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the cost of doing a single night imaging run

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#1 joelin

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 07:56 PM

These days I'm finding it quite difficult to get data. The time, energy cost is high and the returns are low. 

 

To go to a dark site requires about 1 hour of loading the car (pulling equipment out of the closet and making sure I didn't miss anything, also packing warm clothes, clearing out memory cards, packing food, water, checking batteries of my red flashlights), then a 1 hour drive to mag 20.7 skies, then about 45 min getting all the equipment setup (polar aligned), balanced (counterweights), connected (lots and lots of cabling), then 45 min fiddling with the software (guiding calibration, focus, checking collimation if applicable, plate solving, creating the sequence, etc.). When starting the sequence, some of my captures fail because an image doesn't finish download or the guide stars get lost or other bugs or clouds get in the way or tracking is bad due to wind. Then I need another 45 min tearing everything down and 1 hour to drive back. The next day I need another 30 min to bring everything back into the closet. 

 

In this part of California, astronomical darkness doesn't set in until about 1015pm (near summer solstice)

 

So to make it all work, I start that entire cycle at 630pm, to get to my dark site at 830pm, to hopefully begin capturing data at 10pm. At best I'll have 10-1130pm but because of various factors such as long dithers, failed downloads at best I'm capturing 50% of the time so thats 50% of 90 minutes which is 45 minutes. 

 

I'll take flats at 1130pm, tear down at 1145pm and be back in the car at 1230am. I'm home at ~130am. I'm in bed a bit later, maybe past 2am.

 

So I was working from 630pm to 130am and have maybe 45 minutes of data from mag 20.7 skies.....I'll also need 1 more hour the following day.

 

I'll go through the subs and of the 45 minutes, end up throwing out 1/3 so I'm down to 30 minutes. Maybe some more subs are thrown out because the sky wasn't fully dark yet when I started. So the summary is 8 hours of my time and 20-30 minutes of data.  I'm pretty tired and disappointed at the end of all of that. What has your experience been like?


Edited by joelin, 22 July 2019 - 08:08 PM.

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#2 Dynan

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:07 PM

$30 in gas for me to travel round trip to my pier sit at friend's farm. But if I stay 3 days, that's only ten bucks a day...worth it for the Bortle 4 sky compared to the city. smile.png



#3 dmdouglass

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:07 PM

Come on Winter !!


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#4 iwannabswiss

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:10 PM

Log onto the computer, activate relay wait 30 seconds for the roof to open.  Activate power relays for all equipment.  Choose targets and start schedule.  Walk away and do whatever else I want and occasionally check in to see how progress is going.

 

So the total summary is maybe 15 mins of my time.  Sorry, couldn't resist. smile.gif   I used to know your pain all too well; that's why I built the observatory, so I don't have to set up and tear down each night.  Gives me much more time to collect images, especially when I would skip good nights because I was too tired to deal with the issues you've mentioned.


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#5 oldstargazer

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:10 PM

Yes summer is a drag for doing our thing, around here you can't even start capturing any data until almost 11pm or you can see the blue hue of the twilight in the shot.



#6 isogroup

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:11 PM

Five bucks at iTelescope and excellent B&W image in my inbox. About $20 USD for a color image.

 

Don't forget the cost of the 31mm Nagler I had to throw at a coyote to make my escape....long story.


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#7 Galaxyhunter

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:11 PM

I feel your pain.  In the Summer, It doesn't get really dark here till after 10:00 pm.  My alarm goes off @ 04:30.  So during the Summer, even though I have an Observatory that's ready to go at a moments notice, I don't even think about doing anything involving Astronomy. 



#8 OldManSky

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:14 PM

I did the math, same as you did, OP.  I just did it years ago.

Then I moved to 21+ skies, and stayed home (other than the occasional big star party).  And made permanent setups.

 

It's a huge difference when everything is already set up, there's nothing to pack/haul, there's no driving, there's no PA.  Remove a cover/open a roof, and go.  Then go inside and track stuff remotely by iPad, while playing with the kids and/or talking (and other stuff!) with the wife.

 

I know Saratoga's not the "best" skies.  But there are a number of people here getting outstanding results in light-polluted areas, even one from downtown San Jose (which is worse that where you're at!).

