Monday, October 29, 2012

HOASP, CCD Returns

It's back, and it works. SBIG contacted me after about three weeks that the problem had been diagnosed. The news was not good: both circuit boards were fried and would have to be replaced. The cost would be $695.


I told them to go ahead and do the repairs. My options were limited. The filter wheel and 36mm filters I use are tied to the ST-8300 and can't be easily adapted to another camera. While $700 could probably buy a used CCD, but it wouldn't be as good a camera as the 8300--and I would have to add the cost of a new filter wheel and filters to that.

A week later the 8300 came back, and it works like new so far as I can tell. The fan runs and the filter wheel aligns itself when powered up, the shutter clatters when initialized, and the cooling system cools. It's been cloudy here since the camera was returned, so all I've been able to do so far is shoot dark frames.

Two questions I asked SBIG that you may be interested in if you are an ST-8300 owner:

Q. How did the breakdown happen, and how can it be prevented in the future?

A. The camera apparently much prefers to be powered up first; always connect the 12V power before plugging the USB connection into your laptop.

Q. Even though the sensor was not replaced, do the new boards mean that I need to shoot new dark frames?

A. Probably not, but it would be a good idea to shoot some test dark frames that match the exposure time and temperature of old dark frames. If they compare well, then my flat library doesn't need to be rebuilt.

So I'm back in business, once the skies finally clear. While I'm waiting, I'm going to make myself a poor man's camera case using a Plano #761 toolbox, some foam from a craft store, a twin-blade electric carving knife and a hot glue gun. It won't be a Pelican, but it will cost about 1/4 as much. I'll post more about this micro-project when I'm finished.

The Heart of America Star Party was a viewing and imaging bust, but I had a good time, as did most of the attendees. All three nights were cloudy, and it rained pretty much from the second night through all of the third day, with a lot of lightning the second night. Severe weather was forecast for the third night so I folded my tent and stayed at the Days Inn in Butler. Fortunately the severe weather bypassed the observing area.

HOASP featured an abundance of knowledgeable and friendly people, excellent talks, great food (assembled if not made on the premises) and nightly movies to help people cope with the clouds. One vendor (Bushnell) was on site, the daily door prizes were decent (I won none). One word of advice: If you decide to play bingo, take several cards. It's a cutthroat game, bingo.

I'll definitely want to return.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Waiting Time

One week since I sent in my CCD to SBIG, and one week to go to the Heart of America Star Party 2012. I didn't expect to hear anything from SBIG this week; my impression is that the repair queue is about two weeks long. After that--in a few short days--you hear from them, they do the repair, and it's on its way back to you. So I'm guessing that I'll get it back sometime around the last week of October.

On the HOASP front, there's good and bad news. A friend who also owns an ST-8300M has agreed to loan me his for the trip. CCD imaging is back on the menu. I'm still waffling about which scope to bring, the TV102 or C925. Today, I'm favoring the TV102. Stand by.

Bad news is the weather forecast. At this time it has all three days of HOASP as showers and thunderstorms, so the whole CCD issue may very well end up moot. I've picked three targets as if there will be three nights of clear sky. The helix nebula (NGC 7293), The sculptor galaxy (NGC 253), and The foxface nebula (NGC 1788, a reflection and dark nebulae in Orion) Will any get imaged? Or will I come home having collected only mildew?