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In panic mode: Need help in preparation for the eclipse.

Beginner DSLR Eclipse Explore Scientific Mount Astrophotography
37 replies to this topic

#1 Foetoebug

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 03:47 PM

I posted a similar message in the PMC8 support forum, but so far it has not been approved by the moderators. I'll try to sum it all up quickly. I'm leaving Friday for upper New York to photograph the eclipse, and I purchased a used iEXOS 100-01 from the classifieds on here. Over the last few days, thanks to this site, the PMC8 support forum, and Youtube, I've been able to get it to park/unpark and slew with both POTH and Device Hub. I've also had some success connecting it with CdC, APT and PHD, but here is where I start to have issues. I can't get either CdC or APT to slew the mount, but I CAN get a response if I instruct them to point it to an object. Stellarium refuses to do anything with the mount so far. Also, due to tall trees north of my house, I've only been able to do a rough polar alignment, but when I get the mount to point to any object, it's nowhere near where it should be pointing (for example, the moon was just rising in the east last night, but the mount and camera wanted to point south). Additionally, I finally got the guidecam working properly (focusing problems, all on my end of course), but due to cloudy skies last night I wasn't able to do any sort of plate solving, and I only finally received an RJ-12 cable today, so I haven't had a chance to try autoguiding. I'm hoping that there's just something stupid I'm missing with all this, but basically I'm asking for any and all help/suggestions that can be offered. I really need to get this working so I can begin packing all my gear for the trip. Thanks in advance!!

 

Scott



#2 happylimpet

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 03:51 PM

Apologies but why do you need any of that functionality for the eclipse? All you need is tracking surely, which Im not sure you've mentioned?


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#3 Foetoebug

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 04:06 PM

Apologies but why do you need any of that functionality for the eclipse? All you need is tracking surely, which Im not sure you've mentioned?

So I'm extremely new to all this, and as of right now, I'm not even sure how to set it up to track properly. Also, I'm going to drive through VT and NH and would like to do some wide-angle night sky landscape photography, but again, not sure how to go about doing that correctly. Due to other events that were going on, the whole eclipse sort of snuck up on me, and I've basically been sleep-deprived for weeks now trying to get this whole trip in motion. ANY tips would be greatly appreciated, lol.



#4 havasman

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 04:25 PM

lol.gif


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#5 Celerondon

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 04:29 PM

So I'm extremely new to all this, and as of right now, I'm not even sure how to set it up to track properly. Also, I'm going to drive through VT and NH and would like to do some wide-angle night sky landscape photography, but again, not sure how to go about doing that correctly. Due to other events that were going on, the whole eclipse sort of snuck up on me, and I've basically been sleep-deprived for weeks now trying to get this whole trip in motion. ANY tips would be greatly appreciated, lol.

Okay Scott let's regroup.  Those observations by happylimpet were right on the mark!  You need to chill and get some sleep.  Everything will be fine if you just slow down and relax.  Simplify your plans and remember that, at the most, all you need is tracking for the eclipse.  At the least, all you need to do is be there with your eyeballs, near the centerline, on a clear day.  That is it, pal!  A cell phone camera would be nice, but everything else is extra.  Despite the churning activity that you see and hear about online, you don't need any software or extra equipment to get the full eclipse experience.  In fact, it is critical that you understand that the opposite is true.

 

By this I mean that focusing on your software and equipment is quite likely to rob you of the magical experience of a total solar eclipse.  

 

You can learn about the particulars of nighttime astrophotography anytime.  Autoguiding, CDC, and anything else involving computer-controlled slewing and autoguiding has nothing to do with the eclipse.  Combining them in your mind has the very real potential to rob you of the big show.

 

Don


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#6 Lizardman

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 04:29 PM

Get some glasses , look up and enjoy . You’re taking all the fun out of it .
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#7 ShaulaB

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 04:48 PM

Oh dear. By now, it's become apparent that astrophotography has a steep learning curve. It takes time and trial-and-error experience to get things right. With a week left, just practice with a very simplified set up.

