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EAA for ES/MS Education -point me in the right direction

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#1 SchoolMaster

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Posted 08 June 2021 - 11:30 AM

I'm a teacher in Tampa, Florida (28N, 82.5W) and I teach students aged 4 to 14.  I'm looking for assistance about HOW rather than WHAT, concerning EAA.

 

I'm returning to this site after three years, because plans to do in-person observation using a donation fell though due to administrative and practical challenges.  I have new management and a new focus and support in this new initiative, built on equipment, experience, and infrastructure developed for the 'Year of COVID'

 

When the school year starts in August, I need to be able to Zoom share  astronomical images from an observation site to my students, at night, in semi-real-time; nothing really new and revolutionary there.  I have already used some of our equipment (camera and scopes) to capture real-time terrestrial observations, such as a nest of bees 30 feet up a tree and an osprey nest on top of a cell-phone tower, so I feel confident with the computer image out to the world part and my 'success' here has landed me in my current predicament.

 

I need to be able to show planetary images of the Moon, the clouds (maybe) and phases of Venus, and the other three more easily observable planets.  I also need to show some galaxies and interesting nebulae and selected colored stars as examples of the Russel-Hertzprung diagram; also fairly simple.

I have the following equipment available:

 

OTA
152mm f/10 SCT
127mm f/12 Mak
127mm f/8 Newton
102mm f/4.9 refractor
90mm f/13.9 Mak
80mm f/5 refractor

 

Mounts
Nexstar SLT
Skywatcher AZ-GTe
Celestron small manual EQ
Several cheap Alt-Az and photo tripods

 

Cameras
ZWO ASI224MC

 

Accessories (all 1.25" where appropriate)
80 Wh LiPo batteries for mounts
Solar filter
Polarizing filter pairs
UV/IR cut filter
#8 filter
400nm pass filter
0.5 focal reducer
2 x Barlow
3 x Barlow
As many Windows 10 laptops as powerful as needed
USB and power cables
Good WiFi communication with high speed and lots of bandwidth.

 

Software
Stellarium

 

I can obtain anything else very cheap or free.  No budget, so I'm paying for anything else.  There may be other things lying around school.  I also have a variety of eyepieces but assume they are not relevant to this discussion.  I'm sure I have almost all the hardware I need and I can get the software.

 

Can you point me to where I can learn HOW to connect this kit orchestrate th interaction of the components, and use it to achieve SUCCESS (There is much useful info on what to use, but that's a done deal).  I'm sure I can stumble my way to success over the next two months with good old-fashioned trial and error, and I will need to learn how to do things myself.

 

I'm looking for help or signposts to help with shortcuts in getting things like SharpCap, Astrotortilla, ASCOM, and WiFi to play nice together on the equipment I actually have.  I've read through many threads, but I am concerned that 2018 or even 2020 information may be out of date now, or there are better options.

 

There's a vast amount of info on this site and I need help or direction to find what is useful to me and my circumstances.

 

Doing things in the day would be helpful; nights have a lot of clouds, drizzle, and thunderstorms in the distance at the moment.

 

John Pamer
STEAM Specialist
Corbett Prep


Edited by SchoolMaster, 09 June 2021 - 10:51 AM.


#2 GazingOli

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Posted 08 June 2021 - 12:00 PM

Hello John,

 

did you have a look at the 'Links to recorded EAA session videos'? The guys do introduce their equipment and how they work, in the beginning of the vids. 

 

CS.Oli



#3 GaryShaw

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Posted 08 June 2021 - 12:48 PM

Hi John

 

I've done some 'Star Zooms' with my daughter and 7 year old grand daughter using Zoom and the 'screen share' option (see image below). It works very well and is a pretty decent way to convey a 'live' viewing experience. Depending on the age groups involved, having diagrams and/or images of the equipment/telescope set-up being used to gather the images, is a great way to explain the observing equipment and process as well and then go on to discuss the objects being viewed.

