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Mac Astro Orphan No More!

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#1 Ranger Tim

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 06:32 PM

There was a time when using a Mac for imaging meant workarounds, emulators, fat wallets (SkyX) or compromises. The lack of an easy ASCOM alternative made me bite nails in half. Well, INDI has changed the Mac astro world. I have just finished setting up KStars/Ekos with my Mac and Raspberry Pi to integrate with SkySafari 6 Pro. Now I have wireless control of all my imaging/guiding gear and it is shaking hands with my favorite planetarium/scope control software! The online tutorials for set up were critical.

 

Now I just need to slide PHD2 into the mix. Not that the built-in guiding software doesn't work, it does so brilliantly - but because I am so comfy with PHD. At some point I will port all this over to my iPad. That will be so cool to have the same amount of control at a remote site with only an iPad and Pi to run everything. If you could only run dew heaters and mounts off of 5 volts (USB) I'd be in heaven.

 

Did I say that KStars/Ekos is free? All it cost me was the Pi and I opted for the Stellarmate software download for it (I am somewhat computer challenged). So, for less than $100 I am imaging, plate solving, sequencing and whatever else I could want in the comfort of my warm house. Life is good!

 

No longer an astronomy orphan because of a Mac... YAAY!

 

P.S. Works for Linux too. I hear Windows is next...

 

P.P.S. Hey Simulation Curriculum, catch the wave! Some built-in functionality would be really groovy...


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#2 rockstarbill

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 06:40 PM

The control portion of it can run on Windows (KStars/Ekos), you just cannot run native INDI on Windows, so you would use the Pi as your INDI Server and connect from your Windows client to it. Its funny you posted this, as I just updated my RPi3 that has Stellarmate on it, today. 



#3 AstroGabe

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 06:41 PM

I agree, the options for Mac and Linux are growing.  The Stellarmate is a pretty fantastic setup and can be done for a lot cheaper than the usual mini-pc with other astro-software on windows.  There's a lot of development still in indi, but that doesn't mean it's not mature.  I like that it's open source and have had some ideas that I've toyed around with that could be implemented in the Ekos and Indi framework.  

 

I've used it and was pretty happy with it, but decided to go back to my small PC as a side-mount setup.  I really liked SGP's framing and mosaic wizard (it's SGP best feature, IMO), and am excited to try Voyager for automation.  Of course, we've been pretty much socked in with clouds for the last few months.  I think the last clear night was the Lunar Eclipse!  



#4 Ron359

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 07:32 PM

Its nice to see 'we're' (mac users) are almost there with INDI alternative to ASCOM.  But why are you not already running PHD on your Mac?  Its mac native.   I've been using it with Nebulosity for imaging for years.  



#5 FiremanDan

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 07:51 PM

If I could get Ekos or the like to do the framing/mosaic wizard like SGP I'd be sold. I love being able to see an actual image of my framing. 

I did download KStars and Ekos and get it all connected, but I never imaged with it. 

I like the idea of a RPi is nice for it's small footprint and low power needs, but programming and code scares me. 

Either way, it is nice to see more options now. When I started just a couple of years ago Nebulosity was really the only option for native Mac support. I think I tried one or two other programs but could never get them to work for me. Neb 3 and 4 worked well though. 


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#6 rockstarbill

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 07:55 PM

If I could get Ekos or the like to do the framing/mosaic wizard like SGP I'd be sold. I love being able to see an actual image of my framing. 

I did download KStars and Ekos and get it all connected, but I never imaged with it. 

I like the idea of a RPi is nice for it's small footprint and low power needs, but programming and code scares me. 

Either way, it is nice to see more options now. When I started just a couple of years ago Nebulosity was really the only option for native Mac support. I think I tried one or two other programs but could never get them to work for me. Neb 3 and 4 worked well though. 

