Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Issue 595: A New Way to Autostar Part II
Bluetooth module for the Meade Autostar. Secondly, I have resolved not to let a single month go by without an update to this here old blog, so I had to do something so I could write about something.
So it was on one recent passable, though far from good,
evening I got my ETX125PE, Miss Charity Hope Valentine, out into the backyard.
No, the sky wasn’t good at all. A
gibbous Moon was shining bravely in the east, but one look at her and I knew
there was a layer of haze encompassing at least that part of the sky. And despite Sweet Charity not being much of a handful to set up, I was sweatin’ by
the time I was done getting her on her tripod. I quickly retired to the den to
cool off and await darkness.
As those of y’all who’ve observed with me know, however,
when there is observing on the menu your old Unk tends to get Go Fever. I fidgeted on the couch for a
while, tried to watch the boob tube (Ahsoka),
then went back outside to Charity to see how things was a-goin’.
They were going just a mite slow. Yes, here at the tail-end
of August it is getting dark a little—a little—earlier, but we won’t see much
improvement on that score till dadgum Daylight Savings Time ends. So, I fiddled
around, repositioning the eyepiece case, opening it up and looking inside to
make sure my fave 1.25-inch ocular was still in there (a Konig I’ve had for almost 30 years), and taking an occasional gander at
the sky. I didn’t like the way it
looked, but reckoned it was better than nuthin’. I did precious little
observing last month, and August has been even worse in that regard. One good
thing: It has been strangely dry the
last few weeks and there were no skeeters buzzing.
Maybe it was thinking about that Konig that somehow led me
to ruminating on my long-ago Chaos Manor South nights. Those who haven’t been
with this here blog for long might not know what “Chaos Manor South” is (or
was). Well, it was the old Victorian Manse where Unk lived with Miss Dorothy
from the time of our marriage till about a decade ago, when Unk retired and he
and D. decided they no longer needed the space the stately manor offered, nor wanted
to do the upkeep it required.
here, not only had the lovely Miss Dorothy recently come into my life, so had Old Betsy, a 12-inch Meade StarFinder Dobsonian. She was the largest telescope I’d ever owned, and I was amazed at what and how much I could see with her from downtown Possum Swamp.
An evening of
observing would begin with me dodging cats. Chaos Manor South’s resident
Siamese cat (and queen, she thought), Miss
Sue Lynn would watch as I began to gather the things I needed for an
observing run and would resolutely insist I needed her help. I had a horror of
her wandering off in the dark. And being downtown, there was enough traffic to
make that a real hazard for her. So, I’d bribe her with a can of Fancy Feast
and somehow try to get that enormous old OTA outside before she wised up (in
those days, Betsy was still in her original Sonotube body, and it was like
wrestling with a water heater).
With Old Betsy in our small urban backyard, what else did I
need? The observing table (a TV tray) held the very same old black plastic Orion
eyepiece box full of 1.25-inchers I had outside with Charity on this evening.
Inside it? Some treasured Plössls from Orion and Vixen, the utterly horrible
“Modified Achromats” that shipped from Meade with Bets (why I didn’t just toss
them in the trash I don’t know—that
bad), and of course, that lovely 17mm Konig I bought at the 1993 Deep South
Regional Star Gaze.
This was long before I began using a laptop computer in the
field with a telescope. At the time, a laptop was still an expensive thing. It
gave me the heebie-jeebies to think about subjecting one to Possum Swamp’s
dew-laden night air. I was using a
computer (a genu-wine IBM 486) for amateur astronomy though. I’d print out charts from
two of the greatest astro-programs there ever were: David Chandler’s Deep Space 3D,
and Emil Bonanno’s Megastar. Both
are more or less forgotten relics of the amateur astronomy past (DS3D never
even made the transition from DOS to Windows), but both could produce very beautiful, very
detailed, very deep printed charts.
You might think it funny I’d need detailed charts for a
light-polluted urban sky. But in those days, they were actually more valuable
to me there than they were under dark skies. As you know, higher magnification
tends to spread out light pollution, revealing objects that might be invisible
at lower powers. Often, I’d star-hop in an area like the Virgo Cluster with the
main scope. I would, as I called it, eyepiece
hop with my treasured 12mm Nagler Type II and those DS3D or Megastar printouts.
