Mac Astronomy Software

KStars/EKOS 3.0 released with new features

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The team behind KStars and EKOS have been busy wrapping up a new version of their imaging software just in time for the holidays. There’s a lot of new features in this one.

The first major feature is the XPlanet solar system viewer developed by Robert Lancaster. It’s a significant upgrade over the built-in viewer.

Robert also created a new interface for the FITS viewer which can how show you all the data of your images in a new side panel which features the FITS header info, Histogram, Statics, and recent images.

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Additionally, Eric Dejouhanet dedicated time to a huge scheduler rewrite. The scheduler system previously allowed for scenarios where you could have conflicts in operations, but with the rewrite all this has been fixed and numerous improvements have been added:

  • Dark sky, which schedules a job to the next astronomical dusk/dawn interval.

  • Minimal altitude, which schedules a job up to 24 hours away to the next date and time its target is high enough in the sky.

  • Moon separation, combined with altitude constraint, which allows a job to schedule if its target is far enough from the Moon.

  • Fixed startup date and time, which schedules a job at a specific date and time.

  • Culmination offset, which schedules a job to start up to 24 hours away to the next date and time its target is at culmination, adjusted by an offset.

  • Amount of repetitions, eventually infinite, which allows a job imaging procedure to repeat multiple times or indefinitely.

  • Fixed completion date and time, which terminates a job at a specific date and time.

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A few other enhancements are a new scripting and DBus system allow for 3rd party applications to take advantage/control of features with EKOS which will open up the system for more options down the road.

Other improvements and new features can be found on Jasem’s (lead developer) website.

Here’s a few more screens of the rest of the updated interface panels.

iObserve gets a new release, now with Mojave Dark Mode support

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A little over a year ago, iObserve saw its last update. The developer (Cedric Follmi) had put the Mac iObserve application on hold to devote time to an online only web version over at arcsecond.io. But after a year or so of developing efforts on the website, he put up a poll online asking users what development path they would like to see going forward. Continue the website? Update the Mac app to be compatible with Mojave? Make an even better Mac app longer term? Given those choices, people voted, and now there’s a new Mac application.

What’s new in iObserve 1.7.0?

  • Added full support for macOS 10.14 Mojave with a complete update of the app internals (especially about network requests and dates).

  • Dropped support for all macOS versions before High Sierra (10.13).

  • Mojave Dark Mode

  • Suppressed the large title bar to adopt a more modern and compact look .

  • Suppressed the ability to submit new observatories by email, and explain that Arcsecond.io is the new home for observatories.

  • Fixed the failing downloads of the sky preview image (available when clicking the icon to the right of the object name in the right-hand pane).

  • Fixed an issue that prevented the app to complete the import of a Small Body.

  • Fixed an issue that prevented the user to select a Small Body in the list when multiple ones are found for a given name.

  • Fixed the failing downloads of 2MASS finding charts.

  • Fixed various stability issues.

Get the latest version directly from the Mac App Store.

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Tutorial for Astro Pixel Processor to calibrate and process a bi-color astronomy image of the Veil Nebula

The final result of processing the Veil Nebula in Astro Pixel Processor on the Mac.

The final result of processing the Veil Nebula in Astro Pixel Processor on the Mac.

To get started, you'll need to have taken a full set of light images to process. In addition you will need darks, flats, and bias for calibration of those light images. The calibration process is going to remove any artifacts caused by dead pixels in your camera, and correct for lens dust and uneven illumination caused by your image train. Starizona has a great page detailing why you would do image calibration.

If you don't have Astro Pixel Processor, you can download an unlimited 30-day trial at the website. If you like the process, and find the program easy to use, it's fairly affordable in comparison to some of the other tools out there.

Loading your images into Astro Pixel Processor

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When you first open the program, you'll be asked to choose a working directory. I typically make a folder on my desktop called Processing, and put all my images neatly organized into folders within. I label them Light, Darks, Bias, and Flats. Inside each folder there are more folders for each filter. For this particular image, I have HA and OIII images of the Veil Nebula, so there is a folder for each in the light folder, and a folder for each in the Flats folder. Bias and Dark can be shot as a single set (the filter doesn't matter since the frames are dark) and used to calibrate both HA and OIII.

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From here, I need to go to the Load tab on the left panel in APP. I'm going to check off a setting here for Multi-channel/filter processing since I'm processing two channels/filters at once. You do both at once here, because you want them to register the alignment of all stars across all images at the same time.