 

i took this picture in 2017 with a 10 year old (at that time) point-and-shoot digital camera with a damaged shutter. Trying to get images worthy of publication in Astronomy magazine will just drive a person to the loony bin.

 

 

 

TOTALITYsmall.jpg


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#8 MJB87

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 05:09 PM

Moving to the 2024 Eclipse Forum here on CN. Leaving a link here in Mounts. This will expand the number of people who see this topic.

 

Good luck!



#9 astronautgenius

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 05:18 PM

Capturing the eclipse is worth the effort, in my opinion. Just make sure you spend at least half your time observing it as well!

 

I'd recommend simplifying your expectations, and skip the night sky photography. As Celerondon mentioned, all you need to do is get the mount to the point where you can enable the tracking motor, and verify that objects stay reasonably still for a while. As long as the tracker is running reliably, you can focus on the camera settings during totality. Since it's trivial to get aimed and focused at the sun by hand on the day of the event, I'd try to ditch as much of the computer hardware and software as possible, other than whatever you need to drive your camera of course.

 

Best of luck!


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#10 chvvkumar

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 05:24 PM

Here is my 2 cents for what it's worth. For reference, I am using a CEM26 mount for the eclipse.

 

1. I am not using any DSO AP software except NINA (only for operating the ZWO focuser). 

2, I am only using the mount with it's hand controller for the eclipse

3. I am polar aligning the mount the night before to be as accurate as I humanly can.

4. On the eclipse day, I am just going to use the hand controller to slew to the Sun. On my mount this sets tracking rate automatically to solar mode YMMV

5. Leave the mount as it for the duration of the event.

 

I know this works because this has been what I have been doing for the past few months to test my imaging.

 

Looking at your mount manual, it seems like your's is very similar:

 

https://www.bhphotov...iles/841233.pdf

 

Check that the tracking rate is properly set it is not automatically.



#11 Cajundaddy

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 05:32 PM

I have no idea what all of your acronyms mean but I am certain that none are necessary to get nice photos of the eclipse.  About 50% of the fine TSE pics you see on the net were taken with a fixed tripod, DSLR, and 300mm camera lens.  

Since we have 1 week to go and you have none of your automation working it is probably too late to get up to speed, practice on both sun and moon, get your focus, exposure, and image scale dialed in at this point. 
Time to cut and run on these ambitious plans, take some eclipse glasses and a lounge chair and enjoy the show with no distractions.  

 

This will be my 3rd TSE and I would rate it similar to the 1st time seeing the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Niagara Falls.  It would be a shame to miss it while fiddling with gear you are not yet highly skilled at using.

Clear skies


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#12 Foetoebug

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 08:49 PM

Okay, so let me backtrack a little bit. I've been a photographer for 25 years now, and have done some night sky photography, which is what first got me interested in some sort of tracking mount. This will be my second total eclipse, as I was fortunate to be in Vancouver during the 2017 event, which was absolutely amazing. I did not have a solar filter at that time, so no photography done then. I am aware that, at most, all I need for close-up photography of the eclipse is tracking and at minimum, a sturdy tripod. As far as tracking goes, I'm able to set it up and switch tracking rates, but I've not been able to verify that it is tracking properly due to the lack of clear skies this weekend. I've also been able to setup my DSLR on a tripod and get shots of the sun over the past 2 weeks, with sunspots, so I'm doing 'okay' as far as exposure and focus. I will not be able to setup the mount the night before, as I will be shooting in a public place. I would LOVE to get everything working, if possible, but mostly I just want to know that it's tracking correctly. Considering I only received the whole setup this past Thursday, I feel I've had great success thus far in figuring it out. I know I'm being extremely ambitious, but that tends to be one of my defining traits, so it's not really anything new for me. Some might even call me stubborn, lol.

 

Scott



#13 bunyon

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 08:59 PM

Set it all up in your living room. Turn tracking on. Go away for a couple hours. Come back. Did the mount move about 30 degrees? If so, it’s tracking. If not, it’s not.
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#14 sternenhimmel

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 11:44 PM

Well like others said, you definitely don't need to a tracking mount to get great shots, it just (maybe) makes life easier since you don't need to slew the camera constantly. 

