MetaGuide

by Frank Freestar8n

http://www.astrogeeks.com/Bliss/MetaGuide







TABLE OF CONTENTS



1.New in this Release 3

2.Quickstart Guide – Just a Few Clicks to Autoguide 3

3.Detailed Setup Instructions 4

4.Connecting to the Telescope 5

5.Autoguiding 10

6.Collimation 12

7.Collimation with Automatic Re-Centering 14

8.Working with Different Camera Sizes 15

9.MetaGuide with FlexRX to fix flexure problems in images 15

10.QHY5l-ii: Special Instructions 16

11.ASI Cameras: Special Instructions 17

12.Pt. Grey Cameras such as Flea: Special Instructions 17

13.Star Threshold and Lock Radius 18

14.View Modes: Enhance, Crosshair, Cleanview, BigView, GuideView, SeeingView 18

15.Integrated video modes and LockStack60 19

16.Focus Dialog 19

17.Calculation and plots of “Seeing” 20

18.Realistic Simulations of Star Diffraction Patterns 21

19.Control MetaGuide with scripts, e.g. for Dithering – with Maxim, Python, VB 21

20.Using MetaGuide with Canon LiveView for Focusing 21

21.MetaMonitor: Monitor Guide Status from a Remote Computer 21

22.Feature Details 22

23.Video Tips and Advantages 28

24.Understanding the Plots 29

25.How MetaGuide Improves Centroid Accuracy 29

26.A New Age of Imaging with Mid-Range Equipment 30

27.Collimation at the Diffraction Limit 30

28.The Importance of Saving Images and Tracking FWHM 31

29.Pre-Emptive Corrections by MetaGuiding 32

30.Launching MetaGuide from an Icon 32

31.Equipment Tips for Better Autoguiding 33

32.Good Vs. Great Autoguiding: Know Your FWHM 34

33.Analog Video Cameras Like the PC164C 34

34.Usage with NexRemote, TheSky, and Other Applications 35

35.Polar Alignment Using Quick Drift Measurements for Drift Alignment 36

36.QuickCal, View Parity, and NSReverse 36

37.Automatic Handling of Meridian Flips 37

38.Shift Guiding for Comets and Asteroids 37

39.Remote Operation with Windows Messages 40

40.Off-Axis Guiding with MetaGuide 41

41.Log Formats 42

42.Flexure Measurement 43

43.Developer Details 44

44.Contact Information 44

45.A Little About Me 44

46.Examples 45

47.Acknowledgements 55

MetaGuide is a multi-function telescope tool based on real-time image processing of a video stream.


Despite its power and functionality – it is very easy to use. With just a few clicks, you can be autoguiding and collimating precisely


All it takes is a video camera (USB, Firewire, etc.) that outputs ANY SIZE video, or an analog video camera (NTSC or PAL) connected to a video2usb converter. For guiding, you need either an ASCOM connection, GPUSB, TOGA, QHY, ASI, AstroGene, or LPT port interface.


NOTE: Some of the images below are from an earlier version of MG and may not match the current version exactly. If you can’t find a feature, try switching to Advanced mode (under the Settings menu option).


1.New in this Release


2.Quickstart Guide – Just a Few Clicks to Autoguide


  1. Run the install package

  2. Launch MetaGuide

  3. Select Setup and enter data for your guide telescope and camera. Also name and location would be good. Fill in the red items – pixel size, aperture, and f/ratio of what the videocamera is using

  4. Leave setup and do File->Save As and save it as MySetup.mg, or whatever you like – but use the .mg extension

  5. Focus star in view. Use VidProps to adjust camera settings

  6. If you want to use a different star in the view, just ctrl-click on it with the mouse

  7. Use Setup to connect to mount via ASCOM, GPUSB, TOGA, QHY, ASI, AstroGene, or LPT port

  8. Press FullCalibrate and let it calibrate the mount over 1-4 minutes.

  9. Press Guide. You are now guiding – and it only took a couple minutes

  10. Press Center and do collimation. You are now collimating with automatic re-centering

3.Detailed Setup Instructions

BASIC SETUP


  1. Run the install package

  2. You can do all this indoors with no mount connection to learn the software

  3. Connect a web-cam with a normal lens on it that lets you see around the room – or just use the camera in the laptop. The camera can be usb, firewire or ethernet – anything really, but it must be a video camera with DirectShow driver support. It can also be a surveillance video camera like a PC164C connected through a video2usb converter

  4. Launch MetaGuide.

  5. If you see an error about io.sys, just start it again

    If you get a box showing several camera options – choose the one for your camera.

    Yo
    u should now see the MetaGuide interface, with a camera view

  6. Aim the camera at the room around you. Note that the brightest spot is selected automatically and marked by the crosshairs. This will act as a “star”

  7. The spot is also visible in the lower right corner, where a zoomed, stacked view appears

  8. As you move the camera around, the crosshairs track the star and the zoomed in view remains steady as long as no brighter spot appears in the view

  9. If you want to select a different “star” just ctrl-click on any small, bright spot in the scene, and the crosshair will turn red indicating a lock on the new target

  10. Note also the profile of the spot in the view on the lower left

  11. Make note of the red buttons. They are the main ones to work with at first

  12. Select VidProps to adjust the camera – brightness, gamma, etc. For a sharp view of the spot, make sure the exposure is short enough that the spot is saturated

  13. Select Setup and enter data for your telescope and camera. Also name and location would be good. Fill in the red items. Don’t worry about the others until later

  14. Don’t connect to the telescope just yet

  15. Leave setup and do File->Save As and save it as ScopeSetup.mg, or whatever you like – but use the .mg extension

  16. At this point, you can use MG to collimate, or make XY plots of periodic error with a telescope. You don’t need to have a connection to the telescope mount

4.Connecting to the Telescope


There are many ways to connect MetaGuide to the telescope mount for control: ASCOM, GPUSB, AstroGene, TOGA, QHY, ASI, MGUSB, and LPT.


ASCOM requires the latest installation of the ASCOM environment, plus a driver for your particular mount. You also need a physical connection to the mount – usually via a serial (COM) port.


GPUSB requires the GPUSB electronics interface over a USB port, feeding into the ST4 port on your mount.


AstroGene and TOGA use hardware timing for accurate guide correction pulses. They connect to the computer via USB but appear in the computer as if they are on a COM port. They connect to the mount via the ST4 port.


QHY will connect directly with the QHY5L-II camera and does not need an ASCOM driver. You then physically connect the st4 output of the camera to the st4 input of your mount. But if you want to read the declination and RA from the telescope during calibration, you should also have an ASCOM connection to the mount.


ASI allows direct connection to the st4 guide port on ASI cameras.


MGUSB is a development protocol based on custom hardware for MG.


LPT requires either a GPINT interface or a home-made cable to connect an LPT port to the ST4 input.


Note that collimation can be done with no connection to the mount at all – but if you want mount control for collimation or autoguiding, you must set up one of these connections. ASCOM has many advantages with MetaGuide. With GPUSB, AstroGene, QHY, ASI, TOGA or LPT, all MetaGuide can do is move the mount N/E/W/S at autoguide rates. With ASCOM, MetaGuide can query the declination, right ascension, and other properties of the mount such as the actual autoguide rates. This is particularly helpful during calibration. Nonetheless, autoguiding should work well using any of these connections – the user just needs to enter the Declination and exact autoguide rates if calibrating without ASCOM.


ASCOM stands for Astronomy Common Object Model and allows plug-and-play connection between astronomical applications and devices. For more details, and to download the latest version and drivers, see http://ascom-standards.org/.

ASCOM

  1. Be sure to install the latest ASCOM environment, plus the latest driver for your mount

  2. Open Setup and select ASCOM in the ASCOM/USB/LPT drop-down selector



  1. Press the Chooser button and select your mount’s driver. Then select Properties and set the COM port. If you have done this before in a different application, it may already be set for you

  2. Then press OK and the mount should be connected

  3. Try pressing the N/E/W/S buttons and see if the mount responds by reading its RA/Dec. values. Note that each press of a button will move the mount for 1 second at autoguide rate, which may not be noticeable without reading the display of the mount’s RA/Dec coordinates

  4. You can practice all this with the ASCOM telescope simulator, without any connection to a telescope. You can view the simulator display to see changes in RA and Dec.

  5. MetaGuide requires an ASCOM driver that supports PulseGuide commands. If your driver does not support PulseGuide (MetaGuide should indicate this when it tries to connect) see if there is a newer or different driver for your mount that does support PulseGuide. MetaGuide cannot guide via ASCOM without PulseGuide

  6. MetaGuide used to require special drivers that support “early binding” but this is no longer the case. You should be able to connect directly to ASCOM drivers for the telescope. Some ASCOM drivers can act as “hubs” that let many things connect at the same time. Others may require use of an ASCOM hub device. Please consult the documentation for your driver to learn more.