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If I had shot the same filters over multiple nights, I could select Multi-Session processing, which allows you to do day 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. of each filter and use a different set of flats for each day of the same filter. This is especially useful if you re-image an object over multiple nights throughout a year, you can keep adding data to improve your image. But in this case, I shot all my images for each filter on a  single night.

NOTE: If you have a One Shot Color (OSC) camera, and need to make some modifications to the images as they are processed, you would go to the RAW/FITS tab and you can select debayer options there before you load your lights in.

On the load tab, you will now select the Light button, navigate to your first lights folder and select your first set of images for the first filter. In this case, I'm selecting my HA images. You can select the first image in the list, scroll to the last, hold shift, and select it. This will multi-select all images in the window, and you can then press OPEN to import them.

When you add them, it will ask you which filter these light images are, be sure to select the correct filter. In this case they are Hydrogen Alpha images. I select that, then you'll see that there are a bunch of images now associated with the Light button on the left pane. Press the light button again to add the second filter's images. This time go to your OIII light directory and select all OIII frames. Open them, and choose Oxygen III for the filter.

Now your light frames are loaded. You'll do the same for flats, being careful to assign HA flats to HA filter and OIII flats to the OIII filter. This insures the right frames get calibrated with the right flats. Now add your Darks and Bias frames. For both of these when it asks which filter to choose, pick the top options to apply the Darks and Bias to all filters.

Calibration options

Now, we're going to set one calibration option, and that's to have the program create a bad pixel map. You'll press tab two "Calibration", scroll down and find the check box "Create Bad Pixel Map". This will create a map of all bad pixels on your camera sensor, and correct for them when processing the final image.

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Integration options

This is a very straight forward simple process just to give you an idea of how the program works. We're only going to set a few things in this tab.

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We're going to integrate per channel under the Multi-Channel/Filter options setting since we're processing multiple filters of light data. We're also going to stack all 100% of the images, because I've already gone through them and removed any images where clouds or airplanes came into the frame. You could lower the % to integrate if you want the program to automatically remove the worst images based on a percent of overall images. I'm going to also set "weights" to quality. This is going to look at all the images in my set, and integrate lower quality images with a lower weight than higher quality images.

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I'm going to set "Outlier rejection" to "Windsor clip" and leave the rest of the settings to the default. This is going to average out satellites and other stray objects that get into the frames.

Finally, we now have all settings ready to go. It's time to start the integration process.

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You'll press the integration button, and now APP will run through your entire set of images creating master bias, dark, flats, and bad pixel map. It will then apply them to all your light frames to calibrate them, then it will align all frames using the registration process, and finally integrate them into two light images, one for HA, and one for OIII.

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Once complete, you should have a folder that looks something like this:

These image thumbnails were generated with a finder plugin that came with Observatory on the Mac.

These image thumbnails were generated with a finder plugin that came with Observatory on the Mac.

Processing your calibrated images

From here, we're going to load integrated light frames in order to process them into a final image. If you look at the bottom of your files window in APP, the last two files on there should be your Integrated HA and OIII images.

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The first thing we're going to do is remove any light pollution that came from either the moon or any nearby lights (or city glow). Even narrowband images can be affected by light pollution, but it will not be quite as bad as RGB images.

Open the tools tab (Tab 9), and double click the first integration image, this loads the image into the viewer, and you can now press remove light pollution on the tools tab to open it for editing.

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With your image loaded into the light pollution removal tool, you'll take your cursor and draw boxes over any area that is sky only. Be careful not to draw boxes over any area that has nebulosity or image data in them. It's OK if you include stars. Once you have a good set of boxes covering most of the area, press the Calculate button. This will remove the light pollution based on the boxes you have currently.

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Once you see how this has an effect on your screen, it might reveal some hidden nebulosity that was covered by the light pollution. You should now be able to add a few more boxes to finish refining the light pollution removal. Once complete you can check by pressing calculate again. If you're happy with the results, press OK & Save. Rename your file here to remember which version this file is. Each time you process an image with APP it will have you save that image. You can continue to save over the previous image, but I always find it best to rename it different after each save. I use HA-LPR in this case. Keep the format as FITS.

Now you can process your other channel the same way.

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Don't worry about the edges of your frame. Due to the different alignment of each frame (assuming you used dithering curing your image capturing) you will have a few pixels on each side of your frame from the registration process. It's not necessary to try and remove any light pollution from here as you'll just crop it out in the next step.