I took the sequence below from the 2017 eclipse just with a tripod and and a 400mm lens that I rented. I think I also just used ND filters for the non-totality phase. 

You definitely don't need the GoTo feature working. If you can't find the sun in your scope, you have bigger problems. As long as you can do a rough polar alignment (e.g. level your mount, set the altitude to your latitude, and then align the mount to North). You can also use an app called PS Align Pro on your phone to help with this, but whether it's much better is debatable. As the eclipse progresses, you can re-center as needed, but it should track ok unless your focal length is very long. 

 

 

Attached Thumbnails

  • eclipse.png

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#15 Foetoebug

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Posted 31 March 2024 - 11:48 PM

Ok great, thanks! It's on and tracking (supposedly). I will check back in a few hours and see what's going on. Just FYI, I'm not actually totally freaking out and stressing out about this, I was trying to be somewhat humorous. However, considering that overall I've spent a fair amount on gear for this trip, I really want to make sure I'm able to use it all in at least its intended basic function. I was already aware that I may not get autoguiding up and running quickly, but I DID (stupidly, it seems, judging from some of the reactions to my early posts) at least expect the mount to be in the ballpark when pointing to something once it was polar aligned. Obviously, that's my ignorance with this equipment and the software.  That is why I reached out in the first place, which is something I rarely do, as I am fairly independent typically. I also like to consider myself to be a fairly capable person, technically and in relation to computers, so when I do have trouble understanding something that I've been interested in for several years and researching a LOT about in the past 7 weeks, it gets to be pretty frustrating. I'm sure many of you on here can relate. Thanks again for any help!


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#16 Foetoebug

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 12:13 AM

Beautiful shot! I'll be shooting with my T6i and 100-400 EF f4-5.6 II with a 1.4x teleconverter, so if I get anything even close to that, I'll be extremely pleased!

These are my 2 best from the 3 days I had clear skies.
Day 1 - Cloudy
Day 3 - Windy
 
 
Edit: Oh, and the mount has indeed moved at least 30° in the last few hours, so that's good to know.

Edited by Foetoebug, 01 April 2024 - 12:19 AM.

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#17 BucketDave

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 06:03 AM

Foetobug:
If the mount does a GOTO and it's obviously wrong, it's usually because either the time, time-zone or location are incorrectly set.
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#18 PatrickVt

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 08:22 AM

There is so much to address in your original post that I really don't know where to begin. 

 

What I should start with is that all the advice you received thus far is spot on.  About tracking for imaging the sun...  it is not at all necessary.  Does tracking make things a bit easier if you fully understand your mount?  Absolutely.  More often than not, I am doing my solar imaging on one of my manual mounts simply because it is faster and easier to setup.  So, honestly tracking isn't necessary for imaging the sun although you can then only slow the shutter speed so much if imaging the corona before you start getting motion blurring. 

 

For the corona, however, I'd really recommend a camera in hand or on a photographic tripod, no filter, so you can change settings very quickly.  It is hard to change settings quickly if the camera is hanging off the back of a telescope...  been there, done that, and it is no fun.  There isn't much time and you need a lot of different exposures in this short amount of time so quick access is required.  You settings for images/video during partial phases with a filter will be totally different than without a filter during totality.  Additionally, for the corona, you'll really only want to be at around 400mm (full frame equivalent) to capture both the sun/moon and most of the corona.  

 

About the iEXOS100... 

 

First, the PMC8 mounts are open source so they are slightly different than most mounts.  Keep that in mind.  There is a bit of a learning curve especially if you are used to the mainstream mounts. 

 

Actually, it is too late now but the Skywatcher SolarQuest mount would have been the ideal mount for the eclipse with no time to learn new things.  That mount requires you to level the tripod and then turn it on.  It does the rest by itself and GPS satellites.  The downside is it is a Solar-only mount.  You don't have that though so let me try to explain a few of the unusual things about the PMC8 mounts.

