Thursday, December 25, 2014

A keyboard for stargazers - The Razer BlackWidow Chroma

Razer, a computer peripherals company, recently included an illuminated keyboard in its portfolio. Although it was primarily made for the gamer scene, it has many useful features for stargazers.

Image: The Razer BlackWidow Chroma keyboard

This keyboard is suitable for astronomy applications since the red light keeps the eyes adapted in the darkness. Each key can be separately set to a specific color  (see image). The keyboard can be dimmed.

Stargazers may want to:
  • set all alphanumeric keys in red
  • set control keys in light red
  • set often used letters (e.g. N, G, C, M, _, I, m, a, g, e) in dark red
  • turn off all keys usually not really needed (see image)
to improve the work with MaximDL, TheSky, or AstroArt at night. All these settings make things easier at night when every key stroke counts.

The keyboard can connect the personal internet account of the user in order to share his/her settings across other Razer devices. It supports the import / export of the settings on a hard drive. My own settings are available for download on my site.

This modern keyboard is built like a tank. It works on Mac and Windows, even on old Windows XP machines.

Some years ago, I have developed a free app (RedScreen.exe) to also protect eye adaption during your astronomy sessions. If you like, you can download it here for free.

Thanks for reading.

Panagiotis Xipteras

Friday, October 10, 2014

A fascinating image of the SH2-240 nebula

Image: SH2-240, copyright (c) 2014 by H.Weber and M. Noller

We are proud to present you a demanding target tonight. This is the Simeis 147 (SH2-240) nebula in the Taurus constellation, a large and faint celestial object mainly considered by advanced space photographers. This image is exclusively published in this blog under the permission of its authors.

Hα: 8x1200 sec
OIII: 4x1200 sec
SII: 5x1200 sec

CCD astrocamera: ICX814-based CCD bei -15°C.
Filter: Baader narrowband filters.
Lens: Sigma 105 mm f2,8 at f/4.
Guiding: Takahashi FSQ 85 with Starlight Loadstar camera.
Mount: Losmandy G11.

Astrophotographers/ authors:
Image acquisition: Holger Weber,
Photo processing: Markus Noller,


Sunday, October 05, 2014

A night full of magic

Image 1: The h+x star cluster in Perseus
Equipment: FSQ-106ED, fl=530mm (f/5), t=190s, QHY8L, JPZ mount

Image 2: NGC6791 star cluster in Lyra
Equipment: FSQ-106ED, QHY8L, JPZ mount

Image 3: Messier 38 in Auriga
Equipment: FSQ-106ED, QHY8L, JPZ mount

Image 4: NGC2232 open star cluster
Equipment: TOA-130, QHY8L, JPZ mount

Image 4: M13 - The Hercules Globular Cluster
Equipment: TOA-130, Nikon d3100, JPZ mount

Image 5: Messier 45 - Pleiades, the seven sisters
Equipment: FSQ-106ED, Nikon d3100, JPZ mount

When I am working on such delightful celestial objects, I sometimes think astrophotography is a pre-stage of poetry. The astrophotographer, invests all his experience trying to interpret a fact into a shapes and colors, so a poet tries to interpret his emotions after looking these pictures into wonderful words. /px
Further infos are available in wikipedia:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Daystar Quark "Chromosphere" on Takahashi FSQ-85

After an intensive research, how a powerful and affordable Hα telescope could look like, a stargazer of my astronomy club made the final step and ordered it. His doctrine was:

"The most expensive telescope is the one you will buy twice"

In times of a contaminated telescope market, where paper launches and low-quality products flood the world, his way was long. I remember a greek epic story I have been told as I was a child. It was the Journey of Odysseus to Ithaca. Particularly because it takes years to settle on a type of equipment perfectly matching your needs.
Image 7: The complete Ha telescope setup

Hence, my colleague didn't follow the cheap way. He followed the affordable one. Now, every single screw of his setup makes sense. His system consists of:

This setup is suitable for astrophotography as well.
Image 1: ICS custom case for the Takahashi FSQ-85

This customized case for the Takahashi FSQ-85 is made in Germany by ICS. The waiting time paid off.

Image 2: The Japanese Takahashi FSQ-85 in its german ICS case

This case is a secure place for these exceptional Takahashi optics. It is a metal construction with wood plates inside it. I think, it is birch wood. The foam inside it secures the optics from shocks and vibrations during traveling.

Image 3: FSQ-85 quadruplet refractor on Losmandy G11

The german Baader Clicklock system on the Baader diagonal has a compression ring inside providing a fine connection to the eyepiece.

Image 4: A sturdy setup for Ha observing and astrophotography

Sure, this telescope is overmounted on the american Losmandy G11. Anyway, this is a sturdy setup also suitable for photographic use.

