It has been a busy busy busy few weeks…both in and out of the Obs.  Of course, you don’t care about out of the obs, so….

The power and obs monitoring project is more or less complete.  There may still be a few bugs/tweaks to deal with over the next few weeks, but things seem to be pretty stable and happy and correct now. 🙂

It starts with grabbing serial data from the TriMetric 2030 battery system monitor.  Can’t stress enough how amazing the gang at Bogart Engineering was helping me work through issues and answering questions.  They not only make great products, but offer great support and service!

That little device is then read by a little data collection app, which pulls the TriMetric’s serial data, along with a JSON feed from Sequence Generator Pro‘s API, and an XML feed from the RigRunner 4005i, and Dweets everything with a separate thing ID for each device.  Finally, it drops some of the data into a MySQL DB as well, via Maurits van der Schee’s very slick single-file CRUD API.

So that’s the data collection. 🙂

From there, a locally hosted installation of FreeBoard pulls all the latest dweets for each device, and gives us our current status page.

Finally, the Google Charts API is put to use talking to the DB, for some historical charting.

SOMEWHERE in all of this, I actually managed to get a few clear nights as well, and finish data acquisition on M51, and begin acquisition on M58 and the Siamese Twins.  Those will be coming along soon, I hope. 🙂

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Reading Serial Data from the TriMetric

So I LOVE the Bogart Engineering TriMetric TM-2030 and SC-2030 monitor and charge controller.  A match made in heaven, for sure.

Now, according to the TriMetric’s Technical Manual :

Serial data output: For extreme techies only: The TM-2030 also has a serial 0-5V output with streaming “real
time” serial (ASCII) data that could be used to control other electronics.

Oooooo!  I’m an extreme techie!  (Well…I wish I was anyway)  I could get power system data to put on the obs status page I haven’t built yet!

This is where things went bad.  *lol*

Well..ok..not bad.  But like any good “maker project”, nothing’s as it seems, nothing’s complete, there’s no reliable thorough documentation…you know the drill. 🙂

SO!  Over the weekend of the 17th, I was able to at least make headway, and start getting streams of data from the TriMetric!

Since there’s much to lead one astray, and I can’t POSSIBLY be the only one wanting to do this, I’m going to try to document what i find and learn along the way.

Code, pics, and diagrams can be found on GitHub (always check Dev Branch first!)

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Another livestream :)

Livestream tonight, NGC 2174 data acquisition.

6:15pm CST

Come watch the robots do their thing!

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Data acquisition live stream

Happening now!  🙂

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NGC 2237 – The Rosette Nebula in Narrowband

Presented here is a 4-panel narrowband mosaic of NGC2237, the Rosette Nebula.  From Wikipedia :

The Rosette Nebula (also known as Caldwell 49) is a large spherical H II region (circular in appearance) located near one end of a giant molecular cloud in the Monoceros region of the Milky Way Galaxy. The open clusterNGC 2244 (Caldwell 50) is closely associated with the nebulosity, the stars of the cluster having been formed from the nebula’s matter.

The cluster and nebula lie at a distance of some 5,000 light-years from Earth[3]) and measure roughly 130 light years in diameter. The radiation from the young stars excites the atoms in the nebula, causing them to emit radiation themselves producing the emission nebula we see. The mass of the nebula is estimated to be around 10,000 solar masses.

Over 55 hours of total integration is shown here, in the traditional Hubble SHO Palette, as well as a “natural” blend.