 

These mounts can be controlled via WiFi or serial connection to a computer.  WiFi is only useful if you are using the ExploreStars app.  If you plan to use any other program(s) that send commands to the mount, then you must connect via serial USB.

 

There will be a new version of the ExploreStars app that can be used on cellphones but it has not been released yet.  For now, the interface is designed for larger tablets as well as laptops and desktops.  It has a lot of photos of the targets in the sky so having the extra larger size is welcomed.  There is quite a bit of useful info on the main screen at once.  The device must have 2.4GHz WiFi to connect to the mount.  This wireless app is ideal for visual use although I admit that I do also use ExploreStars for solar imaging.  Select the sun, GoTo, then center it, and it tracks.  

 

Next, if you plan to use multiple pieces of software that each must connect to the mount, then you must be in serial mode connected to a laptop or desktop.  You also should have already downloaded and installed the PMC8 driver on your device.  The mount can only connect and get commands from one piece of software so you must use ASCOM Device Hub or ASCOM POTH as a hub that connects to multiple programs and simultaneously sends the mount commands.   Device Hub is the most recent hub and that is what I recommend.  

 

I'm going to write by memory here so this may not be perfect but it will get you closer to where you want to be.  You set up the mount and connect to your laptop using the appropriate USB cable.  For the iEXOS100, it is a simply cable with no FTDI chip.  The necessary chips are already inside the mount.  Power up the mount.

 

You open Device Hub and connect to the mount by selecting the PMC8 driver in the drop-down menu (choosing a telescope).  Make sure you set up all the tabs in the driver properly for your site and make sure you have the iEXOS100 selected.  This driver is for ALL the PMC8 mounts and each is different so you need to make sure you have selected the iEXOS100.  

 

Now, for each piece of software that wants to connect to the mount, you DO NOT select the iEXOS100 in the piece of software.  You select ASCOM/Device Hub.  The programs will talk to Device Hub and then Device Hub will sort it all out in real time and send the proper commands to the mount.  

 

Since you are short on time at this point, I don't recommend checking and updating the firmware of the mount unless you encounter some sort of problem this week.  You really don't need that extra complication right now with time so tight.  There is a whole other learning curve in using the utility for checking and updating the firmware.  It is easy and works well but, like anything else new, it takes some time to crawl before you can walk.  When you get to this point, you can find the most recent firmware package on the Explore Scientific website listed under the "Mounts" menu ---> "Software and Downloads".  

 

For what it's worth and to put the info our there for anyone else reading this thread, much of this PMC8 software, firmware and driver has been written by volunteers and they have done an outstanding job.  

 

For the solar eclipse, keep things as simple as possible especially when using new equipment.  

 

I think I covered everything to get you started.  Good luck and enjoy the eclipse!

 

Patrick


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#19 Foetoebug

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 11:24 AM

Foetobug:
If the mount does a GOTO and it's obviously wrong, it's usually because either the time, time-zone or location are incorrectly set.

Ah, thank you Dave! I had completely missed that under the mount's properties in Device Hub. I'll attribute that to the lack of sleep, lol. I'll do another rough polar alignment in a little while to see what happens now.

 

Actually, it is too late now but the Skywatcher SolarQuest mount would have been the ideal mount for the eclipse with no time to learn new things.  That mount requires you to level the tripod and then turn it on.  It does the rest by itself and GPS satellites.  The downside is it is a Solar-only mount.  You don't have that though so let me try to explain a few of the unusual things about the PMC8 mounts.

 

These mounts can be controlled via WiFi or serial connection to a computer.  WiFi is only useful if you are using the ExploreStars app.  If you plan to use any other program(s) that send commands to the mount, then you must connect via serial USB.

 

Next, if you plan to use multiple pieces of software that each must connect to the mount, then you must be in serial mode connected to a laptop or desktop.  You also should have already downloaded and installed the PMC8 driver on your device.  The mount can only connect and get commands from one piece of software so you must use ASCOM Device Hub or ASCOM POTH as a hub that connects to multiple programs and simultaneously sends the mount commands.   Device Hub is the most recent hub and that is what I recommend.  