Image 5: Baader ERF90 on the Baby-Q via adapter

The quality of the ERF filter mount is exceptional. Its creator Astroholgi accepts orders from all EU countries. The Baader ERF-90mm (Energy Rejection Filter) protects the telescope as it prevents heat development in the tube.

Image 6: The cable hub and the battery pack. Note his self-made 5V USB connector for the Daystar Quark.

Astroholgi's power supply consists of three 12 V gell cells connected in parallel. Its better suited for traveling than an old-fashioned, heavy car battery. Astroholgi's cable hub makes the setup looking tidy and clean.

The Daystar Quark device requires an USB connection (5V) with 1.5A to work properly at its optimum temperature level. The USB bus of a computer (maximum 0.5A) can not provide enough power to supply the Daystar and it should not be used! An extra 5V/2A USB power supply is already included in the box when you buy the Daystar.

You can adjust the optimum setting using the potentiometer on the Daystar Quark (see also image [11]). A green/red LED indicates the current working status of the Quark. Green means the operating temperature is reached. During the review the LED changed from red to green 10 minutes after switching it on.

Image 8: Astroholgi's ERF adapter for the Baby-Q

AFAIK, refractors up to 80mm aperture do not need any ERF filter for Ha observing with the Daystar Chromosphere eyepiece. Up to 120mm aperture only an UV/IR filter in the diagonal should be sufficient. From 120mm and up, both an ERF filter and an UV/IR filter are mandatory.
Caution: Quadruplet refractors of any aperture need an ERF filter (see also image [9])!

I can confirm this for my Televue 76 refractor as it needs neither ERF nor UV/IR filter for Ha observing with Daystar's One-Thousand-Dollar-Baby but I can not guarantee that this is the very best way to do so. Please consult your dealer for accurate information. Anyway, the Daystar Quark Chromosphere delivers fine views of the Sun both with my Televue 76  (without ERF) and my friend's Takahashi FSQ-85 (with ERF).

Image 9: ERF and Ha Daystar eyepiece on the FSQ-85

There are two versions of the Daystar Quark: (a) Prominence and (b) Chromosphere. He chose the second one in order to be able to see details in the Sun disc. Anyway, I can confirm that, the (b) Daystar Chromosphere version delivered excellent views of both the protuberances and the Sun disc. I have successfully tested that on his FSQ-85 and my Televue 76 apo. I will publish a small review of it later in this blog.

Image 10: The Daystar Quark requires an USB connection

The "Daystar Quark Chromosphere" simply converts your refractor to a Hα telescope. The Daystar device has a 4.3x telecentric inside. This barlow-like amplification device produces an orthographic view of the subject. Perfection or not, the focal length of the telescope is multiplied by 4.3x. That means, the FSQ-85 now works at f/22.8 and 1935mm focal length with the Daystar. You may now think, it is still a bargain.

Image 11: A Pentax XW 20mm eyepiece is a good choice for the Daystar Quark

However, there is no such thing like a free lunch and you need an excellent, fat eyepiece to get the best out of such a configuration. You might want to observe at low magnification and enjoy the larger field of view. Takahashi, Televue, or Pentax provide suitable eyepieces in the 15...40mm range. Such eyepieces are heavy and you'll probably pay 1000€ per kilo to buy one.

Furthermore, if you want to use 2" eyepieces on the Quark, you need Astroholgi's 2" adapter (see image [11]) dealing with the issue that the ethalon element in the Quark is a bit smaller than Astroholgi's 2" adapter and it does not fully illuminates it.

Both low-cost eyepieces shown in images 10 & 11 significantly degraded the good image quality came out of the Daystar Quark. So once again, the common law of business balance has come true. In other words: "if you pay peanuts you get monkeys".

Image 12: The Daystar Quark on the Baader Bino

The Daystar Quark Chromosphere we used for this review has proven to be an impressive piece of engineering at an affordable price. But IMHO although its innovative concept tries to open new ways towards bargain Hα gazing, you should consider the total system costs. You might want to combine this red jewel with fine optics to get the best out of it.

Demanding Hα work was never a cheap affair.

Panagiotis Xipteras
daystar quark h-alpha filter eyepiece okular test review fsq-85 losmandy g11 Baader Bino

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A telescope software for the legendary HP-12c

Here is a port of my telescope, eyepiece and CCD software for the legendary "HP-12C Platinum" calculator. You may find it useful for astrophotographic and visual work since it computes some important properties of your telescope system for a given eyepiece and camera combination.

Image: The HP-12C calculator next to an astronomical eyepiece
You type:
  • Telescope aperture
  • Focal length
  • Eyepiece focal length
  • Eyepiece field of view
  • Pixel size of the CCD camera
  • Light frequency
You get calculated:
  • Surface of this aperture
  • Focal ratio
  • Magnification
  • Exit pupil
  • Field of view of the telescope (FOV)
  • Maximum resolution of the telescope
  • CCD resolution
  • Light power of the telescope