DIY Field Battery

Over the years, I have used various types of batteries, but the one I use most often is the deep-discharge lead-acid type. They are robust, low-cost, can be charged with almost any compatible power supply, and most importantly, can double as a vehicle jump-start kit when not being used in the field. I use four 12V 9Ah deep-discharge lead acid batteries connected in parallel, to power the laptop, and another 12V 9Ah battery for the telescope’s tracker. These batteries remain usable for 2 to 3 years.

A modular field-battery to power my equipment during remote imaging sessions

A moderately-sized field battery has more than enough power to last an overnight imaging session.

Related link: View all home-brewed DIY astronomy equipment

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

DIY Pier Extension for EQ Mount

I have built a DIY pier extension to allow my DIY go-to telescope to move without hitting the tripod legs. It consists of three 12-inch L-bars (which I later shortened to 7.5 inches, after measuring the minimum clearance required) that lift the tripod head. I repurposed a tripod head from an old and unused tripod to serve as the base where the L-bars and the tripod legs connect to. The pier extension allows unattended imaging without the risk of damage to the mount or telescope.

DIY Pier Extension

To watch a video of the telescope performing a successful meridian flip without hitting the tripod legs, click here.

Related link: Converting the Vixen Great Polaris mount into a Go-to mount

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Omega Nebula M17

Omega Nebula M17 captured with a Vixen R114 reflector, an ASI 533MC cooled astronomy camera, dual band H-alpha and O-III filter, with an ASI 174MM guide camera on a 60 mm guide scope. This is one of the brightest deep-sky objects in the Milky Way region, in the part of the sky where you can also find the Eagle Nebula. M17 is visible even with binoculars or small telescopes. You may use the bright stars of Sagittarius to find this target.

Omega Nebula M17, 40 min exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Eagle Nebula M16

Eagle Nebula M16 captured with a Vixen R114 reflector, an ASI 533MC cooled astronomy camera, dual band H-alpha and O-III filter, with an ASI 174MM guide camera on a 60 mm guide scope. This is one of the bright deep-sky objects in the Milky Way region, in the part of the sky where you can also find the Trifid Nebula and Lagoon Nebula. You may use the bright stars of Sagittarius as pointers to find this target.

Eagle Nebula, 2 hours exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Trifid Nebula M20

Trifid Nebula M20 captured with a Vixen R114 reflector, an ASI 533MC cooled astronomy camera, dual band H-alpha and O-III filter, with an ASI 174MM guide camera on a 60 mm f/5 guide scope. The dark dust lanes that divide the nebula into three sections are visible in this photo. This photo was imaged and tracked using a DIY go-to telescope controller.

Trifid Nebula M20, 1.7 hours exposure

Related links:
OnStep DIY Go-to Telescope Controller
Vixen R114 Reflector on Great Polaris Mount

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

DIY Telescope Controller | OnStep

I have built a controller for my Vixen Great Polaris mount using the OnStep go-to telescope controller. I used an Arduino Mega 2560 as the main controller board, a pair of LV8729 stepper motor driver, and an HC-05 bluetooth module (which connects to the OnStep Android app).

I also built a Smart Hand Controller (SHC) using an ESP32 module, an OLED display, and a button array. The SHC connects to the same serial communication lines (Rx and TX pins) used by the HC-05 bluetooth module. I use a toggle switch to select between the HC-05 Bluetooth module for the Android controller and the Smart Hand Controller with ESP32 module.

OnStep Telescope Controller

I used a pair of 200-step-per-revolution stepper motors paired with 60-teeth and 16-teeth pulley and belt drive system to motorize the Vixen Great Polaris mount with 144:1 worm drive. In this configuration, the total steps are 200 steps * 60/16 reduction * 144/1 teeth worm drive = 108,000 steps per 360 degrees at full stepping. Actual testing showed that accurate tracking is possible even at just 1/64 microsteps (as evident in a 60 second unguided exposures at 900 mm focal length). This brings the total steps per revolution to 6, 912, 000 per 360 degrees, or 19,200 per degree. You need to configure these values in the OnStep code.