 

Since you are short on time at this point, I don't recommend checking and updating the firmware of the mount unless you encounter some sort of problem this week.  You really don't need that extra complication right now with time so tight.  There is a whole other learning curve in using the utility for checking and updating the firmware.  It is easy and works well but, like anything else new, it takes some time to crawl before you can walk.  When you get to this point, you can find the most recent firmware package on the Explore Scientific website listed under the "Mounts" menu ---> "Software and Downloads".  

Patrick, thanks for your detailed instructions. I DID consider the SolarQuest and other tracking mounts, but I knew I would outgrow them quickly, which is why I settled on the iEXOS 100. As the seller failed to include the WiFi dongle, I don't have that option available to me at all, but I can live with that. I am able to connect the mount to both Device Hub and POTH separately through serial, and I was able to update the firmware the first night, so no problem there. That's why I'm confused about the inability to control slew through other applications. It slews properly through Device Hub (and POTH). I can park/unpark and turn tracking on/off through applications, and even get a response when I point to objects, but no slewing. Again, I can live with that for now. Knowing that it is tracking properly and that I had not updated site location data is very helpful. I will report back in a little while!

 

Scott



#20 PatrickVt

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 11:24 AM

You also mentioned trees blocking Polaris.  For solar astronomy (since this forum is about solar), you simply plop the tripod/mount down as close to true north as you can get it and then level it.  What I do from here after booting up the mount is do a GoTo to the sun.  Then I use my azimuth bolts and altitude adjustment to center your view on the sun.  Done.  From here, if you get some drift (you will, since setup probably was not absolutely perfect), then just use the Drift method of polar alignment.  

 

Oh, and don't forget to set your PMC8 configuration to Solar tracking.  If using Device Hub, that would be in "Choose Mount" --> Configuration (I think that is where the PMC8 Config is located).  If using wireless ExploreStars, then you go into the app's "Settings" and change the tracking rate from "48" to 47.88".  

 

Something to note that is fairly important...  When using ExploreStars for a GoTo slew, the mount will remain in "Pointing Mode".  You need to just nudge one of the direction buttons in any direction to have ExploreStars switch to "Tracking Mode".  Pointing is indicated by the "P" on the main screen while tracking is indicated by a "Tr" on the main screen.  

 

Also, you mentioned trying to use PHD2 as well as something about an RJ12 cable.  I assume you are attempting to utilize the ST4 port?  Maybe?  There is absolutely no need to do that.  Just connect PHD2 with ASCOM Device Hub.  The mount should already be connected to Device Hub because you should have already set up Device Hub to connect with the PMC8.  PHD2 will guide the mount through the hub.  There is no need for that second cable...  well...  unless you are trying to do something else and I made the wrong assumption.  

 

If I remember anything else important, I'll add another comment.

 

Patrick


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#21 PatrickVt

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 11:31 AM

"As the seller failed to include the WiFi dongle, I don't have that option available to me at all..."

 

 

Everything you need to connect to a tablet or computer wirelessly is included inside the iEXOS-100.  All the hardware and antenna is already inside the mount.

 

What you are calling a WiFi "dongle" is for changing the WiFi channel only in case you might get some interference on the default channel.  I think the default channel is 5 but I'm not sure and it is probably not necessary to know.  That little antenna is not used for WiFi connectivity and it should not be plugged in when attempting to connect to WiFi.  Plugging it in will only prompt a channel change.  In short, you should have no need for that little antenna which is how people lose them easily.

 

Patrick


Edited by PatrickVt, 01 April 2024 - 11:34 AM.