Just build them in SGP and steal the coordinates. Done. :) 


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#7 FiremanDan

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 08:14 PM

Just build them in SGP and steal the coordinates. Done. smile.gif

Well, I want to be able to see the exact fov and have it tell me how much to rotate. I don't think such an ability exists in Ekos as of now. I love how I can choose any framing I want and SGP will plate solve and have me rotate until it's perfect. 



#8 Ron359

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 12:24 AM

Well, I want to be able to see the exact fov and have it tell me how much to rotate. I don't think such an ability exists in Ekos as of now. I love how I can choose any framing I want and SGP will plate solve and have me rotate until it's perfect. 

You can do that with some planetarium programs.  I've used Starry Night Pro 6 (mac) for years to plan images using the FOV box for whatever combination of scope or lens and camera used. You can rotate the FOV box for best framing and that tells you what 'azimuth' from north to orient the camera frame.  Although in my recent 'trial' of SNP 8 I couldn't get the FOV function to work at all.   I think TheSkyX does it similarly but also links to your images.  Both are Mac native.  



#9 Ranger Tim

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 01:09 AM

I have run PHD natively for years, just not wirelessly. I also use SkySafari to choose the framing with the FOV boxes that match my imaging scopes. This makes it really easy to plan a session. IF I was made out of money I would have an image rotator (Ekos supports this), but I'm still saving for much more critical items in my imaging wants list, not to mention my much neglected visual side of the hobby.

 

For those of us who use Macs it is nice to have an option that is similar to SGP and inexpensive. The fact that it was something I could even think about putting together with minimal computer chops was truly enjoyable.


Edited by Ranger Tim, 18 February 2019 - 01:10 AM.

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#10 tkottary

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 01:35 AM

Haven't used SGP,  but here is what you could do with Ekos. Mosaic creator needs some love from Dev's, but its not too bad.

 

 

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#11 fewayne

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 03:45 PM

One dodge for stuff needing 12V power is to run the Pi off a powered USB hub that has a 12V-output wall wart. I use an Anker USB 3 hub whose cable I chopped off its transformer & wired to the battery. Pi power and some peripherals plug into that for 5V, 12V stuff runs straight off the battery.

Edited by fewayne, 18 February 2019 - 03:46 PM.


#12 Wjdrijfhout

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 05:19 PM

I have just finished setting up KStars/Ekos with my Mac and Raspberry Pi to integrate with SkySafari 6 Pro. Now I have wireless control of all my imaging/guiding gear and it is shaking hands with my favorite planetarium/scope control software! The online tutorials for set up were critical.

As mac-user, I totally agree that the Ekos/Kstars software is probably the best out there and extremely versatile. I was wondering what you mean by integrating with SkySafari? How do you run one from within the other?


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#13 Ranger Tim

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 07:42 PM

I use SkySafari to keep my observing lists, plan observing/imaging sessions, and have used it to control the mount for imaging the last few years. It is easy to nudge the mount and watch the FOV box march across the image to where I intend it to be. I like to synch the mount to SkySafari early on when aligning objects and it has improved my go-to's considerably. It was my plate solving cheat in a way.

 

Now I am wireless with the KStars/Ekos and RPi, but wanted to continue to run my mount with a combination of the plate solver in Ekos and still have the ability to move it with SkySafari Pro. DONE! There is a built-in driver for SkySafari (SS) on the Mac version of KStars/Ekos. All I had to do was figure out the procedure for loading it in the INDI server and changing the settings for the SS telescope controller. There was a different port number and address was all. It works only for basic scope control right now. I hope there may be some SkySafari and INDI dovetailing in the future.

 

One of the best things about being a Mac user was being able to share the program between tablet, phone and laptop. SS is a great way to organize my visual experience and it is fun to have instant info on DSO's along with great pictures. When out with our dob star hopping, my wife loves having the tablet show Telrad circles -- it makes for a fun game of hide and seek. Now it will be there for me when imaging in other ways and I'm stoked!

