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First Time APer - Is this a decent setup/realistic expectations?

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#1 TimothyPleiades

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 12:58 AM

I've been pushing around a dob for awhile now, and AP has caught my interest. I already wanted to get a good refractor with a solid tracking mount for visual use, so why not get a camera too? I've never done any photography before, astro or otherwise, and I am in Bortle 8 skies. With that in mind, I'm trying to put some pieces together that will give me a range of things to photograph. Here is what I have in mind at the moment:

 

Scope: Astro Tech AT115EDT (f/7 805mm)

Mount: EQ6-R

Camera: ZWO ASI294MC Pro (Sensor: 4/3″ SONY IMX294 CMOS, Diagonal: 23.2mm, Resolution: 11.7MP 4144x2822, Pixel Size: 4.63µm)

Guiding: Undecided - scope or OAG?

 

That combination gives the following field of view and image scale:

with 0.8 FR/FF: 1.7x1.2 degrees ,     1.48"/pixel

native 805 FL:   1.4x0.9 degrees ,     1.18"/pixel

with 2x barlow:  0.68x0.46 degrees , 0.59"/pixel

 

I'd like to shoot all types of DSOs: globulars, PN, emission, open clusters, and galaxies; mostly medium size objects, or combinations of smaller objects showing the surrounding stars. I searched around on Astrobin and found some images of what I'm going after with similar equipment. Do these look realistic for me?

 

https://www.astrobin.../71691/?nc=user

https://www.astrobin...9345/0/?nc=user

https://www.astrobin...?page=2&nc=user

https://www.astrobin...0735/0/?nc=user

 

I'm pretty sure the mount is good. For the scope, I'd like to stick with something around 4", although I'm going for versatility of targets, so I'm open to ideas under 2k. The camera is where the questions start. Are color cameras at least decent under light pollution? Is that a good image scale for the scope or would smaller pixels or a bigger sensor be better?

 

On their website, ZWO gives a rating to their DSO cameras for planetary use. Can I use a 2 or 3x barlow and get decent results for planetary with the ASI294? I'd love to get a picture of Jupiter and Saturn's grand conjunction in December with the brighter moons in the field of view. 

 

I'm guessing any camera and scope would do, but if I wanted to get a time lapse of an asteroid like Ceres moving over multiple nights, would this setup work for that? How faint of magnitude could I pick up? Is Pluto within reach? (I know they'd be point size)

 

I could see myself getting a Celestron 8" Edge down the road. Would the same camera be good for that if I just binned to get the appropriate image scale? That's also why I was considering an OAG to start with.

 

Does anyone else love black and white and negative images? Is that a one click fix to get that in most processing software? i.e. https://www.astrobin...2084/0/?nc=user

 

I hope that wasn't too long. Any advice is appreciated (as long as it doesn't double the budget). Clear skies. -Tim



#2 Stelios

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 01:28 AM

You are far ahead of yourself. Your choices are fine (although starting with an 805mm scope is a bit tougher than you think, and yes, OAG is best). 

 

But I think you gloss over the difficulty. You are saying: "I'm a couch potato. I am thinking of a membership in Gold's Gym, and a big home-gym to supplement. When will I be able to compete for Mr. Olympia?" Realize that you have very big dreams, that take years to achieve. The hobby is *tough*. There are many aspects you need to master, from calibration frames to guiding to autofocus and more.

 

That said, your choices are decent. You will *not* be using the Barlow for DSO imaging, nobody wants to image at F/14 (takes 4 times as long for same SNR, 0.59"/px is oversampled and guiding is much harder). For planetary you would want a 3x Barlow. You can use the ASI294, but you would be better off with a dedicated faster frame camera with smaller FOV. They are cheap by comparison. 

 

You would be better off (for DSO) with a mono camera from Bortle 8, but that's significantly more due to the investment in filter wheel and filters. 