  7. You should enter the desired autoguide rates for RA and Dec. in Setup. After you enter them, MetaGuide will try to apply those rates to the mount, and the mount will use the best available values that match those rates and return them. If the values in Setup don’t match your request exactly, it is because the ASCOM driver has chosen the best match instead.


MetaGuide shown connecting to the telescope simulator directly via ASCOM


MetaGuide connected to the simulator via Hub. ASCOM Chooser->Generic Hub->Properties->Choose Scope->Simulator

GPUSB

  1. Connect the GPUSB box to your computer via USB cable, and to the mount via the ST4 cable

  2. Select GPUSB from the ASCOM/GPUSB/LPT selector

  3. You should be able to move the mount with the N/E/W/S buttons as described for ASCOM

  4. Note that with GPUSB, all you can do is move the mount at autoguide rates in each of the 4 directions; you cannot query the mount for RA/Dec or other values such as the actual autoguide rates. You must make sure the autoguide rates entered in Setup match the rates in use by the mount. 0.5x sidereal is a common rate – but whatever the mount’s values are should match those shown in Setup

  5. If you use GPUSB for guiding, you can still connect to the mount via ASCOM. This will help with calibration and it will let MG know the current declination.

QHY and ASI

  1. Connect the guide cable from the camera to the st4 input of the mount

  2. Select QHY or ASI as the guide mode, depending on your camera type

  3. Note that you aren't required to guide with the camera guide port and you can use ASCOM guiding directly to the mount if it is available.

AstroGene and TOGA

  1. If AstroGene or TOGA are connected, they will appear as a COM port such as AGCOM7 or TOGA7, meaning AstroGene at COM port 7, or TOGA at COM port 7. Just select the appropriate COM port and you should be connected.

  2. As with GPUSB, you can still connect to the mount via ASCOM while autoguiding with AstroGene or TOGA, so that MG knows the current declination and pierside.

LPT

  1. LPT is identical to GPUSB except you must provide a GPINT device or equivalent that allows a direct connection from your LPT port to the ST4 input of the mount. You must also select a port number matching your LPT port – which can be found in Device Manager/Ports on your computer

5.Autoguiding

Once you have a connection to the mount that appears functional, enter the declination of the star you are observing, and the RA/Dec autoguide rates. (ASCOM will set the declination automatically, and will override the guide rates with values from the driver.) Then approximately center the star in the field and press FullCalibrate to calibrate the view orientation and scale. A dialog and progress bar will appear in the upper left. Do not interact with the telescope or the application until the calibration completes. The star should never leave the view; if it does, cancel the calibration. Make sure the telescope is not bumped or leaned on during this procedure, and that it goes to completion.

If you have just one bright star in the view, the crosshairs should stay on it steadily – but if there are other bright stars that pull the crosshairs away, simply press Lock and the crosshairs will turn red, indicating they are locked on to that one star. The star may drift about and the crosshairs will track – but abrupt motion may lose the lock. In most cases, it is best to lock the star during calibration.

If you want to choose a different star, such as one that is more centered or one that is not saturated, simply ctrl-click on the star and it will be locked.

If the view is disturbed by hot pixels, see the section below on hot pixel removal.

The calibration process moves the mount in a back and forth pattern to determine both the scale and orientation of the guide camera. Toward the end of calibration it moves a small amount perpendicular to the E/W direction, but only briefly. The guide camera need not be aligned in any particular way. There is a quicker calibration, QuickCal, described below – but full calibration should take about 1-5 minutes on a typical mount. QuickCal avoids this delay and can be faster.

The motion in RA should be fairly rapid since there is little or no backlash in the constantly-moving RA drive, but the calibration may stall for some time toward the end when it moves in declination. This is entirely dependent on the behavior of the declination gears, so don’t be alarmed if the calibration seems to stall when it begins to move perpendicularly. Note that the final part of the calibration motion will leave the star a bit off center at the completion.

The calibration procedure is important because it sets the calibration factor so the image scale is exact. Furthermore, it determines the orientation of the E/W direction in the field, and whether the N/S direction is inverted. Although the E/W and N/S alignment of the view does not matter for the calibration, it is sometimes convenient to have RA motion nearly along the horizontal axis so that drift in Y corresponds to N/S drift. If you want to orient the guide camera N/S E/W, use the crosshair feature (checkbox at the bottom of the main dialog) and move the star back and forth (with the telescope motion buttons) as you rotate the camera until it is aligned to the crosshair.

ASCOM is able to deduce much more information from the calibration process than other connections because it can tell which whether guide commands move the telescope north or south. This is described in more detail later.

Once the telescope is calibrated, the guiding-related features such as Guide and Center will be enabled.

If you ever exit MetaGuide and return to it with no changes at all to the telescope and camera, you may recover the previous calibration by selecting UsePrevCal in the Setup dialog after you connect to the mount. You must manually save the setup values in a .mg file using Save or Save As, otherwise the session values will be lost.

To center a star approximately in the field, just press the Center button (assuming the view is calibrated). This may take some time if the declination backlash is large. This behaves differently when guiding, as described below. If you are not guiding when you press the Center button, the star won't be placed exactly in the center and it won't be kept there – but it will be close.

To begin guiding, just select Guide and the star location will be stored and maintained – and displayed in the GuideXY dialog boxes. The location of the star in the field does not matter at the time Guide is pressed. You should probably Lock the star also to avoid another bright object conflicting with the guidestar.

The Center button takes on a different meaning during guiding. Instead of simply bringing the star near the center, during guiding Center will make the target location be the center of the screen. This will slowly bring the star to the exact center of the screen and keep it there.

Note that once you press Guide, the guide error plot starts scrolling – showing errors in E/W (white) and N/S (red) on a +/- 4” scale. This plot is updated every 0.5 seconds, independent of the video rate. The ability to provide a steady update of guide errors at this rate is unique to MetaGuide and its video guiding methods, and is very helpful in tuning the guide parameters because you have prompt, continuous feedback on the guide errors.

There are many ways to tune guiding, including the usual RA and Dec. aggressiveness (here on a scale to 1.0 rather than 10), along with NFrames, which is the number of frames to use in calculating a star location; AccepFrac, which is the fraction of frames that are actually used in the average (the rest of them are lower quality and not included in the centroid calculation); and GuidePeriod, which is the time between corrections. These and more parameters are described in detail below – but the basic idea is to set aggressiveness so that corrections are made quickly, but do not overshoot and cause oscillations. GuidePeriod is related, and should neither be too fast nor too slow. For my CGE I correct every second and typically use a frame rate of 8 fps and NFrames=5. This amounts to approximately 5/8s “exposure” and a correction every second. The total integration time (NFrames/FrameRate) should not exceed the guide period.

In addition to the plot that updates twice per second, MetaGuide allows GuideView during guiding, which gives a close up of the live video behavior of the star in relation to the guide location target. This can yield important insight into what limits autoguding with a given setup, because it shows all the fast and slow motion of the star as it tries to center on the guide target. Overshoot, oscillations, and slow backlash recovery are all evident in this view.

Since MetaGuide relies on small corrections, it may be best to set the RA guide rate on the mount to a small value around 0.5x sidereal or less. On the other hand, Dec. motion may be limited by backlash, so its guide rate may be best set at 0.9x sidereal – along with tuning Dec. backlash so that it is somewhat responsive in both directions, but does not overshoot. But starting values of 0.5 and 0.5 should work.

To summarize, autoguiding just requires connecting to the mount, finding and focusing a guidestar, entering the declination (if not using ASCOM), pressing FullCalibrate, then pressing Guide. Note that you never need to click on the star itself, but you can ctrl-click to select one you prefer.

6.Collimation



Collimation involves adjusting the optical components of a telescope so that everything is aligned well and stars become nice, round dots rather than flared, comatic smudges. A very good telescope, when slightly out of collimation, can give horrible views - but after a slight adjustment can show a dramatic improvement. This is particularly true with high power views of planets, where details of Jupiter’s bands or Saturn’s rings will suddenly pop out with greater clarity.

Collimation is not something to be feared. It is important to do regularly, and it is much easier with a videocamera and MetaGuide.

The first step in collimation is to view a bright star overhead at prime focus with the telescope – i.e. with no Barlows to magnify the image. I recommend working with the actual configuration you intend to use, and not make changes to the components for the sake of collimation. So – if you intend to view with a star diagonal in place, then leave it there and insert the web-cam in the diagonal where the eyepiece would go. If you intend to image with no diagonal – then insert the web-cam with no diagonal.