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#22 Daniel Dance

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 11:43 AM

I posted a similar message in the PMC8 support forum, but so far it has not been approved by the moderators. I'll try to sum it all up quickly. I'm leaving Friday for upper New York to photograph the eclipse, and I purchased a used iEXOS 100-01 from the classifieds on here. Over the last few days, thanks to this site, the PMC8 support forum, and Youtube, I've been able to get it to park/unpark and slew with both POTH and Device Hub. I've also had some success connecting it with CdC, APT and PHD, but here is where I start to have issues. I can't get either CdC or APT to slew the mount, but I CAN get a response if I instruct them to point it to an object. Stellarium refuses to do anything with the mount so far. Also, due to tall trees north of my house, I've only been able to do a rough polar alignment, but when I get the mount to point to any object, it's nowhere near where it should be pointing (for example, the moon was just rising in the east last night, but the mount and camera wanted to point south). Additionally, I finally got the guidecam working properly (focusing problems, all on my end of course), but due to cloudy skies last night I wasn't able to do any sort of plate solving, and I only finally received an RJ-12 cable today, so I haven't had a chance to try autoguiding. I'm hoping that there's just something stupid I'm missing with all this, but basically I'm asking for any and all help/suggestions that can be offered. I really need to get this working so I can begin packing all my gear for the trip. Thanks in advance!!

 

Scott

Well, my father always said, "It's not a matter of being faster, but starting sooner."  Yeah, this sucks.  But you should have started months and months ago.

 

Now i'm being completely serious here, but if you have that complex of a system that you haven't figured out a week away from the eclipse and we're scheduled to have a week long event  of clouds and rain here in the East, I wouldn't even bother trying to figure it out.  I know this sounds harsh, but if its not working now, its not going to work one week from now.  I guarantee you it won't.  So don't even stress about it.

 

I would suggest just using your camera on a fixed tripod with a lens or something, and hope for the best, or just enjoy it visually.


Edited by Daniel Dance, 01 April 2024 - 11:53 AM.

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#23 PatrickVt

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 11:46 AM

Being able to control the mount using POTH and Device Hub is good news.  Also it is good that you already updated the firmware without needing help.

 

You say that "you get a response when I point to objects".  What kind of response are you getting?  And, in what software are you trying to command a GoTo slew?  

 

The primary reason people can't get a software package to properly control the mount is because they have it connected to the PMC8 ASCOM driver.  You probably already know this after my previous comment but it is worth mentioning again just to be sure...  any software packages you use that ask to connect to a mount should be connected to Device Hub (or POTH, if that is what you are using as a hub).  Oh, and don't use both POTH and Device Hub at the same time...  only one or the other.  

 

My advice would be to go back to each place where you have to configure things to make sure they are configured correctly.  Since the ASCOM hubs seem to be functioning correctly, it is likely a setting in the 3rd party software you are attempting to connect to the hub.  

 

I hope this helps.

 

Patrick



#24 PatrickVt

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 11:58 AM

Another thing worth mentioning that is related to choosing connection to ExploreStars by WiFi or ASCOM by serial...  

 

If you plan to use WiFi, make sure you do not have the USB cable plugged into the mount.  This will prompt the boot configuration to make a serial connection and turn the WiFi card off.  And, conversely, if you plan to connect by serial, plug the USB cable into the mount and computer before booting up the mount.  

 

If you plan to use ExploreStars and connect your tablet to the mount wirelessly, the default password for the mount's WiFi is "PMC-Eight".   Since you purchased this mount used, the previous owner may have changed the password.  Hmmm...  I'm not even sure how to change that password...  maybe using the Universal Firmware Configuration Tool.  

 

In previous versions of the firmware, you used to have to reconfigure the mount with a DOS-like command interface. each time you wanted Serial or Wifi.  It was configured one way or the other.  In more recent versions of the firmware, you don't need to do this any longer.  Now you simply have the mount set up the way you intend to use it before boot up and it knows what you want to do and configures the mount's communication accordingly.

 

Patrick


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#25 Astronomigo

Astronomigo

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Posted 01 April 2024 - 12:41 PM

I've basically been sleep-deprived for weeks now trying to get this whole trip in motion. ANY tips would be greatly appreciated, lol.

 

You could end up in the hospital -- and not even be outside during the eclipse!

 

If you want to do something somewhat advanced, get a decent pair of binoculars to use during totality. 

 

And take care of yourself... those are my suggestions waytogo.gif





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