I am freshly returned from the Nebraska Star Party, and only moderately jet lagged. I've spent a week with effectively no internet access, so I have hundreds of emails to go through and a lot of support questions on the forum to scan through. I imagine this may be all I get done today, so I'm going to start with my blog before diving into that while the past week is fresh on my mind.
First, I had a great time and made some new friends. After flying to Omaha Nebraska, I had a few hours of driving yet to get to the Merritt Reservoir in Valentine NE. It is a remote site, but Valentine has some hotels, restaurants and a few amenities for the faint of heart. The organizers put me up in a cabin at the Reservoir that was very nice and comfortable. I had the honor of being the main invited speaker and I gave a talk on getting started in astrophotography. I geared it for the "uninfected spouse", so it was not technical, but explained the trials and tribulations of those infected with the imaging bug. I used my own journey as an example, and talked about a lot of the mistakes and wrong assumptions we often make when getting started in this hobby.
For treatment of my own affliction, I brought for the first time a complete imaging system along with me (on a plane!). I did have to ship the batteries ahead of time to a hotel in Omaha where I stayed the night I flew in, as the airlines frown on bringing big industrial sized batteries on a passenger aircraft. They weren't that big though. The 5ah 48v Life battery we used to sell, and a 25ah I put together myself both fit into two smallish boxes. The 48v ran the mount, which in turn powered a USB hub, a Raspberry Pi 2, and a Lodestar guide camera. The 25ah powered the cooled CCD camera (a Starlight Xpress Trius 694). There was no power at the field, and I probably had the smallest most lightweight power system of anyone there. Of course most people drove and can simply load down a car with those big heavy deep cycle 12v batteries.
The Raspberry Pi communicated with the mount via the WiSky board, and I controlled TheSkyX built for Raspberry Pi via my iPad. The Pi had a WiFi dongle on it and was the source of the WiFi hot spot. I used a combination of remote desktop and some of the features in TheSkyHD to control the mount and camera. For the summer months with short nights, the battery system I have will power the whole thing for at least two nights. A nice thing about the LiFE battery technology too is that it is unaffected by cold, so for Winter imaging I'm sure I'm good at least one night, if not two (I've run the mount alone for three nights on this battery before). I used a powered hub too, but I think that was unnecessary... more testing in the backyard for that.
The weather was spotty, but I was there an entire week and cobbled together a little over six hours worth of data on the Western Veil Nebula, or the Witche's Broom (my favorite designation). It's not an APOD, but I'm pretty happy that I didn't have to settle for Milky Way shots with a DSLR on a tripod. Finally there "is a way" to image from a mobile device... sort of. Once TheSkyX was happily guiding and taking a series, I wandered off and looked at the deep sky treasures in the "Valley of the Dobs". I must say too, this star party has one of the best naked eye views of the Milky Way I've ever seen.
(The compression artifacts here are horrible, there is a better rendition on my gallery web site here).
The whole thing fit nicely in the back of a rented SUV shown below. The top case contained the ESprit 80 refractor (which ships in this handy dandy travel case), and the blue case on the bottom was acquired at a local surplus store. The foam from the original MYT fits exactly inside and there is room for a small Pelican case with accessories, the counterweight shaft and a counterweight (or two if I need). I did put those small TSA approved padlocks on both just to... as my father used to say, "Help honest people stay honest". The blue case is perfect, as both the bottom and top foam for the MYT fit snuggly and keep the mount from moving around. Of course, it weighs 94 pounds fully loaded, and the airlines charged $210.00 for oversized and over weight luggage (the scope actually checked for free!). The portable pier bag went inside a large duffel and I surrounded it with my clothes for the trip for extra padding. Still came in under the weight limit. As for the mount... it might be more economical to ship it UPS ahead of time actually. For some destinations however this might be impractical and at least I know now this can work in a pinch. I carried the camera myself in my carry on.
The only fly in the ointment of this whole scheme was the TSA. Both on the way there and on the way back, it was "randomly" selected for inspection. I'm sure on the x-ray it must have looked like the firing mechanism of a thermonuclear device.... or maybe one of Iron Man's boots ;-) Unfortunately, the TSA did not take the same care as I did in repacking the mount. In fact, on the way home it was quite haphazard, and I think they must have removed the entire mount from the case. I'm very careful to unlock the worms from the gears when transporting the mount to prevent damage to the worm, but in this case, the declination gear had been engaged. I suspect to help with removing the mount from the case. If they locked the gear to pull the mount out by the versa-plate, or the mount had a sizable drop or shock in transport (ya think?), the declination gear might have been damaged. I'll know for sure only by seeing how the mount performs next time I set it up.
I can only see two options for safely transporting the MYT because of this. Either ship it UPS, or engage the locks. We ship them with the locks out and the axes loose for a reason, but I suppose it's the safest bet if you can't bring valuable equipment on a plane without it being manhandled by someone who doesn't know what it is or how to properly handle it.
For my next remote imaging adventure, I'll be loading this on a boat... Ah, no middlemen keeping me safe from myself ;-)
07-20-2015 8:00 AM