With an SCT or Newtonian, the star will appear as an out of focus blobby donut. The first step in collimation is to get this donut round and uniformly illuminated. As you change focus and the donut gets larger or smaller, you will need to change the gain/exposure of the web-cam to keep it from saturating. You may want to put “star-stacking,” in the menu->settings, on Centroid to keep the zoomed in view from jumping around. (Peak stacking, as described below, will center on the bright part of the donut – which may move around.)

One of the most common beginner errors is to use a star that is too bright, and flattens out the radial profile plot at the top. This will lose precision in collimation, and should be avoided. To help avoid this, a red bar appears over the star image whenever one of the pixels becomes saturated. If the red bar appears, go to VidProps and reduce either the gain or exposure until the star peak is reduced. A bright star may require an exposure less than 1/1000 second when focused tightly, so you may need to use a fainter star if the camera cannot go faint enough. But there is no problem using a bright star for collimation – as long as your camera has low enough gain and exposure to handle it.

Try adjusting the collimation screws to make the donut fairly concentric. It need not be perfect because, as described below, best collimation may in fact occur when the donut is off center. Once the donut is fairly centered, you want to move to high power and focus on the Airy pattern itself – perhaps with auto-centering of the star by the mount.

A detailed view of the Airy pattern requires a high effective f/number, which usually means the field of the camera is very small and the mount must be very stable. Typical f/numbers for a good view of the Airy pattern are in the 25-50 range, and may require a Barlow. If you have some experience with planetary imaging and your mount is stable at high power, this may pose no difficulties. Otherwise, you may want to start at lower magnification.

Find a bright star near the zenith – the brighter the better, but it should also be very high up to improve seeing. Center it with an eyepiece, then substitute the web-cam and focus. For imaging the diffraction pattern the star must not be saturated, which means extremely short exposures are not only possible, but required. For an 11” aperture, the exposure may be 1/200 to 1/1000 second. Once the star is in the field of the web-cam, its zoomed in view should be immediately visible in the lower right, along with its radial profile in the lower left. You do not need to select the star with a bounding box or click on it – it is found automatically. Carefully adjust focus and exposure so that the profile height is about 2/3 maximum and as narrow as possible. Note the FWHM plot on the lower right for reference. Note that for best results with the in-focus star appearance, you should set Star-Stacking to ‘Peak’ instead of ‘Centroid.’

Other video settings may be adjusted, but frames per second should be 10-20 and gamma should be 1.0 so that the radial profile corresponds to linear intensity. Use the gain setting to place the peak height about 2/3 of maximum.

Superimposed on the image of the star in the lower right is a red dot. If the star is flared at all due to coma or other aberrations of miscollimation, the dot will be offset in the direction of the flare. To collimate, carefully adjust the collimation screws so that the red dot moves toward the center of the star. If the star easily goes out of the field, try working without a Barlow – which is fine as long as the magnification is large enough that you can still see the elongation of the star. Note that the direction of the flare in the zoom view matches it in the wide view. With an SCT, you typically want to move the star in the direction of the flare itself – and re-center the star to see if the flare is reduced. Repeated motions like this should center the dot on the star when collimation is achieved.

One of the goals of MetaGuide is the auto-centering of the star during high-power collimation, which requires that guiding be enabled as described in the next section.



View of comatic star with coma dot in the upper left, in the direction of the flare. To correct collimation, simply adjust the collimation screws to make the star spot move in the direction of the coma dot – i.e. to the upper left. You need to keep re-centering the star in the middle of the field as you make adjustments – either manually by moving the telescope, or by auto-centering (see below).



View of coma dot when in collimation – also showing the Airy pattern. This is only possible at high f/ratio with a Barlow – in this case a 12.5” cdk with 3x Barlow. Note that the first Airy ring has appeared, and is in roughly the correct location based on diffraction theory.

For an excellent write-up on the strange appearance of stars away from the zenith, see http://www.paquettefamily.ca/astro/star_study/. This is a wonderful example of the power in combining empirical results with simulation to document a phenomenon that is largely unknown, regarding the wedge-shape appearance of stars. This effect could greatly confuse collimation efforts if not taken into consideration.



7.Collimation with Automatic Re-Centering



MetaGuide not only lets you see the diffraction-limited performance of your telescope in a live view, but the autoguiding features can automatically keep the star centered as you adjust collimation. This means that as long as you can see the computer screen, you can focus on adjusting the collimation screws and not have to worry about recentering the star. This requires you have set up guiding and have MG connected to the telescope as described in Chapter 4, and calibrate the camera orientation.

To collimate precisely, first make sure you are roughly collimated using standard procedures – then aim at a bright star high overhead as described above. Adjust the brightness and gamma so that you can see the shape of the star – particularly any comatic or oblong appearance.

Now, center the star and press Guide to begin guiding. As long as you don’t let the star leave the field, you may now make adjustments to collimation and the mount will recenter the star in response to changes. With practice this feels natural, and allows you to get immediate feedback on the changes made by a turn of a collimation screw. If the red dot, indicating coma, is consistently off center of the star, adjust until it is centered. It is much easier to keep track of the changes and their effects since the star is automatically centering itself after changes.

8.Working with Different Camera Sizes


MetaGuide works with video cameras that output any size, and the user can even select alternate output sizes supported by the camera. For example, a 1280x960 camera may provide additional formats at 640x480 and 320x240. To choose the desired size, just enter it approximately (it need not be exact) in the CamWidth and CamHeight entries at the upper right of the Setup dialog. MG will use the closest size that the camera actually provides. Note that the user enters the DESIRED camera size, but once the camera is connected, if you go back to the Setup dialog you will see the ACTUAL camera size in use, which may be different.


No matter what the camera size, the view will be sized to fit exactly in the MetaGuide display, with a possible gap along the top and bottom or sides if the aspect ratio is different from 640x480. Although the video is resized for display, the raw data from the camera is always used for centroiding and for the zoomed-in star view at the lower right. Keeping the view the same size is particularly convenient for small computer displays such as on netbooks.


Sometimes other sizes are provided by binning the full image, but some cameras may crop a sub-image from either the center or a corner of the view. MG has no control over how the sub-image is obtained, so be careful to check if it is cropped or binned. IMPORTANT NOTE: If the view is binned, be sure to enter the size of the binned pixel in the Setup dialog – which may be twice or four times the size of the physical pixel.


If you aren’t sure of the native size of the camera, in pixels, you can always request a huge size, such as 4000x4000, and the largest camera size available will be selected for use.


Some camera sizes may produce an ugly pattern of noise at the bottom of the scene – particularly with video2usb converters. For such cameras, try a less tall size and make sure the frame rate matches the type of camera: 30 fps for ntsc and 25 for PAL. Finding a size and frame rate that provide a good image may take some trial and error, but when you find it, just save the settings in a .mg file and they should work directly on the next usage.


9.MetaGuide with FlexRX to fix flexure problems in images


Many people who start astro-imaging with a guidescope will find their images are smeared in one direction. Even if the entire imaging system seems solid, there is still opportunity for mechanical drift that results in smearing of the stars. Although people try to fix this problem mechanically, it is fundamentally difficult, particularly with a long focus mirror telescope such as an SCT.


To help with this problem a novel approach has become available through FlexRX, which uses MG's “shift-guiding” method (for comets) to correct for flexure also. In fact, it can correct for both flexure and comet drift at the same time.


Details of how to download and use FlexRX can be found at: http://www.astrogeeks.com/AstroGeeks/andre/FlexRX/FlexRX2.htm


In short, you download the FlexRX software and begin guiding on a guidestar with MetaGuide – then FlexRX begins sending “shift rate” commands to MG to make it drift in a way to exactly compensate the flexure that appears in the images. Over time, the correction improves and flexure drift is largely nullified by software – even if it is still present mechanically. If you are imaging a comet, you enter the known rate of motion for the comet – and that is corrected for also while guiding on a star.


10.QHY5l-ii: Special Instructions


The QHY5l-ii is a very compact and sensitive guide camera that works well with MetaGuide for both collimation and guiding. It has small, 3.75 um pixels and an Aptina MT9M034 CMOS sensor with high QE. The small pixels work well for guiding with guidescopes, and the sensitivity is excellent for OAG usage. They are also compact and can slide into OAG ports to get closer to the pickoff prism for maximum light gathering.


The qhy5l-ii is very sensitive but the drivers and usage is somewhat quirky. Nonetheless, once you get used to it, it has many advantages. One issue is that it does require a lot of CPU just to run the camera. It is always in video mode, so I believe all apps require it to be pumping in images - and the driver uses cpu. This is no problem with recent and even older laptops – but it is usually desirable to lower the CPU and USB usage.