 

Pluto is a cakewalk with a scope like this (or even a 70mm). You don't appreciate how deep long exposures can go. OTOH, don't expect anything but a dot. You can get decent planetary images with the 115/805, but the Edge is the scope for that. (I have both an 115/805 *and* an Edge800). 

 

The ASI294MC is a fine camera for the Edge. You would want the 0.7x reducer. Bortle 8 will be in your way again due to OSC. Unlike CCD's, you don't bin CMOS cameras, you can do it in software if you need to (resample).

Some people like negatives, some (shudder) don't. It's 1 click in PI (Pixinsight), I don't know about "most processing software."

 

Good luck!


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#3 Gobo333

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 02:05 AM

Stelios,

 

Would you elaborate on this comment?

 

”Bortle 8 will be in your way again due to OSC.”

 

And to the OP...many here will recommend a smaller refractor to start. It’s solid advice and a scope you will likely never get rid of. And when other things aren’t working quite right, I find myself going back to it to sort them out. 
 


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#4 Stelios

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 02:14 AM

Stelios,

 

Would you elaborate on this comment?

 

”Bortle 8 will be in your way again due to OSC.”

 

And to the OP...many here will recommend a smaller refractor to start. It’s solid advice and a scope you will likely never get rid of. And when other things aren’t working quite right, I find myself going back to it to sort them out. 
 

OSC cameras do best with dark skies. To punch through Bortle 8 skies you need to shoot narrowband. There are narrowband filters for OSC, but they offer nowhere near the flexibility that mono+filters does. If you use traditional narrowband filters with OSC, you give up significant imaging time due to the Bayer matrix requiring 4x the exposure. 

 

I am of two minds with respect to a smaller refractor. Depends whether you like large objects the most. An 80mm F/6, the most commonly recommended scope, does poorly when compared to an 115/F7 for smaller galaxies and planetary nebulae. Yes, it's a bit easier--but the EQ6R-Pro can handle both scopes, and the difference in difficulty is not that large, especially if one starts with an OAG. 


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#5 RJF-Astro

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 02:28 AM


 

That said, your choices are decent. You will *not* be using the Barlow for DSO imaging, nobody wants to image at F/14 (takes 4 times as long for same SNR, 0.59"/px is oversampled and guiding is much harder). For planetary you would want a 3x Barlow. You can use the ASI294, but you would be better off with a dedicated faster frame camera with smaller FOV. They are cheap by comparison. 

True but when you have an OSC with a bigger sensor you can always use a smaller region of interest for the video capture. The frames per second will speed up accordingly. I agree though that mono will offer you more versatility for deep space, especially from bortle 8. Nothing beats H-alpha on a mono sensor from bortle 8, it is just awesome for emission targets. If you like black and white, make this your priority.


Edited by RJF-Astro, 17 September 2020 - 02:28 AM.


#6 TimothyPleiades

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 05:54 AM

You are far ahead of yourself. Your choices are fine (although starting with an 805mm scope is a bit tougher than you think, and yes, OAG is best). 

 

But I think you gloss over the difficulty. You are saying: "I'm a couch potato. I am thinking of a membership in Gold's Gym, and a big home-gym to supplement. When will I be able to compete for Mr. Olympia?" Realize that you have very big dreams, that take years to achieve. The hobby is *tough*. There are many aspects you need to master, from calibration frames to guiding to autofocus and more.

 

That said, your choices are decent. You will *not* be using the Barlow for DSO imaging, nobody wants to image at F/14 (takes 4 times as long for same SNR, 0.59"/px is oversampled and guiding is much harder). For planetary you would want a 3x Barlow. You can use the ASI294, but you would be better off with a dedicated faster frame camera with smaller FOV. They are cheap by comparison. 

 

You would be better off (for DSO) with a mono camera from Bortle 8, but that's significantly more due to the investment in filter wheel and filters. 

