Last updated 10 Apr 2021

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Software used at Great Shefford

See also Great Shefford Software Downloads

Operating system

Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) is installed on the laptop used to connect the telescope and CCD in the observatory and it is connected to the local area network with gigabit ethernet. Internet is provided via a symmetrical 300 Mbps fibre broadband connection.

The observatory PC is controlled using Microsoft Remote Desktop from a Windows 10 Pro desktop PC in the house.

Camera Control Software

Maxim DL/CCD from Diffraction Limited. (supplied with Apogee cameras) provides the interface between PC and the CCD camera

Astrometric reduction

Astrometrica (Herbert Raab) provides professional quality astrometric reduction, track & stack, automated moving object detection and more.

Note: Astrometrica versions up to 4.11 generate astrometry data files in the Minor Planet Center's old 80-column MPC1992 format. Astrometrica versions from 4.12 onward generate ADES (Astrometry Data Exchange Standard) PSV formatted text files only, see the July 2018 ADES announcement and the ADES Astrometry Parser. Version 4.12.0.448 (beta) has been used at Great Shefford since August 2018.

Star Catalogues

Gaia DR2 (Data Release 2) is the second intermediate release from ESA's Gaia astrometry mission. It includes data for about 1.7 billion sources down to magnitude 21, with a positional accuracy of about 0.002" for stars of mag +20. Gaia DR1 was supported in Astrometrica from version 4.10.0.431 (November 2016) and used at Great Shefford from February 2017 to April 2018 when Gaia DR2 support was made available in a beta version Astrometrica, finally released as version 4.11.1.442 (July 2018).

UCAC-4 (The Fourth US Naval Observatory CCD Astrograph Catalog) was released in August 2012. Herbert Raab added support for UCAC-4 to Astrometrica in version 4.8.2.405 in February 2012 and it was used at Great Shefford from March 2013 until the GAIA DR1 catalogue was released. UCAC-4 includes about 114 million stars down to a limiting magnitude of approximately +16, to a precision of 0.1" or better. It is still occasionally used when the (online) Gaia catalogue is unavailable.

USNO A2.0 contains 526 million stars and is used for telescope position synchronisation by Pinpoint from within Maxim DL/CCD during observing runs. It is obsolete for astrometric purposes as it does not include stellar proper motion information but at 5.9Gb is easily held on a hard disk and has good all-sky coverage.

Star catalogues no longer used at Great Shefford

Automatic focussing

FocusMax by Larry Weber and Steve Brady. Version 4 is available from ccdware.com and can automatically control a number of focussers if Maxim DL/CCD and the ASCOM platform are installed. The now unsupported and unavailable free version 3.8.0.20 is still in use at Great Shefford, controlling the Meade LX200 GPS focuser and this has been found to be very effective, being accurate and fast. Recommended. 

Polar Alignment

PoleAlignMax by Larry Weber and Steve Brady, version 2.0.55 is available from the Files section of the FocusMax Yahoo User Group and allows accurate and fast polar alignment using a CCD in conjunction with either CCDSoft or Maxim/DL to take images and either Pinpoint or The Sky to accurately work out the centre point coordinates of those images. PoleAlignMax was used to align the equatorial mount of the 16" telescope at Great Shefford in June 2005 and was found to be easy to use, fast and accurate. Recommended.

Image manipulation and astrometric reduction

Pinpoint from DC-3 Dreams software (Bob Denny), including customised version of Bob's Visual Pinpoint Visual Basic program. Allows full manipulation of FITS images to be done from other programming languages. Visual pinpoint is used at Great Shefford to update the FITS headers in images with the astrometrically reduced plate centre etc. Highly recommended.

Meinberg NTP Service for Windows is used to correct the time on the PC connected to the telescope. Meinberg NTP Time Server Monitor is used to display service status. Both applications are provided free.

Time synchronisation

Dimension4 version 5.3 from Thinking Man Software (Rob Chambers) updates the time on a PC over the internet using one of over 100 time servers. A history of time adjustments can be exported or graphically displayed. Used at Great Shefford until superseded by Meinberg NTP Service (see above).

Orbit determination

FindOrb from Project Pluto (Bill Gray) provides a number of different orbital determination methods to calculate orbital elements from astrometric observations in either MPC (MPC1992 and ADES) or NEODys format. Highly recommended.

Satellite identification

Sat_ID Satellite identification program for astrometrists from Bill Gray allows standard MPC formatted positions of a satellite to be identified with known satellites from a set of recent satellite orbital elements. There is an online version here where many NEOCP objects that Bill has identified with artificial satellites are listed.

Exposure management

Custom written Visual Basic program for telescope and CCD control (CCDCamCtl)

Ephemeris interpolation

Downloads

Custom written Visual Basic program to interpolate positions from ephemerides and optionally send Speed and P.A. of motion information to Astrometrica during image stacking. See overview and user guide for details of full functionality and software download links.

CCD image logging

Custom written Visual Basic program (CCDLog) that extracts details from FITS headers using Pinpoint and writes into a Microsoft Access database for later analysis.

Screen Ruler

Downloads

Designed to provide a semi-transparent "Measurement ruler" window to place over Astrometrica to help isolate the images in a stacked set where a moving object passes close to stars, so that those images can be rejected, resulting a cleaner astrometric measure of the moving object.

See overview including user guide and software download links.

ADES Astrometry Parser

Downloads

Following an announcement in July 2018 the Minor Planet Center adopted ADES (Astrometry Data Exchange Standard) in August 2018 as the preferred format for observers to supply astrometric information to them, superseding the older 80-column MPC1992 format, though both formats are currently accepted by the MPC.

The ADES Astrometry Parser was written to allow ADES formatted files generated directly from Astrometrica to be converted back to MPC1992 if needed, but also to allow easy editing of the ADES files and to provide automatic submission to the MPC, making ADES files just as easy to use as emailing MPC1992 files has been.

See overview including user guide and software download links.

 Pack / Unpack MPC Designations

Downloads

Converts Minor Planet Center comet and minor planet designations both ways between packed and unpacked formats. Handles most current formats including numbered and provisional comets and minor planets as well as split comets.

See the overview for details and software download links.


Custom software is written in Visual Basic, used here since version 2 back in 1993. Currently Microsoft Visual Studio Community 2017 is used to generate programs.

Both Maxim DL/CCD and Pinpoint allow Visual Basic (and other computer languages) to easily access the functionality within them (by providing a COM interface) and CCDCamCtl uses this technique to automate the process of acquiring images and controlling the telescope.

Maxim also uses the same technique to embed Pinpoint functions within normal Maxim operations, so for instance, having taken an image with Maxim, it can be reduced astrometrically using Pinpoint from a menu option in Maxim, allowing the real image centre to be used to synchronise the telescope to where it is actually pointing, all within a few seconds.


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