Here is the exact sequence I use to load the camera. It assumes you have downloaded: high performance driver 13-1-6 (or later), virtual wdm driver (live broadcast), the V2.5 wdm driver (or later), and EZPlanetary. The high performance driver is the driver needed by the camera itself, and the wdm driver allows video applications to capture video direct from the camera at full speed. The virtual wdm driver allows EZPlanetary to capture the video first, then rebroadcast it to other apps like MG, and it is this broadcast mode that works best for autoguiding.


You can use the direct WDM driver from MG by starting MG and selecting the QHY driver that says “native WDM.” You should then open the VidProps dialog and deselect High Speed Mode, then set USB Traffic to 30. This will place the lowest demand on the system and work best with other devices. The direct WDM driver may work best for collimation due to its higher frame rate, and you can adjust the USB Traffic setting so it is optimal. But for autoguiding you probably want to use broadcast mode, described next.


To use broadcast mode, start EZPlanetary and select the camera and the resolution. You will get less cpu usage if you select 640x480Bin2, but I would not use that with a small guidescope because you want small pixels in that situation. If you load the pc's task manager you should be able to see the cpu usage - and it may be somewhat high at this point. But you can reduce it by going to EZPlanetary->camera setup->advanced camera settings and set "reduce usb traffic" to its maximum value of 30. You should also disable 14-bit mode and high speed readout. At that point the cpu usage should drop, and the frame rate shown in the lower left of EZPlanetary should go down. Make regular note of that displayed frame rate because it is the true frame rate at which the camera is operating, and you want to keep MG in sync with that.


For guiding you will get benefit of MG centroiding with frame rates typically 4-10 fps, depending on the guidestar brightness. For collimation with a bright star, you may not want to use EZPlanetary and instead use the native driver at perhaps 30 fps.


Now that EZPlanetary is showing the video and the cpu usage is lower, select tool->livebroadcast - and it will make the video display directly available to apps such as MG.


Leave EZPlanetary running, and now start MG and select the QHYCCD camera WDM driver - not the one that says "native". You can use the native one for guiding, but it may require more cpu and it has less control.


You should now see the video in MG, and the cpu usage should not be too high. You should be able to set the frame rate in MG to something like 5-10 fps for guiding, and it will let you set the video exposure time in EZPlanetary from 100 to 200ms. For faint stars you would want gain on maximum - but otherwise you set the exposure and the gain so the star is not saturated. For guiding I would not mess with gamma so the image feeding the centroid calculation is linear. In other words, don't mess with the processing controls in EZPlanetary when guiding - but feel free to play with them just to alter the view in MG. Note that MG has a simple Enhance button that will greatly enhance the faint background stars and won't alter the centroid calculation.


Unfortunately the frame rate shown in MG does not track the frame rate in EZPlanetary, so once you have EZPlanetary displaying the guide star at a good exposure and frame rate, read the frame rate shown in EZPlanetary (lower left) and enter it into the Setup dialog of MG.


You can shut down MG and leave EZPlanetary running with the camera display - then restart MG seamlessly. That can be useful. You can also start MG and select the WDM driver before you have started EZPlanetary. It will display the last image captured by EZPlanetary – so beware it is not a “live” image.


11.ASI Cameras: Special Instructions


The ASI 120 cameras use the same sensitive detector as in the QHY5l-ii, but in a larger package with a t-thread attachment. They install and operate as normal video cameras, but recent changes in the drivers require the most recent versions, starting approximately April, 2014. Make sure you have the latest drivers in order to use the ASI and its st4 port.


You can set the frame rate in the Setup dialog, and set the exposure and gain with VidProps as usual.


The ASI has some quirks in that it occasionally shows shifted frames, and the video can be stalled by other USB activity such as a camera download. You may be able to reduce these effects by adjusting controls available in VidProps related to USB usage.

12.Pt. Grey Cameras such as Flea: Special Instructions


Pt. Grey cameras are well-suited to video autoguiding and collimation because they are sensitive, small, and light weight. They have some issues working with DirectShow applications such as MetaGuide, but with the right technique they work well.


First, make sure that you install 32-bit DirectShow drivers with the camera when you first set it up – and you may need to register them manually with regedt32. If you have already installed the 64-bit drivers you may need to go back and install/register the 32-bit ones also. If you start MetaGuide and it doesn't list the Pt. Grey camera as an available video camera to use, it is most likely related to missing or non-registered 32-bit camera drivers.


Even if the drivers are present and you select the camera for use, you may not be able to set the frame rate from within MetaGuide and you may need to use the FlyCapture utility to do this outside of MetaGuide. (Ethernet versions may let you set the frame rate with the VidProps button in MG). You must manually make sure that the frame rate in MG matches that of the camera so that the guide period calculation is correct – though this is not critical. Some versions of FlyCapture may cause problems with the 32-bit drivers, so you may need to go back a version level to find one that works. Note that you may need to disable the automatic mode for frame rate, gain, and shutter to be able to manually configure these settings.


Flea cameras are particularly nice because they can go to a low frame rate of 2 fps, and well above 100 fps even at 640x480. You can also use FlyCapture to set cropping and binning on the camera, and those settings will "stick" so that MG can use the camera in the set mode.


13.Star Threshold and Lock Radius


Normally MetaGuide will lock onto stars directly with no special settings by the user, but sometimes there is a need to refine the sensitivity of the star detection algorithm. Examples are when the star is faint against a noisy background, or when thin clouds pass through resulting in changing star brightness. The two main parameters to adjust are the Star Threshold and Lock Radius. Star Threshold controls how faint a star can be relative to the background noise so that it is detected as a star. For a faint star against a noisy background this threshold should be low, while for a bright star it can be high.


Normally the Threshold and Lock Radius don’t matter, but if a cloud goes by and blocks out a bright star, MG may then find a noisy pixel nearby to lock onto, causing the mount to drive away from the guide position while the cloud is present. To prevent this, set the threshold high enough so that the noise level in the area of the star does not cause false star detection, and set the Lock Radius to a small enough value that it can track the star as guide corrections are made, but reduces the search region wherein false stars may be detected. The Lock Radius must, at the same time, be large enough that when the cloud passes and the star returns, it will still be within the search radius – otherwise it will be out of range unless it happens to re-enter the original target area. Although you may lose a sub-exposure while the cloud is present, due to a loss of guiding with no guidestar, the goal is for the star to be recovered when it reappears within the lock radius, so guiding can then resume.


14.View Modes: Enhance, Crosshair, Cleanview, BigView, GuideView, SeeingView


MetaGuide has several checkboxes to control the ‘look’ of the main screen: Enhance, Crosshair, Cleanview, BigView, GuideView, and SeeingView. Enhance is intended for faint scenes and especially for integrated video scenes of deep sky objects. Enhance will bring out details in the faint information and make faint stars more visible. It has no effect on the star centroiding or locking, which is based on the raw video data.


Crosshair simply places a crosshair on the screen to assist in alignment and centering of objects.


Cleanview removes the plot from the lower left, and the star view from the lower right so you only see the view of the camera. When you combine this with Integration (from the Settings menu) and Enhance, you can turn a simple video camera into a deep sky viewing camera.


BigView makes a much larger image of the star spot and coma dot for easier collimation when the screen is far away.


GuideView shows the motion of the guidestar relative to the guide location during guiding. It won't show anything useful if you are not guiding, but when guiding it will show a tilted crosshair indicating the N-S/E-W directions and show fine motion of the star around the guide target as the mount receives guide corrections.


15.Integrated video modes and LockStack60


Most MetaGuide features rely on live video at rates as fast as possible, but there are also ways to integrate the video into a longer effective exposure, to guide on fainter stars or to take an aligned and stacked image of a scene without guiding. They are simple in principle, but take some explaining.


Under the menu option Setting->Simulate/Integrate you will find Integrate and LockStack60. These are two different integration modes with the first being for shorter times and the second for longer ones.


Integrate simply sums up NFrames of the full video screen and displays it live in a rolling sum. So if you are at 10 frames per second with video and NFrames=10, then the screen will show the sum of the last full second of exposures. If you combine it with the Enhance checkbox, you should see much fainter stars than without integrating. Furthermore, when you guide on a star you guide on this integrated image – not the individual centroids of each video frame, as MetaGuide normally does. This allows you to reach fainter guidestars – but if the star is bright enough for guiding without integration, you should leave integration off.


LockStack60 is similar to Integrate, but the effective exposure is 60x longer. In the above scenario with 10 fps and NFrames=10, instead of integrating 10 frames it will integrate 600, or sixty seconds of video. This will cause the scene to change very slowly. In addition, if you go into LockStack60 mode and then ctrl-Click on a star to lock on it, from that point forward the individual video frames will be aligned and stacked on that star, removing any blurring of the scene during integration.


