First Automated Image Capture


Having continued to battle the integration challenges of bringing all the automation elements together, I was thrilled to capture my first truly automated image. While the image itself is a great example of bloated stars, poor guiding, and other faults, it was taken without any intervention on my part.

Comet 103P/Hartley 2
Comet 103P/Hartley 2
The image is of Comet 103P / Hartley 2. It was simple unguided image of 120 seconds with no filters. However, it was the process that was exciting for me.

Since I wanted to image the comet, I had to find the where it was in the sky, as the comet wasn't in my usual list of regular objects. So I opened Starry Night, my planetarium software, and searched for the comet after downloading the latest data. Finding it, I simply right-clicked and said "Add to ACP Plan." This brought up ACP Planner, where I created the plan for a single 120 second image, with no additional focusing, and no filters. The plan was automatically fed to the ACP site running on my internal web server, where it was ready for execution.

Selecting the plan from the menu, I simply told ACP to go execute the plan. ACP aimed the scope in the direction of the comet, took a pointing image to make sure the scope tracking was accurate, and then to my surprise, it solved the plate! It was the first time I was able to do a plate solve, which means ACP knew exactly where the scope was pointing in the sky. It then slewed the scope a little further to get to the place in the sky I told it to go, and began to take the image. I couldn't tell what it was imaging until after the image was downloaded, but when it was done the comet appeared on my screen. I couldn't believe it!

While the image is not very good at all, it's still an image of a comet, and it's the first time I've actually glued the pieces together. Now I can focus on getting the "little" things like focusing and guiding fixed, and making truly beautiful images.

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