R : .5 * NGC2237_Ha + .5 * NGC2237_SII
G : .25 * NGC2237_SII + .75 * NGC2237_OIII
B : .8 * NGC2237_OIII + .2 * NGC2237_Ha
Posted in AstroImages, DSOs | 2 Comments

That post about solar stuff

Been meeting to get around to “a post about all the solar stuff” and just keep…not.  Had occasion to take/send a few pics the other day (more on the recipient in a moment) and am finally prompted to put something together.  This post will be part rant, part philosophy, part informative, and part “ooo look at the cool stuff”…in no particular order, I’m afraid.  There’s no TL;DR…either read or don’t. 🙂


Before anything else, if you’re even exploring the idea of maybe making a simple/small/casual solar project, I strongly urge you to get to know Handy Bob.  He’s a grumpy, cantankerous, bitter old man (And I consider the man a good friend!)…and has forgotten more in the last 5 minutes about how to actually make solar work than any 5 “big installers” have ever known.  You won’t learn how to finance your whole-house grid-tie system (though you might learn…if you bother to read…why grid-tie suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks), and you won’t learn who the “best installers” are (there aren’t any).

But you WILL learn how small (a telescope observatory) to large (he runs his whole home) solar actually works, and what the “magic sauce” is (spoiler alert : There isn’t one.  It’s called using your noodle) to maximizing your solar system, and actually getting out of it what it’s capable of.


With that in mind…

We start with a pair of Renogy 100W Monocrystaline panels.  These are, for my money, about the best bang for the buck for simple, small, shed/trailer-sized projects.  Yes, there are more efficient, lower $/W panels out there, with better warranties and so on.  BUT, the Renogy 100W panels are simple, readily available, mountable in a wide variety of configurations, and most importantly…make the power they claim to.  All for $129/100W retail, with deals/coupons/discounts frequently available to get them down to $119 or even less at times.  (Well…probably not now that the President has decided to punish others for building better products for less money…but we’ll leave that go for now.)

The output from the panels heads inside to the “power center”, where it’s fed into a Bogart Engineering SC2030 charge controller (More on them in a moment) and then out to a pair of Crown CR-235 batteries.  This provides 235 Ah total capacity, and the legendary reliability and toughness of the Crowns (Really…not kidding.  There’s 2 kinds of batteries in the world for this stuff, gang.  Crowns, and the crappy ones) means I’ll continue to get that capacity for many years to come.

Realistically, like any deep cycle battery, a 50% discharge cycle is about as aggressive as I want to be…and i’d prefer to stay at 25-30% in most cases.  This leaves me with a very comfortable ~1400 WHr of reliable use in any situation.  Given that the obs uses 400-500 WHr on an extreme night of imaging, and I can realistically expect a solid 400Whr of generation even on bad days, I can run indefinitely, and even get 2-3 nights of imaging done if the solar generation fails completely for some reason.

Of course, NONE of this is possible…at all…without knowing what the hell is actually going on with your power system.  Handy Bob’s number 1 golden rule is an absolute inarguable truth :  You must have a real meter to live successfully on battery power.  He then goes on to say :

Buy a Trimetric.  Period.

The TriMetric TM2030 is the heart and soul of the system.

First, it monitors power coming in and going out.   That sounds simple, but it’s probably the most critical part of your whole system.  You simply can not know the health of your batteries, whether your system is performing to its designed criteria, or, most importantly, whether or not you can safely power the items you want to use, without knowing this key bit of information.  How much have you used, and how much have you replaced?

The TriMetric goes beyond that, however, and truly manages your battery system.  It communicates with several charge controllers (in my case Bogart’s SC2030) and will apply a charging profile tailored to your specific brand, model, and type of battery.  Meaning, if the manufacturer recommends your batteries be charged at a certain rate, for a certain time, under certain conditions…the TriMetric will see to it that that happens.  If knowing how MUCH power went in and out is the most important data for preserving and maximizing the health of your batteries, then making sure it comes out and goes back in correctly is a close second.

I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t say something about the incredible folks at Bogart Engineering.  I’ve had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the “new” owner, Kedar.  He is an uber-geek after my own heart, and is committed to maintaining both the high technical standards and exceptional customer service established by Bogart’s founder, Ralph Hiesey.  Indeed, there’s a new toy on the way from him soon, which I will be posting more about soon, that I suspect will blow our collective minds.