 

The Moon is a great object to view and zooming in using Sharpcap's enlargement capability really can impress the kids with the detail of craters, mare, mountain ranges, etc. The planets are a lot more difficult to get good 'live' views of but you can certainly share low-magnification views of Saturn & Rings and Jupiter and her 4 larger moons - not sure about the phases of Venus but why not. Usually for the planets, folks here are imaging using videos with 1000-2000 frames and then processing them later. Just viewing the image 'live' shows a pretty small dot that vigorously jumps around depending on the seeing conditions and your focal length. Deep space objects are a lot more interesting but may be a bit more esoteric for younger folks who may not be too clear yet on the concept of the Universe, its enormity, the types of objects we look at and the huge distances involved. Obviously this is a great venue for introducing all this to them.

 

The image you see in the 'Star Zoom' session shown below is M27, the Dumbell Nebula - a nearby planetary nebula. Objects like this, along with other types of Nebulae, Galaxies, Star Clusters, Variable Stars, etc are easy to see using EAA techniques and easy to share with your students using Zoom. You seem to have a good array of gear including the ASI224MC so I assume you know how to handle all the imaging aspects you'll need to master before taking things live to the students. I'd be happy to help you put all the pieces together and get ready for the students but there may be others who will chime in here who can help out. Assuming you want to be ready to do this in the Fall Term, you might want some direct coaching so you don't spend so much time climbing the learning curve - again, not sure where you are on that. 

 

Anyway, I hope this helps...

Gary

 

The image below is a screen capture from a 'Star Zoom' session on Zoom. She's holding up a book of Constellations while we talk about the Universe and how we categorize and organize the night sky in order to study it. She's holding open the page with the constellation Lyra, which happens to be her name.

 

StarZoom(338) reduced.jpg

 


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#4 alphatripleplus

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Posted 08 June 2021 - 01:34 PM

Yeah, just to underline what Gary said above - for Deep Sky objects, it is pretty easy to get decent EAA live views with a little patience and good  EAA software like SharpCap. For the planets, the problem is that those detailed amateur pics that one sees elsewhere are the result of extensive post-processing using tools to extract detail from a stream of many very short exposures. If you look at EAA live views of the planets, they are mostly blurry because the magic happens in the post-capture processing.

 

For information on how those sharp planetary images are obtained, you probably want to visit the Major & Minor Planetary Imaging Forum, as post-processing images is beyond the scope of the EAA Forum. I'm not sure you would be able to post-process planetary images with a live audience awaiting, as it involves some time and work.



#5 SchoolMaster

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 08:31 AM

Thanks for the comments.

 

Yes, I've looked at a lot and have seen the Zoom links and checked a few things out, so I know what is possible (by other people in other places).  Gary, that photo is exactly what I want to achieve.  I can also have two scopes each with a camera and be 'collecting' frames on one set of equipment while I talk about and display what is on the other scope. then swap.  That certainly works with live view of terrestrial observations.

 

I'm trying to simplify my learning curve and limited access to good weather in Florida (the Lightning's victory over the Hurricanes was celebrated by three hours of thunderstorms and two inches of water in our koi pond, so no testing last night) but finding out exactly what software I need to download, and how I configure it and the equipment to talk together properly is my objective.

 

Talking about cases, if I use the Skywatcher 102mm refractor on the AZ-GTe with WiFi, I have a mediocre planetary scope, but it will do the moon and should get something from Jupiter and Saturn when they are in the sky, plus a dot for Mars.  That's a start.  The same equipment should get me a galaxy or two and some interesting nebulae.  I know the Maks are better for planetary, but I'd rather start by trying to learn on a single set of kit to minimize learning complexity.

 

I need a more detailed 'skymap' as to ALL the software apps, drivers, and gubbins, and a clue how to connect them together and the 'order of operations'.  I can start with the Moon for practice, it's a big target and I can and have observed it visually with students during the day.

 

Given multiple targets and possible glitches, how should I anticipate possible loss of alignment? (I trip over a tripod at night)

What software (and versions if it matters) do I need to download on my laptop? SharpCap plus what to collect and display?

What connections, physical and virtual need to be established between my laptop and the scope?

What issues am I commonly going to encounter?

 

I know I can answer these questions myself (eventually) by trial and error.  I'm hoping to save time.  The only locals I have encountered are visual non GoTo old-school observes whose advice is 'learn the scope and learn the sky'; certainly a good perspective, but I'm looking for something more helpful for my circumstances.


Edited by SchoolMaster, 09 June 2021 - 10:54 AM.


