Old 09-01-2014, 04:13 PM
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Meru (Meru)
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Question Balancing scope life and real life

Hello forum!

I wasn't entirely sure where to post this, but I figured since it's about imaging it'll go here. So mods, happy to move if required I have a question to ask all other imagers. How do you manage to balance scope life and real life? Namely, working and then imaging. I struggle to get a good nights sleep and after a long day's work, last thing on my mind is setting up and then packing up in the morning This is further amplified by the fact that my work place is a 1.5hr drive away, and I leave home at 6.30am to avoid bulk of melbourne's traffic! As a result I usually image on Friday or Saturday nights (Sometimes at the expense of missing social gatherings ).

To combat this I'm getting a pier made up which will save me a lot of hassles setting up and packing down. It'll hopefully mean I'm not restricted to imaging on the weekends and can also automate things so I can sleep whilst its running. But sometimes I cant help but feel the amount of effort and money and input required is far too much for the occasional image When I wasn't work then I totally loved it, but now I'm finding it more and more difficult to justify all this.

So how do others feel about this? Or go about solving it? Surely I'm not the only one who has these thoughts
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Old 09-01-2014, 04:23 PM
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Terry B
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I agree that it is very difficult. I also work a very busy job and need to sleep at night.
The best thing I did was build an observatory so that I can have my scope running within 10 mins and pack up in less than 10 mins.
I don't know how the guys do all night runs unless it is Fri or Sat night and even then it drains you the next day.
I also changed my interest in astronomy. I decided that taking long exposures of common objects over many night with the result being a pretty pic to be admired fleetingly was not for me.
I decided to image variable stars (and now spectroscopy) and submit this info to the AAVSO. These targets require much shorter time per target and I found the results more fulfilling than the pretty pics. Sometimes both can be done though.
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Old 09-01-2014, 04:27 PM
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multiweb (Marc)
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I'm self employed so no commuting and flexible with time. Getting a pier saved me heaps of time. Especially at the end of the imaging run you can just park and cover with a big plastic bags if it rains. You don't have to unpack everything before going to bed which is a plus. Also you can have a couple of nights in a row if it's clear for a couple of days. When I image I sleep though. Set the alarm and go check every 2 or 3 hours. So I do get rest time.

Lately it's been too hot/wet/busy at work so I can't do as much. But I always come back to it. It's my 'me' time, especially when I drive west. Good to clear the head and socialise which is why I originally started. To get out of the house as I'm stuck working there 24/7.
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Old 09-01-2014, 05:12 PM
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strongmanmike (Michael)
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Originally Posted by multiweb View Post
I'm self employed so no commuting and flexible with time. Getting a pier saved me heaps of time. Especially at the end of the imaging run you can just park and cover with a big plastic bags if it rains. You don't have to unpack everything before going to bed which is a plus. Also you can have a couple of nights in a row if it's clear for a couple of days. When I image I sleep though. Set the alarm and go check every 2 or 3 hours. So I do get rest time.

Lately it's been too hot/wet/busy at work so I can't do as much. But I always come back to it. It's my 'me' time, especially when I drive west. Good to clear the head and socialise which is why I originally started. To get out of the house as I'm stuck working there 24/7.
All sounds pretty worked out Marc - nice going

Me..? I just take the Bull by the horns and if it's clear on a week night and I am compelled to do an all-nighter, I just grin and bear it the next day ...well, not too often I guess so it's Fri and Sat mostly for me too. The Dome helps enormously though (although I have to stay awake to rotate it every 30-40min or so ) Recently I did 3 all-nights out of 4 and the 5th was clear again but I was too exhausted and just refrained from looking out the windows at the beautiful clear sky...but I am getting old

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Old 09-01-2014, 05:19 PM
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Spookyer (Brett)
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I have not long been in the hobby and have found the lack of opportunities to image somewhat frustrating. Living in Brisbane Light Pollution is a big issue with a DSLR so I have to go west to image on new moon weekends. So if you are lucky that is one Saturday night a month.

For me these experiences have been great because the host and other guys that frequent the site have been very generous and I have learnt a lot. Internet research is great but "on the job" training is very worthwhile.

It is a lot of work however to pack everything up, drive out and setup.

