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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Unpacking my new Telescope

I recently bought a SkyWatcher Maksutov-Cassegrain 150 Pro, with a HEQ5 Pro mount.

I am quite a newbie with this kind of stuff, so I cannot yet review thre equipment, but I can give you my first impressions.

Normally I write about micro-electronics, so this post is a bit "different", still my blog is about geekiness and well, a telescope qualifies in the category :)

The purpose of this post is to show you what you get should you buy the same equipment and also to provide a detailed step-by-step setup guide, since the manual is quite basic on that part.

Anyhow, it's not completely true that microelectronics is not involved... in fact the mount (uses 2 stepper motors) has a serial protocol which the vendor released in open source (twink! twink!).

These are the boxes : 1) tripod with counter-weights, 2) the tube and 3) the mount.
It is always a good idea to make some room before unpacking stuff.

 The tube itself comes with a nice package to protect it during shipping, better save these protections for future use.

Finally, this is all the equipment which I will describe starting from the top left :
1) Manuals, marketing stuff etc in all the first row. Nothing fancy here
2) Two counter-weights (yes, they are HEAVY), the eyepiece /other stuff  holder which is part of the tripod, a box which contained the eyepiece and some other spare parts
3) The tripod
4) Tube (telescope), finder scope, diagonal and eyepiece
5) the mount, goto controller handler, car cigarette power cable, 2 allen wrenches, locking screws, spare mount sled, serial cables, goto controller

First step : open up the tripod.
Looks like a stable and sturdy tripod, make sure you open it completely, I did not extend the legs for now.
Notice the tripod is not symmetric, one side is labeled "N" and it should be oriented to north.
On that side there is a metal tab used to lock the azimuth rotation of the mount in respect to the tripod.

The mount comes next, notice the two screws that will be pressing on the previously described tab.
Make sure you undo them properly before placing the mount on the tripod.
Once done start screwing in the bottom rod.

With the mount in place, we want to stabilize the tripod : unscrew the bottom part of the threaded rod, place the eyepiece / stuff holder and then screw back in the bottom part.
Notice that there are 3 small extensions that are supposed to press against the tripod legs and prevent them from folding back.
Also notice there is a U slot in the holder, this will be used to rest the go-to controller, so face it in the direction where you like to have the controller.

Counterweigths: Unlock the clouch that controls the coutnerweight bar so that it extends completely, then lock it again.
Remove the safety screw at the end of the bar and slide in the weights, one at a time, lock the one you inserted first before adding the second, finally put back the safety screw.
At this point it is probably a good idea to have the counterweghts a bit "low", at least like the position you see in the pciture.
This will help for the next steps  as it will ensure that the scope will stay up once we install it and it will not start spinning around.

 You don't need to install the additional sled, I just placed it there to check how the locking mechanism works and to ensure there were no particular details I had to take care of when placing the scope.
This picture shows how your scope is going to be attached to the mount.

One final thing before installing the scope : screw in the two small threaded rods, they are placed on the two opposite sides of the mount.

Now, undo the two holding screws visible in the center / bottom of the picture and carefully slide the scope in.
It's not difficult, but make sure the sled slides in both sides, you don't want your scope to fall on the floor! :)
Lock it roughly in the middle of the sled, you will need to adjust the position later, but not yet.

It's the turn of the finder scope, this is an easy one, just undo the locking scre, slide it in and lock it back.

Time to place the diagonal on the back side of the scope.
Undo the holding screws, remove the caps and fit the metallic part of the diagonal in, push it all the way before tightening the screws again.

Similarly you install the eyepiece on the diagonal.

Place the holder for the go-to controller in the slot we described before

Connect one end of the serial cable (RJ45 plug) to the mount.

And the other end to the controller.

We are now ready to balance the mount, sliding the counterweights as needed and also sliding the tube on the mount (undo the screws and keep the mount in the vertical position while you move the sled. Put it horizontal when you move the weights).

That's pretty much it, now the scope is ready for the finder alignment.
Make sure you do not aim it to the sun!

Overall first impressions, I am quite pleased with the build quality.
The mount looks really sturdy and stable (it is heavy!!).
Setting the thing up was not too difficult and with a bit of practice I think it can be done in few minutes (not including alignment, which I still have to explore).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Space Exploration - Rosetta is about to land

Hello, the Rosetta probe reached the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko back in August 2014 after 10 years of flight.

Rosetta is a project of ESA (European Space Agency) 

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (@ESA)

Today, November 12 2014 it will send a lander (Philae) to touch down on the surface of the comet, actually this is going to happen in few minutes but the radio signal will take another 28 minutes before reaching us.

The Go/No Go decision was taken last night and it was not an easy one since problems were detected with a thruster that was supposed to slow down the descent.
As it will not be usable, the landing structs are supposed to absorb the impact.

Another issue is related to the fact that the lander will have to secure itself on the surface by drilling screws in the surface and the thruster was supposed to provide pressure to ensure this activity will not push the lander away from the surface.
Hopes are the harpoons will be enough to prevent this issue.

This is the first time we try to land something on a comet, it was never attempted before, so there are many things that can go wrong.

Here the briefing

Will update this post after the touchdown procedure is complete (fingers crossed)

Landing webcast here

10:05 CET - Successful separation confirmed
14:20 CET circa - First images showing Philae detached from Rosetta arrived
Note : Lol, ESA seems to be able to reach a comet about 1.700Ls away from Earth (and hopefully land on it)... but apparently cannot manage a webcast :) And that's why they say a webcast is NOT rocket science!
17:04 CET - Excitement of ESA personnel seems to indicate that telemetry data confirmed the touchdown was successful 
Currently they are trying to figure out if the lander bounced on the surface of if it managed to settle down properly.
ESA just confirmed the lander is sitting on the surface. Success!!!!

Captain James T. Kirk wishes good luck to Rosetta

The ROLIS instrument on board of the Philae lander module captured this image while descending to the surface

"The image shows comet 67P/CG acquired by the ROLIS instrument on the Philae lander during descent on Nov 12, 2014 14:38:41 UT from a distance of approximately 3 km from the surface. The landing site is imaged with a resolution of about 3m per pixel.
The ROLIS instrument is a down-looking imager that acquires images during the descent and doubles as a multispectral close-up camera after the landing. The aim of the ROLIS experiment is to study the texture and microstructure of the comet's surface. ROLIS (ROsetta Lander Imaging System) is a descent and close-up camera on the Philae Lander. It has been developed by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin. The lander separated from the orbiter at 09:03 GMT (10:03 CET) and touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko seven hours later."

As European tax payer, I am happy my taxes are used for this kind of purposes.
More space Exploration, less jet fighters!