IMHO, the best thing you can do is figure out how to indulge your enjoyment of astrophotography *at home.*  Whether that means moving to a new location, focusing on narrow-band, whatever...you'll save your own sanity, you'll get more data, and you'll have a better family life (if you have one).  And you'll get more sleep :)


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#9 OleCuss

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:17 PM

Pretty much describing why I'm less and less enchanted with the idea of conventional AP.  It just generally isn't worth it.

 

I'm a bit more OK with doing short-exposure imaging (Observational AP for me) and by turning up the gain a bit, keeping the focal length fairly short - you can set up a less sensitive system.

 

When Starizona comes out with their Night Owl focal reducer for corrected SCTs I'm going to figure on getting one of those and I'll be more interested in going places and doing my limited form of imaging.

 

So what I anticipate is using the LS-8 with the Night Owl reducer and the ASI183MM.  I'm still working on the flat panel solution and a case for the OTA/mount but it should otherwise come together.

 

Set the LS-8 up on its tripod, hook up power and it'll find itself in the universe.  I need power to the OTA, power to the camera, and power to the computer.  USB cable from the camera to the computer - and I'm set.  Because the subs are short I won't need autoguiding and I won't need an equatorial mount.

 

It really should be a far simpler thing to do than what most have to deal with.  It should require far less time for set-up and tear-down.

 

And seriously, people do great work by doing the short subs (4-15 seconds) and then processing them.  It takes a lot of computer time to do all the stacking but then the post-processing is pretty much the same as would be otherwise. 

 

Right now I just observe with the ASI071 and Comet Hunter from light-polluted skies.  Works better than one might expect.



#10 joelin

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:19 PM

I did the math, same as you did, OP.  I just did it years ago.

Then I moved to 21+ skies, and stayed home (other than the occasional big star party).  And made permanent setups.

 

It's a huge difference when everything is already set up, there's nothing to pack/haul, there's no driving, there's no PA.  Remove a cover/open a roof, and go.  Then go inside and track stuff remotely by iPad, while playing with the kids and/or talking (and other stuff!) with the wife.

 

I know Saratoga's not the "best" skies.  But there are a number of people here getting outstanding results in light-polluted areas, even one from downtown San Jose (which is worse that where you're at!).

IMHO, the best thing you can do is figure out how to indulge your enjoyment of astrophotography *at home.*  Whether that means moving to a new location, focusing on narrow-band, whatever...you'll save your own sanity, you'll get more data, and you'll have a better family life (if you have one).  And you'll get more sleep smile.gif

where I live I have a small balcony completely covered by trees...so forget doing anything at home... driving to mag 21+ is out of the question in a single night when its already so hard to do a mag 20 trip

 

doing multi-night trips is very difficult given all my responsibilities....single nights are possible but expensive to do. 


Edited by joelin, 22 July 2019 - 08:19 PM.


#11 chemisted

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:20 PM

Have you considered selling your astrophotography gear and buying an image intensifier that you can use from home?  You will get real time views of incredible deep sky objects including extended nebulae.  Just a thought . . .


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#12 Alen K

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:21 PM

Personally, I would not spend eight hours for only 30 minutes of data. But I think you shortchange yourself by leaving your imaging site so early. 12:30am? Heck, when I go out I don't usually pack up until it starts to get light. Sure, I lose a night's sleep (unless it's on a weekend when I can sleep in the next day) but sleep is overrated. Given how few times I do get out (new moon meets good weather meets no other commitments) it's not like I turn into an astro-zombie very often. 

 

There are other differences. I don't use a computer (less cabling, no sequencing, no plate solving, no software hassles). I don't autoguide (no autoguider calibration). I can't remember when I've had issues with wind. Back in my film days I used to be able to do at least three hours if not four of actual imaging on August nights (longer than July nights, of course), not including time spent drift aligning, manually searching for targets, manual framing of targets, knife-edge focusing between shots, finding guide stars (manual guiding, baby!) and rest breaks for my eyes between shots. 

 

That said, more and more I am drawn to a much simpler set-up than an EQ mounted telescope: a tracked camera+lens on a tripod. With almost nothing to set-up I get imaging very fast and pack up at the end of the session is easy. 


Edited by Alen K, 22 July 2019 - 09:58 PM.

