With the weather being as cold and bad as it is right now, i spent some time researching ways to remotely control the telescope without having to leave the comfortable warmth of the house. I would like to be able to do the following:
- Remote control the telescope through a planetarium software on a laptop
- Remote control my DSLR to take pictures
- Remote control a webcam to take planetary images or to track what the scope is looking at when a DSLR camera is used
So far i understand that the following pieces are necessary:
- A windows laptop
- Planetarium software and necessary drivers that will let you control a telescope
- An approximately x meter long serial cable to connect the telescope to a laptop
- A webcam that can work in low light conditions and a piece of software that displays what the webcam is seing. I need this webcam since my DSLR does not allow for direct output of finder video data. If it could do that, then i would not need the webcam and could use the DSLR's output directly
- An optional finderscope that i can attach the webcam to in order to use it for tracking or guiding
- A guiding software that works with a webcam
- An active USB repeater of x meter length to get the webcam signal to the laptop
- A remote release cable or wireless remote release solution of x meter length for my SLR camera
Windows laptop and the necessary planetarium software
My research showed that there are a couple of nice planetarium applications out there. Not all of them include telescope control features. Some that do offer this are free (Stellarium) and some have to be paid for (Starry Night Pro). I decided to look at Stellarium since it is free. I am using Starry Night Digital Download on my Mac and updating to the Pro version, which would allow for telescope control was over 100USD.
The reason for going with a windows based laptop and not with a macbook was, that it appears that the ASCOM driver plattform as well as the Celestron Nexstar driver are not available for OS X.
So these are the components that i found out you need:
- Planetarium Software: Stellarium Software (v.10.2) / Free
- Interface to control the Scope via Stellarium: Stellariumscope / Free
- Driver Plattform: ASCOMPlatform5b / Free
- Driver for the Celestron Nexstar6SE: Celestron (5.0.14) / Free
- Webcam: Celestron Neximage / found it on ebay for 99USD
- Finderscope: Antares 5x70 finderscope with mounting bracket. This finder allows you to change eyepieces so that an optional webcam can be attached / 130USD
- Remote control cable or wireless extension for my Panasonic G1 DSLR: still looking : ( / 38USD on ebay, chinese made)
- Serial cable extension: available almost everywhere. No active components are necessary / approx. 10 USD
- Active USB cable: available almost everywhere. I bought a 5 meter cable and the instructions on the box say that four of those cables can be strung together/ approx. 20 USD
You can also find most of the above files in my public folder on me.com. Here's the link: http://public.me.com/baierfamily - the password is "nexstar"
I've received some comments why i did not use the Celestron Nexremote software. That's a good question ! I have no idea where i put the disc when i unpacked the scope ! And from what i could read in the manual, the Nexremote software only seems to emulate the hand controller. You still need a separate planetarium software integration. So until i find the disc up in the attic, i'll have to use the tools i currently have : )
Addition (Jan 15th 2010): I got a nice comment from a cloudynights member called "kkokkolis" (i think he's from Greece) and he pointed out that the nexremote software adds some nice features like:
- Text to speech
- Extended balloon search
- A virtual port to use nexremote parallel to other software like Stellarium
Thanks Kkokkolis for the input - i'll have to try Nexremote the next time i get a chance !
This is how i installed and set up everything:
- Install Stellarium
- Install Stellariumscope
- Install ASCOM Driver Platform
- Install Celestron Driver
- Start Stellariumscope and chose the Nexstar 6SE from the list of telescopes. Then hit the "connect" button
- Start Stellarium
- Now you get a nice little window with left, right, up and down arrow and when you click on those, then - holy cow - the telescope moves ! I was already quite impressed by then !
- Align your telescope. (so far, that's as far as i got because the weather has been so bad, i've not been able to align the telescope yet)
Now i'm waiting for a good night to align the telescope so that i can see if the point and goto functionality within Stellarium works as designed and i'll have to wait for the neximage webcam as well.
Then i'll have to figure out how to autoguide using the webcam and from what i've seen this seems to be a quite complicated task that'll take me a while to wrap my head around. And it also looks like i'll need yet another off axis guidescope ? Nooooooooo !