Automated Imaging Software

A couple of months ago I made the decision to buy an automated imaging software program so I can run the observatory remotely from the house. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being in the observatory and under the stars. I do.

I made the decision for a couple of reasons. One is related to my age. I need more sleep than fully-attended astro-imaging will allow. Then there’s my decidedly non-astro Golden Doodle, Annie, who avoids the observatory whenever possible. I think the telescope slewing is what bothers her–noise and movement–but mostly she’s a homebody. So she usually prefers waiting by the door when I go wandering off in the dark the 150 or so feet to the telescope. When I return after a couple of hours or more, she usually reacts as though I’m returning from a couple of years in Europe.

At my age, 67, staying awake past 10:00 PM has become harder to deal with. I can do it, but the next day I feel it. So I ended up purchasing a software program called ACP, authored by Bob Denny up in Mesa. The promise with ACP is that you tell it what targets you want to image, feed it coordinates, set up the composition, which filters to use, how many times for each filter, and so on. At the end of the session you ask ACP to park the scope, shut down everything, and send room service in the morning with hot coffee and pastries. OK, the coffee and pastry thing is on my wish list.

I’ve had some limited experience with automated imaging software going back several years, with mixed results, so I crossed my fingers when I bought ACP. My impression with ACP after just a couple of months: 1. There’s a learning curve that takes a while and requires actually reading a manual, and 2. I’m getting some sleep while imaging, which is the whole point.

Last week, for example, on a clear night, I fed ACP the requirements to image the Ring Nebula in Luminance, Red, Blue and Green filters (LRGB), for a couple of hours, and then wait for the rise of the Pelican Nebula in the constellation Cygnus, to begin imaging again at 3:00 AM. In the morning I went out to find the scope parked, the camera turned off, and all the images saved in the observatory laptop. Perfect. But no coffee.

The most exciting prospect for me with ACP is that I can now begin to image many of the more interesting nighttime objects as they appear in the early morning. Over the next two or three months, The Eagle Nebula, the Swan Nebula, the Trifid and Lagoon Nebulas, and the Rho Opiuchus region will rise in the east, in the wee hours. Long after midnight when 67 year olds like me have no business being awake. I hope to be able to post those images to this website.

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