Cropping your frames is a little tricky. You can load them one at a time using the batch modify tool and manually draw a box around each one. But that's imprecise. You might accidentally crop each frame differently. In order to do both at the same time with the same crop, you'll need to NOT load an image before choosing "batch modify". So press Batch Modify, tell it not to load an image, and it will then ask you which files you want to batch modify. Select your two frames that have light pollution removed. It will load the first frame. Draw a box around it, and press the Crop OK button. This will crop both frames at this location you've indicated.

You'll now see two frames at the bottom of your list that are both cropped.

Combine RGB

This is the fun part of the process. We're now going to take your two individual frames and combine them into a single color image. 

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Now you'll choose Combine RGB in the tools area of APP (left Tab 9). It will open a new area with nothing in it. From here we're going to add in our images using the Add button. We'll pick the cropped HA image, choose HA channel. Then we'll pick OIII and choose OIII channel. Then, since a full color image actually consists of three channels Reg, Green and Blue, we need to add the OIII frame again. On the left column, you should now have 3 channels listed, each with a few settings underneath them. From here, we can assign which color we want each frame to be colored. 

Take the slider under Hydrogen Alpha labeled R (for red), and slide it to 100%. Then make one of the OIII channels B (for blue) 100%, and the last channel of OIII G (for green) 100%. Now press the calculate button at the top of the column. This will process the three channels into an RGB image, and you should see the results in your main window.

Now press the create button, save it as your RGB integration (any name you choose), and keep the format as FITS.

Background calibration

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We're now going to use the background calibration tool on our new RGB image. This is going to make sure that the black in the background is a true neutral color. If we had just a little bit too much red, or blue, this will knock it out and make sure the black background is true black.

Load your image using the Background Calibration tool (tab 9). Draw your boxes around only background area that is black sky and stars. Do not get any of your nebulosity in the boxes, because we don't want it to neutralize your pretty colors. Press calculate to see the results. If it looks good press OK & Save. Name your file and pick FITS again for the format.

Star calibration

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Because we're making a false color image with two filters, our star colors are going to be exaggerated a bit. I like to use the star calibration to bring them more in line with the typical star color temperature they should be. 

The calibrate stars tool is is also in the tools menu (tab 9). Select the image where you calibrated the background. Load it into the calibrate stars tool. And draw your boxes around large sets of stars. Press the calculate button, and this will process the image. You'll notice your bright red stars drop down to a more normal color. The stars are now in a proper temperature color range. But you'll notice that we also lost a little color in the nebulosity. We're going to bring that color back in the next step. Save your image, and again name it and pick FITS for the format.

Final processing

In this last step, I'm going to process the final color in another app that I'm more familiar with. These steps can be done in APP using the tools always shown to the right of the image. But for me, I can achieve the results faster by using an app I know better. In this case, I'm going to use Photoshop, but the same tools I'll use here are also available in a number of other apps on the Mac. GIMP, which is free has these tools, as well as Acorn, Pixelmator, and others.

First things first. We need to get the last image we did out of APP and into a regular image format for use an a standard image editor. In the upper right hand corner of APP, you'll see a Save button.  Load your last star color calibrated frame, and then press the save button.

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Keep the stretch option checked, and it will export the image as you see it in the viewer. If you uncheck this, and export, you'll have to stretch your image in your other image app instead. I find the default stretch here to be adequate. When saving, make sure to pick a format you can read in your image application. I picked 8-bit Tiff, but you can also pick JPG if you want a smaller file at the expense of a little bit of quality.

I now load the image into photoshop and apply some Curves to darken the blacks, and brighten the lights.

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I also add some saturation here to make the colors more vibrant. With those two things done, I'm ready to save my final image and complete the process.

This tutorial is provided to show the basic steps in processing with APP. It is capable of so much more, and I only touched the surface with this tutorial. To achieve the best results, experiment with all the tools to see what you can achieve. 

The final processed Veil Nebula image

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Astronomy and astrophotography planning with AstroPlanner on the Mac

Overview of AstroPlanner

AstroPlanner is a complete system for tracking observations and planning out nightly viewing or imaging sessions with your equipment. It also offers computer scope control from within the application.

Upon launching the software you'll need to start populating it with your user information. You'll provide your observing locations, this can contain your current location, as well as offsite locations that you visit for observing. AstroPlanner can access a USB GPS device to give you pinpoint accuracy for your site location. This should allow you to plan for those remote visits before you travel, so that you can be prepared with the equipment you require for the objects you plan on viewing or imaging.