#6 alphatripleplus

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 08:59 AM

 

 

Given multiple targets and possible glitches, how should I anticipate possible loss of alignment? (I trip over a tripod at night)

What software (and versions if it matters) do I need to download on my laptop? SharpCap plus what to collect and display?

What connections, physical and virtual need to be established between my laptop and the scope?

What issues am I commonly going to encounter?

 

 

If you are using SharpCap for capture and live stacking, it will display on your laptop. You should be fine using any of the recent  SharpCap 3.2 production versions ( I tend to stay away from beta versions). One option that many people use is a planetarium program of choice to control the mount via ASCOM, and platesolving software (I use ASTAP) that also connects to the mount and SharpCap via ASCOM.

 

You may find this an easy way to find and centre targets when your GOTO pointing is off, as often happens  - If you have installed the platesolver, and specified it in SharpCap's settings, you can execute a GOTO via your planetarium program, and with one click on SharpCap's telescope controls, a SharpCap image is fed to the platesolver, which determines exactly where your scope is pointing, sync/align the mount on that point, and then moves the mount to precisely where the target is.  

 

I use Cartes du Ciel as my planetarium program, and (as mentioned) ASTAP, as a platesolver, but there are many other choices you can try.

 

Most mounts will require something like a USB cable to connect to the laptop; if you have a mount that utilizes a serial port connection, you'll need a serial to USB adapter in addition.



#7 SchoolMaster

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 09:42 AM

Thank you for your advice A3+

 

So, I have the Skywatcher kit and one of the cameras here at my 'Summer Palace', more than 40 miles from school.

 

I am downloading to my 4K,  8Gb RAM, i7 cpu, GTX 1060 gpu, 15" laptop

 

SharpCap 3.2

Astrotortilla for platesolving

the ASCOM platform

ASCOM drivers

ZWO gubbins

 

I already have Stellarium

 

I can establish a WiFi link to the mount and a USB connection to the camera both from my laptop.

 

Is that OK, and what do you suggest next?



#8 alphatripleplus

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 11:26 AM

I found it helpful to "play" with SharpCap's Deep Sky Test camera duing the daytime, which will allow you to see the effect of different settings and features. This can be accessed via the Camera dropdown menu in SharpCap - no need for a real camera set-up. SharpCap puts up an image of M42 and you can try livestacking under various parameters, change histogram settings etc. SharpCap takes a while to get comfortable with, and any time learning its features before you are under the stars is worthwhile. SharpCap has an extensive manual that you can read, or there is an unofficial guide that a member (Astrojedi) has put together; there is also a beginner's guide to EAA by another member (CA Curtis 17) you might want to review. Here is a link to both.

 

You can also practise using Stellarium to control your mount via telescope control. I would also spend time doing "fake" alignments with your mount connected to Stellarium during the day, so that you are comfortable with the controls when you use it under the stars.

 

Platesolving is the last thing I would set up, and it might make sense to have had a couple of sessions just using SharpCap with a real camera and controlling your mount with Stellarium before incorporating a platesolver.


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#9 SchoolMaster

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 11:34 AM

You command

 

I obey :) (but after lunch)



#10 SchoolMaster

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 12:20 PM

Reading manuals for SharpCap.

 

Realized that my severe colorblindness will cause difficulties.  Moving Histogram sliders has very little effect, but my wife can see meaningful changes.  I'll figure a work-around for that.



#11 alphatripleplus

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 02:23 PM

You can do mono... I do. However, if you have an audience, they will demand colour!lol.gif



#12 SchoolMaster

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 07:00 PM

You can do mono... I do. However, if you have an audience, they will demand colour!lol.gif

Oh, they'll get color all right, I'm using a short-tube achromat. :)

 

I'll get some help in tuning the Histogram sliders.

 

Q1:  When connected to the mount by WiFi, how do I also connect to my router so I can Zoom?



#13 SchoolMaster

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 07:36 PM

Can control mount with laptop rather than Android tablet GREAT.  Now I'm where I was.

Can run Stellarium

Have installed ASCOM platform and SkyWatcher SynScan ASCOM driver

 

Q2  How do I configure Stellarium to connect to and drive the mount? (Point me to the right HELP/manual)


Edited by SchoolMaster, 09 June 2021 - 07:37 PM.


