSD drive or thunderbolt speed interfaces.  Courtesy NASA / Point Grey

Point Grey Flea3 USB 3.0 8.2 MP monochrome

 

High speed imager for testing atmospheric lensing theory & lucky-imaging. 8 MP color sensor has bad bayer filter configuration and noise profile. Software extremely buggy with crashes common on multiple systems. USB 3.0 is very new and bandwidths require SSD drive or thunderbolt speed interfaces.  Courtesy NASA / Point Grey

GoPro Hero 3

Just for setup and teardown. Also, in case they find a body frozen to the telescope and need forensic evidence. Purchased for $500 / GoPro
     
Software    
Pixinsight One of the best pieces of image processing hand down! Extremely well written with good documentation and powerful, modern image processing tools. I could spend a life time exploring all the tools this program has to offer. Runs on multiple platforms, 64-bit architecture and handles all the huge files I throw at it. Costly, but worth the price to every astronomer in my opinion. Purchased for 170 Euros / PixInsight

Deep Sky Stacker

Good beginning program to get started in extended object astrophotography - quickly calibrating light frames with bias, flat and dark calibration frames. Unfortunately, not much more beyond frame integration and limited tools for image integration. Also, 32-bit program is limited to processing small files:( Donate if you can. Free! / Deepskystacker

PHD Autoguiding

Push-here-dummy shareware software does the job autoguiding and automatically calibrating. More advanced features built-in. Sometimes buggy and slow on netbooks (could be more with the drivers for the Orion Autoguider). Donate if you can. Free / PHD Autoguiding

AutoStakkert!2 by Emil Kraaikamp

An excellent piece of Lucky-imaging software built and designed by Emil. I think this program has wide applicability to image and video processing and is a phenomenal piece of code. Donate if you can. It is the primary piece of software I use to test Atmospheric Lensing on planetary and solar targets. I am hoping to collaborate with Emil to design a similar piece of software with some of my algorithms from the ground up in C++. Stay tuned. Free! / AutoStakkert! website

MATLAB

Don't leave home without it. Even though I am terrible at actually using it, I know others who can! ~$500, more depending on packages like Image Processing / MathWorks

 


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