 

Pluto is a cakewalk with a scope like this (or even a 70mm). You don't appreciate how deep long exposures can go. OTOH, don't expect anything but a dot. You can get decent planetary images with the 115/805, but the Edge is the scope for that. (I have both an 115/805 *and* an Edge800). 

 

The ASI294MC is a fine camera for the Edge. You would want the 0.7x reducer. Bortle 8 will be in your way again due to OSC. Unlike CCD's, you don't bin CMOS cameras, you can do it in software if you need to (resample).

Some people like negatives, some (shudder) don't. It's 1 click in PI (Pixinsight), I don't know about "most processing software."

 

Good luck!

Thank you, good to know I'm in the ballpark. I didn't know that about the difference between CCD and CMOS binning.

 

I read somewhere that astro cameras will go about 2 magnitudes deeper than the limiting magnitude of the scope. Pluto isn't really a good example to push that limit but that's something I'm curious to experiment with.



#7 17.5Dob

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 10:16 AM

Thank you, good to know I'm in the ballpark. I didn't know that about the difference between CCD and CMOS binning.

 

I read somewhere that astro cameras will go about 2 magnitudes deeper than the limiting magnitude of the scope. Pluto isn't really a good example to push that limit but that's something I'm curious to experiment with.

Cameras can go much deeper than that....this is a photo of M13 taken with just a 65mm telescope....and a dSLR...all of the galaxies annotated in green are ~16mag and up to 2 BLY away

41320759015_78f82e7cdf_b.jpg


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#8 SilverLitz

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 04:58 PM

Here is my standard $5K budget post, which will give you some background on making decisions.  There are also some lower priced pieces.  You can save money by OSC instead of mono/filterwheel, and going for a smaller APO (but still get quality glass and focuser).  Key on the EQ6R-Pro as "put your money where your mount is" very much applies for AP.

 

Astrophotography Gear ($5K Budget)

 

I would 1st research the AP targets you are interested in; note the wide range of sizes of these targets and make sure these are visible at your location, with altitudes of >30deg.  With this info, you will find out that no one setup can fit all of these targets.  For DSOs, I break down in approx. 3 sizes: Small: most galaxies (M51, 11'x6'); Medium: most nebulas (M42, 90'x60'); Large: M31 (180'x40'), North American + Pelican Nebulas (120'x120'), Cygnus Loop (180'x180').  Planets are much smaller.

 

Then, investigate your locations sky conditions; how dark is it?  (Bortle Scale); what are the typical seeing conditions? (arc-sec, see Meteoblue.com).  Seeing conditions will greatly impact how much detail you can achieve.  Darker skies will make RGB imaging more doable, allow longer exposure times (before sky fog clips your histogram), and allows good images with fewer hours of integration.  Urban and a lot suburban skies will make imaging in narrowband, with a mono camera and filterwheel, a necessity.

 

Field of View (FoV, framing composition in X by Y arc-min) and image-scale (measure of detail in arc-sec/pixel) are achieved by the combination of focal length and aperture of the telescope and sensor size and pixel pitch of the camera.  Wider FoV can be achieved by a larger sensor or shorter FL scope with larger image circle.  Image detail can be achieved by smaller pixels or longer scope FL; all things being equal, larger scope aperture can resolve finer detail (Dawes Limit).  F-ratio (FL/aperture) determines the length of the exposure time; low f/ is "faster", allowing shorter exposures for the same light gathering.

 

The one thing that is important all AP targets is a good mount, though it becomes more critical and expensive for shooting your small targets, with long FL, heavy scopes, and highly detailed image scales.  At this budget, I recommend a SW EQ6R-Pro ($1595, $1345 Sale), a very good budget mount w/ 44# rating.  To get better you would pay much more for Losmandy G11 (what I got) or iOptron CEM60 (or newer CEM70), which have higher 60# rating and lower periodic error.  These are also high value mounts, but cost $3K to $4K.

