Thursday, November 30, 2023
Science Teachers
HomeAstrophotographyUncle Rod's Astro Blog: #559: Return of the Losmandy

Uncle Rod’s Astro Blog: #559: Return of the Losmandy

“Return? Where did your Losmandy GM811G go, Unk?” It
didn’t go nowhere muchachosincluding onto an observing field or even into the
backyard for almost two years.

I received the mount in the latter part of 2017, was able to
use it one night and part of another at the somewhat misbegotten 2017 Deep South Star Gaze, and employed it to help me with my Sky &
Test Report on Meade’s 115mm APO (June 2018). That was pretty
much it other than a few casual observing runs in the backyard that winter of
2017-18. Over most of 2018, truly lousy weather and the return of some
lingering back problems discouraged me from using anything heavier than my
Advanced VX, and often not even that. Then, in January of 2019, I was involved
in the accident that sidelined me from observing
with anything—even an 80mm refractor on an AZ-4 mount—for the better part of a

In the natural order of things, cursed 2019 finally marched
off and 2020 took, its place. The new year has found my physical (and mental)
condition improved, though I’m certainly not completely back to my old self.
However, I’m improved enough to do a little observing from the backyard
if not yet at star parties or other dark sites.

As we talked about last time, I recently got my Advanced VX
and C8 into the backyard for a little video work, and in the course of doing so discovered
the mount’s real time clock battery was dead as the proverbial doornail. Which
got me to thinking the RTC battery in the GM811’s Gemini 2 computer was
probably dead too. I decided the next clear stretch we got I would get the
Losmandy outside and see if she needed a new battery.

What would I put on the Losmandy, though, campers? I
was thinking that might be my beloved 6-inch refractor, Big Ethel. I had been
planning on using her to do some Herschel 400 observing, and figgered it was
high time I got started on that.

Anyhow, I began rounding up the pieces and parts of the Losmandy
last Wednesday afternoon. The tripod, the excellent LW tripod that even broken
down old me can carry around with ease, was in the sunroom closet. Also lurking
there was the mount head itself in a big, plastic Tupperware-style container.
And I knew the HC and some accessories were in an aluminum case labeled
“Losmandy,” natch. The counterweight was sitting on the floor of said closet.
“OK got everything, right? Wait…where is the Gemini 2 computer? And the
cables to connect it to the mount?”

The Gemini 2 Computer.

I’ll admit I panicked for a minute—until one of my few
remaining braincells fired and I recalled the Gemini 2 computer and associated
cables were in a plastic pistol case I got from
Academy. There wasn’t room in the aluminum tool attaché for the Gemini 2 as
well as the hand control and power supply. A little hunting around and I
finally laid my hands on it. First thing I did was get my label-maker and emblazon
that case in big letters with “LOSMANDY GEMINI 2 COMPUTER.” After another spell
of panic when opening that case didn’t reveal the mount’s dec and RA
cables—they were under the foam of the lid of the case—I was all set for when
the clouds were predicted to roll out on Thursday.

Yep, all was cool. Until I realized I no longer had the
foggiest notion how to do a goto alignment with the Gemini. I went to the
Gemini 2 Internet site and downloaded and printed a bunch of the documentation
there. Biggest help of all, though, believe it or not, was your old Unk
. I printed out the pages of this blog entry
wherein I led y’all through the GM811 setup step by step. Sometimes my
longwinded nature comes in handy, I reckon.

When Thursday afternoon began to die under a clear blue sky,
I got the mount into the backyard starting with the LW (lightweight) tripod. As
I remembered, it was light enough not to be a pain, not even in my somewhat
pitiful current condition. Frankly, it’s easier to handle than a run-of-the-mill
Chinese 2-inch steel legged tripod. Bolted the Gemini 2 computer onto that,
and it was time for the only (somewhat) painful part of the process.

Next, natch, was the GM811 mount head. I won’t lie, it’s a
bit of a handful. It’s lighter than a G11 head, since it utilizes the GM8 dec
assembly (hence its name, GM811), but still heavier than the AVX to put it
mildly. Still, it’s lots easier to handle than my old and long-sold Atlas and CGEM mounts and is capable
of a 50-pound payload, including for imaging, something those old Synta mounts
could not approach. I carried the head into the back 40 and up to the tripod in
its container (which has nice handles) and got it onto the tripod with only a
little whining and complaining.