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#13 Stelios

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:23 PM

I do pretty much what you do (but with a longer commute). Staying overnight makes all the difference. If I had to leave early as you do, I would never bother. 

 

Especially in the summer, a tent and sleeping bag will be your friend. If you are worried about safety, try to find a club with a dark sky facility. Can't believe they are nonexistent where you are.


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#14 gezak22

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:45 PM

As a former mobile imager, I feel your pain. I used to get 6 hours of data in the summer (more in the winter if weather and moon cooperated). But getting home at 6:30am eventually took its tolls. Once I realized I could no longer sustain my routine (work + hobby + exercise), the hobby had to give. The only way forward with imaging would have been via a remote observatory, but it would have reduced the hobby to yet another desk activity. So I went back to visual, although I am not as active as I should be.



#15 calypsob

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:45 PM

You californians could sell your homes and retire on a 40 acre darksite in virginia lol. I feel your pain on the botched darksite run. It happens to me alot! I dont have the perfect solution yet, just keep going like a madman until you get great data, seems to be my moto.


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#16 Stargezzer

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 08:46 PM

Joelin, I thought Saratoga had a lighting ordinance that limits light pollution. My sister lived there for many years and always commented on how dark it was due to the regulations. Maybe she was in the darker part of town? I do 2-3hr sessions from my driveway in a Bortle 5 area and I am surprised at how good some of my photos come out. Sure I drop a few subs but not that many.The product I get is worth the time ....at least to me. I see some of my friends photos taken at club dark sites and they don't seem to be significantly better than mine. I am moving to AZ where there are very strict light pollution restrictions. No street lights along with a long list of home owner lighting restrictions. I am anxious to roll out my mounts in the driveway and see what the difference in photo quality will be.


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#17 GraySkies

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 09:06 PM

Log onto the computer, activate relay wait 30 seconds for the roof to open.  Activate power relays for all equipment.  Choose targets and start schedule.  Walk away and do whatever else I want and occasionally check in to see how progress is going.

 

So the total summary is maybe 15 mins of my time.  Sorry, couldn't resist. smile.gif   I used to know your pain all too well; that's why I built the observatory, so I don't have to set up and tear down each night.  Gives me much more time to collect images, especially when I would skip good nights because I was too tired to deal with the issues you've mentioned.

I also went the observatory route which is great in the summer (northern hemisphere) so this year I'm doing a thousand times more imaging then I would normally because the short nights and haze risk is just to great to go for longer. In the winter when the weather is perfect I'll pack up and going ~1.5 hours to a Bortle 1 zone for some additional serious imaging.

 

Yes summer is a drag for doing our thing, around here you can't even start capturing any data until almost 11pm or you can see the blue hue of the twilight in the shot.

100% agree, nights are just too short if you have any set-up/travel time.



#18 JP50515

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 09:10 PM

OP you should consider narrowband and imaging from a local park instead of searching for darksky sites. 


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#19 Taylor

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 09:10 PM

Log onto the computer, activate relay wait 30 seconds for the roof to open.  Activate power relays for all equipment.  Choose targets and start schedule.  Walk away and do whatever else I want and occasionally check in to see how progress is going.

 

So the total summary is maybe 15 mins of my time.  Sorry, couldn't resist. smile.gif   I used to know your pain all too well; that's why I built the observatory, so I don't have to set up and tear down each night.  Gives me much more time to collect images, especially when I would skip good nights because I was too tired to deal with the issues you've mentioned.

Similar story. I tried astrophotography a few times in the backyard and absolutely dreaded the setup and take down, especially with all of life's other distractions both before the setup and the following day (work and kids). The fun goes away quickly when you're exhausted. 

 

So I'm currently building and observatory so I never have to set up ever again. 