At any point you can press SaveImage to store a floating point, lossless FITS file of the scene for image processing.


For deepsky viewing with a video camera, first use Hot Pixel Removal (see below) to remove any hot pixels, and then try the following: LockStack60 to decrease noise in the view, NFrames=10 for long integration, Enhance to bring out faint detail, and Cleanview to remove the plot. Then ctrl-Click on one of the stars to begin aligned stacking.


16.Focus Dialog


MetaGuide has a Focus button that opens a dialog with a running plot to show the size and brightness of the star. Just choose the size that matches the expected range of the star size during focusing, and monitor the intensity and fwhm values as you change focus. There is also an audio button that gives a higher pitched beeping sound as the fwhm decreases. Note that the fwhm can be misleading if the star spot is not Gaussian because sometimes the spot can be very flat and wide, but with a small, narrow peak in the middle. This would have a small fwhm even though it is far from focus. To avoid this issue, make sure that as the fwhm decreases, the peak intensity increases – indicating a true focus.


The audio feature is somewhat experimental and should be used with caution, to avoid bothering people or even animals – particularly outside at night. It also has a problem with some computers in that the audio stops, particularly running on battery. So it may or may not be helpful to people.

17.Calculation and plots of “Seeing”


Seeing” causes a star in a telescope to blur slightly and change shape rapidly, while moving around a bit at high magnification. The main cause is attributed to shearing layers of atmosphere moving at different velocities, particularly near the jet stream, but more local effects near the ground or even in the telescope can contribute. There are many ways to measure or estimate seeing and they all have their quirks and ambiguities, and the one in MetaGuide is no different. I personally prefer to go by things that can be directly measured – but they don't directly correspond to some absolute measure of the atmospheric conditions. You can measure the size of stars in long exposure images – but that includes errors from guiding and quality of focus. You can use a particular device such as a DIMM, but even they have their own forms of bias that make the result less clear cut.


The seeing measurement in MetaGuide is simple: it is the fwhm of an integrated star spot that has been exposed for two seconds. As simple as this sounds, even it is full of ambiguities and issues of interpretation because there are heuristics involved in defining the center of the star and the background level – both of which are needed to determine the fwhm. Furthermore, the imaging system must be well focused and very high magnification – perhaps 0.5” per pixel, to get a good measurement of a 2” fwhm.


Nonetheless, if MG is used with a video camera at the focus of a long focus telescope with reasonable aperture, perhaps 3” or greater, it should at least capture the trend in seeing conditions during a night and in comparing different imaging sessions. And if you can attach the camera directly to your actual imaging system and focus/calibrate it accurately, you should be able to measure the approximate limit of fwhm that you can expect with that system on that evening with good guiding.


Note that this will not translate directly if you are measuring the seeing through OAG or in a smaller guidescope – since neither will have star spots as small, in arc-seconds, as can be reached with a larger, full aperture system. So it is important to recognize the potential benefit of this seeing feature, while at the same time be aware of its limitations. Despite these limitations, it is much better defined than simply going by the measured fwhm in your images as “the seeing” that night. That value will place an upper limit on the seeing, but the contributions from imperfect focus and guiding remain.


Unlike the other plots in MetaGuide, the seeing is not smoothly updated every 0.5 seconds, but instead is updated every 2 seconds. It is shown in the fwhm plot in the lower right, and numerically in the lower left. SeeingView lets you see an image of the 2s star, along with its radial profile. If the star is moving around a lot, the image may be very bumpy and the fwhm value will not be very meaningful. The seeing value is also broadcast in the messages received by MetaMonitor, so live plots of seeing can be viewed on a different computer on the network.


It's important to distinguish this “Seeing” fwhm, or SFWHM, from the normal aligned and stacked fwhm, or AFWHM, that MetaGuide normally shows for the star spot. The whole point of collimation with MetaGuide is to remove the effects of seeing so that you can study the diffraction pattern with less impact from the atmosphere. So, the fwhm reported by MetaGuide (the aligned fwhm, or AFWHM) is normally much less than the current seeing value and should not be confused with “Seeing.” Now that MG provides both measures, it's important to keep them separate and use them appropriately.


18.Realistic Simulations of Star Diffraction Patterns


MetaGuide can create very realistic simulations of the expected star appearance in Simulate mode, under Menu->Settings->Simulate/Integrate. The results can be surprising because they reveal just how tiny the diffraction pattern can be unless you use very high f/number, as with a Barlow lens. The simulation mode requires a camera to be connected and runs at the current frame rate of the camera. A simulated Poisson background noise with mean=10 provides a realistic version of video noise – and it shows more clearly in Enhance mode. Try changing the f/ratio and secondary obstruction to see not only the changing appearance – but how it begins to stand out against the pixels.


19.Control MetaGuide with scripts, e.g. for Dithering – with Maxim, Python, VB


MetaGuide can be controlled by other applications using Windows remote messages, as described below. This also allows you to control it from scripting languages such as Python or Visual Basic. Unfortunately Maxim does not allow direct invocation of these Windows messages, but you can wrap such invocations in a script invoked by Maxim. To make this easier for Dithering, an executable, MGDither.exe, and a script, MGDitherVB.vbs, are included in the MG directory. To perform dithering between exposures in Maxim, simply invoke the MGDitherVB.vbs script between exposures. You may need to adjust the delay time in that script so there is time to settle after dithering, and you may need to place the script and the executable in a directory where they can be invoked.


Also included in the MetaGuide directory is a sample Python script that shows how to access a telescope via ASCOM and control MG using remote messages. The script is called MGControl.py, and it requires the installation of the Win32 Python package.


20.Using MetaGuide with Canon LiveView for Focusing

MetaGuide doesn’t have a direct connection to Canon cameras with LiveView, but you can use the analog video output from the camera into a video2usb converter and use MG as a convenient display device. As usual, if there is a star in the view then MG will lock onto it and display a live-stacked and zoomed in view of it for focusing. If the star is not selected because something in the display is being mistaken for a star, just CTRL-Click on the star you want to select and lock on it.


21.MetaMonitor: Monitor Guide Status from a Remote Computer


MetaGuide can output guide information onto the local network for monitoring with a remote computer. This is very convenient, especially when conditions may be changing due to thin clouds, etc. The Setup dialog has an Extra tab that shows a Broadcast Mask and a Broadcast Port. If your local network allows UDP broadcasts, set the mask appropriately and all computers in the range defined by the mask can receive guide status messages from MG. Since this is UDP, there is no handshaking of MetaGuide with the monitoring computers, and they may come and go as monitors unbeknownst to MetaGuide. The default mask is 192.168.1.255 and the default port is 1277. That mask happens to work with my Linksys wireless network. If you change the values be sure to save the new .mg setup file so the new values are remembered for the next session.


MetaMonitor is a separate application with a graphical display of the star intensity in one graph, the guide error in another, and the star location in another. There if a fourth graph showing the sky temperature, but currently that only works with the MGUSB protocol under development.


If the star is lost, the star location screen goes red and serve as an obvious sign of trouble. An alarm can be set to go off if the star disappears for some time. If clouds pass through, the star brightness will show reduction even if there is no cloud detector installed.


The UDP packets are very lightweight and should be no burden on the network. Note that the router must enable such UDP broadcasts, and the computer firewall settings must allow MetaGuide to make such broadcasts. You may get a warning from the antivirus or firewall software indicating MetaGuide is trying to broadcast. If you are unsure, simply disable the setting at the top of the Extra dialog page and the broadcast will not happen.


MetaMonitor currently uses Port 1277 for guide messages.


22.Feature Details


MetaGuide has many features to learn, but some are more advanced than others. In order to focus new users on the key features, MetaGuide has an Advanced and Beginner mode. Beginners should start in Beginner mode, but can switch to Advanced mode through Menu->Settings. In either mode, every GUI item has flyover text to provide helpful hints. Just pause the mouse over an item to get a hint of its purpose and usage. To read this help document, go to Help->Help or press the F1 key.



DESCRIPTION OF MAIN METAGUIDE SCREEN CONTROLS


Setup Access the control panel for describing the optics, camera pixel size, and for connection to the mount. Also allows specifying the desired camera frame rate

VidProps Control the camera brightness, gamma, etc.

