6 November 2019

Ever since autoguiding has been an affordable thing, really good astrophotographic images have been easier and easier to get.

So what is that?

Autoguiding is when you connect a second scope (normally something inexpensive) and a camera to your main scope. This takes photos of stars and sends them to a laptop, which locks onto a star. If the computer sees the guide star wandering even a tiny bit,  it sends correcting information back to the mount.

Using autoguiding, as long as you've aligned your mount accurately, you can confidently move from 30 second exposures with nice round stars to 30 minute exposures or more.

What's the downside? Urrgh, cables! Until I did some serious cable management, you could hardly see my scope under the cables. It looked like a plate of spaghetti. What's worse, they drag on the ground and catch on things as your mount tracks during the night. Nothing ruins a nice shot as effectively as a snagged cable.

Enter the ASIair. This is a tiny computer that does all the stuff your laptop can do, including autoguiding, and it's small enough for you to perch it on the telescope. Most of the cables get tied down hard to the scope, and the ASIair connects wirelessly to your iPad or other smart device. It just needs power, and you can even do that using an iPhone extension battery, also on the mount.

I've been setting one up in the shop, and I have to say, there have been a few complications. I've never updated so much firmware before! I'm just about there, with this one driving the NEQ6 mount, and we're autoguiding using an ASI290MM (the little red camera) and that black Orion 50mm guide scope. Once we get it ironed out ourselves, we'll be able to confidently help our customers.

If all goes well, we'll swap the 80mm saxon FCD100 (which does look a little silly there perched on the NEQ6) with the 127mm version and take some autoguided DSLR photos up at the dark sky site.

So stay tuned!