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Mac-based Astrophotography Software & Connections re: AutoGuiding

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#1 MountainAir

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 03:40 PM

Hello all,

 

I'm not sure if this is best for the Imaging forum or the Software forum, but since it's about imaging I am trying here.

 

I am relatively new to astrophotography, but have been having fun figuring out what hardware and software to get and how to integrate it all so it works together.  Like many of you, I have made sub-optimal decisions that resulted in my wasting money and time.  Today, I need some advice on connections and software.

 

Currently I use a hybrid setup:  

 

  • Mac
    • AstroImager
    • Adding AstroGuider
    • Adding AstroTelescope
    • Adding Astrometry
  • Windows
    • CPWI
      • Preferred over the hand controller
      • Blocks me from using hand controller, and I can't seem to control mount from the Mac side when CPWI is enabled
      • Used for StarSense AutoAlign, adding alignment points, saving alignment models, scope control and focuser control

 

 

I'd like to use the Mac exclusively as I start on my journey into auto guiding.  However, I'm not aware of any software on the Mac that can use StarSense (SkySafari 6 Pro does a beautiful job in iOS via buggy WiFi, but SkySafari 6 Pro on the Mac cannot use StarSense over USB).  This implies that I am stuck using the hand controller for doing the initial alignment, ASPA and then final alignment with a few calibration stars.  Is this correct?

 

Lately I've been using CloudMakers AstroDSLR and AstroImager and have been impressed by their reliability and intuitiveness.  For this reason, I also tried out AstroTelescope and AstroGuider, along with Astrometry (though I've never really tried plate-solving and don't know how this interacts with StarSense).  I am open to other applications like KStars/Ekos, TheSkyX, etc.  And I love the idea of being able to use SkySafari for GoTos (apparently this is possible with KStars/Ekos, but I have time and knowledge invested in CloudMakers at the moment).  The problem with my current hybrid setup is I can't seem to connect to the scope when CPWI is in control of it, and disconnecting from CPWI seems to drop the alignment and the scope goes dead.

 

I figure there must be something simple that I'm doing wrong, related to procedure or connections or both.  Unfortunately because of work, family and park sprinkler schedules, I have limited windows in which to experiment, so night after night I trudge 150 pounds of equipment outside and only get an hour or two at most to try to get things working.  Needless to say, any straightforward advice would be greatly appreciated!

 

Are these the right connections?

  • Computer connected to USB 3 hub
  • ASI294MC-Pro main cam connected to USB 3 hub via USB 3
  • ASI174MM Mini guide cam connected to main cam via USB
  • Hub connected to the hand controller via USB (or should I connect to the mount directly?)
  • Mount aux ports connected to StarSense and the focuser.

 

Is this procedure right?

  • Turn on mount
  • Connect computer to USB hub
  • Do a StarSense auto align from the hand controller (I sure wish I could do this from Mac software without running Windows/CPWI)
  • Do an ASPA (all-star polar alignment)
  • Re-align and add a couple extra alignment points.
  • Point to a bright star for focus adjustment using a Bahtinov mask
  • Slew to target (preferably using SkySafari 6 Pro)
  • Do the auto-guiding star selection and calibration in AstroGuider (cameras seem to work great, but I haven't been able to get it to control the mount yet due to CPWI)
  • Start imaging

 

Does this sound right?  If I have missed this guidance in other threads on CloudyNights or elsewhere, I apologize -- please point me in the right direction.

 

One other question lingering in the back of my head:  Should I even worry about using the StarSense camera and AutoAlign procedure if I can figure out plate-solving, or are these two complementary?  I haven't had a chance to learn plate-solving yet, but really like the StarSense AutoAlign feature and my ability to save pointing models for different sites, etc.

 

Thanks!


Edited by MountainAir, 10 November 2019 - 03:54 PM.


#2 Ken Sturrock

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 04:12 PM

Relatively few programs support StarSense because it's a proprietary plate-solving hardware & software bundle designed solely for aligning & modeling a particular manufacturer's mount. Rather, most imagers use a more generic plate solving package which can serve more purposes and work with a wider assortment of gear. The CPWI, obviously, does support StarSense because it is from Celestron. As you know, however, it is written for Windows. As you observed, usually only one thing can be in charge of the mount at a time (ASCOM on Windows, excepted). In this case, it sounds like you're trying to use two different programs on two different computers to manage the mount?