FullCalibrate Do a full calibration of the guide camera, with a ‘+’ pattern

QuickCal Do a quick calibration with motion only in RA. This requires proper setting of NSInvert and ViewParity, as described below

Calibrated This is a readonly indication that the mount has been calibrated and now Guide can be pressed to begin autoguiding. Note that you can recalibrate any time – even though the mount is already calibrated

LockStar Lock onto the current selected star so that other stars are not selected if they come into view

GuidePeriod The time, in seconds, between corrections sent to the mount. Too fast can lead to oscillations, and too slow can result in poor tracking. This tends to be faster for mounts with imperfect gears, but adequate response time to corrections

FrameRate This is the actual frame rate of the camera. The desired frame rate is entered in the Setup dialog, but the true frame rate provided by the camera is shown here

NFrames The number of video frames used in calculating the star centroid. This results in an effective exposure time given by FrameRate/NFrames. The effective exposure time should not exceed the GuidePeriod

StarThresh This value helps select stars in challenging conditions. The star detection algorithm works very well, so this may never need changing – but if stars are visible yet not detected, try changing this

SaveImage Save annotated images of the zoomed in star, plus the main screen. These are PNG and FITS files in the output directory specified in Setup. This will document the appearance, profile, and fwhm of the star, both to document your ‘scope’s performance, and to share with others. The main screen will be saved at the full camera resolution currently in use, and with Enhance, Cleanview, and Crosshair as set by user. The FITS files will include the RA/Dec information if an ASCOM mount is connected. The FITS files are always raw images – either straight from the camera or integrated with Integration or LockStack60.

Focus Opens the focus dialog

Flexure Opens the flexure dialog for measuring flexure with another instance of MetaGuide – as described below

ResetDrift The drift of the star is constantly being measured, and the motion is shown in dEW, dNS, Distance, Rate, and Drift PA. ResetDrift lets you reset the calculation of this drift. dEW, dNS, and Distance indicate the current displacement from the start, while Rate and PA indicate the rate of drift and its direction, respectively. This can be helpful when drift aligning. Note that since it uses the EW/NS directions, the mount must be calibrated for these to operate.

Upper/Lower These control the appearance of the zoomed in star, to help show the shape and structure of the comatic outer region. Reset will restore them to default values

MetaGuide MetaGuiding is different from normal guiding because it locks onto a specific gear period, measures its amplitude and phase, and corrects for it in realtime. This is useful for fast gearbox terms and terms that are not harmonics of the worm period and therefore cannot be fixed by PEC. The desired period is entered in Setup, and the MetaGuide checkbox causes corrections to be made. As you guide, MetaGuide tracks the corrections and determines the amplitude and phase of the specified period. If something changes about the guiding, press Reset to start a fresh calculation of the phase. Once you see the amplitude and phase stabilize, and while already guiding, press MetaGuide to begin preemptive corrections for the specified term

ShiftRate Described below, these values allow for “shifted” guiding to track a comet or asteroid. Just enter the E and N rates, in “/hour, as indicated on the JPL site for comets, and press Shift while guiding to begin tracking the guide star, but with the specified drift

Center This button does two different things depending on whether or not you are guiding. If you are not guiding, but you have calibrated, Center will just move the star to near the center of the screen and stop. If you are guiding, Center will set the target location in the center of the screen permanently. This is useful during collimation to force re-centering of the star as you adjust

Dither Every time you press Dither while guiding, the target x/y location of the star will be moved to a random Gaussian spot around the guide location. This is useful to reduce background noise and avoid hot pixels. Note that it should be done between exposures and not during. This can be controlled remotely, as described below. The current sigma of the Gaussian is set by the value in the Extra page of the Setup dialog. It is set in arc-seconds, and should correspond to a small, but not too small, motion on the IMAGE. If you are using a small guidescope with a long focus telescope, you won't want it to dither by too many arc-seconds – but you also want the size to be big enough for the guidescope to measure accurately. Typical values would be such that the guider sees motion of at least 3 pixels, and the imager sees motion of at least 10 pixels – but these are only approximate.

Any dithering will greatly reduce the noise in stacked images and make it less noticeable. A dither step may take some time to recover, and you will need to set that delay in the imaging software. A good way to see directly how quickly the mount responds to a dither step is to use GuideView mode. In GuideView mode you will have a live view of the guidestar relative to the target – and when a dither happens, suddenly the guidestar will be some distance from the target, and corrections will be given to re-center it. You can see this live in GuideView, and quantitatively in the guide error plots. This should give a feel for the delay needed after a dither step before the next exposure begins.

GuideXY GuideXY allows you to enter a specific x/y coordinate for the guidestar, and guiding will keep it near there. The actual location may be different by +/- 1 pixel or so. Whenever you press Guide, the x/y location are placed there and stored with the .mg file so the exact same camera framing is repeated. This is particularly useful when continuing an exposure run of the same object on multiple nights. Be careful to press GuideXY if you want to use the specified x/y values, because pressing Guide will overwrite those values with the current star position

x, y Pixel coordinates of the currently selected star – also shown in the adjacent plot

East/North East/North coordinates of the star relative to the center of the screen, in arc-seconds. Note that any value involving East/North requires a prior calibration

RA/Dec Drift Drift rate as measured over previous several minutes, in “/minute. This is useful for drift aligning the mount. Note that periodic error can make the RA rate very misleading, since it tends not to be a linear motion but somewhat oscillatory

FWHM, AFWHM These are very important items indicating the Diffraction Full-Width at Half-Maximum based on the optics, including the secondary obstruction. This can be quite different from the Aligned FWHM, which is measured directly from the live, stacked star profile. Note that the Aligned FWHM does not represent a measurement of “seeing” because the video images are aligned and stacked prior to the measurement. Furthermore, small f/ratio systems on large pixels will tend to have much larger FWHM’s than expected by diffraction. This is why a view of the Airy pattern usually requires a Barlow to get to around f/30 for it to appear. But when guiding, AFWHM should be as small as possible to guarantee good centroid accuracy. Ideally it should be in the 2-4” range if possible

Log Log starts multiple logs of the star location and guide corrections. If the mount is not calibrated, a simple x,y log of the star location is output. If the mount is calibrated, many more quantities are output for use in studying the guiding quality and the periodic error of the mount. More details of the log format are below. The log prompts for a comment each time, but this can be turned off by directly editing the .mg file. Comments can be very helpful to understand what the log captured when viewed much later

MENU ITEMS



File-Save Save the current configuration and guiding parameters in a .mg file. This .mg file will be used by default the next time MetaGuide starts

StarStacking StarStacking determines the type of centroid used for the star position. Centroid is the usual center-of-gravity calculation, while Peak uses a windowed centroid around the point of peak brightness. This avoids biasing the centroid by noise and turbulence in the outer region of the star spot. Peak is the recommended mode, but there is a more extreme version, Point, that uses a very small window around the brightest pixel of the star. In most cases Peak will work best, but when shift-guiding on a comet, Centroid may work best. Collimation is not possible in Centroid mode, though, and the coma dot is disabled.

Color This mode sets the color of the zoomed in star view in the lower right. Some users may prefer a simple gray scale vs. the colored version

IsoLines This is a simple way to show Isolines in the zoomed in star, to help reveal its shape

Gamma This alters the view of the zoomed in star and can also help reveal its shape. Note that when measuring the fwhm and comparing to the diffraction plot, use Gamma=1

Advanced Advanced/Beginner mode displays or hides more advanced features from the main MetaGuide panel and the Setup dialog. This setting is saved in the .mg configuration file

Simulate If you have a video camera hooked up, Simulate will show the theoretical appearance of the star along with its diffraction pattern. Note that this will tend to be MUCH smaller than the actual star spot unless you are at high f/ratio through Barlowing

Integrate Integrate does two things: it stacks the main camera view to give it a cleaner and lower noise long exposure mode. In addition, this stacked image is used for the centroid calculation rather than centroiding each frame individually. This is useful for viewing faint objects and for guiding on stars that are too faint for detection without integration. But note that integration may lose accuracy compared to live video of a brighter guide star. LockStack60 will integrate for 60 times as many frames, and will align and stack on the star if it is locked.

Help Help should bring up this document in pdf form, but it requires the Adobe Acrobat reader to be installed

About Shows the MetaGuide version number

SETUP DIALOG


Username, Scope Description, and Location are provided for documentation purposes. Log files include the user name and scope description in the file name for convenience

Aperture, Prime FNumber, and Barlow/Reducer magnification help define the image scale and predict how quickly calibration should succeed.

