Adding Bluetooth / Sky Safari to Argo Navis

NOTE: these notes are the result of a personal endeavour. Feel free to follow them, but I take no responsibility for the outcome. Do this at your own risk.  

OK. Disclaimers out of the way, here goes…

At a recent star party at Kelling Heath, I got chatting to members of the Crawford AS, and was inspired to look into how I could hook up my trusty Argo Navis to Sky Safari. A lot of the pieces of the puzzle were scattered around the net, but I didnt find a definitive guide… so here goes :

Why

By hooking up argo navis to sky safari you can

  • Sync sky safari to the scope, as you move the scope, sky safari scrolls the sky to follow your every move
  • Click on an object and select “Goto”, argo will then give you the usual direction indicators to locate the object
  • Dispense with uploading User object lists
  • Probably a lot of other things 

You are basically combining the strengths of Argo Navis with some serious compute power in the way of an Android tablet.

How

At a high level, you are extending the serial port on the Argo Navis to “broadcast” the serial communications over a wireless connection. This wireless connection can be Bluetooth or WiFi, I chose to go the Bluetooth route, which forces me down the Android route for my tablet (Apple dont support enough Bluetooth features).  The Wifi route should work for Android, iOS and Windows.

Heres what you need to buy

Sky Safari Plus or Pro, I use Plus (£14)

You can just use the Serial cable that came with the Argo and a DB9 male to Male adapter. If you want to make your own cable, get an RS232 to Bluetooth adapter, heres the one I bought from Amazon for around £20. In the. US these are sold on the excellent site USConverters.com


You’ll then also need an RJ11 to DB9 (Male) adapter , I paid around £5


You’ll also then need a suitable length of ADSL cable (note these are wired differently to the standard Argo Navis serial cable)

OK, I went shopping, what next 
The RS232 adapter comes preconfigured to 19200 BAUD with some generic name and default pin code.  For this to work, the adapter needs to run at 9600 BAUD.  Its nice to give your adapter a friendly name and a pin code that isn’t 1234

All the resources, datasheets and instructions for this are here, in summary, though you need a teminal emulator such as teraterm, you then connect to the Bluetooth adapter over Bluetooth (using the standard windows method) and initiate a serial connection.   Once connected, you need to get the device into “AT mode”, so you can issue some commands to it.

Usually this is done by typing  “>>>” into teraterm

Once in AT mode issue the command “AT” and you should get some response such as “OK”

Use the following commands to reprogram the adapter:

baud=9600

pin=4321  (obviously using your own choice of pin code)

name=myname (again use your imagination here)

Thats it, all done ! 

Making your own serial cable

If you are using the original serial cable that came with the Argo, then you can skip to the next section. Otherwise, you need to replicate the wiring of the original cable using the RJ11 to DB9 adapter.  Only 3 of the 4 wires are used and these go into pins 5,2 and 3 of the DB9 connectors.

Look here for RS232 pinouts.  The Argo Navis manual shows the pin outs of the serial ports.
Connecting it all up

Plug the Argo navis serial port 1 (or 2) to the RS232/bluetooth adapter.

Using the Argo menus, configure serial port 1 (or 2) to 9600 baud and set the type to  “meade”

On the tablet, instal sky safari and pair with the RS232 bluetooth adapter using the normal android bluetooth pairing method

In sky Safari, set up the telescope as “Meade LX200 Classic” and “Alt/Az Goto”

On the telescope menu hit “Connect”, this is the moment of truth.  If you get an issue connecting, check your settings in Argo, and on Sky Safari, but the likely cause is the RS232 cable wiring is wrong

When out observing: 

1) Star Align Argo Navis as normal

2) Connect sky safari to the telescope using the telescope menu

3) Put the Argo in “MODE CATALOG” , “FROM PLANETARIUM” mode

4) Select an object in sky safari and click “Goto”

5) Argo will now tell you where to point as normal

6) Leave Argo in “FROM PLANETARIUM” mode, whenever you select a new object in Safari, it will automatically be sent to Argo ready for you to push to (I assume if you use ServoCat or similar to drive your scope, the that will kick in

If you select “Lock” in sky safari, then as you move the scope around the sky, the crosshairs will follow your every move 

Gloves off approach

If you want to build your own RS232 Bluetooth adapter, its probably quite simple … Argo Navis uses RS232 at +/- 5volts (Gary from Wildcard confirmed this), a Max3232 adapter board (sold for use with Arduino/RPi) will bring that down to 3.3 volt logic level suitable for an HC-06 bluetooth module.  I purchased the parts to do this, and maybe I’ll get round to it one cloudy night.  If I do I’ll write it up here … watch this space.

Clear Skies

Kelling Spring 8-10 Apr 2016. In it to win it

After an awful winter with almost no time at the eyepiece, we were looking forward optimistically to the Kelling Heath star party.  The only thing standing on our way was the weather !  The forecast wasn’t looking too promising, but a forecast is no more than an educated guess, so I decided to go… You have to be in it to win it

It turned out that Ade had a pool tournament double booked, and Mem was having trouble with work commitments.  So on Thursday night I set out alone, with JonStarrySky to follow on Friday afternoon.

