SkyWatcher Star Adventurer(Updated 7/4/17)


Star Adventurer…Fire in the Hole?
Peter Detterline
My friend Dave Fisherowski and I have a lot of fun imaging the sky with our Canon 60Da’s.  Having a small portable mount that is easy to polar align, and accurate for long exposures has always been the ultimate goal for this kind of work.
To this end, a few years ago I purchased Ioptron’s Sky Tracker, and it does a marvelous job.  That is until it doesn’t.  My issue with it is that I could never get consistent results.  Dave gives me a call and tells me that he just bought the Star Adventurer and sent me the YouTube link to view.  I was intriqued.  At first inspection the unit it extremely well built, massive in a good way that feels solid in your hands and yet portable enough to carry anywhere.  Dave got all the bells and whistles for it, which includes a beautiful dovetail bar to attach two cameras, a counterweight set,  the equatorial mount, the shutter release cable (so I don’t have to use my intervolometer), and a high end ball head.  You will also need a heavy duty tripod with a 3/8” screw.



The test I did at home under my 4.5 magnitude Pennsylvania skies were fine, and I was impressed with its rigidity, ease of motion for fine motor control in adjusting the altitude and azimuth, and its tracking ability.  Setup is relatively easy.  Download the Polar Finder app to your smartphone.  Align the mount toward Polaris and use the built in polar finder and the app to carefully adjust the view in the polar finder to match the smartphone.  It’s the same process with the Ioptron except the Star Adventurer doesn’t have the play in the mount when adjusting the altitude and azimuth.  When satisfied, remove the polar finder and put in the camera carefully so as not to destroy your alignment.  It’s now ready to use.  There are various settings, but I was really only interested in the “star” symbol for tracking in sidereal time.  There is a convenient switch to set it for north or south.  

After allowing me some time to test it at my house, Dave was gracious enough to allow me to take it on my trip to the dark western skies of the United States this past summer.  I would use it at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah to test out its tracking capabilities, and then in Montana for the Perseid Meteor Shower.  That was my real goal.  If it worked well enough I wanted to combine images of various meteor streaks onto one photo fast and simple.

My first test under dark Utah skies were beautiful, except for one thing.  If I didn’t use the intervolometer and relied on the shutter cable that attaches from the camera to the mount, I could only get 100 second exposures.  I would like 12 minute exposures.  At 100 seconds the images were all fine, and this would work well for the Perseids, but not for capturing the majesty and beauty of the Milky Way.  I allowed the camera to run for well over an hour.  I took the images and stacked them using a freeware program called Star Trails.  No, I didn’t use CCD Stacker.  I wanted Star Trails.  Why?  The program simply overlays all of your pictures and doesn’t adjust them for stacking in any way.  This is necessary if you want an image with star trails.  It also will tell me how well the mount is tracking.  The results?  In a word- impressive. The image below doesn’t show great detail with the Milky Way (each exposure is 100 seconds, however notice that there is no trailing.  Of course the big thing you do notice is the ground blur from the motion of the camera.  Simply replace that with a static image as seen in the second image.   The next image shows the Moon, the  International Space station, a meteor, and an iridium flare.  They all happened within a half hour of each other.  Notice the lack of star trails.  This will be fantastic for the meteor shower!  Unfortunately, a string of bad weather came in when I wanted to test the longer 12 minute exposures so it never happened.  But my luck wasn’t just connected to bad weather.




I have been trying to save the use of the lithium batteries and using the USB / mini plug which provides power to the unit.  As I went to plug it in one night I noticed that the mini plug had separated from the housing and was inside the unit.  It’s alright.  I can still use it on battery power, which I did to try a time lapse of my friend Gary and me observing Venus in the daytime.  An interesting effect is that the mount moves side to side during the time lapse.  I had the mount set to the number 6 position which means it takes a picture every 2 seconds if you use the bulb setting.  I didn’t use the bulb setting.  I decided to go with a program setting on the camera since 2 seconds would be too long an exposure for a daylight image.  The result is very neat for a time lapse, but not always useful.  If you want the image to be still you need to keep the unit turned off.  

I was still concerned about the power plug and decided to see if I could at least pull it back to the housing.  Have you ever tried to look into a mini plug hole?  It’s small and dark inside and I couldn’t see anything.  I thought “If only I had a light.”  And as if on cue, the inside of the unit lit up with a dim yellow light.  “Excellent!” I thought as I peered inside,“They think of everything”.  And I could now see everything clearly.  There was the metal plug laying across the circuit board, the glow of the yellow fire was to the right, and I could see and smell the smoke that started to drift out through the mini plug opening.  I felt like Superman and put the blaze out with one quick blast of air.  The smoke hadn’t cleared out of the unit yet as I removed the batteries, and thought…”Damn, well, there goes the Persieds”, and then “Damn, I just caught Dave’s Star Adventurer on fire!”  