 

From what I can tell, if you want to use StarSense then you're going to use either the hand controller or Windows. If you're willing to ditch StarSense then you'll have more options, including Macintosh options such as the Cloud Makers suite (Although, you'll probably still need to use the hand controller for at least something.).

 

Best of luck.


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#3 SDTopensied

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 05:36 PM

Check out INDIGOSky from the CloudMakers folks.  It's free and you'll be able to use all of the CloudMakers applications or KStars if you prefer.  You'll also be able to eliminate Windows and CPWI from the picture.  

 

You'll connect to the handset rather than directly to the mount.  INDIGOSky has a really slick browser based dashboard/control center.

 

http://www.indigo-as...go-sky-new.html

 

-Steve



#4 Delta608

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 05:47 PM



Does this sound right?  If I have missed this guidance in other threads on CloudyNights or elsewhere, I apologize -- please point me in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

  Here ya go...

 

 

https://www.cloudyni...phy-on-the-mac/



#5 MountainAir

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 07:17 PM

 


Does this sound right?  If I have missed this guidance in other threads on CloudyNights or elsewhere, I apologize -- please point me in the right direction.

 

Here ya go...

https://www.cloudyni...phy-on-the-mac/

 

 

Thanks!  I am well familiar with Andrew's site -- it's helped me along the way, but can't answer every question I have.  I plan on diving into his KStars/Ekos demo after seeing that he dropped StellarMate onto a Pi4.



#6 Delta608

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 08:47 PM

Thanks!  I am well familiar with Andrew's site -- it's helped me along the way, but can't answer every question I have.  I plan on diving into his KStars/Ekos demo after seeing that he dropped StellarMate onto a Pi4.

 

  Your more patient than I ...Although I'm a Mac guy,  I threw in the towel for a cheap Dell to capture and process on my Imac Pro.....



#7 Marcelofig

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 09:44 PM

  Your more patient than I ...Although I'm a Mac guy,  I threw in the towel for a cheap Dell to capture and process on my Imac Pro.....

That's exactly what I did. The reality is that right now on the capture side there are a lot of options available for pc that just aren't for Mac (and probably never will be frown.gif ).



#8 richorn

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 12:04 AM

  Your more patient than I ...Although I'm a Mac guy,  I threw in the towel for a cheap Dell to capture and process on my Imac Pro.....

Same here, except I went all in for the Eagle 3S.



#9 ThatsMyCoffee

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 11:21 AM

I'm using the Cloudmakers suite of programs as well as SkySafari Pro.  These will do everything you want.  You don't need the StarSense unit at all.

 

I start with AstroTelescope, and unpark the mount.  Remove old data points in the control panel.  If the OTA is relatively close to the target shown on screen, leave it alone.  If it's not, unlock the clutches and manually move the tube as close as I can by eye.  Turn tracking ON.

 

Fire up AstroImager and take a shot.  Use Astrometry to plate solve the OTA position and then 'SYNC' this position to AstroTelescope.  Select a few random targets in AT, and slew to them.  Take another picture in AI and plate solve and sync each time.  After 3 or 4, the 3D model will be pretty good.

 

Load SkySafari and turn on the 'Server' in AstroTelescope, so SS can talk to it.   Connect the scope in SkySafari.  Select my target in SS and slew from the controls there.   When complete, back to AstroImager to plate solve one more time.  If the position is correct, I'll start my taking pictures.  If not, slew to the target again (usually the error is really small by this point) and plate solve again.  

 

One word of warning about the AstroTelescope...it won't Meridien Flip.  If you're not careful, you can crash into the mount.

 

Feel free to write me a private message if any of these steps aren't clear.  The CloudMakers forum also has all of this information and more.  Peter always responds and has been very helpful to me.

 

BB.Cloudmakers.EU



#10 MountainAir

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 04:15 PM

I'm using the Cloudmakers suite of programs as well as SkySafari Pro.  These will do everything you want.  You don't need the StarSense unit at all.

