A tough night of failure

Well, last night did not go the way I had hoped and expected. I didn’t expect to do any imaging, but I did want to try out the 2x tele-converter on the Nikon 60MM lens to see if I could get M31 (Andromeda) into view and also see if the 70-300MM would be at all usable

The first issue was that the USB cable that comes with the Nikon D5300 is about 12 inches long and there was no way I could connect the laptop with APT. I rigged up a workaround by plugging both into an unpowered USB hub I had lying around. This seemed to work pretty well inside, but led to a ~10 second delay in viewing the images in APT (still need to confirm this doesn’t happen without the hub)

I couldn’t get anything into view with the TC (although taking the UV protector off would have saved me 20 mins of scratching my head — eventually the focus mask will sit inside that filter but it hasn’t arrived yet)

Took the TC off and I was able to see again.

Next up, I tried the 70-300MM at 70MM which should have a roughly similar view to the 60mm. I finally realized just how fine the focus tuning needs to be here (minute fractions of a hair-width) and that the focus changes a LOT with the level of zoom.

However, I was getting elongated stars at 135MM at 10 seconds. I was quite frustrated because the Polar alignment looked good on a re-check. I finally tried to slew the mount with the left / right buttons and … nothing.

I checked the clutch and it was engaged, but I did notice the red “barrel” that holds the polar scope turned on its own. I have no idea if something is not connected correctly, or I have somehow broken something (awesome). I was able to tighten this, and then started to hear the tell-tale click click of the mount tracking. The slew buttons also started to work again.

I was able to get pretty round (bad focus) stars at 60 seconds at least (the one small victory from the night). I didn’t try longer because of the focus issues.

I really wanted to get at least M31 in the shot for framing, so I put the 60MM on and tried to get it in frame. This is where things when (even more) downhill. The first two times, this was super easy. My inclinometer from the Z-130 and cellphone compass were easily able to put this in the frame on the 60MM

However, when I read off the angle on the compass, it seemed crazy far off to the right and I was getting nothing. I tried many many times (each time with the 10s delay). I tried and tried and nothing.

I noticed from Stellarium that M31 was right above a tree, so taking a different path, I took a photo of the tree and slowly moved the camera up. Issues here are

  • The delay
  • Not opening up the ballhead enough, then moving the camera — it ends up twisting the silly quick release on the camera as it only has one screw-point for tripod mount
  • The delay
  • As soon as I loosen the ballhead, the camera moves a little but up, and it’s enough to make it hard to smoothly pan up the sky
  • The delay
  • It is really hard to move directly left/right or up/down

Then, I noticed the camera started disconnecting and despite APT showing low battery (presumably), I ended up resetting everything multiple times before I realized. This is definitely not D300 battery capacity (although I had already taken a bunch of bias frames and not charged)

New battery, new plan. I remembered I had gotten Plate solving and Stellarium hooked up on my machine. “Perfect” I thought, this is going to be really easy. Took a shot (the delay!) and solved .. wham. I was not far off from M31 (having got over my shock that the image actually solved)

Follows, 45 mins of chasing M31 all over the sky in Stellarium. I was sure I was going the right way, only to be further off, or overshoot, or be somewhere completely different.

Finally, the laptop died around 1:30AM and put me out of my misery.

I should have gotten the Smart EQ+ with its less-good tracking but the invaluable GOTO. Even if I can get targets, I already have a small window of imaging time, and I don’t want to spend half of it looking for stuff.

And this is one of the biggest and easiest things I will ever have to look for. Very demoralizing.

There is an alternate method since my ballhead has degree markings. Where I can polar align, get Polaris into view and then make sure the degrees are at 90, aligned with Polaris (I think they are). Then in theory I can use that adjustment to dial in the DEC angle and lock things down.

Then just sweep in “RA” until I get the object in view. Will definitely be trying that but right now I feel like giving up. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of money and I wonder if I have wasted it on the wrong gear.

Watching videos of others using GOTO to “slew to the target” while they sit & watch it move is really not helping either.

Time to get some rest and regroup.

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