The OnStep telescope controller can be connected to NINA to enable automatic slewing to targets and use plate-solving to validate and refine its pointing accuracy. It also connects with Stellarium to display real-time the telescope’s current position.

Unguided 60 sec exposures at 900 mm with an OnStep-controlled mount, Dumbbell Nebula (1 hour)

OnStep will have very accurate pointing and tracking even with just one-star alignment, if properly polar-aligned.

OnStep Telescope Controller


Related links:
Trifid Nebula imaged with the OnStep DIY Go-to Controller
OnStep Main Page
Smart Hand Controller Main Page
Schematic Diagram OnStep Main Board and Smart Hand Controller

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

M57 Ring Nebula

M57 Ring Nebula imaged with a Vixen R114 reflector at 1800 mm focal length (using a 2X Barlow), OIII and H-alpha dual band filter, and an ASI 533MC astronomy camera. The planetary nebula looks like a small faint circle but relatively easy to find by scanning the region between the two bright stars in Lyra.

M57 Ring Nebula, 1 hour exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Omega Centauri

Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) imaged with a Vixen R114 reflector at 900 mm focal length and an ASI 533MC astronomy camera. This target is bright, visible to the unaided eye in relatively dark skies. Use the bright stars of Crux to find this target.

Omega Centauri, 1 hour exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

M27 Dumbbell Nebula

M27 Dumbbell Nebula captured with a Vixen R114 reflector at 900 mm focal length, OIII and H-alpha dual band filter, and an ASI 533MC astronomy camera. To find M27, use the bright stars of Aquila and Cygnus as pointer stars. This target is bright, easy to find, and should be visible even with small telescopes.

Dumbbell Nebula, 1 hour exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

M104 Sombrero Galaxy

M104 Sombrero Galaxy captured with a Vixen R114 reflector at 900 mm focal length and an ASI 533MC astronomy camera. M104 is in the constellation Virgo, near the bright stars of Corvus. This galaxy is relatively bright and easy to find.

M104 Sombrero Galaxy, 1 hour exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy

Whirlpool Galaxy M51 captured with a Vixen R114 reflector at 900 mm focal length and an ASI 533MC astronomy camera. This galaxy is found in Ursa Major, in the part of the sky in the vicinity of other galaxies such as M101M81 and M82. This target is relatively bright and may be visible through a small telescope. Use the stars of the Big Dipper to find M51.

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy, 1 hour exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Vixen R114 on Great Polaris Mount

I have recently acquired a Vixen R114 Newtonian reflector (114 mm aperture, 900 mm focal length at f/7.9) on a Great Polaris equatorial mount. The mount does not have motors, but I have converted it into a fully-automated go-to and tracking mount capable of unguided exposures of at least 60 seconds (field-tested without guiding).

Vixen R114 on Great Polaris Mount

The reflector has a very good primary and secondary mirror cells which allowed precise collimation and prevent strained optics. The stock focuser is a 0.965 in barrel which I modified and converted to the 1.25 in standard. The rack-and-pinion focusing mechanism is very precise and sturdy enough to hold an ASI 533 astronomy camera even without using the focuser lock. It comes with a 6 x 30 mm finder which is adequate for pointing at bright targets.

Trifid Nebula M20, 1.7 hours exposure

The Vixen R114 on Great Polaris equatorial mount now serves as my long focal length telescope both for visual observation and imaging.

Related links:
Converting the Vixen Great Polaris mount into a Go-to mount
DIY Upgrades for a Vixen R114 on GP mount
Sky-Watcher Equinox 100ED

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Portable Telescope Setup

I have a TravelScope70 which has served as a guide scope for my imaging setup for many years. Now that I have shifted to an off-axis guider (OAG) setup, the TravelScope70 is now being repurposed back to a grab-and-go travel light telescope setup, to be used particularly in astronomy outreach events and visual observations.

