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Ex-Bubblehead

History (where did you start astronomy from)

Comet Neowise.  My wife started talking about trying to find a place to see it.  I ended up looking at some potential spots near our house we that we could see it from.  Ended up looking at it from a near-by driving range parking lot.  My wife managed to get a pretty decent shot with her DSLR (she likes photography) poking her head up through the sunroof.  This got me started on looking into astrophotography and…next thing I know I had both a 90mm acromatic refractor and an Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) 130mm dob coming.

When those arrived I had some fun times learning the basics of star hopping and finding my first faint fuzzies.  Shortly thereafter we did a cross country move and I had a chance to take both scopes to Arches National Park (very, VERY dark skies).  That was neat, but our new house didn’t really support visual very well based on all of the bright lights in the neighborhood and light pollution in the sky, and my mobility was (is) limited due to having 3 young kids, so travelling to a better location at night is hard to justify.  I had tried to start getting into full-on astrophotography, but didn’t get much beyond a few snaps of Orion’s Nebula that didn’t process very well.  Then I stumbled across something called EAA and that seemed to be tailored to exactly what I was looking for.

Where did you hear about EAA?

Cloudy Nights.

What are your expectations?

That I can see more objects in more detail than I could from my suburban house, while staying warm/cool in the house, than I otherwise would have been able to do visually, and be able to capture images for posterity.

What do you already have?

  • OTA: AT72EDII, AT102EDL, AT125EDL
  • Mount: Skywatcher AZEQ5
  • Camera: ASI294MC Pro, ASI120MM Mini
  • Computer: Beelink Mini PC
  • Power: Swarey LiFePO4 “Power Generator” (aka, a battery with built-in connectors/charger), Pegasus Pocket Powerbox Advanced
  • Filter: 2″ Optolong L-Pro, 2″ Optolong Clear Focusing filter, ZWO filter drawer
  • Other various things that I’ve collected on the way

Budget (cost of starting kit, cost of current kit)

Starting:

  • AZEQ5 – $1400
  • AT102EDL – $1000
  • ASI294MC Pro – $1000
  • Other Misc – $500

Current (above, plus…)

  • AT125EDL – $1850
  • Beelink SEI8 – $400
  • Optolong 2″ L-Pro – $200
  • Other Misc – $500

Money-to-burn build when I retire and win the lottery:

  • Mount: TTS-160 – $7500
  • OTAs:
    • TEC-140 – $7500
    • EdgeHD 9.25″ with Hyperstar: $4500
  • Cameras:
    • QHY268/ASI2600: $2000
    • Maybe one or two more of that class or better…
  • [Note that even that last build still feels like a win compared to almost any other hobby involving ‘stuff’, particularly if that ‘stuff’ is used in competitive events]

How much is too much?

Each situation is different.  However, I do see some utility in spending a moderate amount to get some interim equipment to play with rather than not buying anything to save up for the really expensive ‘lifetime’ gear.  Although it may not always be the case, right now (2022) the used market will tend to return a significant portion of what you put into gear as you outgrow things, so buying a cooled 294 sensor to use while waiting for funds to accumulate to buy a 2600 sensor sometime down the road is reasonable.  This will give the added benefit of allowing experience accumulation now, so that when the more expensive gear becomes available you can “plug and play” (to coin a phrase).

OTA (advice)

I’ve stuck with refractors.  I would like to get a larger OTA at some point (9.25″ SCT…), but refractors are good for now.  They just work for the most part, as long as the optics aren’t pinched.  Highly recommend a flattener of some sort for the smaller refractors.

Mount (advice)

I’ve almost converted my AZEQ5 to EQ mode a few times, but I look at all of those counter-weights and the fact that everything is skewed and ****-eyed compared to Alt-Az mode and I decide not to.  Field rotation doesn’t bother me, my subs are usually around 6-7 seconds.

Camera(s) and preferred targets and techniques.

I use an ASI294MC Pro.  I played around with putting in an ASI120MM Mini once on a second scope to do dual capture and was not impressed.  It was like going back to the good old SD CRT TV days: grainy and hard to make out fine detail (and it was black and white to boot!).  And small FOV.

For targets, I shoot whatever I can get pointed at.  I’m partial to the Pleiades and nice big, dense clusters.

My routine after getting everything set up (3 trips now for the mount, OTA, battery/computer…soon to be 2 when I mount the computer on the mount and I double fist the battery and OTA) is to check my focus on polaris, go vertical and get my darks and flats (with dark flats), go horizontal, power cycle the mount, do a quick alignment on polaris/dubhe or one of the major stars in the big dipper, then it’s off to the races.

What don’t you like about EAA?

About EAA specifically, the process of learning to get the AZEQ5 mount to work with the computer was a pain.  Brought mostly on by myself because I didn’t realize that EQmod would not work with the mount while it was in Alt-Az mode.  It will physically move the mount, but the goto, calibration, and tracking will display incorrect behavior.  The broad strokes of getting things working are out there, but the finer details of specific setups can still be maddeningly opaque at times, with very helpful suggestions on boards like Cloudy Nights, but not necessarily answers unless you are lucky enough to find someone who has almost the same hardware.

The other thing I don’t like is getting woken up early by my young kids following a late night of gloriousness, leaving me feeling like I’m hung over without the benefit of having gotten drunk.  Although I do have to admit that I will sit inside and drink while EAAing on occasion.  If you try hard enough, you can double the double-double.  But it does make the aforementioned early morning wakeup that much more painful so it is not recommended to do that very often.

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