The filter resource. (Add your filters here on this tab, and AstroPlanner will show you the visible wavelengths your an view or image with.

The filter resource. (Add your filters here on this tab, and AstroPlanner will show you the visible wavelengths your an view or image with.

In addition to your location, you can add each telescope you own, any eye pieces you have, optical aids like Barlows or reducers, camera or viewing filters, the observer (yourself or a buddy who might observe with you), and any cameras you might utilize for imaging.

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Once you've added all your equipment, you can start to add objects to the observing list. There are four primary tabs for objects. The objects list, the observations tab to add observations, the field of view tab which shows you how your image will look using the selected equipment, and finally the sky tab which shows the nights sky chart and allows you to view where the object you selected lies in the night sky, as well as other objects that are visible.

The Objects view in Astro Planner

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This is the main view within AstroPlanner. From here you add objects by using the Plus symbol in the lower left corner fo the screen. You get a search function to find the object and add it to the list. You an also browse by what is visible currently in the sky, and filter those choices by object type (open cluster, galaxy, nebula, planetary nebula, etc.). Across the top of your screen, you get a readout for the current date and time, sidereal time, Julian date, GMT, and GMST. On the second row below that information you can select the telescope you intend to view your object with. Next to that, you can see the sun and twilight time, what the current moon looks like, as it's helpful to know how much of an impact the brightness of the moon will have with imaging. Then next to that is your site location, and a clock which you can set to show the object at different time intervals.

On the next row of information you see the ephemeris of the object during the night and month. This allows you to see the objects elevation during the darkest part of the night between sundown and sunrise and it's visibility over the month. Next you see see altitude and azimuth indicators from due north. This gives you an idea of how you will need to point your telescope to see the object, in the above image it's indicating you need to point east and slightly above the horizon. Lastly there is a tiny indicator of where the object is in the night sky.

At the bottom of the screen you see your object list, as well as the local sky chart (showing the object constellation where your object is. You can switch the sky constellation chart to show images from several astronomical databases like the Hubble Space Telescope raw images.

The Observations view in AstroPlanner

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This tab highlights observations for the currently selected object. From here you can put in seeing and transparency conditions, note your field of view, and add any observations you made of the object during this particular time and date.

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Additionally, you can add attachments to your observations. In this case, I added an image I took with my telescope of NGC7000. I left an observation note listing out the focal length and equipment I used for this session.

Field of view in AstroPlanner

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This tab allows you to select all of your equipment for the viewing session. In this particular instance you can see I picked the AT6RC scope, with a CCDT67 reducer, and the TeleVue Delos 4.5 eye piece. With the current object M33 selected, and a Hubble Space Telescope image loaded, I'm able to see what it would look like in my telescope's view had I been looking through that particular set of equipment. You can choose additional display options in the lower right hand corner and it will overall known stars, object names, etc into the view.

The Sky view in AstroPlanner

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In this final object view screen, the Sky tab, you can see a sky chart of where your object is in the night sky. You can turn on and off planets, stars, galaxies, etc using the display options to the right to fine tune the view and make it easier for you to spot your object in the night sky.

I hope this gives you a good indication of the use and benefit of having a detailed planning tool. AstroPlanner is available here and is priced at $45, which doesn't seem like that much for all the features that it offers.

Using EKOS to capture the Wizard Nebula (NGC7380) on the Mac

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This will be a general walkthrough of a typical capture session with my AstroTech AT6RC setup.

This should be a good walkthrough for someone not familiar with the system to enable capturing their own images. However, I'm not covering equipment setup in this post, but might cover it in the future in another post.

A few caveats with my particular setup. I break it down and set it up each night, so I require a new polar alignment before each session. My AVX mount doesn't fully support the park function in EKOS, so after a nights session, I cannot auto park, but others may have a mount that supports this feature.

Connect your equipment

The first step in my process is to set up all my equipment, connect it to the Mac laptop and start with an All Star Polar Alignment (I can't see Polaris, so use this method built into Celestron mounts). After this procedure is complete, I load up Kstars, then press the EKOS button on the top bar to launch the EKOS capture system. I then press the connect button to connect to my equipment which I have pre-setup within EKOS prior to this nights session.