Of course you’re all probably wondering about the “bottom line”.  Does it work, how well does it work, and what did it cost?

Yes.  It works.  It works superbly.   I can walk outside every single morning, and find my batteries right at the charge percentage I expect.  I can, without fail, test them with a hydrometer and see the specific gravity the TriMetric’s SOC meter suggests I should have.  I can, without failure, find all 3 cells in both batteries in sync with each other.

In other words : The system does exactly what it was designed to do, does it reliably, and does it right.

Total cost was in the $600-$700 range.  That took a bit of shopping, aggressive research, and wheeling and dealing, along with installing everything myself.  At full retail, total cost would be in the $900 range.  The numbers start going down from there, however, since expanding the system (were I to want to do so) happens for “less money”…that is to say, another panel or more batteries would increase capacity by a larger percentage than increased cost.

All the lessons learned here will be put to use this spring, as I begin adding solar capability to our RV.  That project will have its own posts, I’m sure. 🙂


Posted in Astroimaging Gear, Random Sciency Stuffs, ROR Obs 2.0 | 1 Comment

“Major construction” is complete!

What I consider “major construction” of the obs is now complete.  Still lots left to do, but it all falls in the category of “finish work” or ‘electrical/electronics”.

A roof was framed up w/ 2×3, 2×4, and 2×6 lumber

Rolling hardware was added (man was that thing a bitch to flip upside down!)

Corrugated PVC roofing was added, and she was ready to install!

(Sorry…no pictures of the circus that was me, Alex, and 3 friends lifting that SOB up onto the building!)

Ordered the drive mechanism from McMaster-Carr, and rigged up the controller box…(Details and more info, along with links to parts, code, etc, are in the video description of the video linked below)

A few days of tweaking, adjusting, and fiddling…and behold!

Finally, this weekend, got around to making the door, and hanging it.

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Lots has happened!

Been a while, and quite a bit has changed in the new obs.

Last weekend, the interior wall was framed in, despite my best efforts!  (Measure once, cut eleven times…)

This weekend, the living room became the scene of a massive cable-making party.

The goal was a centralized “control panel” which houses all the various control boxes and hardware for the focuser, GTOCP4, etc.  I wanted a neat installation, with correct length cables, some storage space, and finally a consistent power connection standard throughout.

The power connections for the entire rig were converted to Anderson Powerpoles.  First a set of 8 pairs was made up to provide a supply point.

Next, various boxes were measured and placed.

Busbars were made by drilling and tapping some scrap aluminium bar.

And everything got attached and plugged in.

After some furious (and frankly a bit nerve wracking) USB cable cutting and splicing, everything was sized correctly for the mount-born gear.

As of tonight, everything’s running on the planned/installed configuration, save for power being supplied by a bench power supply, since the batts aren’t in yet.

Next step is to cover the exterior walls, and then get the Crown batteries installed.  They’ll be charged with an AC charger initially, until the roof and solar gear get installed.

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First session on the new pier!


Finally had a clear night (UPS delivered 10 days of clouds along with the repaired mount last week) so took the chance to test the mount repairs, and get a first evening off the new pier.

Had to make the mounting plate first.  Ordered a 12×12 3/8″ thick piece of aluminum from Amazon, drilled the installation holes and then drilled and tapped a pattern for the AP tripod adapter.  Tossed a level in the center for a rough installation guide.

Everything’s still a bit of a mess…sort of slapped cables in wherever I could, with darkness rushing in on me now that the time has changed.  It all worked though!  Got ~80 more 300s L frames on LDN1262.

Mount performed flawlessly, back up to AP standards.  Ridiculously low RMS, and smooth as butter all night.  Very pleased with the fine folks at Astro-Physics.

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Walls, ladies and gentlemen!

Yep.  We got walls.  (And a dachshund who’s sure I’m building her a new dog house)

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