 

For more budgetary constrained mount options, the advice to "put your money where your mount is" is very good advice.  Another good rule of thumb is to keep your total load at 50% of manufacturer’s stated, though Losmandy's loads are supposedly for AP (but I would still haircut it).  The normal budget pick is the SW HEQ5 (or Orion Sirius twin), or for very light imaging loads, the iOptron CEM25.  The widely available budget mount, Celestron AVX, seems to have serious problems (lack of bearings on DEC), though few have gotten “lucky” with a unit that performs OK.  ES has a couple of decent low priced mounts for the seriously budgetary challenged, the EXOS2GT (PMC-8 version) and iEXOS-100.  The EXOS2GT is more robust and capable of the two, and I expect is worth the very modest price difference.  All of these lower cost mounts are more limited in their ability to handle longer FL scopes, heavier imaging trains, or in guiding longer exposures.

 

You might ultimately want a couple of cameras to give you a wider range of image-scales and FoVs.  But with your budget, get only one, but make sure that it makes sense for your year 1 scope and target size.  If you already have a DSLR, use it at first.  I think crop sensor DSLRs make more sense than full-frame, as most scopes will have problems with vignetting and field flatness with those large sensors, even with a field flattener.  That said, use what you have.  If you do not already have a DSLR (or have a need for one for general photography), do NOT buy one.  Cooled astrocams make MUCH more sense.  I would suggest getting a monochrome camera with filterwheel/filters, as they give you more flexibility for narrowband, are more efficient, and give you more resolution.  I suggest a 7 or 8 position filterwheel, which allow for LRGB and NB filters.  With budgetary constraints limit yourself initially with on LRGB filters.

 

Two of the best deals in astrocams are the ZWO 183MM-Pro ($1000; which I have) and 1600MM-Cool ($1280).  The 183 has a smaller sensor (small FoV), but it is higher resolution and more efficient.  The ZWO has attractive priced packages with the 1600 with filterwheel and filters.  Filterwheels and filters will cost several hundred dollars more.

 

You can save money by getting an OSC camera, but you will be giving up flexibility to shoot NB, efficiency, and resolution.  There are OSC versions of the above 183 and 1600 sensors, and these versions are about $200 less than the mono version, without the need for the additional filterwheel and filters.  Besides the 183 and 1600, there are a couple of new OSC cameras with new sensors that have very low amp glow and high QE (higher than the 1600, but about the same as the 183), ASI533MC ($1000) and ASI2600MC ($2000).  The 533 is a small sensor of a square aspect ratio, taller but narrower than the 183.  The 2600 is the much larger, APS-C size.  Both the 533 and 2600 have pixel sizes similar to the 1600.

 

Get gear that is good for one of the AP target sizes; I would suggest start with the Medium size targets.  This is NOT starting "small" as in cheaper, but start with high quality, with gear you will keep and use in the future.  This will allow you to learn and get more intuition on what works and what is important.  A long scope is NOT "better" than a shorter scope, as a hammer is not better than a screwdriver.  The "best" scope is the scope matches your needs to shoot the particular target, and the "best" for M51 would more than likely be "terrible" for M31.

 

For medium size targets, the normal suggestion is high quality, APO refractors of 70-80mm aperture of f/6 or faster with a field flattener and possibly a focal reducer.  This can be expanded to larger, but faster scopes, such as Skywatcher Esprit 100 (550mm FL, f/5.5), and AT92 (506mm FL, f/5.5).  I have the Esprit 100, which I shoot at both 550mm (native, included FF) and 413mm (f/4.13, with TSAPORED075 FF/FR), and I love it.  I highly recommend the Esprit 100 ($2500, with everything included, even FF), with the idea of later getting a FR for a wider and faster option.  Other good lower priced options include the Esprit 80 (400mm FL, f/5; $1650, with everything included, even FF), WO Star71 II (350mm FL, f/4.9; $1200, petzval design, no FF necessary), WO GT71 (419mm FL, f/5.9; $828 + $198 for FF/FR), and SV SVX080T-3SV (480mm FL, f/6; $2200, with everything included, even FF).  TS Optics out of Germany also has many good value scopes, and the Sharpstar 61EDPH II (335mm f/5.5, 275mm f/4.5, $729 w/ FF/FR) and Sharpstar 76EDPH (418mm f/5.5, 342mm f/4.5, $1099 w/ FF/FR) look like very intriguing budget picks, especially when paired with their FF/FR.