#14 bips3453

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 07:51 PM

waytogo.gif

 

It would be good to read TelescopeControl Plugin section in Stellarium user guide. There are YouTube videos available showing how to configure TelescopeControl Plugin using ASCOM drivers.



#15 SchoolMaster

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 10:38 PM

waytogo.gif

 

It would be good to read TelescopeControl Plugin section in Stellarium user guide. There are YouTube videos available showing how to configure TelescopeControl Plugin using ASCOM drivers.

Thanks.

 

As obvious as it may seem, I needed to know that TelescopeControl plugin was a Stellarium feature (never used or seen it before).  Now I know, I can investigate it.

 

UPDATE:  Connection issue due to version 18 of Stellarium software on school's computers.  I will get Tech to update to version 21, which has native ASCOM support via SkyScan App


Edited by SchoolMaster, 10 June 2021 - 07:59 AM.


#16 alphatripleplus

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 06:46 AM

 

 

Q1:  When connected to the mount by WiFi, how do I also connect to my router so I can Zoom?

Sorry, I don't use Zoom with EAA sessions, but if you search this Forum there are a few topics on its use, including a monthly get together topic.



#17 SchoolMaster

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 07:05 AM

Sorry, I don't use Zoom with EAA sessions, but if you search this Forum there are a few topics on its use, including a monthly get together topic.

Thanks.  I have seen that.  I can ask them how.  Since I have the kit. I'm going to start by using two computers, one with WiFi to control the mount and scope via Stellarium, and a second one to run SharpCap and control the camera.  Since the camera runs over USB3 and has the display I want, I can connect it via WiFi to Zoom.

 

Thanks to your advice, and a brief viewing window, I got the scope poorly aligned (the visible stars were too close together) and used my 3D printed mask to focus on Vega.  Today I have a planning meeting at school and I hope to find the time to get Stellarium set up and connected properly.

 

So far, the Skywatcher AZ-GTe 102mm f/4.9 combination seems to be a good choice for this learning experience.



#18 GaryShaw

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 08:59 AM

John, I’m curious why you’d want the complexity of two computers when a single laptop can run it all.
 

In controlling the mount, you are going to want to use Plate Solving for correcting imperfect ‘Goto’s’ and centering your targets and, for that, you need the mount computer to also be connected to a camera. You could have a simple mono camera for that though and keep your observing camera on the other laptop I guess. 
 

The simpler setup and process though would be a single laptop/camera running Stellarium or Carter’s du Ciel to control the mount, plate solve and host Sharpcap Pro for observing. The Sharpcap screen is then just shared on Zoom as I noted in Post #3.

Just a thought…

Gary



#19 nic35

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 09:30 AM

John 

 

I second Gary's view - why 2 computers.  I'd suggest getting the $30 or so cable Skywatcher makes to connect the AZ-GTE to a USB hub at the scope.  Preferably powered USB hub.  Connect the Camera to the same hub.  Connect the hub to your PC.  

 

You can then control both the camera and the mount via sharpcap. This will also eliminate any mount control issues arising from wireless connection problems, which are far too common. 

 

You need to properly configure sharpcap to control the mount,  (File>Sharpcap settings > Hardware> Mount properties).  If you have properly installed the ascom drivers for your mount, it should show up in the list of available mount control options.

 

You should also set the plate solving settings (File>Sharpcap settings > Plate solving) so that the "after solving from telescope controls" is set to sync mount and recenter.  

 

I would suggest replacing astrotortilla with ASTAP. ASTAP is free, and usually much faster than astrotortilla.  

 

I hope this helps

 

john



#20 SchoolMaster

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 03:29 PM

John, I’m curious why you’d want the complexity of two computers when a single laptop can run it all.
 

In controlling the mount, you are going to want to use Plate Solving for correcting imperfect ‘Goto’s’ and centering your targets and, for that, you need the mount computer to also be connected to a camera. You could have a simple mono camera for that though and keep your observing camera on the other laptop I guess. 
 

The simpler setup and process though would be a single laptop/camera running Stellarium or Carter’s du Ciel to control the mount, plate solve and host Sharpcap Pro for observing. The Sharpcap screen is then just shared on Zoom as I noted in Post #3.