 

I can't wait until this snow is out of here and I can get some time under the sky. At the moment I can run through all my different scopes and set-ups in the living room. I am going to put everything in a notebook so that I don't have to strain my brain remembering all the different spacers, adapters, settings, OAG vs. guide scope, etc. Taking a photo of each rig is helpful. I also am going to include some data about cameras/sensors and such so that I won't be caught out in the boonies with no resource online to help. Where I go there is no hope of cell signal for a hot spot (Bortle 2 or less). Plate solving offline is a given.

 

Where ever these folks are that have been working on this INDI stuff, I am forever in their debt. Spending a little money on Astronomy programs is worth it when it helps support their efforts, i.e. Craig Stark with Nebulosity. I don't use it anymore but keep up to date because I will never be able to repay him for the fun I have had over the years with PHD and DSLR Shutter. That's why I chose to buy the Stellarmate OS download for the Pi instead of compiling from scratch... well maybe I don't have the programming chops either, but it makes me feel good none the less.

 

BTW, if you're a Mac user don't use forward slashes when naming profiles in Ekos. It took me a while to figure out why my profiles quit working after I had organized them. Follow Windows naming rules and all is well.


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#14 Wjdrijfhout

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 03:10 AM

Thank you Tim, didn’t know there was a SkySafari driver in INDI. Will give it a try soon! I am using SkySafari a lot. That new AR function on the iPhone is great for planning telescope setup in a place where the horizon is blocked quite a bit. 

Would be awesome to use it as planetarium software with Ekos, as Kstars is for that not the greatest. 

 

By the way, as you are talking about making notes with your observations, have you looked at AstroPlanner? It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but I have started to like it a lot. It connects to pretty much all databases out there and provides deep insight into observation conditions. Especially the altitude graphs both per day and per year are very easy to use and help plan your session. It is extremely flexible and customizable, you can record pretty much anything you find important. It is designed for visual, but I have customized it to accommodate my needs for astrophotography. And it is available in Mac-version...


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#15 drmikevt

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 08:06 AM

By the way, as you are talking about making notes with your observations, have you looked at AstroPlanner? It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but I have started to like it a lot. It connects to pretty much all databases out there and provides deep insight into observation conditions. Especially the altitude graphs both per day and per year are very easy to use and help plan your session. It is extremely flexible and customizable, you can record pretty much anything you find important. It is designed for visual, but I have customized it to accommodate my needs for astrophotography. And it is available in Mac-version...

+1 for AstroPlanner - its a fantastic for planning (duh) and helping you find interesting things to shoot/look at on a given night.  

 

As soon as the sky clears, I'm going to start testing my system using kStars/Ekos to run TSX and maybe PHD2 on my Mac.  My particular need is that  I want to continue to use TSX for its Paramount benefits, but  I also want to use my new  SX-AO, which is not  supported in TSX.  The  only way I can stay on a Mac is to have Ekos run TSX via TCP.   Ekos has a built  in driver for the SX-AO, so that may work well, but I know that PHD2 is very good with the device so we'll see which is best.  Anyway - wish me luck!


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#16 FiremanDan

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 09:15 AM

I had all but settled on getting a Windows-based computer (ideally OTA mounted) for my rig to replace my MacBook running Windows via Bootcamp. 
This thread has got me thinking about a Rasberry Pi/Stellarmate instead but I have some concerns. Hopefully, by Fall 2019 I'll have my SkyPod up and the permeant pier in place. I'd like to have things like PemPro and APCC Pro to maximize my Mach1GTO. 
As far as I can tell those all work off Windows and/or ASCOM. Are there ways to or alternative options via INDI/RPi? 

I have also read concerns that commands from PHD to the mount can be delayed or are slower than using a PC. 

What are people using for image storage? When you download the image are you sending the FITs to a thumb drive or SD card? Any issues with slowed download speeds? I found sending my ASI1600 images to an external drive greatly increased the download times and caused some files to not write/freeze via Windows 7/Bootcamp SGP. 