Aluminum-lined hard case for the Celestron TravelScope70

The TravelScope70 is a good small-aperture low-magnification telescope, if paired with a good diagonal and set of eyepieces. It will show good views of the moon and allow decent moon photography. Due to the short focal length, small aperture, and lack of a dedicated and more robust mount, the TravelScope70 may be limited to moon viewing and other large and bright targets such as star clusters and nebula.

Related link: Celestron Travel Scope 70

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Pinwheel Galaxy M101

Pinwheel Galaxy M101 imaged with a 4 in refractor, ASI 533MC astronomy camera, and an ASI 174MM guide camera. This galaxy is found in Ursa Major, in the part of the sky in the vicinity of other galaxies such as M51, M81 and M82. This target has a very low surface brightness and requires a lot of exposure times to reveal the spiral arms. Use the stars of the Big Dipper to find M101.

Pinwheel Galaxy M101, 3 hours exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Laser Pointer as Finder

I have installed a laser pointer to my telescope as a tool for locating objects. The laser pointer is mounted on a finder scope holder with collimation screws to enable alignment with the telescope. It has a toggle switch that allows the laser to be turned on and off.

Using laser pointer as a finder

To find an object such as a galaxy or a nebula, I turn the laser on and point the telescope to the target’s approximate location as indicated in a star map. If the target is too dim and there are no bright stars in the vicinity, I just use a pair of binoculars to spot the target and then slew the telescope manually to the target. The laser allows me to know precisely where the telescope is pointed at, and then use the laser to guide the telescope to the target. Observe safety precautions when using laser pointers.

To view posts on DIY projects and astronomical equipment, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines


Lagoon Nebula M8

Lagoon Nebula M8 captured with a 4 in refractor at 565 mm focal length, an ASI 533MC cooled astronomy camera, dual band H-alpha and O-III filter, with an ASI 174MM guide camera. This is the brightest deep-sky object in the Milky Way region, in the part of the sky where you can also find the Trifid Nebula. M8 is visible even with binoculars or small telescopes. You may use the bright stars of Sagittarius to find this target.

Lagoon Nebula M8, 1 hour exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Bode’s (M81) and Cigar (M82) Galaxies

Bode’s Galaxy (M81) and Cigar Galaxy (M82) imaged with a 4 in refractor, ASI 533MC astronomy camera, and an ASI 174MM guide camera. This galaxy pair is found in the vicinity of the Big Dipper in Ursa Major, along with the M51 Whirlpool Galaxy. Bode’s and Cigar Galaxies are relatively bright and should be visible even with a small telescope, in relatively dark skies. There are no bright stars near the galaxy pair, making it a bit difficult to find these targets. Use the bright stars of the Big Dipper as pointer stars.

Bode’s Galaxy (left) and Cigar Galaxy (right), 2.5 hours exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

M92 Globular Cluster

M92 Globular Cluster captured with a 4 in refractor at 565 mm focal length, an ASI 533MC cooled astronomy camera, with an ASI 174MM guide camera. M92 is one of the two bright globular clusters in Hercules, together with M13. To find M92, use the bright stars of Hercules that form a rectangle. This target is relatively bright and can be seen easily with a small telescope.

M92 Globular Cluster, 25 minutes exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Markarian’s Chain

The Markarian’s Chain imaged under city skies captured with a 4 in refractor at 565 mm focal length, an ASI 533MC cooled astronomy camera, and an ASI 174MM guide camera. More than 10 galaxies are visible in this photo. Use the stars Denebola and Vindemiatrix to locate the galaxy chain.

Markarian’s Chain, 1 hour exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines

Leo Triplet (M65, M66, NGC3628)

Leo Triplet, three bright galaxies in the vicinity of Leo captured with a 4 in refractor at 565 mm focal length, an ASI 533MC cooled astronomy camera, with an ASI 174MM guide camera. The trio galaxies are bright and visible with small telescopes in relatively dark skies. Two bright stars in Leo can be used to easily find this galaxy group.

Leo Triplet consisting of the Hamburger Galaxy (left), M65 galaxy (top right), and M66 galaxy (bottom right), 1.5 hours exposure

For a complete list of astrophoto images, click here.

Night Sky in Focus | Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano | Manila, Philippines