The mount was assembled and pointing roughly north with the
Gemini computer in place, the hand control connected, and the counterweight
installed. Now to mount the six-inch refractor. I failed in doing that, friends

Pretty Hermione.

In the course of trying to get Ethel into the G11’s saddle,
I nearly dropped her, cut myself on her dovetail, bled all over the tube, and
gave it up as a bad business. In these latter days, I’ve learned one important
thing:  If you don’t think you can do
something or are uncomfortable about doing it, STOP
.  It was obvious I was not going to get the big
refractor on the mount, not on this day, so I dropped back a bit in aperture to
my smaller and lighter refractor, the SkyWatcher 120mm APO, Hermione.

Pretty Hermione went on the mount without a hitch, and I had
her well-balanced in just a couple of minutes. While I was doing that, I
ruminated on my defeat at the hands of Ethel, and recalled I had developed a system
for mounting her safely. A system I had ignored on this afternoon because I had
forgotten it. I was actually pleased that in the somewhat befuddled mental state
I still occasionally fall into, I had pulled that info out. While I was pretty
sure I knew how to get Ethel in place, now, I decided to leave well enough
alone and stick with Hermione for the GM811’s re-commissioning run.

After checking into a new 10-meter net we have going down
here, the Lockdown Fun Net (28.420 on Thursdays at 23:59 UTC) and
sharing a few yuks with the fellers, it was time to see what was up with the
Losmandy. Would the battery be dead or near dead and cause problems? Would she
work as well as she had in 2018? Would she work at all?

OK, rubber meets road time. I plugged in the Losmandy AC
power supply, flipped the switch on the Gemini 2, and waited for the HC’s color
touch screen to come to life. It did, which was reassuring, displaying
“initializing.” That took a little bit, but I recalled that to be normal. Soon
I was presented with the good, old opening menu. I chose “Cold Start,” and
shortly was beginning my alignment. As you’ll know if you read the above-linked blog
entry on the mount, my procedure is to line up on three – four stars west
of the Meridian (at home I have my best view to the west), and one on the
east side. I touched the align button and was presented with my first choice,
Denebola. Wait. What? That part of Leo was still on the east side of the Local Meridian…could it be?

Yep, I backed out of the alignment and checked system time.
It was off by nearly an hour. After almost three years the little button cell
in the computer was still trying to keep time, but having a hard time of it.
That was OK. I’d ordered batteries for both the Losmandy and Celestron RTCs
(naturally the two mounts use different batteries), and those would
arrive from Amazon on the morrow. For tonight, I’d just set the clock to the
proper time and hope for the best.

Align screen on the hand control.

Time corrected, the HC’s alignment star choices became
reasonable. I chose Pollux, Capella, Procyon, and Alkaid in the west, and
Arcturus in the east and I was done. The first star needed a little slewing,
but the rest fell into the field of my reticle eyepiece and only required minor
adjustment. As I mention in the aforementioned article, I don’t do separate sky
models in the east and west, just a western model with one eastern star added
to it (I know that sounds odd; it did to me at first as well). That provides me
with excellent goto accuracy in the hemisphere I’m working in, and acceptable
accuracy in the opposite one in case I jaunt over to there.

Oh, by the way, I’d performed a precise polar alignment with
Sharpcap before beginning. While there is a polar alignment helper in the
Gemini 2 HC (a’ la AllStar), I have never tried it. Anyway, I doubt it would
approach the accuracy of a Sharpcap alignment, which quickly gets you to within a
few arc-seconds of the pole and is very easy to do. How sensitive is the Gemini
2 system to polar mis-alignment? Don’t ask me. I just do a Sharpcap alignment, even on visual nights.

“Hokay, let’s give her the acid test with a goto.” I was
reasonably sure I’d be OK given the way the alignment stars had fallen into the
field of the eyepiece, but you never know. “Hmm…let’s see; how about Messier
37?” I touched “goto” on the screen (I’d now had the sense to switch the color
screen to night vision red), the motors whirred and purred—no weasels with
tuberculosis sounds with this mount—and stopped. There was the beautiful
open cluster centered in the 13mm Ethos. “Alrighty then; how about ‘harder’? M3
is still well on the east side of the Meridian.” The big spring glob was not
quite centered, but almost. Swapped the 13mm eyepiece for the 8mm Ethos, and
Hermione busted the thing into many tiny stars.