Focus Module

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The mount is probably already aimed at your last alignment star from your polar alignment, and this is typically good enough to use for focusing. I select the Focus Module and then press the capture button. This grabs a single screen and displays it in the screen preview window. Since I have a motorized Moonlite focuser, I can select a star with the cursor (it puts a green box around it in the screen), and then press the Auto Focus button. This begins the auto focus routine where it begins automatically focusing in and out and measuring it's effects on FWHM (Full-Width Half-Maximum) which continually measures the width of the star to get it as small as possible after iterating multiple times. Now, we're in focus, and can move on to the next step. (Side note, if you don't have an automated focusing system, you can use the camera module's live preview feature and a Bahtinov mask to focus instead of using this module.)

Mount Control Window

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The next part of the process is to open up the Mount Control module, and select "Mount Control" in the upper right of the window. This will open a small control pad with arrows, and a target search to move your mount. I'll press the search icon and type in a target name for a simple, easy to identify target for plate solving. Usually I pick an open star cluster for this process. I selected NGC129, then pressed the GOTO button to slew the mount to that target.

Alignment Module

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Now that I have slewed to NGC129, I press the Alignment Module tab to go through a plate solving process to improve my GOTO model inside the mount and EKOS module. The reason you want to do this is both so that you have increased slewing accuracy, and so that once you pick your target and slew to it, you have confirmation that this is in fact the target you picked. Additionally, this helps with the meridian flip and ensuring that once the mount has flipped, after passing the meridian line, that your target is picked up in the exact same spot it left off before the flip. 

Usually what I do in this first step is select Sync under Solver Action. Then I press Capture and Solve. All I'm doing here is plate solving the current position to tell the mount exactly where it's aimed. I had told it to aim at NGC129, but after this first solve, it shows the mount is way off. Not knowing for sure if this is an adequate target, I pick a new one using the Telescope Control and aim at M39, an open cluster. I once again set it to Sync, and press Capture and Solve. Now I'm fairly close to the target, but not quite in the green area. I press goto one more time now that my mount knows where it is, and then Capture Solve/Sync one more time and see if the last slew was closer to the target. Finally, we're in the green and good to go to our final imaging target for the night. I pick the Wizard Nebula NGC7380, and press goto. Once there, I perform a Capture and Solve/Move to target. This will perform multiple Capture and Solve routines moving the mount each time getting the target lined up perfectly. Once it's good the Capture and Solve process stops. Time to turn on guiding now.

The Guide Module

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With our target picked, and GOTO plate solved to the target, we're ready to start guiding. This process is fairly straight forward. Dithering is turned on by default (you can check it by going to the options button in the lower right corner of the window). Now, we press capture, this shows you a single image from your guide cam. Select a star with your mouse, and it highlights with a green box. Press Guide, and the guiding calibration begins. This process is automatic, and you can watch the steps it's performing in the text window at the bottom of the screen. Once it's complete, guiding starts automatically. Now it's time to program our image sequence and start capturing.

The Sequence Module

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This is the final step for my process for an evening capture session. For the Wizard Nebula, I had planned on capturing it in bi-color over a two night period. Tonight is the first night, so I only plan to capture 7-8 hours of HA (Hydrogen Alpha filter), basically as long as I can before the sun comes up. Tomorrow night, I'll be capturing OIII (Oxygen III filter) for another 7-8 hours using the same routine. Since I have a cooled camera, the first thing I do here is set it's temperature to -15°C, and press the set button. The temperature quickly begins to lower. I can check that box next to the temperature, and the sequence will not start until the temperature has been reached. Next I plug in my Exposure time, I've set it to 180s, or 3 min images. A count of 240, which is more than enough to cover me to sun up. I make sure the type is set to "Light" for light frames (as opposed to dark, bias, or flat). I set the filter to H-a, then under file settings I name the files with a prefix, in this case NGC7380, and I check off Filter, Duration, and TS (Time Stamp) so that those are appended to the file names that I'm capturing.

Now I've set all the perimeters for my sequence. I now add the parameters to the sequence que by going up to the top and pressing the "+" button. This adds it to the right into the que.  If I lived in a dark area, and wanted to capture more than HA during the evening, I could change my parameters and add sequences for OIII, SII, or LRGB and just make sure that I only put enough time into each so that the sequence can finish by the end of the night. But since I'm in a light polluted area, I need as much time as I can spend on each filter, so I typically spend one evening per filter and get decent imaging results.