 

When choosing your camera, estimate is FoV with your specific scopes FL.  You want this FoV to be larger than the FoV of your target, to allow cushion for: stacking artifacts, dithering, differing camera rotations, and slight framing errors.  My Esprit 100 with FF/FR, 413mm FL, with my ASI183MM-Pro camera gives me 110'x73' FoV with a 1.2 arc-sec/pixel image scale.  At the native 550mm, this combo gives a higher resolution and tighter 82'x55' FoV with a 0.9 arc-sec/pixel image scale.  The ASI183 is practically highest resolution camera with a decent size sensor available, and can be used with longer FL scopes for small targets, if seeing conditions are good enough.

 

You will also have extra costs for guide-scopes, guide-cam, various cables, USB hubs, dew heaters, power supplies, computer, software, etc. …



#9 TimothyPleiades

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 08:43 PM

Cameras can go much deeper than that....this is a photo of M13 taken with just a 65mm telescope....and a dSLR...all of the galaxies annotated in green are ~16mag and up to 2 BLY away

41320759015_78f82e7cdf_b.jpg

That's amazing. I would've guessed that was from a rasa 11.



#10 17.5Dob

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Posted 17 September 2020 - 10:39 PM

That's amazing. I would've guessed that was from a rasa 11.

roflcat.gif

 

 

Nope,  it's just 16 X 120", only 32min, shot at ISO 200/ f6.5....It was a "throw away" shot I took while waiting a 1/2 hour for my main target to rise.....

I normally shoot for 4 hrs minimum ..imagine what that would do....

Until you start shooting, you'll never realize what really cheap optics/cameras can do


Edited by 17.5Dob, 17 September 2020 - 10:41 PM.

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#11 bobzeq25

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Posted 18 September 2020 - 02:19 AM

You're in the ballpark, but there are a few issues.

 

I think you're underestimating the task of getting started in DSO AP.  It's far more complicated than most beginners realize.  You're teasing a tiny signal out of a sea of all sorts of noise. 

 

The fundamental tools are: lots of data, through long total imaging times.  Intensive processing on a computer.  You haven't even mentioned processing software and it's at least half the game.  I recommend Astro Pixel Processor.  Both stacks and processes, has an excellent gradient reduction tool, very useful in reducing the effects of light pollution.  Yes, it costs money.  About 5-10% of your total budget, for something that's half he game.  <smile>

 

The negative image you like was made by someone, who, based on the astrobin image, had been imaging for at least three years.   I've been at it for 5 years, have dragged myself all the way up to a bit better than average.

 

You'll make progress significantly faster with a smaller scope, it takes out some of the variables.  An 80 is the usual choice.  Yes, that means big targets.  They too speed up the learning process by showing you what your issues are.  There will be issues.  <smile>  For some time this is just about learning, rather than winning Image of the Day.  Think months, not weeks.

 

One shot color can make very nice images, mono plus filters, either LRGB or narrowband, has significant advantages in light polluted skies.  The drawback is the cost.  I image both ways, depending on the circumstances.

 

Planetary is a whole different kettle of fish.  Very bright, very small targets.  It's really a different activity, both in data acquisition and data processing.  You actually don't do subexposures like in DSO imaging, you shoot a video.  Total imaging time is more like a few minutes, instead of a few hours.

 

Bottom line.  I'd do some more research before going out and spending thousands of dollars.  This excellent book is a good place to start, for DSOs.  Best explanation of processing I've ever seen, and my bookshelf is extensive.

