Observatory

The observatory currently houses 2 main telescopes:

- Gemini G41 Observatory with a 11" Vixen VMC260 Modified Cassegrain and a QSI 583 WSG

- Software Bisque Paramount MEII with a 16" GSO Ritchey-Chrétien and a SBIG ST10-XME

The 16" GSO is exclusively used for variable star work. The Vixen VMC is used for deep sky imaging. PC's connected to the telescopes take care of the automated imaging process. Both setups can be monitored from within our house using a remote desktop tool TightVNC. A Boltwood Cloudsensor is keeping an eye on the sky. A home written client application will monitor both the Boltwood Cloud sensor and the automation software. When trouble is detected, an alarm is played, so during observations I can get some sleep.

  

The roof has been automated using a gate opener. (http://www.poortopener.eu/Schuifpoorten.html) I did have to upgrade the plastic rails to metal ones; the plastic rails were ripped apart due to the weight of the roof. The roof can be controlled using a hardware switch that is connected to a Raspberry Pi. This allows me to use a PHP script from a webpage so I can open the roof remotely by clicking a button on a website.

I did not internally route the cables on the Paramount ME 2. Most are too short and I fear that due to the amount of cables the mount would not be running smooth. This setup has not given me any issues concerning cables. The Paramount is a joy to use. I did have some issues with the power connector at first. The connector was a straight one, when living at 51°N this stiff cable was in the way of the azimuth adjuster, exerting pressure on the MKS electronics board. Software Bisque's great customer support quickly replaced the cable with a right angled version of the power jack. Since then it has been clear sailing. Tracking is excellent and you really forget there is a mount under the telescope. There is one thing the Paramount cannot handle: if you use automation software and one slew is aborted and the next started  immediately after, the Paramount stalls. The mount will start beeping telling the operator something was hit. This is a situation that occurs when the software for example is slewing to the flat position and then figures out it is already too late, aborts and slews to the first object.

In the background is a 10" Newton on a Dobson mount.  

The Vixen VMC is used for deepsky work. It has very good optics and I like this telescope/setup a lot. It is being used about 80 nights per year.

The Raspberry Pi is truly a marvelous piece of computer nerd equipment. Anyone who is a bit computer literate can manage one of these. Yes, it runs a Linux variant, but tutorials on the internet show every command that needs to be done to get something working. If you compare the Raspberry Pi with more expensive, specially for astronomy marketed controllers, the Raspberry will set you back 100-150 EUR everything included whereas the specialty controllers will easily cost 5-8 times as much. So, what is my Raspberry being used for?

First and foremost it hosts my weather station. This used to be done at a laptop, but an annual energy use of 570 kW versus 40 kW for the Raspberry means an annual energy save of at least 130 EUR. The weather station runs on pywws and broadcasts both images and data to my personal website and Weather Underground. As the weather station uses a light sensor, it is quite easy to determine if the sun is shining or not. So believe it or not, the Raspberry is being used as a pool controller. In the summer we have a pool outside for my daughter that is being heated with solar panels. Of course there is no point in running water through the panels when the Sun is not out there. The Raspberry will monitor sunshine and will turn on (or off) the pool pump when there is a sufficient amount of sunshine. Total investment: 30 EUR for the Raspberry, 5 EUR for a 433 MHz transmitter and 5 EUR for a remotely controlled power outlet. These outlets can be turned on/off using the radio signal send by the Raspberry.

In the observatory all the equipment is connected to the same power outlets (KAKU). The Raspberry is running an Apache web server. Using php I build a webpage that allows me to send a signal to these power outlets. Therefore I can remotely turn on:

  • PC’s
  • CCD camera’s
  • Mount’s
  • Roof engine

The same website is also polling a number of Reed sensors and microswitches that are connected to the Raspberry using the GPIO ports. These sensors will tell me if the roof is closed and if the mounts are properly parked. When everything is in the safe position, I can manipulate the roof that is connected to the Raspberry.

Since I don’t want anybody being able to use my equipment or open the roof the Raspberry is also configured to run a VPN tunnel with 2048-bit encryption. This is a very safe way of operating the equipment.