Flintstone Stargazing

December 31, 2007

Tragedy to Comedy

Filed under: Equipment — Ed @ 9:21 am

Last night, when I got my scope out, everything started well. I attached the optical tube assembly, I plugged everything in (no small task since I was planning on doing astrophotography) and I fired up the new telescope.

I next ran the alignment proceedure, which seemed to not be working properly. For those who have not used a telescope with GOTO capabilities (in my case, Meade Autostar), I’ll explain how this works. In order for the telescope to be able to accurately point at things or at least to find them properly, the telescope must know what time it is (very precisely – if it’s off by a minute, it’ll completely miss a target. It’ll either be behind or ahead depending on which way you’re off) and where it is on the Earth. The telescope also needs to be  properly aligned to Polaris, the North Star, which is called polar alignment. For final precision, the Autostar must be aligned on between 1 and 3 stars to counter any offset from true alignment and to help synchronize the scope better.

I had entered in my coordinates, +34° 54′ 3.08″, -85° 20′ 20.27″, previously along with my timezone offset from Greenwich Meant Time, -5 hours. When I power up the scope, it asks for the time and I enter it very precisely using the time.gov web site. It next asked me to do the alignment. I chose to do a 3 star alignment and it promptly asked me to align on Anteres. Anteres is a very bright star so it should normally be a good alignment choice. The only problem was that it wouldn’t rise until 6 in the morning, which would make pointing very difficult. I finally figured out that for some reason not only had it taken my -5 offset as +5, making the scope 10 hours off, but it had also changed my longitude from west to east, placing me somewhere in Tibet and at the wrong time. Once I figured that out, things were much better. My only problem was that I hadn’t completely acurately polar aligned (I haven’t figured out how to use the polar scope yet). I then attached my scope to my computer, using my USB-to-Serial converter and tried to get the software to control the telescope. This is when things went really, really wrong. The hand controller said “Downloading Do not turn off” and then my computer blue screened – it’s the first blue screen I’ve ever had with Vista and was an IRQ conflict of some kind with the serial controller. This hosed the handbox. It stopped working, if I restarted it, it just displayed garbage. I had a very bad feeling and took the telescope down and took the tripod, handbox and laptop inside to see if I could do anything for it. I really thought I might have screwed things up beyond repair.

Then, I discovered this thing called the Internet and this other thing called “Google”. I typed in “meade autostar handbox fried” and up came this web site which provided the solution. Basically, I had to hold down the ENTER and SCROLL DOWN ARROW buttons while turning it off and it would startup in a mode that would allow me to reset the software from my computer. It enters a mode called SAFE LOADER MODE and that allowed me to put everything right. This is the second time that Michael Weasner has come to my rescue with this telescope.

Since it was only 10pm, I decided there was plenty of good viewing to be had and I re-set up the telescope and started taking images. I didn’t bother with the live computer connection this time, because I didn’t want to play with fire that much, but plan on figuring that out over the next few days since that will allow me to take some really neat images. Anyway, it was a frightening experience that I’m glad I’ve gotten through so I won’t panic if it happens again.

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