#20 2ghouls

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 09:23 PM

Everything about your setup time and when you start and stop is similar to me, but I end up with an average of 2.5 hours of data per night on these short summer nights. So my rate is about 7-8 hours expended for 2.5 hours of data. The main difference is I have my system working well enough that I rarely throw out any subs, and don't have any of the technical issues you mentioned. It took me a few years to get to this point. The main thing I've found helps: put together an imaging system you are happy with and then keep it all assembled if possible. Here's mine:

 

IMG_2818.JPG

 

I built a custom case to keep it safe in the car. All I do is setup the mount, put the fully assembled imaging system on to it, connect power and USB cable to my laptop, and I am imaging quickly and reliably. Even 2.5/8 hours isn't great, but I have accepted it. lol.gif


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#21 Michael Covington

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 09:35 PM

I feel that doing it by remote control just isn't the same thing.  I want to be out in the country and see things with my own eyes (usually with binoculars) while the telescope is tracking.  I enjoy being alone in the quiet.  I want to try remote imaging but haven't gotten around to it.

 

Having said that... I do a *lot* of imaging from home (suburban skies).  Have you tried doing that where you are?  If nothing else, it builds familiarity with the equipment and helps you keep it all debugged.  

 

It's important not to get into a rat race to always photograph the faintest objects with a huge amount of exposure time.  Interesting pictures can be taken without pushing that limit.

 

I do about four or five dark-sky trips per year.  I'd like to do a lot more, but I have a lot of responsibilities, and our weather is fickle.  Like you, I return home around midnight or 1 a.m., for a 2:00-2:30 bedtime, to only lose half of the following workday.


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#22 joelin

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 10:04 PM

OP you should consider narrowband and imaging from a local park instead of searching for darksky sites. 

not sure about your area but around here local parks are closed 30 min past sunset...cops will stop you if you're there past dark


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#23 joelin

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 10:06 PM

Personally, I would not spend eight hours for only 30 minutes of data. But I think you shortchange yourself by leaving your imaging site so early. 12:30am? Heck, when I go out I don't usually pack up until it starts to get light. Sure, I lose a night's sleep (unless it's on a weekend when I can sleep in the next day) but sleep is overrated. Given how few times I do get out (new moon meets good weather meets no other commitments) it's not like I turn into an astro-zombie very often. 

 

There are other differences. I don't use a computer (less cabling, no sequencing, no plate solving, no software hassles). I don't autoguide (no autoguider calibration). I can't remember when I've had issues with wind. Back in my film days I used to be able to do at least three hours if not four of actual imaging on August nights (longer than July nights, of course), not including time spent drift aligning, manually searching for targets, manual framing of targets, knife-edge focusing between shots, finding guide stars (manual guiding, baby!) and rest breaks for my eyes between shots. 

 

That said, more and more I am drawn to a much simpler set-up than an EQ mounted telescope: a tracked camera+lens on a tripod. With almost nothing to set-up I get imaging very fast and pack up at the end of the session is easy. 

would love to stay all night...but not possible for a few reasons

1) the dark site might have official end hours at 2am and certainly before sunrise

2) theres no where there i can legally camp next to my equipment

3) bringing a tent and other sleeping equipment is substantial extra effort

4) i have work the next day or something else that requires im out and about in the morning like at 9am



#24 joelin

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 10:09 PM

I do pretty much what you do (but with a longer commute). Staying overnight makes all the difference. If I had to leave early as you do, I would never bother. 

 

Especially in the summer, a tent and sleeping bag will be your friend. If you are worried about safety, try to find a club with a dark sky facility. Can't believe they are nonexistent where you are.

 

the clubs around here tend to use state and national parks for observing.....i dont see many with private land

 

Joelin, I thought Saratoga had a lighting ordinance that limits light pollution. My sister lived there for many years and always commented on how dark it was due to the regulations. Maybe she was in the darker part of town? I do 2-3hr sessions from my driveway in a Bortle 5 area and I am surprised at how good some of my photos come out. Sure I drop a few subs but not that many.The product I get is worth the time ....at least to me. I see some of my friends photos taken at club dark sites and they don't seem to be significantly better than mine. I am moving to AZ where there are very strict light pollution restrictions. No street lights along with a long list of home owner lighting restrictions. I am anxious to roll out my mounts in the driveway and see what the difference in photo quality will be.

yes..but i live in a condo with bright lighting around the property and little open sky

 

saratoga is also heavy on trees...so many homes have limited open sky



#25 Waterobert

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Posted 22 July 2019 - 10:41 PM

not sure about your area but around here local parks are closed 30 min past sunset...cops will stop you if you're there past dark

That happened to me in public park. Policeman was polite, but I had to pack my equipment in a double time. No ticket, just warning, lol




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