Last updated: 6 March 2002

Remote Control Telescope

Sent:	Monday, March 4, 2002 17:57:15
From: (Kate / Tom)
Readers with Autostar (ETX series, LX-90, even maybe someday LXD-55,
etc.) telescopes may find an astronomical kludge I've created useful,
perhaps interesting, or at least amusing. Okay, maybe even odd.

I've cobbled together an inexpensive remote-control telescope, which
allows my sweetie and I to snuggle warm inside away from frigid 65
degree Southern California temperatures (snicker), while we sip
Margaritas and enjoy views of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn on a
portable computer screen. Alright, we even tried to sneak a peek at the
neighbors once or twice. It's even more fun when we have a friends or
strangers over and put the image on the living-room TV. The moon, not
the neighbors. I've even pumped still frames out to a website with this
arrangement so folks on the Internet can simultaneously share the view.
The moon, not the neighbors.

Basically, I have a laptop hooked to a "goto" scope with an inexpensive
video camera at the eyepiece with several computer programs that make it
all work. Specifically, I have an Apple Macintosh iBook hooked to a
Meade Autostar hand-controller driven by a nifty program aptly named
ScopeDriver. The AutoStar/ScopeDriver controls either an ETX-90 (for
solar observing) or an LX-90 for dimmer subjects. Attached to the scope
is a SAC-IV camera which connects to the iBook via a USB hub. The camera
can put up to a 640x480 image on the laptop screen or out to a TV set
via iBook's standard, built-in-at-no-extra-cost video adapter. Reel
Eyes, a reelly crummy program that comes with the SAC-IV, puts the
picture on the laptop screen (usually), and a great Macintosh-only
program called Oculus handles the screen-grabbing and webcam file
transfer protocol (ftp) job. An Apple AirPort wireless-LAN handles the
on-line connection from the back porch.

The computer, of course, has it's own AC/battery power solution. Hub,
'scope, and camera can be powered by 120v A.C., a car's 12v power source
(they used to call 'em cigar lighters), or a 12v gell-cell powerpack, so
the whole kit 'n kaboodle can go to the desert or mountains--or even, I
hereby volunteer, into space. A friend whipped up a simple 12v to 5v
converter, so the USB hub can use juice from the gellcell to power both
the camera and a Keyspan USB-to-serial adapter which is connected to the

Next project is to find an affordable hi-res, low-light camera so we can
take a crack at a nebula and deep sky objects from indoors, realtime.
(Even snuggled up with my sweetie I'm too impatient to wait for a 10 day
Hubble exposure). This project is at the "gleam in my eye while my
darlin' holds the check book tightly" stage. A follow on project is to
find some way to get rid of all the wires. That project is in the
research stage with parapsychology, BlueTooth, Fundamental Christian,
directed energy weapons, and quantum tunneling investigations on-going.

Telescope images on a screen, not through an eyepiece, make a great way
to stimulate conversation with family, friends, neighbors and complete
strangers. And it gives me an opportunity to pull out the soapbox and
drone on about the sad state of science education, increasing light
pollution, slow planetary exploration, religious intolerance, and other
pet peeves.

Peeping Tom

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