#17 fewayne

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 09:21 AM

I usually just image to the Pi's MicroSD, but have also tried a thumb drive. Both work fine.
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#18 Wjdrijfhout

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 12:46 PM

Ekos/Kstars has extensive guiding options itself, and it can also be used in conjunction with PHD2. Not sure what you will be missing with Pempro and apcc pro, but you may want to visit the INDI forum at indilib.org. It’s very active, and all the developers behind the software and it’s drivers are actively participating. I’m sure you will find Mach1GTO owners that can share their experiences.

INDI allows storage on the server side (on the RPi or other headless computer that you have on the mount) or on the client side (the Mac you have on your kitchen table..). Server side can mean the embedded micro-SD or thumbdrive. Server side storage is very fast as nothing needs downloading. But to get the images out of there, you either need to take the card/thumb drive out or need to ftp the files to your Mac. Client side storage gets you the files where you want them, but will take a few seconds for each file. I typically use client side storage for my subs, but server side for biases or flats, just to get them done quickly.

For my setup, ekos/Kstars was one of the best solutions for the mac, but irrespective of that, the server/client architecture is an absolute winner. On the remote side, you run native software and not a teamviewer screen share of the telescope computer, which I find gives a much better user experience.

Good luck with your selection! The end of the day there are tons of good solutions out there, also for Mac, so should be fine.




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#19 Ranger Tim

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 09:41 PM

Since it costs less than $100 to pick up the Pi and the Stellarmate download it is almost a no brainer to experiment with it as a solution for wireless control of an imaging rig. After all, KStars/Ekos is free! Besides, the Pi is completely cool and fun to play with on its own! I believe Linux may become a significant diversion for me if I ever get the bug to dive into programming. So far I resist...

 

This package (Pi, Stellarmate, KStars/Ekos, SkySafari) coupled with a tablet still seems like it would be a killer portable imaging solution for the high desert in NW Nevada and extreme SW Idaho. The clouds there are like black holes in the sky that move silently across the stars -- constellations are a confused mass of stars and M33 beckons the naked eye. Unfortunately there is no cell service or internet within an hour's drive. That also seems to keep away the riff-raff!

 

The choice I made was to store images on the Mac inside, eliminating the need to transfer them later. As I use an older DSLR my file sizes are small (12 Meg) so there is only about a 5 second delay. When I move to the tablet I intend to store on the 64 gig card plugged into the Pi. I need lots more experience using this new INDI based rig here at home first, but I have high hopes. I can't believe I am this late to the party.



#20 Alien Observatory

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 09:53 PM

Been in the Mac "SW Void" for many years....Just changed from Stellarmate to ASIAIR and the Mac Astro world is now Much Better for me...Pat Utah :)



#21 ezwheels

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Posted 19 February 2019 - 11:12 PM

I had all but settled on getting a Windows-based computer (ideally OTA mounted) for my rig to replace my MacBook running Windows via Bootcamp. 
This thread has got me thinking about a Rasberry Pi/Stellarmate instead but I have some concerns. Hopefully, by Fall 2019 I'll have my SkyPod up and the permeant pier in place. I'd like to have things like PemPro and APCC Pro to maximize my Mach1GTO. 
As far as I can tell those all work off Windows and/or ASCOM. Are there ways to or alternative options via INDI/RPi? 

I have also read concerns that commands from PHD to the mount can be delayed or are slower than using a PC. 

What are people using for image storage? When you download the image are you sending the FITs to a thumb drive or SD card? Any issues with slowed download speeds? I found sending my ASI1600 images to an external drive greatly increased the download times and caused some files to not write/freeze via Windows 7/Bootcamp SGP. 