 

I start with AstroTelescope, and unpark the mount.  Remove old data points in the control panel.  If the OTA is relatively close to the target shown on screen, leave it alone.  If it's not, unlock the clutches and manually move the tube as close as I can by eye.  Turn tracking ON.

 

Fire up AstroImager and take a shot.  Use Astrometry to plate solve the OTA position and then 'SYNC' this position to AstroTelescope.  Select a few random targets in AT, and slew to them.  Take another picture in AI and plate solve and sync each time.  After 3 or 4, the 3D model will be pretty good.

 

Load SkySafari and turn on the 'Server' in AstroTelescope, so SS can talk to it.   Connect the scope in SkySafari.  Select my target in SS and slew from the controls there.   When complete, back to AstroImager to plate solve one more time.  If the position is correct, I'll start my taking pictures.  If not, slew to the target again (usually the error is really small by this point) and plate solve again.  

 

One word of warning about the AstroTelescope...it won't Meridien Flip.  If you're not careful, you can crash into the mount.

 

Feel free to write me a private message if any of these steps aren't clear.  The CloudMakers forum also has all of this information and more.  Peter always responds and has been very helpful to me.

 

BB.Cloudmakers.EU

THIS is exactly what I have been looking for.  Thanks, I will try this tonight if the fog bank doesn't roll in while I'm setting up the scope again.  Thanks for the warning about the meridian flip!


Edited by MountainAir, 11 November 2019 - 05:40 PM.


#11 MountainAir

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 10:04 PM

ThatsMyCoffee, I tried following your instructions but I must be missing something.  I was able to plate-solve images from AI and sync them to AT (I think), but when I try to select and slew to a target in AT it says the mount is not aligned.

 

I checked the CloudMakers forums again, but they are not very useful.  There are no FAQs at all, there really weren't any posts on the general procedure for aligning a mount, and the "documentation" makes only trivial references to the words "align" and "sync."  Good gosh, the manual talks about what the product can do, not how to do it!  Likewise, the only video they have "Getting started in 5 minutes" shows the user walking through features with the simulator -- which is already aligned.  They connect to the mount, select a target and slew -- exactly what I cannot do.  There doesn't appear to be any AstroTelescope video on doing alignment, or any video on how all these products work together.

 

Here's what I tried:

  1. Tonight I happen to have had my scope already polar-aligned using StarSense, but power-cycled it to start over with AstroTelescope.
  2. I connected to the mount from AT.  Mount was already pointed to NCP.
  3. I doubt I have any old data points, but which control panel were you referring to?  I don't see data points anywhere.
  4. In AstroImager, I am able to capture images and successfully plate-solve them.
  5. At the bottom of the AstroImager "Image Solver" window, after the plate is solved I click Sync.  Is this not sufficient?  If I click Sync and Center, it again tells me the mount is not aligned.
  6. I iterate through 4-5 fields of view, plate-solving and syncing successfully each time.  But every time I try to actually select an object in AT and sync to it, it says the mount is not aligned.

What in the stars am I doing wrong?

 

Hopefully someone can point me to some actual documentation for this software, or a real setup video (for those of us who are not starting with an aligned mount sitting in an observatory)...


Edited by MountainAir, 11 November 2019 - 10:17 PM.


#12 MountainAir

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 10:16 PM

I captured a screen shot of what I'm seeing, but it's pretty poor quality -- I had to get it to fit in the 500 KB file size limit from 1995.  Hopefully it can be read.

Attached Thumbnails

  • Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 7.09.36 PM.jpg

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#13 Monkeybird747

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 10:30 PM

  Your more patient than I ...Although I'm a Mac guy,  I threw in the towel for a cheap Dell to capture and process on my Imac Pro.....

Same here too. Haven't owned a windows machine in 10 years, but i caved and bought one for this hobby. I just remote in to the windows capture machine from either my Mac or Linux processing machine. I know that's not too helpful, but I went down that road and got really frustrated. Even tried running windows on the mac, and that was a disaster.