And so it went: M37, M3, M35, M36, M38, M51, M82, and,
finally, just to remind myself how good Hermione is, Venus, who presented a
color free little crescent. Almost all were pretty despite the presence of a
fattening Moon riding high and considerable haze. Well, with the exception of
M51. I could pick out the Whirlpool Galaxy with averted vision, but just

As I was wrapping up, I began to believe it might be a good
idea to revise my somewhat sanguine take on what I am calling “The New Herschel
Project.” My original aim was to essay the 400 with Big Ethel, the 6-inch. Five
years ago, that would have been more than possible from my backyard. Now? I’m
not so sure.

Mrs. Emma Peel.

It’s not that light pollution is worse. There are few
streetlights in our subdivision, Hickory Ridge, and the general sky brightness
is, I’d say, no worse than it was when we moved out here. Most of the area’s
growth is now on the other side of Mobile Bay, in Baldwin County. No, the
problem is the weather. Weather patterns have definitely changed no
matter what personal beliefs you might hold about climate change. Clear nights are fewer
and hazier. And, strangely, on still, hazy nights seeing, which used to be
outstanding down here on evenings like that, just ain’t as good as it once was.

So, here’s the plan: The New Herschel Project, which will,
like the Big Enchilada, be visual plus video,
will at least begin with an 8-inch, Mrs. Emma Peel, my Celestron Edge 800. If
she starts knocking them off with ease visually, I will drop down to Big Ethel,
perhaps. Video cameras? In tune with the kinder/gentler – simpler nature of the
New Project, I intend to stick with the Revolution Imager, the Mallincam Micro,
and, if either has trouble, the Mallincam Junior.

The plan for the Friday morning following the mount’s
successful revival was to get my laptop squared away. The mount is most
versatile and most pleasant to operate from a PC when you utilize the Gemini
2’s Ethernet connection (it will also do serial or USB). Unfortunately, the
laptop I was using when I bought the Losmandy has long since gone to its
reward. I’d have to spend some time configurating the new one, a nice Lenovo.

First thing, I downloaded Stellarium, Stellarium Scope, Sky
Tools 3, the ASCOM platform, and the Gemini 2 Ascom driver. Installed all of  that stuff. Next up was configuring the Ethernet connection—which I recalled was not a
horrible experience, if not exactly fun. I’d been successful before, though, so
I wasn’t skeered.

Okey-dokey…first step is assigning a static IP address to
the Ethernet port on the laptop. I opened the network center in Win 10, went to
the adapters window and… What? In the window was an icon for Wi-Fi, and an icon
for Bluetooth. Where was the icon for “local area network”? I had a sinking
feeling and began eyeballing the laptop’s connectors. HDMI? Sure. Several USB 3
receptacles? Yep. Ethernet? No. Nope. Nada.

What would I do, what would I do? First
thought was just to set up for USB. But I recalled how darned good Ethernet
worked. I wouldn’t give up without a struggle. Could there be such a thing as a
USB – Ethernet adapter? A trip to Amazon showed that indeed there was, and I
got one on its way to me for less than 20 bucks.

Tonight, Friday night, I will be back in the backyard again
at least briefly to check that the battery replacement for the Gemini 2 worked
OK—the little button cells arrived right on schedule Friday morning. I’ll
probably look at a few purty ones as well, and I will, I guess, switch out
Hermione for Mrs. Peel. But next step on the road to the New Project is getting
the computer squared away. We are expecting maybe four more clear nights, but the moon is waxing, and I expect it will be week after next before there’s much chance of getting any Herschels in the can. You will learn about my
success with that—or lack thereof—in the next installment.

Speaking of installments, how often will the blog be updated
now that it is, no foolin’, back? I don’t think you should expect
“every Sunday” as in days of yore, but “a couple of times a month” sounds
reasonable—though that will depend on the weather. It’s not like, given the
Covid Lockdown and my still somewhat frail condition, that there will be any trips
to big (or even small) star parties for me to report on anytime soon. I think
we will be able to have some fun in the good, old backyard, however.

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

  • No products in the cart.