Looking at the future I have just ordered a mono camera so I can image in narrowband. Also the wife and I are thinking about moving to a bigger block of land a bit more out of the city. When this happens I will build my own observatory. I would still maintain a portable setup however so I could attend new moon weekends as I enjoy the social and learning aspect of getting together.
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Old 09-01-2014, 05:28 PM
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Bassnut (Fred)
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The all night pain is really not necessary. Once you get the rig going, just let it go and go to bed . Automation is not reallY required. Stay on one object and just have the capture prog change filters (if required) by itself . So what if it's still taking some dud subs due to clouds , dawn etc. just stop it when you get up. That's how I do it, and have for years.

If rain is a worry, invest in a rain sensor and have it alarm and wake you up when is very cloudy or raining for a quick coverup.
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Old 09-01-2014, 07:09 PM
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I use to set up and pack down every night but polar aligning every night was really giving me the $hits and let's face it astro gear ain't exactly light.

I started to leave it out until rain was forecast, and that was ok for a while but soon became tedious. I the experimented with tarps and out door furniture covers, they were ok but not great. Sometimes you get condensation build up under covers and they leak.

I ended up with scope and tripod cover from telegizmos in the US. Their 365 range is designed for you leave your mount out there all year long. I couldn't be happier with it. I don't have a pier and so use a tripod, I have a little table under the tripod that holds the power supply and I even leave my laptop permanently under the tripod cover.

When want to image all I have to do is take the scope cover off, switch the power on at the mains, reach under the tripod cover to switch the laptop on then I do the rest from my ipad remotely.

I haven't had a single issue and my new Losmandy g11 has been in the garden for a year next month.
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Old 09-01-2014, 07:16 PM
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RickS (Rick)
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I'm a nomadic imager who visits dark sites on new moon weekends for LRGB and does a bit of narrowband from home. I get so few clear, dark nights that I like to make the most of them. That's why (unlike Fred) I use automation to make the best use of limited time and still get some sleep.

During winter when the weather is predictable and more likely to be clear than not I leave the scope set up in the back yard and cover it during the day. With my ACP set up it only takes me a few minutes to start the scope going and even less time to shut down and cover up when I wake up in the morning.

It's a struggle to get much data but I'm so slow at processing that it keeps me busy anyway

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Old 09-01-2014, 10:10 PM
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lazjen (Chris)
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I'm in a similar situation as White Rabbit, although my default position is bring it inside and leave it out for short periods of time.

However, that's still annoying. If I don't guess it right, I miss nights that might start out with clouds on dusk then clear.

Also, being in Brisbane is painful, so I'm going to start doing more New Moon trips to dark sites.

For home though, it's going to be a longer, more expensive process: backyard observatory for permanent and automated setup, plus switching to narrowband. Being able to image with minimal setup time, plus automation so I can sleep while it's running, plus narrowband to reduce LP issues = less frustration overall.

Just got to work out the observatory first I think.
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Old 10-01-2014, 07:07 AM
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rmuhlack (Richard)
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I don't have a permanent setup either, but similar to what the others have mentioned I will leave my scopes set up in the backyard if the weather is forecast to be fine for several days in a row, shading them with a "toilet tent" and towels during the day.

Once the image is framed and focussed I turn on the mount limits in EQMOD and then leave it running unattended. Getting up in the middle of the night for a meridian flip and to re-frame/focus (or even worse, staying up until the meridian flip has occurred) has been tiring and it inevitably will wake my wife as well which is not ideal. I have since been looking into SGPro to provide automated plate solving/framing/meridian flips to address this. A permanent obs that can accommodate two mounts would be perfect and something to look forward to one day.
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Old 10-01-2014, 10:28 AM
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rustigsmed (Russell)
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yes, i often think about this too, how do some people pump out soo many images! do people take sleeping pills to get their sleep patterns back on track (i use the occassional melatonin tablet).

