Category Archives: Software

Flat Frame Acquisition App

A sibling to the Dark Frame app announced below, this application orchestrates the collection of Flat Frames. It is simpler, designed to be used at the end of an imaging session when the scope and camera are already running – so it does not contain delayed start and finish logic.

It’s available for download, in both Mac and PC binaries, here.  Use at your own risk and don’t build commercial dependencies on these tools – I’ll continue to work on them best-effort.

The program is written in python (v3.8) and is open-source.  View or modify here.

Dark Frame Acquisition app

Weeks and weeks of cloudy nights.  To stay involved, I’ve refined that dark frame acquisition script, mentioned below, into a full application.  It’s available for download, in both Mac and PC binaries, here.  Use at your own risk and don’t build commercial dependencies on these tools – I’ll continue to work on them best-effort.

The program is written in python (v3.8) and is open-source.  View or modify here.

This program has many dependencies.  Most important, it communicates with TheSkyX Professional Edition, which must be running on the same computer or another one in the same LAN, and listening with its built-in “TCP Server” option.


Dark Frame Acquisition script for TheSkyX v2.2

Over the last few cloudy nights, I finished an automation assistant script, and am making it available here.

This is a JavaScript script to run within TheSkyX to acquire a large number of dark frames.  It automates the following sequence:

  1. Delay until a specified start time (so you can start the script before the desired acquisition time then go out for dinner).  (Since TheSky’s scripting environment doesn’t include a good “delay” feature, it takes and discards long camera exposures to achieve this delay);
  2. At specified start time, turn on camera cooling and wait until the specified target temperature is reached;
  3. If the target temperature can’t be reached (i.e. the ambient temperature is higher than the camera’s cooler can handle), turn off cooling, wait a while, and retry;
  4. Once target temperature has stabilized, take sets of dark frames – you can specify multiple sets, giving number of frames, exposure length, and binning for each;
  5. Stop dark frame acquisition at a given later time (for me, dawn the following morning);
  6. Also stop acquisition if the CCD temperature rises – indicating rising ambient has overwhelmed the cooler.

The idea is:

  • Enter into the script all the dark frames I want for a given temperature.
  • Then run it overnight – where there isn’t enough time to capture them all.
  • Next day, comment-out or delete the lines for the sets that were successfully captured, and modify the frame-count in the set that was interrupted in-progress.
  • Repeat the next night.

This script is highly dependent on TheSkyX, and would require extensive modification to work in any other system.  It works on both the Mac and PC versions of TheSkyX.  I have no way to test it on the Linux version but would expect it to work there.  It requires a connected CCD with cooling, but does not require or assume any other connected gear.

Run it from within TheSkyX using the “Run Javascript” command in the Tools menu.  First edit some of the parameters near the top of the script to specify your desired time window, target temperature, etc.

Copyright ©2019 Richard McDonald.

You are free to use and modify this script, and to redistribute it freely.  Modified versions should be marked as such so they are not confused with the original.

Download here.   Then change the file name suffix from “.txt” to “.js”.  (I’m not storing it and downloading it as “.js” because that presents security vulnerabilities.)

Upgraded to FocusMax v4, Guider Collimation

Since switching to TheSkyX as my primary control application, I have tried its built-in @focus2 autofocus routine a couple of times, but I missed FocusMax, which I used to use and really liked. Last night it was clear enough for focus testing, and I reinstalled FocusMax.

To my surprise, the software has been acquired by CCDWare, and is now a commercial offering. It’s no longer free, but I have found CCDWare’s other products to be excellent and well-supported, and I don’t mind paying a bit for reliable, low-hassle software.

focusmax-vcurve-5As hoped, the commercial V4 is a major improvement. The original free package worked well when it worked at all, but it was always a challenge to install, integrate with various versions of the OS, configure drivers, etc. With the new version, after figuring out the initially complex user interface, it just worked, no hassles. Using the convenient “first light wizard” I did several V-curve calibration runs, and it’s giving me great focus easily.