Just a thought…

Gary

Gary

 

I would like to avoid complexity if possible.  My challenge is controlling the mount by WiFi and also using WiFi for Zoom.  When I do this at school, the scope will be outside, the USB link from the camera has it's own WiFi link.  The computer(s) will be inside.  If I can control the mount and connect to our Zoom at the same time on the same computer, while also receiving data from the camera, I'll do that.



#21 SchoolMaster

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 03:35 PM

John 

 

I second Gary's view - why 2 computers.  I'd suggest getting the $30 or so cable Skywatcher makes to connect the AZ-GTE to a USB hub at the scope.  Preferably powered USB hub.  Connect the Camera to the same hub.  Connect the hub to your PC.  

 

You can then control both the camera and the mount via sharpcap. This will also eliminate any mount control issues arising from wireless connection problems, which are far too common. 

 

You need to properly configure sharpcap to control the mount,  (File>Sharpcap settings > Hardware> Mount properties).  If you have properly installed the ascom drivers for your mount, it should show up in the list of available mount control options.

 

You should also set the plate solving settings (File>Sharpcap settings > Plate solving) so that the "after solving from telescope controls" is set to sync mount and recenter.  

 

I would suggest replacing astrotortilla with ASTAP. ASTAP is free, and usually much faster than astrotortilla.  

 

I hope this helps

 

john

John

 

At school, I'll be inside, the scope will be outside on a dock on our lake for good sky (we have lots of trees), so all connections need to be wireless.

I've noticed that the connection distance for the SkyWatcher WiFi is surprisingly short and can barely reach to the end of my driveway.

 

I will follow your advice with ASTAP.

 

At home here, testing, I use a USB3 cable and I have a powered hub and I do not need to connect via Zoom.

 

I may have completely misunderstood something too.



#22 SchoolMaster

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 04:33 PM

ASCOM controls the mount over WiFi in Stellarium 0.21 (YAY!)

 

Too light to see, but points to where I know the Sun and Moon to be.

 

Tonight I will see what I can do.

 

Thanks to all for the help so far.

 

UPDATE: 90% cloud cover last night :(


Edited by SchoolMaster, 11 June 2021 - 07:43 AM.

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#23 SanjeevJoshi

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Posted 11 June 2021 - 10:35 PM

One thought for you. Doug (EmeraldHills) hosts a monthly (or so) EAA zoom event. Your audience may enjoy seeing sights from observing locations around the world, taken with various equipment. You could even host one yourself and invite a few volunteers to share. Might make for a super event.

I will be in the Orlando area with my gear in a few weeks (I am moving there) so I am happy to demo as well.

#24 SchoolMaster

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Posted 12 June 2021 - 06:21 AM

One thought for you. Doug (EmeraldHills) hosts a monthly (or so) EAA zoom event. Your audience may enjoy seeing sights from observing locations around the world, taken with various equipment. You could even host one yourself and invite a few volunteers to share. Might make for a super event.

I will be in the Orlando area with my gear in a few weeks (I am moving there) so I am happy to demo as well.

Thanks for the offer.

 

Let me know when.  I have summer school starting soon, but Orlando is less than two hours away and I'd love to see something in action as well as meet real people for real :)

 

You are also right about sharing.  We have 'partner' schools in Sweden, Germany, Spain, China, Indonesia, and Australia with which we might want to share and WHEN (IF is for less resolute people) things are up and running we would certainly be interested in sharing what we do.



#25 SchoolMaster

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Posted 12 June 2021 - 06:34 AM

Last night was full of challenges.

 

I had limited sky clear and, again, Vega and its vicinity was about all I can reach.  Our back yard is covered by a pool cage which protects our koi pond from critters, so I must work from the front porch.

 

After about and hour, ASCOM refused to access altitudes above 65 degrees, and while troubleshooting that ceased to work from Stellarium completely.

 

The only thing I was able to capture on my camera was the flashing light on top of a cell phone tower several miles away. ;(

 

When the moon gets further away from the Sun, I'll work with that during the day.

 

Debugging on School computers is a pain because I lack Admin. access, and there is all sorts of 'protection' software to prevent unauthorized use and access to 'naughty' sites like YouTube.

 

Although I have downloaded what I believe to be identical software, ASCOM does not yet work on my personal laptop.  Today, I'm i to delete everything and start again there.  Something must be missing or configured wrong.

 

If life were easy, anyone could do it.




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