What else was out there with me as a slight chill descended on a
mid-autumn urban evening? If I was being serious, I had some blank observing
forms and a sketchpad, pencils, and pens to record what I saw of the urban sky.
Not so serious? Just my Orion astronomer’s flashlight (the yellow one
with—gasp—an incandescent flashlight bulb powered by two D-cells). Those were
the simple days, weren’t they? Of late, at least when it comes to backyard
astronomy, I seem to be pining for them.
And then… I’d just
pick a constellation in the clear from the huge old oaks that blocked much of it
and see how deep I could drill down. A typical project (I’ve always liked
observing projects)? Observe every single open cluster Betsy and me could see in
Cassiopeia (there are a few).
Whatever I looked at, it was wonderful.
Said ruminations came
to a halt when I realized it was finally getting good and dark, and no matter
how much I missed The Old Way, it was time to concentrate on new-fangled stuff
Well, alrighty then. As I mentioned in Part I, the Digital
Optica Bluetooth Module is impressive. It snaps onto the bottom of the Autostar
hand paddle and honestly looks like it came out of the same factory that
produced Charity. Module plugged into the Autostar, and hand control cable
plugged into it and into Charity, it was time to get aligned.
The ETX PE provides a semi-automatic goto alignment routine
that makes it a joy to use. Put the tube in home position (level and rotated
counterclockwise to the hard azimuth stop), turn the girl on, and she does a
little dance, finding north and level. That done, she heads for two alignment
stars, bright stars. You center them with the red-dot finder and in the main
eyepiece (I use an ancient Kellner equipped with crosshairs) and you are done.
Charity’s gotos were good all night, as I expected them to be, since she’d
stopped close to both alignment stars.
Next up, I went inside to fetch the laptop I’ve used for
astronomy the last several years. A nice Lenovo with a solid-state hard drive.
On said drive being more astro-ware than humans should be allowed to have. What
I intended to use on this summer night would be my favorite in my current
“simpler” days, Stellarium. It is
really a capable program now, containing many thousands of deep sky objects. It
certainly does everything this old boy can even dream of needing to do.
With it successfully paired, the rest is duck
soup if you’ve ever used Stellarium
with a telescope. In Stellarium’s
scope-set up menu, establish an Autostar connection; you will see there is a
com port (like “com 3”) now associated with ScopeAccess. Choose that, click “connect,” and you should be, well, connected.
The Stellarium software is savvy
enough to establish a serial connection over Bluetooth for you; you don’t have
to know anything about any of that—thankfully. Once you are connected, the
scope is controlled exactly the same as if you had a serial cable between scope
and computer—no difference.
What is the bottom line on Digital Optica Bluetooth device? It works. It just works. It never dropped out on me or did anything
funny. There were no delays when I’d choose an object in Stellarium and issue a goto command. If you didn’t know the scope
and computer were connected by radio, you’d think you had a serial cable
plugged in. I think that is the most praise I can give any observing tool—it
worked well, and it worked simply and transparently. Note that the module does
not require you to use Stellarium.
Any program you can connect to a telescope over a serial port should work just
fine. I just like Stellarium. It’s
pretty and it is cheap.
“But what did you
look at, Unk? What did you look at,
huh?” I looked at quite a few
things. Beginning with M3 and M13 and M53. Which
almost ended my evening. One gaze at the Great Globular in Hercules and I
near about threw the Big Switch, “Hell, it don’t look worth a flip tonight.” But then I thought back
to those ancient nights at Chaos Manor South. What would I have done then?
I knew the answer very well. I’d tell myself, “Wait. Concentrate. Look some more. Spend
plenty of time with the object. Increase the magnification. Try a different
eyepiece. You will only see if you look.”
Indeed, following those old strictures I
began to see. "Dang! There are some stars in M3! Wonder if I can pick up some
in M13 with a 5-inch on a punk night? Yep, takes 200x, but I’m seeing ‘em. M92? Stars, yay!” And so it went till
the night grew old (it did not grow cold, alas), and I had finally had enough
of the deep sky. Well, enough for one late August’s eve.
As for the Digital Optica Bluetooth widget (well, “module,” or “transceiver” if you prefer). It works. End of story. Game over. Zip up your fly. If you think you’d prefer connecting wirelessly to the scope rather than having a cord you will inevitably trip over for your Autostar equipped Meade, just to get you one. The price sure is right.