Hey Dan,

 

If you have an older mac laptop around, I would give EKOS a try. I save directly to the HD on my MBPro. I have used it for about 7months with relatively high success, but in a period of frustration with minor issues, I purchased an NUC with W10Pro. I downloaded pretty much all the trial versions of software and I have to say that I am not so impressed with the Windows based PC eco-system. More software does not always mean better software... just saying. On the whole, EKOS on my 8 year old mac laptop is more reliable and easier to use for me than APT or SGP on this new NUC mini PC. Even with Win10Pro, the thing forces updates and can't go to sleep and then wake up without the screen flickering on and off every 5 seconds or so. If I turn off updates everywhere it still forces me to chose "Update and shutdown" or "update and restart" when I want to turn the computer off.

 

As for EKOS, mikefulb wrote the INDI driver for the CP4 controller that is on our mounts and although it is an early version, I have had absolutely no issues with it. The ZWO driver is robust and full featured. Plate solve is very very fast and reliable. Like 20 secs for offline solving. Once you get the parameters right, AF is very reliable. I have not tried the Mosaic tools but they are there. I am dealing with tilt issues and the KStars interface will orient the FITS image preview into the sky chart so that I can easily see the edge of the camera sensor that needs to be shimmed. That is kind of a big deal when futzing with tilt. Once I figured out how to do it, meridian flip worked great the few times I needed it. There are still many little issues with the software but the community is very dedicated, attentive and determined to provide a superior product and tool for us than the ASCOM way. Since I still own the PC, I may continue on with it, but mainly to run PEMPro and CCD inspector. I really like PEMPro and wish there was a way to get it to interface to the INDI platform. The windows version of EKOS/Kstars was pretty unusable for me so I deleted it from the NUC. I am guessing the Linux version of EKOS is probably the most full featured and robust of the three ports, so although I probably will end up doing so, I am not yet quite ready to reformat the NUC and make a dual boot configuration (if it's possible) to try it out.


Edited by ezwheels, 20 February 2019 - 10:14 AM.

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#22 tkottary

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Posted 20 February 2019 - 12:20 AM

I would highly recommend to try Indi on better resourced device like NUC or even a moderate laptop . You cannot fully load the RPi and expect it to run flawlessly , save the frustration :)  To be on safer side use the stable version and not the nightly builds.



#23 Henry from NZ

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Posted 20 February 2019 - 02:37 PM

How well does EKos focus - compared to SGPro on PC or Starkeepr Voyager - in terms of accuracy and speed?

#24 Kevin Ross

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Posted 20 February 2019 - 02:54 PM

You're in good company. There are a number of people here who use KStars/Ekos/INDI. I'm a software developer, and have contributed a few fixes to the project, but I am not one of their main developers. The indilib.org forum is very active, and the main developer(s) are very responsive to questions or problems.

 

And yes, you could download the software completely for free, but it's nice to buy a ready-made ISO, to show your support! Nobody is getting rich developing astrophotography software. :)


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#25 Lead_Weight

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Posted 20 February 2019 - 02:57 PM

How well does EKos focus - compared to SGPro on PC or Starkeepr Voyager - in terms of accuracy and speed?

 

There’s two focusing methods right now in EKOS. Full frame takes and average FWHM from all stars in the image. And single star method which automatically picks a star, then focuses on a curve to get FWHM to the smallest number. It works 99% of the time in either method. I find full frame is slightly more reliable. But every once in a while it will catch an artifiact in the frame and try to get FWHM readings from that artifact. I image from a 2015 Mac laptop and find plate solving is 4-5 seconds, focusing is less than a minute. It can be faster if you allow sub frame focusing, which will capture only the image area around the star it automatically picked. This way you’re not transferring full frames to the computer from the camera, but just a small sub frame.

 

Since version 3 (released in the last month) the scheduler has become amazing. Even the built in guider can reaquire a star after clouds interrupt guiding.

 

I use it for all the images on my site. 


Edited by Lead_Weight, 20 February 2019 - 02:59 PM.



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