Clear skies during the full moon – Front patio equipment check

True to Mother Nature’s latest form, we had a string of clear nights – during and immediately following the full moon (during the work week)!  Thank goodness for the LeXtreme light pollution filter!  I decided to take advantage of the clear nights to run a couple of experiments ahead of the (rapidly) approaching trip to Chile. 

IC443 Jellyfish Nebula
IC443 Jellyfish Nebula; Captured from Colorado Springs, Colorado with ASI2400-LeX on the Southern Cross, 27 January 2024

Equipment check for Chile

I decided to take advantage of the clear nights from the front patio to run a couple of experiments ahead of my (rapidly) approaching trip to Chile.  First, I wanted to assemble the Southern Cross to make sure that I had everything I need for the trip packed.  Second, I wanted to run everything (laptop, camera, mount) from the DC battery for a full night of imaging to make sure I didn’t run into the same problem (running out of sufficient DC power) I ran into during the Mills Rim trip with the RST-300 mount. 

Both experiments ended well.  The packing experiment revealed that I had everything in its place, except the level, the stakes and hammer for the tripod legs, and the cable for the auto guider (which I had “borrowed” from the Southern Cross’ auto guide camera when I thought that was the problem while we were at Mills Rim earlier in the month).  The power experiment revealed that although the battery power was at 11.5V at the end of approximately eleven hours that is enough to run the RST-135E, camera, and laptop without issue. 

As we’re on the cusp of galaxy season (i.e., after February there’s little to no visibility on anything except galaxies until May), I did my February planning to have a target to image for the last part of the night after all the nebulae targets set (between 0130 – 0245MST).  I decided on imaging my latest obsession, IC443 Jellyfish Nebula with the “wide” field of view that the Southern Cross provided as my first target of the night.  Then, after it set at about 0230, I switched to M84 ( Markarian’s Chain (which you may or may not see – imaging galaxies with the “wide angle” of the Southern Cross makes for a less than spectacular image!). 

I made another interesting discovery as I was planning for this imaging session. I opened SGPro to find that there was yet another update (they seem to be coming in rapid succession lately).  I’d been debating about falling back to SGPro v3.2 because of all the issues I’d had with the camera rotation angle that SGPro v4.3’s plate solving algorithm was directing me to do. As you may recall, this was particularly bad on IC443. I wasted several nights of imaging (thankfully front the front patio) and lots of time over the holidays capturing, reading through, and submitting logs and images of the problem I was experiencing to the SGP Forum.  My first emails and forum posts in mid-December were answered with questions from the SGPro developer (Ken) that read to me like accusations of what I was doing wrong (e.g., how I could possibly know what my camera angle was as it wasn’t meant to be the physical angle of the camera with respect to the telescope but the sky angle with respect to my location on the ground and how dare I question their plate solving algorithm).  The last email I received from Ken shortly after the New Year, seemingly softened from that stance, apologized for the delay in responding, and stated he was still sorting through all the information I’d sent.  Then he fell back off the net, leaving me wondering what to do.  As I was loading the targets for this imaging session into SGPro, the update notice popped up.  I read the notes of “what’s fixed” in v4.3.0.1035 released on 26Jan2024… “Fixed an issue that would sometimes result in an incorrect positional angle when solving with ASTAP or PlateSolve2”  Hmmmm…guess it wasn’t me doing something wrong after all??  So, I updated to SGP v4.3.0.1035…although this wasn’t a good test, since the camera framing angle was 0 degrees (as opposed to the 135 degree angle with Big Bertha that was causing all the issues). If I get another clear night in February – I’ll do a test with Big Bertha to see if the fix really is a “fix.”

Finally, this was also “first light” with the ZWO EAF auto focuser on the the Southern Cross.  It worked well, although I think I’ll change the SGPro focusing algorithm from 9x10second focusing images to 7x10second focusing images.  It seems that when SGPro drew the parabola for the optimal focusing point, it would have been better if the first and last image hadn’t been included (or if it drew two straight lines instead of the parabola – but no one asked my opinion when they developed the algorithm). 

I included the Southern Cross’ image in the IC443 Jellyfish Nebula gallery, but decided that I wouldn’t use it to replace the 5-session image that is the “cover” image for that gallery page. This image definitely gives you a bigger perspective (600mm focal length vs. Big Bertha’s 1600mm or Big Zeus’ 2000mm) showing a bigger sky field of view to include IC443 and its Gemini constellation neighborhood. I placed it at the top of the “other images” of IC443 Jellyfish Nebula, here :