 

https://www.amazon.c.../dp/0999470906/

 

This, for planetary.  Don't let DSLR deter you, most of the material applies to astro specific cameras.

 

https://www.astropix...gdpi/index.html

 

Scroll down the page to the three images of Mars, which illustrate the general method.

 

More minor points.  The usual range of image scales for DSOs is 1-2.  Closer to 1 theoretically can get you better resolution, but a lot of other things have to cooperate.  You'll pay a penalty in signal to noise ratio, no matter what.  Closer to 2 gets you better signal to noise ratio, no matter what.  Is more forgiving of common beginner errors.  I image anywhere from 1.0 to 2.7.  Below is 2.7.  Not too shabby <smile>.  7.2 hours of total imaging time with a combination of broadband and narrowband filters.  Bortle 7.  70mm scope.

 

Better version than the crummy CN required jpg, here.

 

https://www.astrobin.com/367734/C

 

You don't use Barlows on DSOs, any theoretical gain in resolution is less important then the loss in optical speed.  DSO imagers commonly use reducers, reverse Barlows.  Instead of 2X, it's 0.7X.

 

 

 

NGC6992 HaO(III)RGB V4.jpg


Edited by bobzeq25, 18 September 2020 - 02:25 AM.


#12 AstroPics

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Posted 18 September 2020 - 11:24 AM

The interesting thing about astrophotography is there are various techniques and equipment that increase image quality. However, juggling all of it as a beginner can be somewhat overwhelming.

 

What I might suggest is a roadmap of equipment. To that end, I might suggest the following:

 

  1. Sticking with the EQ-6R mount as this will serve you well now and in the future as you consider different scopes. (Phase 1)
  2. I'd suggest skipping guiding for your first few imaging sessions. You won't have perfect stars but you will learn the other basics you need first like image acquisition and centering on your target. I'd make auto guiding Phase 2.
  3. I think OSC is the way to start out. You might even consider a cheap/used DSLR just to get some experience (Phase 1). This can even give you a handle on what to expect from a OSC before you invest money in a more expensive camera. Mono will help in light polluted skies but adds another complication you don't need right now. I'd make Mono a Phase 3 kind of item.
  4. I'm not sure I would recommend the AT115 just yet (this could be a Phase 4 item). I'd start with a small wide field refractor (Phase 1). In the end, most of us have multiple scopes for different resolutions. A good short focal length refractor will not go to waste and you will keep using it through your journey in astrophotography.

This pretty much maps my journey into astrophotography. I'm sure many have gone in different directions. The point is that I never felt overwhelmed by my equipment and took incremental steps. I think this approach might help you as well.


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#13 limeyx

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Posted 18 September 2020 - 02:47 PM

You're in the ballpark, but there are a few issues.

 

I think you're underestimating the task of getting started in DSO AP.  It's far more complicated than most beginners realize.  You're teasing a tiny signal out of a sea of all sorts of noise. 

 

The fundamental tools are: lots of data, through long total imaging times.  Intensive processing on a computer.  You haven't even mentioned processing software and it's at least half the game.  I recommend Astro Pixel Processor.  Both stacks and processes, has an excellent gradient reduction tool, very useful in reducing the effects of light pollution.  Yes, it costs money.  About 5-10% of your total budget, for something that's half he game.  <smile>

 

...

This. I have seen hundreds of posts on gear, equipment and ISOs but the biggest thing that improved my images was using proper astro-software (admittedly I have only processed a couple of images so far). I was trying to use GIMP and other free tools but the correct s/w is a game changer and as you say is a tiny fraction of the budget but everyone tries to skimp on it for some reason ...



#14 RJF-Astro

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Posted 18 September 2020 - 03:58 PM

Yes it is amazing to see how cheap software is compared to the other expenses, compared to how big its impact is. Don't skimp with GIMP, get at least APP, Photoshop with plugins or PixInsight.


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