USB to ST-4 Autoguiding Adapter

The rearrangement of my astrophoto setup proceeds. If somewhat frantically in the face of the upcoming Transit of Venus. Another device has joined the toolkit, a bit of hand-wired electronica that gets the job done.

USB to ST-4 Guiding Port
A copy of Gene Nolan's USB to ST-4 guiding adapter
This particular device will allow remotely guiding of the telescope during the seven hour long event. The computer sitting beside the telescope will be controlling both a camera and the mount. Also set up on the computer is a VNC server, so I can remotely view the screen from inside. With this arrangement I can keep an eye on the whole setup, including nudging the telescope as needed to keep the Sun centered in the image. Since the mount will only be roughly polar aligned, set up during the day, I expect to get a fair amount of drift during the event.

I did not design the device this time. This would have been completely within my capability, but why do so when someone else has already done the job? This is typical within the astronomy hobby, where many designs are shared for the benefit of everyone. In this case it is the USB to ST4 adapter designed by Gene Nolan.

All I had to do was follow the schematic and download the code into the microcontroller, the device worked first time. Gene does sell kits, but I wanted to do this quickly and had everything I needed on hand except the microcontroller and opto-isolators.

The only real problem that cropped up during construction was the wrong part received for the opto-isolators. The DigiKey description read DIP-8, so I ordered it, expecting to get something that fit into the DIP socket I had already wired onto the board. When the parts arrived I found that they were indeed DIP… lead-formed DIP packages meant to be surface mounted, with chopped off leads. I ended up soldering the devices to another DIP socket, using it as a header, which then plugged into the socket on the board. It looks funny, but it works.

It did take a couple hours of downloading and installing the drivers and other useful software packages to get everything working. This includes the very useful ASCOM driver framework, and PHD Guide. Both of which I plan to use beyond the upcoming Transit of Venus to do more astrophotography.

My wife may have been a little perturbed by the testing setup strung across the kitchen table, a laptop and the heavy Losmandy head, a Canon 60D camera, all connected by a snake pit of cables. But it worked, first time, that is always nice.

Viewing the Transit of Venus on Mauna Kea

Everyone is gearing up for the Transit of Venus. Starting at just after noon on June 5th, Venus will cross the face of the Sun. This will be our last chance to see such an event in our lifetimes, as a result, many skywatchers are making an extra effort to see this transit. This includes a number of folks who are traveling to Hawai’i this June, just to be here for the transit.

Transit of Venus
The June 2004 Transit of Venus, image credit Jan Herold
The Office of Mauna Kea Management and and Mauna Kea Support Services are making an extraordinary effort for the transit. An interesting exercise, protecting the mountain, ensuring everyone is safe, and allowing reasonable access to the summit. This is a challenge under normal circumstances. Throw in the possibility of a much larger crowd and it could be a real problem. Thus, the following extra measures will be in place…

  • The summit access road will be closed to public vehicular traffic at the Visitor Information Station.
  • Access to the summit will be provided via free shuttle service between the Visitor Information Station (VIS) and Mauna Kea summit.
  • Parking at the Visitor Information Station (VIS) is limited. Additional parking will be provided, however If parking spaces fill up, vehicles will be held below the VIS until parking becomes available.
  • Mauna Kea Rangers and Hawaii County Police Officers will be present to assist with parking and public safety.

There will be solar telescopes stationed at the MKVIS, at the summit, and at a number of other locations around the island. With many options to choose from, you do not need to go to the summit to get at least some view of this event.

The diehards, those wanting to see the entire transit, will probably go to Mauna Kea. I really do not know what sort of crowd to expect on the mountain. While it could be substantial, I really expect a more modest showing than some folks are predicting. In any case it will be a fun event.

Myself? I will be on the summit. I will be running the Keck live webcast of the event using one of my telescopes. From a vantage point behind the Keck 1 telescope we should be in position to witness the entire event from start to finish.