We're done now with setting the sequence, and we're ready to run it for the evening. You'll press the play button at the bottom of the sequence window, and your camera will start capturing images until the sequence is complete. You can now tab over to the main window and watch the images roll in for the evening, or head to bed like I do, ready to wake up by sunrise and take down all the equipment before it gets too hot outside. (I live in the south where it's quite warm during the day).

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From here you can monitor the images that are being captured for the sequence you've plugged into the sequence editor.

Below is the final processed image from two nights of imaging. I processed it with Astro Pixel Processor, PixInsight, and Photoshop on my iMac Pro workstation. Full equipment details can be found at Astrobin.

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An Overview of EKOS Astrophotography Suite on the Mac

This is the main EKOS window. On the left are tabs that represent different sections of the application.

This is the main EKOS window. On the left are tabs that represent different sections of the application.

EKOS is the capture suite that comes as part of the KStars Observatory software package. It's a free, fully automated suite for capturing on Mac, Linux, and PC. It's not to dissimilar to Sequence Guider Pro on the PC. While the capture suite comes with KStars, you're not limited to using KStars. EKOS will also allow you to send commands to your mount from SkySafari on the Mac as well.

I'll break down it's use and capabilities screen by screen.

Main Window

In the main window shown above, you see tabs that represent each part of the application which include the Scheduler, Mount Control, Capture Module, Alignment Module, Focus Module, and Guide Module. From the main window you will see the currently taken image, the seconds remaining in the next image, as well as which image number you are on during the sequence, and the percent complete of the entire sequence with hours, minutes, and second remaining in your sequence. Additionally to the right of your image, you see your target and tracking status, focus status, and guiding status.

Scheduler

This is the Scheduler window, where you can pick your targets, and assign capturing sequences to them.

This is the Scheduler window, where you can pick your targets, and assign capturing sequences to them.

From the Scheduler, you can pick your targets, and assign them capture sequences (which are set up in the imaging module). Additionally there are some overall parameters you can set here for starting a session and ending a session. If you have a permanent observatory, you do things here like open and close your observatory with startup and shut down sequences, or set parameters for when to run your schedule based on the twilight hour, weather, or phase of the moon. The scheduler lets you set up multiple imaging sessions, mosaics, and more. And as the twilight hour approaches, it will start up and pickup imaging based off of priorities you set, or object priorities based on their visibility in the night sky. Imaging sessions can be set for a single night, or can be taken over multiple nights if it wasn't able to complete them in a single night.

Mount Control

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Mount control is fairly straight forward. This window shows the current aperture and focal length of your selected equipment. You can save multiple equipment configurations from this window for various telescope and guide scope combinations that you might have. Current tracking information is also shown in this window. If you select Mount Control in the upper right of the screen, it pops up a floating window with arrow buttons, speed and goto functions for manually controlling the mount. You can search for a target, and manually go to an object in the sky to start an imaging session without setting one up in the scheduler.

Capture Module

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From here you control all aspects of your imaging camera including setting up imaging sequences. For instance, I might have 7 hours of night time to image before the sun rises. I can divide that time up between each filter, and save the sequence of 120 captures, at 60s each at -20°C for each individual filter, and save that as a sequence which I can later load and reuse anytime I want to run that session during a 7 hour window. Or I could say I want 20 hours total on an object, and set all parameters for each filter to accommodate a 20 hour session, and save it. Or maybe I want one session for LRGB, and one for narrowband imaging. You can also set flat, dark and bias sequences. Flats have an awesome automatic mode, where you can set a pre-determined ADU value, and it will expose each filter automatically to the same ADU and capture all your flats in a single automatic session. It also supports hardware like the FlipFlat so that flat sessions can be run immediately following a nights imaging session. Additionally you can set guiding and focus limits for imaging sessions, and control when your meridian flip occurs.

Focus Module

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Here you can control all focus functions if you have a computer controlled focuser. I highly recommend getting one of these. Focusing can be set up to run automatically. It will capture a single image, and auto select a star, then run a sequence where it continues to capture, while moving the focuser in and out. Each time it is graphing the HFR on a curve plot trying to find the best point of focus. Depending on seeing conditions, it can get focusing down in 3-4 iterations, or sometimes 20. All parameters including threshold and tolerance settings for focusing are controlled in this window.