I'm often quite tired by the time i get out to image. ive decided i need a dome to cut times down. once that happens it will be a nice ccd setup, dome - then expenses on astro stuff can take a break for 5 or so years.

i have been thinking about the iTelescope network in which you 'hire' top quality systems from around the world for a monthly subscription. the points tally if you don't use them. I might move toward that type of setup in the future as it has quite a few advantages, scopes available in northern and southern hemispheres, scopes that i would never be able to afford, no maintenance, dark sites, 24 hr access to the night etc etc. they don't really have planetary setups, so perhaps a planetary setup / big goto dob at home and deep sky over the net. just a thought at this stage though.


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Old 10-01-2014, 11:47 AM
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The_bluester (Paul)
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While I do not image (Trying very hard to stay off that greasy slope of money) I have had the same thoughts about set up and pack up times and trying to balance life at the eyepiece with the rest of my life.

I am aiming to put in a pier soon. With the CPC925 and visual observing I could pier mount it on the flat as alt az and just do the normal three star alignment to get it going, but I have come to a point where the slew time of the scope is starting to really irritate me and with that scope it is unavoidable.

My thoughts at the moment are to put in a pier, buy the Celestron wedge for it and mount that permanently on the pier with a bit of weather protection for when I am not using it. That way I can just set it up, polar align the wedge as well as I can and then simply cart the scope out and plonk it on the wedge when I want to use it.

Instead of doing a proper system alignment so that the goto works, I can "Align" it by telling it that is what I am doing and by just ignoring the step of actually lining up on the suggested star in a one star EQ South alignment, just hit the align button and the RA motor starts running. From then if I want to change targets I can simply unlock the clutches and point as it is really amounts to a polar mount with a clock drive. If I really want goto I can power cycle it and align the electronics properly.

With a little cart to get my gear out to the pier and back I reckon in that setup I could be observing in 5 minutes and not much longer to pack up again.

My only other option I can see to stop the mount bugging me would be to defork it and put it on an AZEQ6 or similar, but it seems a bit savage to disassemble something faily expensive that works perfectly as it was designed to to do that.

Last edited by The_bluester; 10-01-2014 at 04:25 PM. Reason: Edited as the auto correct did some really strange things!
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Old 10-01-2014, 12:07 PM
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rogerg (Roger)
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The balance is not easy.

I need sleep. I know several astronomers who don't seem to, and my wife is always telling me not to compare my productivity to them. I find it impossible not to.

I feel an obligation to get the most value from what I have and use my gear when it's clear.

From the start I planned my hobby around needing to work full time so went down the line of buying not making, and goto not manual (back in those days), and then the observatory and then automation.

The only way I get as many photo's as I do is due to the automation of my observatory. It's exceedingly rare for me to walk in to my observatory on any given night, I instead remote login between cooking dinner and get it going, check it's shut via the webcam in the morning. It can sometimes be a few weeks of use before I open the door to check on it in person even though it's only 30m out the back door. Just too many other things to do.

My wide field stuff is done during holidays or when I actually have a free night.

I used to process my images on the train in to work via remote desktop connection through my iPad to observatory PC.

My goal these days is to place less pressure on myself to use the gear and enjoy the bits I do use it more.
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Old 13-01-2014, 06:46 AM
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lazjen (Chris)
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Roger that sounds like an excellent approach and something I think I need to aim for. I feel the same obligation to use and get the most value I can from the gear, so I need to move towards a setup that will assist with that.
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Old 13-01-2014, 10:46 AM
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ZeroID (Brent)
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Yep, the pier and\or Ob makes the difference. I sleep poorly so have to limit my astro time somewhat in order to stay vaguely 'human' the next day but I can grab a hour or two if weather and the situation happen to cooperate.
If you are still enjoying it even though limited by circumstance then just carry on till circumstances change as they invariably do.
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Old 13-01-2014, 07:11 PM
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Meru (Meru)
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Hey guys,

Sorry for chiming in late, lots of social commitments lately. Some very interesting and thought-provoking replies here, and I certainly feel better that I'm not the only guy who struggles sometimes. I think Brent & Roger hit the nail on the head, I too feel the need to make the most of all my equipment and still feel vaguely human the next day Seems like everyone ends up with an automated system or goes a different path. Russell you made a really interesting comment, I never thought about using other telescope networks and effectively 'hiring' them. I might treat myself to it on my birthday hehe I'm with you Brett, I dont wish to drive out to remote sites alone with my $$$ equipment, and LP with a DSLR is massive PITA. Definitely get a CCD (Ideally mono as you said), I love going NB from my polluted skies too.