CalFactor can be entered by the user, but its value is normally set by the calibration process after the true image scale is determined. This factor results in the calibrated FNumber and the calibrated focal length

Sec. Obs Secondary Obstruction should be entered as percent of diameter. For an SCT it is typically around 34%, while for a refractor it is 0. This value affects the diffraction pattern – in particular the brightness of the surrounding rings

Frame Rate This is the desired frame rate of the camera. The actual frame rate may be different, and is shown in the main MetaGuide screen. For faint guide stars, use a low frame rate and a small value of Nframes, along with a long exposure, to keep the total time less than the guide period. For bright guide stars or collimation with a bright star, use a high frame rate and large value for Nframes, with a short exposure. Examples would be: faint star use 7 fps and NFrames = 5; bright star use 30 fps and NFrames=20

Declination With an ASCOM connection this is filled in automatically, but with other connections you must enter the declination of the current object during calibration and guiding. This value is not very critical, but should be accurate to at least 5 degrees or so. You should set it every time you change declination significantly to calibrate or guide

RA/Dec Rate These are the current autoguide rates set in the mount. For ASCOM, enter desired values and the true values of the mount will be determined automatically. For non-ASCOM connections, you must enter the actual values set in the mount. Typical values are 0.5x sidereal. The RA guide rate should always be <1 to avoid backlash, but the Dec guide rate could be more than 1 if it seems to work better. These values require tuning and experimentation to determine optimal values

WAngleXAxis This value indicates the direction of West relative to the X axis. This is determined by the calibration process and normally the user does not modify it

RA/Dec Agg Aggression determines how much of a correction should be made based on the measured guide error of the star. A responsive mount under good seeing may benefit from a high aggression value of 0.9 or so, while poor seeing may benefit from lower values around 0.5. These values require tuning, and optimal values may vary from night to night

Dec Lash This is a form of software backlash correction. When the guide error of the star reverses direction from N to S, a long pulse of this duration, in milliseconds, is added in to help kick the mount the other direction, taking up backlash. With imbalance in the dec. axis, the optimal pulse time may be greater in one direction than the other. Typical values are 200 ms. This may be used in concert with the mount’s built-in backlash correction

Dec. Reverse This specifies how far the star must drift in the opposite direction in Dec. before corrections are sent, with corresponding backlash pulses. If the value is 0”, then every time the star changes from N to S the mount will react with backlash correction. A value of 0.2-0.5” will reduce how often this kick occurs, and avoid oscillations

Block Corr Corrections can be blocked in any of the directions with these checkboxes. Some people like to offset the polar alignment so a star drifts only one direction, allowing them to disable corrections in the other direction. You can also disable corrections in E/W – for whatever reason

ViewParity This indicates whether the camera view is correct in terms of handedness – i.e. rotation doesn’t matter, but the E direction must be counter-clockwise of the N direction for ViewParity to be false. If it is a mirror image, ViewParity will be checked

NSReversed This indicates whether guide corrections to the mount in the N direction actually move the mount north. Some mounts, such as the CGE, will change the direction in which N moves the mount on a meridian flip. This is described in more detail below

KillHotPixels If the camera view has hot pixels that distract the star detection algorithm, cover the scope and press KillHotPixels. The hot pixels will be identified and removed. This can be very effective both in finding stars well and removing distracting spots from the view

Occultation This is an experimental mode in which the selected star is measured for each frame and dumped to a log with approximate timings. It is not intended for actual occultation timing, but for general experimental needs where a star and/or seeing are monitored at high speed

PixelSize Enter the pixel size in microns of the GUIDE CAMERA, for proper guider calibration. Typical values are 3.75um for QHY or ASI, 5.6um for a Toucam Pro, 7.4um for a SKYnyx 2-0m, etc.

Pixels/Arc-sec, Arc-Sec/Pixel, Field Width, Airy FWHM: These values are all based on the calibrated focal length and on the theoretical diffraction pattern, including the effect of the secondary obstruction

Manual Control These buttons move the mount for one second at guide rate in each of the directions. Holding a button down does not maintain motion – each press is only for one second. This is largely for diagnostics and testing the connection to the mount

UsePrevCal This is an important button that lets you recover a previous calibration as long as nothing has changed in the camera or mount. After you calibrate, press Save or SaveAs and the calibration info will be stored with the mount. On restarting MetaGuide, connect to the mount and press UsePrevCal and the mount will immediately be calibrated and ready to guide on a star. If the camera has rotated at all since the calibration was saved, a fresh calibration should be performed

MeridFlip This is an important button for non-ASCOM equatorial mounts after a meridian flip, where the guide camera view may rotate 180 degrees. See below for more details on how to use this feature. You may also need to press NSReversed on a meridian flip. This is disabled if you have an ASCOM connection to the mount.

EastPierSide This is filled in automatically if you have an ASCOM connection, and it indicates roughly which side of the pier the OTA is currently on. This may not match the actual physical side of the pier – but the important thing is that it switches when you do a meridian flip.

Rot180OnFlip This indicates the guide view will rotate 180 degrees on meridian flip – as with OAG or a guidescope. But if you use OAG and you rotate its angle 180 degrees after the flip, the you would not enable this checkbox.

NSRevOnFlip This indicates the direction of PulseGuide commands changes when you do a meridian flip. Some mounts and drivers do not guarantee that a N pulse will move the mount physically north – and it may be opposite on opposite sides of the meridian. For Celestron mounts I find this must be enabled, but others may be different. There is also a checkbox for EWRevOnFlip but it is not likely to be needed.

ASCOM/USB Make the correct selection for your mount as described above

ASCOM Chooser If guiding by ASCOM, press this button to select your mount driver and connect to the mount

ScopeName If using ASCOM, this is the ASCOM name of the mount driver, including any connections via Hub. This value is saved in the .mg file and reloaded automatically

OutputDir This is the directory in which logs and images are saved automatically. It may be desirable to store a .mg file and logs along with images in the same directory to keep track of the session information, and to compare results and guide parameters later



EXTRA DIALOG



MetaMonitor Broadcast mask and port for MetaMonitor remote monitor

Shift Rate Desired shift rates in arc-sec per hour to track comets and asteroids. Must enable Shift Guiding in the main dialog to have effect

DitherRadius Radius in arc-seconds for random dithering between images. The random pattern is Gaussian, and you need to specify a larger number for wide field images and a smaller number for high res, narrow field images. This is important since the guide view may be much wider than the image if you are using a small guidescope.

Negative Image Invert the gray scale of the image, so you can guide on dark objects like sunspots or dark lunar features.

MetaPeriod Desired period in seconds of the periodic error term to be removed by realtime, phase-locked MetaGuiding. This is different from autoguiding because the single frequency will be preemptively removed while guiding, rather than reactively. The term need not be a harmonic of the worm period – it can be any problematic period

MetaLeadTime This is the time in seconds by which to advance MetaGuide corrections related to the given MetaPeriod. This only applies to MetaGuiding – not normal autoguiding



23.Video Tips and Advantages


Video has an undeserved poor reputation for autoguiding, but it has many advantages both for advanced users and beginners. The key advantage is that everything appears in real time, with no latency or pauses. This lets you catch guide stars when they appear in the view, and lets you see first hand the fine motion of the mount that lead to guiding problems. Video at 8 fps with a SKYnyx 2-0m camera allows my C11 to see guidestars down to about mag. 10. There is no need for the user to squint at the screen to see guidestars since MetaGuide finds even faint stars automatically and places crosshairs on them.


Even focusing is easier with video because it is so interactive and responsive. This makes it possible to use a simple thumbscrew to focus the guide camera, since slight adjustments of the camera are immediately evident in the live view of the star.


A key problem for beginners is simply focusing the guide camera on a star – any star. A good trick is to adjust gamma so that even a faint “doughnut” of an out-of-focus star appears clearly as a large speckled washer in the view. With gamma=1, nothing may appear – but with higher gamma it is evident. It is good to experiment with all the parameters of your video guide camera to help detect out of focus stars, and to help faint stars show when in focus.


Note that collimation with a bright star may require very short exposures – perhaps 1/5000 second, depending on the f/ratio. The profile of the star, in the lower left view, should not be flat at the top, and should only go up to ½ or ¾ of the plot scale.


24.Understanding the Plots



The plots show two curves, and the first item shown is white; the second is red. For example, in the X/Y plot, X is white and Y is red. The main fwhm plot also shows seeing as purple.

The X/Y plot is normalized in each direction, so it goes from left to right and bottom to top for X and Y respectively.

The next plot shows X/Y drift, and is simply a zoomed in view of the first plot. This takes some getting used to, but it is extremely informative. In order to give a sense of the motion of the star in x,y while still at a magnified scale, the plot “wraps” on itself when it goes off scale. Thus a star with increasing X value will rise up from the middle of the plot to the top of the scale, and then drop down abruptly – then increase again creating a sawtooth pattern. It is essential to realize that the sawtooth has nothing to do with the actual motion of the star, except that it is steadily increasing. The frequency of the sawtooth then corresponds to the rate of motion. This is an unusual way to show drift, but once you get used to it, it is very informative.

The Error E/N plot only applies when guiding, and shows the current guide error in arc-seconds in the east direction (white) and north direction (red). By studying this plot as you adjust parameters such as aggressiveness, you can get a feel for how to keep the errors as small as possible, and to avoid oscillations and overshoot.

