Hardware and Software
I currently have 2 scopes -- a 12.5" f/9 RC reflector
built by Optical Guidance Systems , and a 4" f/5
refractor from Takahashi. The smaller scope is
piggybacked on the RC using hardware from
Losmandy and Parallax Instruments. The camera
shown here is the ST10XME from SBIG, with the
CFW8. Not shown is the AO7 from SBIG, which is
only useful at higher focal lengths (i.e. the RC) to
help improve guiding by partially countering the
effects of atmospheric turbulence. I also use an
STL11K large chip camera (not shown).
Everything is housed in a Prodome 10 from
The mount is the Paramount ME from Software
Bisque, and it is attached to a 9' pier, courtesy of
a friend who is a commercial plumber -- the pier
is sunk 5' down under into several cubic yards of
concrete. The mount is controlled by TheSky.
The dome rotates on two of these motors,
positioned 180 degrees apart. The motors are
manufactured by Technical Innovations.
The dome "knows" when to rotate, based on
information provided by these infared sensors --
a product known as "Dome-Trak" from Technical
Innovations. There are 4 of them, connected in 2
pairs, linked to a control box that provides an
"artifical horizon" for determining which pair of
sensors is active. More recently I have upgraded
to "Digital Dome Works", which calculates the
correct azimuth (of the dome slit) for any scope
position based on the dome geometry and an
interface with TheSky.
The computer in the dome is controlled by the
computer in my office, over the wireless
network, via the "remote desktop connection"
offered by Windows XP Pro (this must be
installed on the dome computer.) The router
sits by a window which is in a direct
line-of-sight to the dome, a distance of over
100 feet, but I've had no problems with
Previously I used a light box for flat fielding, but
more recently I simply take "sky flats" at dusk or
dawn -- part of the autopilot programming
provided by CCDAP.
The Epson 2200 is a great printer, producing
prints of exceptional detail and color, easily
rivaling the traditional photographic printing
process. The maximum size on this printer is
13" X 19". More recently I simply utilize the
services of an online printer -- Shutterfly.
I use a veritable plethora of software to aid in the processing of the raw data. I rely heavily on CCDsoft for image reduction;
that is, applying dark frames and flat fields. I initially used CCDsoft for alignment as well, but found it was too easily fooled
by images containing large numbers of stars -- I often switched to Maxim DL's manual alignment tool under those
circumstances. More recently I have enjoyed using Registar for alignment and image combine functions, especially when
aligning images taken with different scopes at different focal lengths at different times! Sigma Combine is a wonderful
program for combining dithered images -- it rids the image of those annoying hot/cold pixels, even meteor/satellite/airplane
trails, thus minimizing the use of the clone stamp tool in PS later! I use CCDsharp or AIP4WIN for deconvolution. Adobe
Photoshop remains the backbone of my arsenal, though it took over a year to become comfortable with it. I use PS for a
variety of tasks, including data stretching (levels, curves), unsharp masking, selective blurring, minimum and high-pass
filtering, gradient removal, layering of composite images, deblooming, resizing, and of course, assembly of the final color
image (whether RGB, RRGB, BRGB, LRGB, HaRGB, etc.) The image is then put through Neat Image (a PS plug-in) to
remove any lingering objectionable noise.