This trip was ‘first light’ for my new tent, a Vango Air Icarus 600.  Being an air beam tent, I was able to erect it myself and peg it down in around 20 minutes.  The scope gives us much more space, and I’m very happy with it.

 

Our Pitch

Once I’d met the neighbours, I went off to some fish and chips, unsure what the night would bring.  Around 10ish the sky did partially clear and I was able to complete around 2 hours observing.  It was a case of cloud dodging, so my recent set of laminates outlining objects by constellation, type and magnitude came in very handy indeed !

It wasn’t the sort of night to go looking for many new target, the clouds were rolling over very quickly, and I didn’t manage extensive notes. M51 was the best I’ve ever seen, obvious spiral structure, a real wow moment !   I spent a lot of time surfing between Leo, UMa and Pegasus. It was a decent nights viewing.

Friday was unsettled and between showers, I went exploring. Wasn’t in the mood (or did I have the need to) make any purchases, but it’s always good to look at what’s on offer.   I had an interesting chat with ScopeDrives about there Scope Dog product, http://www.scopedrives.com.  I also spent some time talking Helix about her telescope, a 20″ f3.5 custom built dob, so we were able to compare notes. I was the first proper outing for her scope, and she was pleased with the comparison to my 20″ f4 obsession.

Caught up with Dale, Who seems to be settling into retirement nicely…lucky man !

ENS stand. In the freground is ScopeDrives custom built scope with ScopeDog fitted

Jon arrived, which was great.  We didn’t waste much time going for something to eat, and we settled into a familiar pattern of waiting for cloud to dissipate.  Jon managed around and hour in the small hours, but I elected to catch up on sleep as the forecast for Saturday night was looking very promising indeed….

Saturday during the day was a complete wash out.  My tent had by now seem quite a bit of action and was holding up well !  The forecasts were agreeing, the sat24 satellite images concurred, that the early hours of Sunday morning were going to be clear. After eating, we hit the sack early and decided to keep a watch on conditions throughout the night.  At 1am the clouds gave way and we managed 5 hours of quality observing. This was a special night !  Worth the wait. !!  Most of the following observations were made with my 13mm Ethos

M104 – sombrero Galaxy –  higher in the sky than the earlier session on Thursday had allowed. This galaxy gave out a lot of detail, a bright core with a dark dust lane bisecting the whole galaxy

M13 – the 13mm ethos seems to have been designed with m13 i mind.  Wow, just wow, the cluster had a 3 dimension feel to it, as one of my neighbours said when he took a look, you felt like you could reach out and touch it !

M5, M3 – looked like m13 on a lesser night.  Spectacular

M57 – the summer sky was rising and with it was the ring nebula in Lyra. Early on it glowed big and bright, and later on as it rose, there were definite hints of the elusive central star

M82 – always an easy target, but tonight the dust lanes crossing around the central core were very clear.  Close by was

M81 – I’m used to seeing this from home and it looks small compared to images, but tonight it was enormous, the galaxies apparent extent almost filled the eyepiece. There was some hint of structure too which I’ve never seen before

NGC4565 – The needle galaxy was long and thin, with the dust lane in this side on Galaxy easily visible as was the companion Galaxy

 

Needle Galaxy

NGC4631 – a bright Galaxy with a small companion, some mottled details around the core.

M64 – black eye Galaxy.  The black eye was close to the core, with the Galaxy extending way beyond. The Galaxy was much larger than I’ve previously seen.

M106 – large, with large swirls visible

 

M106

 

Leo triplet, as was the case on Thursdays the individual galaxies were all large, and therefore looked closer together than I’m used to.  The NGC member was very clear with a dust lane visible

FIREBALL – not sure of the exact time, but a large fireball careered across the sky.  At first, I thought it was a close by firework.

M51 – This was a stand out object.  The structure was clear and detailed, I spent a good deal of time peering into this pair of colliding galaxies.

M101 – after a brief trip to Andrews 24″ to look at M101, I took a look in my little 20″ 😉  normally faint and ‘flat’, tonight there was clear structure, swirls and H2 star forming regions visible (I counted 3 in my scope). Another stand out object !

M10, 12, 14. – smaller lower GCs, pretty though !

Owl Nebula – two little eyes were peering back at me

NGC4490 – a pair of interacting galaxies were a lovely sight

 

NGC4490

So much to see !!!

Saturn – very low, and wibbly wobbly, but there was some detail in the rings with the Cassini division an easy spot .

Mars – again, low, but worth a look

Jupiter – I was having so much fun, I had forgotten to look at it ! Ah it would have ruined my night vision anyway !

I tried for the crescent nebula and the veil, but low in the sky, they weren’t at their best.

