Learning From Mistakes

You will keep learning – if you choose to of course. The key is to use the frustrations of a given night as a learning experience. It sounds so cliché, but sometimes clichés are just true. Take a look below at some of the issues I experienced when I started out and what I learned from them. As I learn more through screw-ups, I’ll grow this list.

Issue: While teaching my daughter on a cold night about the setup of the rig and how everything works, we got to the point where I was ready to slew to a target and start imaging. I got the target, and started guiding. The RA was WAY out of control and unguidable.

Solution: After attempting to drift align (again) for 15 minutes or so and failing miserably, I found that I had apparently bumped the guide camera and slightly rotated it. I re-ran the calibration in PHD2 and everything was perfect.

Issue: After lining everything up and readying to center my target, everything stopped working. Apps lost connection, the mount didn’t respond to any commands and the applications stopped talking to each other.

Conclusion: ASCOM drivers, and the apps that use them make all of this possible, but they’re messy, don’t shut down well, and weren’t designed for Windows 10.

Solution. Reboot!! I rarely reboot, because I hadn’t needed to. Since then, I’ve rebooted between imaging sessions and have not have any connection or communication issues.

Issue: PHD2 dropping the guide camera.

Conclusion: It’s cold at night here, and cheap cables get brittle in the cold.

Solution: Replaced the cable. I also dropped the “timeout” in PHD2 for the camera to five seconds, forcing PHD2 to attempt reconnects sooner. On a similar note, a lot of the guide cameras use the old USB A connection, which was the first type of USB connection, and terrible. It’s more durable than micro or mini, but also more prone to connection drops.

Issue: Guiding seems impossible even though you’re leveled and successfully drift aligned. I was getting very sudden spikes every minute or so.

Conclusion: There are so many things to remember that you’ll inevitably forget one now and then. I hadn’t retightened the mount to the tripod after adjusting the AZ during drift alignment.

Solution: I use a checklist for the setup through drift aligning.

Issue: After successfully guiding for three hours, guiding randomly jumps all over!

Conclusion: After running outside a couple times to make sure everything was tight and there weren’t any high clouds, I was nailed with a gust of wind.

Solution: I include monitoring the wind with the clouds. If you’re monitoring the scope from a remote PC, be sure you’re aware of the weather conditions. I couldn’t hear the wind sitting inside watching TV.

Issue: Nearly every other image had streaks

Conclusion: I live very close to O’hare airport and the flight pattern that night put a number of flights right through my imaging path.

Solution: Wind direction determines the flight pattern. I’ve lived so close to O’Hare most of my life I know where the planes will be according to the wind, but I hadn’t realized that many planes cross over such a small portion of the sky so often. Now I select my targets accordingly to flight patterns.

Issue: After Drift alignment, balancing and target selection guiding would jump every 60-90 seconds.

Conclusion: The AC adapter I was using had shorted out briefly the night before. After 10 minutes of being unplugged it came back on. This was an $8 adapter I got from Amazon. The plug was not polarized, or grounded. The voltage regulation (or lack of) wasn’t allowing the motors to respond to pulse commands properly.

Solution: I bought the original grounded Meade AC adapter.

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