Alignment Module

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From this window you can polar align (assuming you can see Polaris), and also plate solve to locate an object center window or improve GOTO accuracy. Since I can't see Polaris from my location, I have to use my mounts built in All Star Polar Alignment process, then I can come to this window to capture & solve a target to improve it's GOTO accuracy. There are several nice features accessible here. You can load a fits file from a previous imaging session, it will plate solve the image, then move your telescope to that precise point to continue an imaging session. Or you can select targets from the floating mount control window, then capture and solve, or capture and slew to bring the mount as close to center of the target as possible. EKOS automatically uses this function during an imaging session to initially align to a target, and then realign once the meridian flip occurs.

Guide Module

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The guide module handles all guiding through your guide scope and camera. Press capture in the upper left, and hit guide, a star will be automatically selected, calibration starts, and once calibrated guiding begins. Additionally options can be set for dithering, and guide rate. For people who prefer PHD2, EKOS integrates seamlessly with it, and even shows PHD2's guiding graphs within the app and on your overview tab. I've not personally had any issues using the EKOS guiding, and it has an additional benefit of being able to reacquire a guide star after clouds interrupt your imaging session, and can continue the imaging session when it's clear again.

Overall thoughts

As someone who images regularly, and doesn't have a permanent setup (like an observatory), I like how much of the application can automate my nights imaging sessions. There is little else available on the Mac that is this full featured. The Cloudmakers suite comes in a close second for me, but is initially easier to set up and use. Additionally TheSkyX is also a full featured suite, however I've not used it. The setup process with EKOS isn't too difficult once you get an understanding of how the modules interact with each other and what all the options do. I hope this brief overview gives you enough of an idea that you can setup and use the software on your own. EKOS has a healthy number of contributors on the project, and regularly sees updates on a  monthly basis, and has good support through it's user forums.

The final image of M101 taken during this session that I captured the above screens from. This was actually 17 hours done over three imaging sessions.

The final image of M101 taken during this session that I captured the above screens from. This was actually 17 hours done over three imaging sessions.

Observatory Astronomy Image Catalog Application for the Mac

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What do you do with the organized or unorganized chaos of your astrophotography library of images as you continue to add to it over time? I end up with dozens and dozens of folder within folder sorted by date and object. Well, Observatory has shown that there's a better way.

After importing your images (which is just a reference to your files on your drive, so very little additional space is required) you can plate solve the images for automatic tagging by all the known astronomical databases. The benefit of this is that any object you've purposely captured, or objects you inadvertently captured are tagged in your images. You can then create smart folders which then subdivide your set of images into nice little categories like galaxies, nebulas, planetary nebulas, etc.

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Additionally you can batch tag your images with equipment you used, and also have those same images flow into smart folders for sets of equipment you used. The benefit being that you might have imaged a smaller galaxy or object with a wide FOV set of equipment, and you want to revisit that object with a narrow FOV set of equipment. This could really help in planning your imaging sessions going forward. And, if your'e a completionist like I am, and intend to image the whole Messier catalog, this is a great way to keep track of it.

Automatic tagging and smart folders, show you what images in your library match the criteria of the folder selected.

Automatic tagging and smart folders, show you what images in your library match the criteria of the folder selected.

There are some light weight stacking, and calibration features that work well for one shot color cameras, which take folders of hundreds of images and displays them in a single stack to mitigate the clutter. I would like to see some way to integrate mono channels into single stacks by selecting each channel and assigning it a color.

Additionally, a small, but powerful feature of adding astronomical image types to quicklook is an amazingly beneficial too for browsing your images in the finder. No more loading images to see what they are, when you select one and press the spacebar, you see it instantly.

Some things I'd like to see come to a future version are better management tools for your equipment, since this is only done through tagging right now. I would like some place to store equipment I own, so it's easier to select when tagging images. I'd also like to see FOV overlays of my equipment on some of the research portions of the data. (Incidentally, the application has access to vast NASA libraries of images you can download into and view.) It would be nice to pull up a Hubble image and see how my gear could frame it, and what might be the best possible set of gear to use when planning a session on a particular object. Other information like object rise and set time based on my location would be beneficial for planning sessions.

In all though, this is a great v1 of a cataloging application for astronomical images, and I look forward to what v2 will bring.

M101 and surrounding nebula are auto tagged once the image is plate solved.

M101 and surrounding nebula are auto tagged once the image is plate solved.

Markarian's Chain has an enormous amount of galaxies hidden deeper into the image that are only revealed after plate solving.

Markarian's Chain has an enormous amount of galaxies hidden deeper into the image that are only revealed after plate solving.