I will definitely end up with the telegizmo 365 cover as White Rabbit (Nice name, my better half has a silky black and fluffy grey one ) and so many others have said. Fred your either too young (and fully of energy) or not human to do all nighters! Reminds me of Alistair, never met anyone before him who has literally never slept haha.

Some really good replies here, keep them rolling in!
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Old 13-01-2014, 07:34 PM
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Work?? Nothing shortens a nights imaging like the spectre of the 1 and 4 year old kids to look after the next day, they give no quarter to the tired, and take no pity on the downtrodden....
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Old 13-01-2014, 08:41 PM
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A fascinating post for me as I am wrestling with this of late.

I started setting up my EQ6 in the yard. A PITA to set up each night and my images were lousy.

The next step was straight forward. I had a uni task to take a 5 hour image of a galaxy cluster. So I set up on the back deck and marked where the legs needed to be positioned for rapid set up. For there it was obvious - leave the gear out overnight if it was clear.

It was the a short step to set up a pier and run the rig for inside the house using Real VNC. What a revelation - no mozzies in summer or chill in winter.

So I invested in a PMX and now automate.CCD Autopilot was a lifesaver. I can now image all night confident that the system will focus, plate solve, flip on the meridian etc.

The gear lives outside under a Telegizmos cover. I use a fitPC which stays outside too and I have Ethernet and power run to the pier. If its wet, I collect the cabling that hangs below the cover - power and Ethernet comes via an all weather power box. So it takes 5 minutes to set up.

When I ran the gear in person I often did the maths. Image only at weekends - so that is at most 3 nights out of 7 or 12 nights a month. Exclude one weekend at full moon - down to 9 nights. Assume 1 cloudy weekend a month - down to 6-8 nights a month. Then family, work, social commitments - now you have 3 - 5 or so per month. Not great odds - 10 - 15% of available time.


I am 7km from the Sydney CBD and the sky is crap. And its humid. And I am paranoid about rain. So I am days away from committing to move my gear to Coonabarabran and have it hosted by iTelescope. It's expensive. But dark skies and a professional set up that responds to the weather while I sleep - that is the nearest to perfection for me. I toyed with the idea of a cheap place in the country for an obs - but that is very expensive and frankly I couldn't commit the time to using it properly.

The rent a scope concept is great. I have used iTelescope for a year or so. The big issue is getting access to the scopes. I find it hard to get time when I am ready to image as there are plenty of others vying for time around new moon.

The upside is you can get access the northern skies - a bonus for us Aussies. My first image of M31 was such a buzz.

For me, the key is to be able to image while maintaining time with family. I have a busy job and many is the night I avoid looking outside to avoid being torn between family and imaging. So if I can indulge my passion and my job and my family and the odd jobs around the home and meet up with friends from time to time and, and, and ... You can't combine this with a busy imaging schedule if you sit by the scope each night, thermos in hand.

I do appreciate the joy of sitting out under the stars in the bush. That sense of escape is not to be missed. But for me it's only a few times a year. And this is too expensive a hobby to enjoy a handful of times a year.

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Old 13-01-2014, 09:27 PM
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I have 2 observatories. One is at home and the other at my dark site. The dark site I generally only go to if the weather forecast is good so and no moon. So I have a good chance at 3 nights imaging.

Basically it comes down to a permanent setup and choice of target. If you have dark skies in all directions the ideal target is one that is about 30 degrees up from the east at dark so you can image it to the zenith to around 11:30pm, do a meridian flip and let it go the rest of the night. You program the filter changes with any program.

Sometimes you pick a target you are interested in that is not optimum like that and it may require a flip at an inopportune time or you simply waste part of the night if its already past the zenith and you are imaging it as it goes to the west and too low to image.

An object in case 1 above should allow almost 5 hours of imaging per night.

A home observatory does not have to be sophisticated. I have converted a garden shed in the past to be a roll off roof observatory.

A home observatory is almost as productive as a remote internet obs as you simply use it if the weather and moon are good and close it up the next morning before you take off.

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