Comet 252P/Linear – currently working its way through ophicius

Well they were the observing highlights, we finished at 5 as the sun was on its way up and the sky was lightening rapidly. A stunning night, one of the best !

Was a great weekend,  the only things.missing were Mem and Ade..next time boys !

30 Jan – second light

A week later, and another clear sky allowed me to try out my solar scope.

First job was to align the sol searcher, which was very easy using the supplied Allen key. Once done, I spent about an hour looking at the various features, with the pressure tuner helping me switch between edge on prominances and face on surface detail.

Today there was a very large detached prom, and a nice sunspot in the middle of the globe. I experimented with 8, 11, 15 and 20mm eyepieces, but for the conditions, the 15mm seemed to be the sweet spot.

That was the last session with the manfrotto, which is now sold. I have an AZ3 on order, hopeful it will arrive mid week.

23 Jan 2016 – first light with Lunt 50mm Solarscope

Despite the weather forecasts, for once lady luck was on my side. Around 11:00am a blue sky emerged and there was a short opportunity to try out my Lunt 50mm scope.
For now, I’m using the scope on a Manfrotto tripod with a 3 way head. I was able to point the scope at the sun with the aid of the sol searcher, but it was clumbsy. Fine movements are difficult and once locked off at a given positon, the tripod sagged a little taking the sun out of view. With a bit of practice, I was able to aim the scope high with the “sag” bringing the sun back into view. I’ve since decided to sell the tripod and buy an AltAz tripod such as the skywatcher AZ3.
The sol searcher is very easy to use, I did find that it needs aligning, so next time out, I’ll have a go at doing that. It looks fairly easy to do with the provided allen key.
Once I’d located the sun in the eyepiece, I focussed it. The helical focusser is fairly tight, I guess with use it will loosen off, but its not a problem. To start with it was just an orange ball, but once I kicked in with the pressure tuner, I was able to highlight surface granulation, and a number of prominences popped into view. A large diagonal filament crossed the centre of the disk.
I started with the 15mm Plossl and went up to the 11mm. Very satisfying ! but I couldnt resist the temptation to try my 8mm Ethos. It was fabulous.
I think I’ll get into sketching the sun in the coming months.
The sky closed in and I had to pack up. Not a bad first 30 minutes given the amount of wispy clound around and the low altitude of the sun.

Notes for next time:

    adjust the solsearcher

      find an old towel to protect the observer from ambient light

        sort a tripod

        Kelling Sept 2015

        Wow my last entry was back in June ! Shows what the weathers been like.

        We booked an additonal night this autumn for the kelling heath star party. Given the recent weather the aim was to increase our chances of a clear night. Lady luck shone upon us and we managed 3 nights of viewing.

        We had a massive pitch in the Blue field, the tree line was not too much of a problem in the south and east (any lower and we’d have been looking into the clag anyway). Once we’d pitched up we went to speak to our neighbours Bill and Keith from Bolton. Nice chaps and it was a pleasure to swap experiences and ‘views’ with them through the weekend.

        kelling sep 2015

        Thursday and friday nights were a little claggy at times, there must have been some high level cloud passing over, but Saturday was a cracking night, the earlier rain must have cleared out the atmosphere a little. the background sky never seemed to go properly black, so contrast wasnt as good as in previous years. Maybe it needs another couple of weeks.

        I didnt take notes this time, the batteries on my dictaphone were flat. My observing notes will be fairly brief, mainly highlights. Suffice it to say in 3 nights we packed in a lot of objects.

        M31 – was big big big on saturday night I could see two dust lanes clearly with the edge of the galaxy clearly visible. A sketch at this point would have been useful !

        M57 – high and bright, i managed to see the central star with averted vision, tick on the bucket list !

        M33 – once higher in the sky there was quite a bit of detail, but predomiantly in the arm leading out to NGC604. More contrast in the sky would have been good

        M11, 13 (and NGC6207) , 27, 81, 82, 51 (a bit low now this time of year,so unimpressive)
        Some of the many NGCs : 7789, 7331, 40, 6543
        NGC891 shows the splinter clearly
        Stephans quintet : faint, but visible – difficult to count the distinct members

        Neptune / Uranus – saw these on all three nights, clearly planets showing some spherical nature. Too low in the sky in the clag to spot triton.

        Veil nebula, both edges wre fabulous and pickerings triangle area were lovely crisp and bright. We did some experimentation between OIII and UHC filters. My personal preference was for the OIII, as I could see a little more strucutre. I can see that others might prefer the UHC though.

        I tried to spot Abell 70 but it was not always visible because of the tree line. I beleive also that an OIII would be necessary. Theres always next time 🙂

        We had a lot of visitors to our pitch, and it was great to share the viewing, and take requests for object to look at.

        During the day, I met up with Alan Marriott. Nice to see he has finished his scope; its a real corker, he’s a real craftsman.

        The only downer on the whole weekend was some low level theft. Luckilly we didnt have anything of real value stolen, others did. I started this thread on SGL