Next problem.

Now that I have excellent focus it’s clear that I have a Collimation problem with my guide camera. When I get pinpoint stars off the main camera, an image through the attached guider is giving very elongated stars. Calling them “ovals” would be an undeserved compliment – they are long streaks. I assume this indicates that the pick-off mirror in the QSI camera’s WSG guide port is not properly collimated to be exactly 90 degrees to the light path.

While stars don’t have to be pinpoint for good auto guiding, since the software calculates the centre of each circle, I am pretty sure they should be round, or at least ovals. It must challenge the software to guide on little line segments. Next chance, that will be my next maintenance project.

Pier Top Panorama

I have the new pier-top adaptor fixed up and ready to mount, so today I remounted the top plate.

Since the new mount hasn’t arrived yet, I thought I would take this opportunity to carefully take a panoramic photo from the telescope’s perspective, with the goal of installing a custom panorama into TheSkyX, to help plan and preview observing against a realistic simulation of what my very cluttered horizon looks like.

_DSD8221So, I temporarily mounted a tripod column on the pier top plate, with a ball head on top of that.  This places a camera at the same height where the telescope would normally sit, and the “pan-rotation” direction of the ball-head allowed me to take a bunch of carefully-aimed pictures.

I took a series of pictures (trying different focal lengths with a wide-angle zoom lens), being careful that they overlapped by about 30%. Here’s a sample (but many more were needed to get 360-degree coverage):

Then I used Lightroom and Photoshop to merge them into 360-degree panoramas. Since I took several different sets of input photos with different focal lengths, and with some with the camera oriented horizontally and others with the camera oriented vertically, I ended up with several panoramas of different quality (different kinds of distortion etc).

Taking the least-distorted, I adjusted it to be exactly 360-degrees, trimmed it to the size required by TheSkyX (which requires that both dimensions be multiples of 512), and set the sky area to transparent. The result looks like this:

EWHO-Pan-Port-24-05-transparencyI was able to load this panorama into TheSkyX so it shows up as the horizon on the star chart. This is a great feature of TheSkyX – I get the calculated sky chart overlaid on my actual horizon, so I can accurately see what is visible above the hedge, between the trees, etc.



TempSens2: Temperature Sensor Interface, Generalized

I liked the idea of the temperature sensor interface that let me tie a USB Thermometer to CCDAutoPilot, but didn’t like the idea that it was completely dependent on a single device.

Screen snapshot of sensor interfaceThe attached program, TempSens2, generalizes the handling of the input file and should work with any temperature sensor that, with its native software, produces temperature information in some kind of simple text file in real time. You fill out a bunch of forms describing the layout of the input file, and then the program translates the readings to a form that CCDAutoPilot can read.

I have tested it with 2 different temperature sensors (one in the $80 range, one in the $10 range) and have verified that it “should” work with a couple more, based on their online documentation.

The attached zip file contains the installer, which runs on Microsoft Windows XP or Vista (I haven’t tried Windows 7) and requires the .net framework. The installer includes help.

No guarantees, but I’d be interested in hearing from anyone using this.

Interfaced temperature sensor to CCD Autopilot

I’ve developed a small bit of glueware to allow a USB temperature sensor, a EL-USB-RT from Lascar Electronics, to feed temperature and humidity information to the CCD Autopilot application from CCDWare. It does this by copying the temperature sensor’s information to a file that simulates a Boltwood Cloud Sensor, so CCDAutopilot thinks you have one of those.

This application requires, and works with, the Lascar software that comes with the sensor, running on Windows XP or Vista. Free for others if you’d like to try it, no guarantees of any kind. Help is included.

Note: A Newer Program Replaces This One

Although this program is still available for download, it is very restricted in what device it can monitor. You would be better off to try this program – a newer one which can handle a variety of temperature sensors. It’s also free.