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#14 MountainAir

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 12:09 AM

Same here too. Haven't owned a windows machine in 10 years, but i caved and bought one for this hobby. I just remote in to the windows capture machine from either my Mac or Linux processing machine. I know that's not too helpful, but I went down that road and got really frustrated. Even tried running windows on the mac, and that was a disaster.

The biggest challenge I am finding is not that there isn't good quality software for the Mac, it's that the Mac-only software tends to not have good documentation.  I suppose this is understandable, as most users probably have existing experience with similar Windows software.  Since there is less community usage, there is also less community knowledge sharing (people with their own blogs/vlogs walking others through how to do things).

I trudge my setup out to the park every time, so it doesn't really help to have a cheap Windows PC since I need to sit out there anyway.  I love the 8+ hour battery life of my MacBook Pro (even running imaging).

What WOULD help is using a cross-platform product that has lots of good documentation and community knowledge sharing.  After not making any more progress tonight, I think I'm going to give KStars/Ekos a serious try.  It looks like StellarMate has some nice documentation and videos describing its usage:
https://stellarmate....ekos/align.html



#15 Lead_Weight

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 12:53 AM

I’m pretty sure you have to polar align first with the hand controller. That’s always how I started with my Celestron mounts. Then you can use just about any Mac software without issue. I don’t have a view of Polaris, so I always used the Celestron All Star polar alignment feature. It’s pretty accurate. If you want to use software to align your mount, KStars/EKOS can do polar alignment, also PHD2 had a polar alignment routine. Alternatively Polemaster is available on the Mac, and it’s essentially a third party Starsense, but specifically for polar aligning.

#16 MountainAir

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 01:24 AM

I’m pretty sure you have to polar align first with the hand controller. That’s always how I started with my Celestron mounts. Then you can use just about any Mac software without issue. I don’t have a view of Polaris, so I always used the Celestron All Star polar alignment feature. It’s pretty accurate. If you want to use software to align your mount, KStars/EKOS can do polar alignment, also PHD2 had a polar alignment routine. Alternatively Polemaster is available on the Mac, and it’s essentially a third party Starsense, but specifically for polar aligning.

I tried it that way, too, but it still gave me the "Your scope is not aligned" error.

 

Normally, I use the Polar Scope Align Pro app on iOS to do a "daytime" NCP alignment because Polaris is behind a well-placed tree.  It gets me pretty close (tonight I got really close, off by < 1 degree in both axes).   Then I run through StarSense to build a pointing model, then do an All Star Polar Alignment.  Then I do one more final alignment and I'm off and running with GoTos that normally end up right in my camera's FoV.

 

Tonight I tried it both ways... a freshly-booted mount getting aligned via plate-solving (which, I understand, is basically what StarSense is doing automatically under the covers), and one where I started with an aligned mount and went to AstroTelescope to slew to a target and it said the scope wasn't aligned.  I'm sure I'm missing something small.  Turning on tracking in the wrong order, not "syncing" successfully with AT, not clearing old data points, something.  It seems like good software, I just really need that beginner's instruction.



#17 ThatsMyCoffee

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 04:16 AM

I think you're VERY close.  That's basically what I do.  There are a few things I may have missed earlier:

 

When I first connect AT, I tell it to PARK the mount.  My belief is that this starts me off in a known position every time.  I'm not sure why, but AT always wants to do a 90 turn at the start.  I setup with counterweights down and the OTA horizontal.  When I tell it to park, it turns and ends up pointing at the NCP.  If the OTA is not exactly there, I loosen the clutches and aim it as best I can manually.

 

Then I open the INDIGO control panel in AT  (In version 4, icon on the top right, looks like tools).  It may take a big of searching, but in one of the mount sections you'll find a "Delete alignment points".  It'll show a list o co-ordinates, from previous sessions.  Every time you pressed 'Sync', that position will be added here.  

 

Slew the mount away from the NCP and turn on tracking.  That way your images won't be blurred for plate solving.  Then do exactly as you described.  Plate solve, sync, slew.

 

I only use my mount's hand controller to connect the mount to my laptop.

 

I saw on the Cloudmakers forum that you're using a CGX.  Is there anybody out there who also has one, that can provide any missing information for that specific mount?