I contacted Sky watcher by email explaining the situation but to no avail.  A day or two went by and no response.  I was able to place a phone call in town and left a message.  The Mars Desert Research Station is really remote so we don’t always get good reception and certainly not phone service.  I did discover that someone tried to call me back from Sky Watcher and that their service team was out at a convention, but they wanted to talk to me about the problem.  I never did get to talk to them in person, but was able to explain the situation adequately that I received a UPS slip in my email.  I had a box for the unit and bubble wrapped it.  I had no printer- remember the Mars hab is really remote, but when I finally got to a UPS store they printed the label from the flash drive I gave them, and secured the box and shipped.  There was no paperwork needed inside, and no charge.  Considering the odd constraints I was under with lack of communication, I was impressed with the service department at Sky Watcher.  They stand behind their products and their customers.  In about two weeks time,  Dave had a brand new star Adventurer which is now set up in my living room as I type.  

Things I liked include the rigidity and performance of the unit.  It was a fast setup and accurate.  I also like all of the different configurations you can use with the attachments.  I never did get to try out the counterweight (didn’t need it), but the Vixen bar that holds two cameras is a real beauty.  We actually used that with two cameras on a CGEM mount for the Perseids.

  Things I would like to see is a way to change the length of the exposure.  If I could increase the exposure without using the intervolometer that would be ideal. 




I wouldn’t hesitate to take it on another venture, and  I look forward to using it for the solar eclipse in 2017 to take a fisheye time lapse of the sky.




Link to Sky Adventurer time lapse written about in article

Click on video entitled "Musk Observing".


Update

12/1/16

Polar Illuminator Adaptor


So it’s finally happened.  I suppose it was inevitable.  But for the first time in my astronomical career I started to use a piece of astronomical gear manufactured by a 3D printer!  And the results…INGENIOUS! So my friend Dave Fisherowski, gives me a round piece of white 3D printer plastic, and asks if I would use and review this with the Star Adventurer Mount.  The idea is quite simple. 

The Star Adventurer is only as good as its polar alignment.  To facilitate this you put the polar illuminator on the polar finder and align it using an app from your smartphone.  The problem is that after you make that adjustment, you need to remove the polar illuminator and CAREFULLY insert the camera without moving the mount and tripod.  Typically, the mount is massive enough that this isn’t too much a problem, but any mistake means you have to go through the alignment procedure again.  Thanks to a small piece of 3D printer plastic this is now a thing of the past.



Begin by fitting the polar illuminator snugly into the white adapter.  Then attach the adapter onto the opening of the declination bracket.  It fits perfectly and can only be oriented in one direction thanks to the tabs on the adapter. 



Attach the declination bracket onto the mount being certain to align the adapter over the lens of the polar finder.  Polar align as usual and start observing. 




Clever, easy and fast.  A small piece of plastic just took polar alignment with the Star Adventurer to a new level.  



P.S.  If interested in this adapter contact...

Yiwei Daio at diaoyiwei@gmail.com.  Latest price I had was $15 each, but subject to change.

Update 7/4/17 From Hanksville, Utah and the Mars Desert Research Station

Easy Polar Alignment with the Star Adventurer
The Polar Illuminator Adapter is a fine addition to the Star Adventurer and I consider it to be a key component for good polar alignment.  But realistically, it’s just using the polar Illuminator that is already there so the accuracy hasn’t changed.  To get a great polar alignment on the Star Adventurer you also need the Pole Master from QHY.  A special adapter is needed that fits onto the Declination Bracket.


So let’s go through the procedure step by step.
1)      REMOVE THE CAMERA from the declination bracket.  Polar alignment is hard to impossible with that added weight.  Keep the ball mount on so you only have to attach the camera onto the ball mount.
2)      Point the polar axis toward Polaris so you can see it in the Polar Scope.
3)      Level the tripod using the bubble level on the Star Adventurer.


4)      Turn the axis so the dials (date and time gradation circles) on the Polar Scope read “October 31” (one line before 11).  See the picture.  This ensures that the “0” and “6” are vertical when looking through the Polar Scope.


5)      Use the Polar Finder App to discover where Polaris should be through the Polar scope.
6)      Turn on the Polar Illuminator and adjust the alt/az to get Polaris to match the Polar Finder App.  A coarse location is fine here.  Remove the Polar Illuminator.
7)      Connect the Pole Master to your computer and using the accompanying software go through the plate solve to fine tune the mount.
8)      There is a part of the plate solve procedure where you have to rotate the RA axis 30 degrees in a counterclockwise direction.  Without the weight of the camera you can leave the RA Dial slightly loose.  Counterclockwise to loosen it and clockwise to tighten it.  This makes this part of the process very easy.  After you move it 30 degrees just put a slight pressure on the RA Dial when you clamp it down.


9)      When finished with the Pole Master, close out the program and disconnect the USB cable.  I leave the Pole Master on, but you can remove it if you wish to shoot with two cameras.  I haven’t tried that yet.
10)   Carefully attach the camera to the ball mount.
11)   Turn the dial to the “star” symbol and you are ready to go.
12)      Focus the Canon 60Da as you normally do.  With the lens at 200 mm find a bright star, center it and zoom in to 10x to achieve a fine focus. 
RESULTS:
The accuracy is amazing, and the images speak for themselves.  The image of the Andromeda Galaxy was a 2 minute exposure with a 200mm lens taken with a Canon 60Da.  The galaxy was about 45 degrees above the horizon.


The Lagoon and Trifid Nebula were taken with a 3 minute exposure with a 200 mm lens with a Canon 60Da.  The nebulae were less than 10 degrees above the horizon!


Feel free to leave your questions or comments.  And a special thank you to Dave for letting me field test his equipment!





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