#18 Lead_Weight

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 10:15 AM

I tried it that way, too, but it still gave me the "Your scope is not aligned" error.

 

Normally, I use the Polar Scope Align Pro app on iOS to do a "daytime" NCP alignment because Polaris is behind a well-placed tree.  It gets me pretty close (tonight I got really close, off by < 1 degree in both axes).   Then I run through StarSense to build a pointing model, then do an All Star Polar Alignment.  Then I do one more final alignment and I'm off and running with GoTos that normally end up right in my camera's FoV.

 

Tonight I tried it both ways... a freshly-booted mount getting aligned via plate-solving (which, I understand, is basically what StarSense is doing automatically under the covers), and one where I started with an aligned mount and went to AstroTelescope to slew to a target and it said the scope wasn't aligned.  I'm sure I'm missing something small.  Turning on tracking in the wrong order, not "syncing" successfully with AT, not clearing old data points, something.  It seems like good software, I just really need that beginner's instruction.

So, I love that the Cloudmakers apps are native Mac apps, they’re really solid performers and simple to use. But I never got fully into all of them since they don’t currently offer full automation through the night. The times I’ve used the plate solving feature, my impression is that it’s just giving you the degree of error you are away from whatever object it thinks it’s pointing at. But I’ve not used it enough to know for sure. In EKOS, it does a platesolve, sync, and slew. So you tell it to go to a specific object, and it performs a GOTO, when it gets there it plate solves, and if the object isn’t centered, it now knows how far off it is, and it performs another GOTO to center the object. It iterates on this until the object is dead center. 

 

Peter is working on V4 of all the cloudmaker apps, and he’s implementing automation including meridian flips. I don’t know if he’s adding multiple target scheduling or not, but that’s another benefit of EKOS. Anyhow, his 4.0 apps are in beta and can be downloaded through the forums. Once they get closer to release, I’ll probably revisit them.



#19 MountainAir

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Posted 13 November 2019 - 11:48 AM

So, I love that the Cloudmakers apps are native Mac apps, they’re really solid performers and simple to use. But I never got fully into all of them since they don’t currently offer full automation through the night. The times I’ve used the plate solving feature, my impression is that it’s just giving you the degree of error you are away from whatever object it thinks it’s pointing at. But I’ve not used it enough to know for sure. In EKOS, it does a platesolve, sync, and slew. So you tell it to go to a specific object, and it performs a GOTO, when it gets there it plate solves, and if the object isn’t centered, it now knows how far off it is, and it performs another GOTO to center the object. It iterates on this until the object is dead center. 

 

Peter is working on V4 of all the cloudmaker apps, and he’s implementing automation including meridian flips. I don’t know if he’s adding multiple target scheduling or not, but that’s another benefit of EKOS. Anyhow, his 4.0 apps are in beta and can be downloaded through the forums. Once they get closer to release, I’ll probably revisit them.

That is closer to what Peter said as well.  An alignment is still required via the hand controller, but then you can improve the pointing model with AT and AI.  As soon as the fog lets up I'll work out a full procedure to follow, if I get it working.  There may be something regarding my StarSense hand controller that might be blocking AT from seeing that the mount is already aligned.  

 

This is what Peter said:

 

Yes, that's right. With Celestron you can't skip alignment phase with the handcontroller.

 

1. turn the mount on, select the single star method and align approximately, make sure the time and position is correct
2. start AstroTelescope, connect the mount and slew to the target approximately
3. start Astrometry and AstroImager, capture an image, plate solve it and click sync & center button, it will sync the mount to the center of the image and slew to the object selected in AstroTelescope again

 

He also mentioned they are improving documentation with the v4 release in beta now.



#20 kisstek

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Posted Yesterday, 06:39 PM

 

This is what Peter said:

 

Yes, that's right. With Celestron you can't skip alignment phase with the handcontroller.

 

You may not be able to skip it but you can tell it to use the last alignment, whatever it may have been! Then use plate solving to zero in on your target. I used my AVX for months without doing a star alignment including times at different sites and back home again after moving the mount.

 

And come to think of it, using the last alignment wasn't always necessary either. It seems that if I parked the mount the previous time out, it would come back out of a kind of sleep mode.




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