The FWHM/Intensity plot shows FWHM (white) and Intensity (red) for the star. For best focus, the white line should be low and the red line should be high.

Since MetaGuide uses a rolling set of frames for its centroiding, these plots are always updated twice per second, regardless of the effective exposure for the centroid. This gives much more consistent feedback on focus and on guide tuning.

25.How MetaGuide Improves Centroid Accuracy


There is much talk of the sub-pixel accuracy of centroiding algorithms, but it is usually based on assumptions of nice, round, Gaussian stars and ccd’s suffering only from read noise. In fact, for short exposure guide images, the guidestars tend to be misshapen blobs with ill-defined centers. A typical center-of-gravity algorithm will find the center of mass of that blob and be heavily biased by whatever strange things are happening near the edge. This can result in completely overlooked errors in the centroid that directly increase the resulting error in the guide corrections. In addition, ccd’s are susceptible to other forms of noise, including pixel crosstalk, that cause guide stars to bloat far beyond the size expected based on diffraction and seeing conditions alone.


MetaGuide uses a novel form of “Lucky Guiding” that directly targets the problems of these misshapen stars. Instead of using the entire star in a 1 second exposure to determine the centroid, which would be biased by edge distortions, MetaGuide finds a windowed centroid around the peak of each video image of the star. These stars are sorted based on quality, and the best fraction, specified by AccepFrac, of those stars are used to determine the full centroid. Each of the accepted frames has its own windowed centroid value, and the centroid of those centroids becomes the final centroid used for guiding.


This improved accuracy and avoidance of star edge distortions directly improves the centroid used for corrections. This, coupled with rapid corrections with low latency video allows tight and aggressive autoguiding even with a mid-range mount.


One example of the benefit of this algorithm is to look at the FWHM of stars stacked by the normal centroiding algorithm, and one stacked using the Peak (recommended) centroid of MetaGuide. The version stacked using Peak will have a smaller FWHM. This is essential to resolving the Airy pattern during collimation also.


26.A New Age of Imaging with Mid-Range Equipment


It used to be that astro-imagers would focus on the optics, with less concern for the mount and camera. This changed recently with better autoguiding when people realized how important the mount is in getting small, round stars. Much of the difference is associated with reduced periodic error – but more important may be better bearings and smoother gearboxes – both of which require much more expense to manufacture to the required tolerances and high quality. The situation went from a $300 film camera on a $500 mount with $1000 optics – for example – to a $1000 camera on a $9000 mount with $2000 optics. Without a good mount, better optics were not a win since the results were limited by noise in the mount.


Although autoguiding software and technology have improved over the years, high-end mounts tend to give much smaller star fwhm’s than mid-range mounts using typical autoguiding setups. Adaptive optics can be a cost-effective way to get high-end results from a mid-range mount, but it is limited by the availability of bright guidestars and added complexity of the autoguding setup. What struck me, though, is that mid-range mounts worked noticeably better even when the adaptive optics were operating as slowly as 1 Hz. To me, this meant that tighter autoguiding at the 1 Hz range without adaptive optics might still show improvement, and the two key issues were to reduce latency, and to improve centroid accuracy. With tight corrections every 1 second, using a video centroid, a mid-range mount can now achieve 2” fwhm or less and yield results that rival high-end mounts. This inverts the priority of cost in an imaging setup - reducing the need for an expensive mount, and instead putting more emphasis on the camera and optics.


27.Collimation at the Diffraction Limit



There are numerous ways to collimate a telescope, but many concentrate on the appearance of the out-of-focus star and ignore the in-focus shape. In fact, complex optical designs with several components may show the best stars when the out-of-focus appearance looks misaligned. Although the out-of-focus appearance (e.g. “centering the donut”) is a good first-step in collimating, it should be followed by careful in-focus collimation at high power. Normally this requires a night of very steady seeing, but with MetaGuide the diffraction pattern is more readily visible and collimation based on the in-focus diffraction pattern is now easier.

Understanding the nature of the diffraction pattern and how it relates to star size and resolution involves distinguishing the physical size of the diffraction pattern on the image plane from the angular size it corresponds to in the sky. The former is determined entirely by the f/number of the telescope, while the latter includes the magnifying effect of the telescope’s focal length.

The size of the Airy pattern is proportional to the f/number of the telescope, and independent of the focal length. Thus the size and appearance of the spot formed on a Toucam Pro will be the same for a 5” f/10 as it would be for a 50” f/10 telescope. Only the irradiance would be different, with the 50” concentrating 100 times as much power into the same size disk.

The angular size of these disks will be quite different, however, and will be 10x smaller, in arc-seconds, for the 50” than for the 5”.

In short, the physical size of the Airy pattern depends only on the f/number, while its angular size depends only on the diameter of the telescope.

For some concrete examples:

The angular resolution of a 6” telescope is twice as good as for a 3”, regardless of focal length.

A 3” f/10 will have the same size (in micrometers) Airy pattern as a 6” f/10.

If you have a 3” f/10 and you replace it with a 6” f/5, which has the same focal length, you will quadruple the light-gathering, and you will halve the size of the Airy pattern. This means that for the same detector, the gain in ADU of the central pixel will be roughly a factor of 4x4 = 16!

Of course, this all assumes the seeing and imaging are “diffraction limited” when in fact the measured FWHM of deep sky images is typically much larger due to seeing.

MetaGuide lets you see how your telescope is performing at the diffraction level so that you can collimate it optimally, reduce guiding errors, and keep the net FWHM as low as possible in your final image.

NOTE! You must use a high enough f/ratio for the Airy pattern to be large enough to be resolved with a web-cam’s resolution. This may require a Barlow, and an effective f/ratio of 20-50. At lower f/ratios, the star spot is blurred by the bleeding and crosstalk of the pixels and will be artificially much larger than the diffraction limit. See the examples at the end of this document.

28.The Importance of Saving Images and Tracking FWHM



The SaveImage button creates two .png image files with annotations. One is a small image that shows the raw view of the star, along with the stacked view and the radial profile; the other is the wide view of the camera itself. These images are annotated with many of the optical parameters and capture a great deal of information about your telescope, collimation quality, and seeing.

The images are also annotated with UserName+ScopeDescription on one line, and Location on the next. These lines are truncated to 30 characters, so keep them succinct so they will appear in the PNG dump. The image files are named and indexed automatically based on the date.

People often talk about how great their optics are, and how they saw several rings in the Airy pattern, but until MetaGuide there has been no easy way to document this performance and it is left as a subjective anecdote. MetaGuide allows people to document their seeing with the push of a button, as shown in the examples at the end of this document. This is the first tool that makes it easy to document and compare their star images, with much of the atmospheric effect removed. If someone is boasting about their optics and the diffraction rings – why not push a button and share the result with the world?

29.Pre-Emptive Corrections by MetaGuiding

MetaGuiding refers to dynamically recognizing patterns in the guiding corrections to the mount and locking onto and correcting them in a pro-active rather than reactive manner. This reduces the amount of reactive guiding corrections, with the potential to produce tighter tracking with more optimally tuned guide parameters. This does not require any sort of index as with PEC, but it does require that the user know and provide the frequency of interest.

Currently the mount locks onto a single drive period that the user specifies (in seconds) in the Scope Setup Dialog. A future version will allow the specification of several frequency terms to track.

When guiding is enabled, the RA and Dec. drift rates will be shown, along with an Amplitude and Phase display corresponding to the frequency being monitored. Once the Amp. and phase values appear stable, you may enable MetaGuiding in the Setup dialog, and that frequency term will be proactively corrected.

In addition to the MetaGuide frequency, there is a MetaAggression parameter, along with an Input Lag time that can be adjusted. MetaAggression is the same as Dec. and RA aggression, but refers to the proactive corrections at the specified frequencies. The lag time accommodates the time that the proactive corrections must be applied in advance in order for them not to apply too late. Typical values for MetaAggression and Lag time are 0.9 and 2.0 respectively.

The desired frequency can be determined from an examination of PE logs taken at intervals of 1 second or so to avoid smoothing out high frequency periodic noise. MetaGuide is good for creating such logs, by passively logging the star position in time without guiding enabled. Careful study of the plots may reveal a term in the 5-50 second period range that, if periodic enough, may be removed proactively.

You may need to tune the guide parameters when MetaGuide is enabled.

It may also be beneficial to combine MetaGuiding with PEC. The combination of PEC with proactive correction of a fast term has the potential greatly to reduce the work done by the autoguider.

The proactive MetaGuiding method is novel, but I mainly did it as an experiment to see if it would be a big help in reducing the gear noise that causes hard to correct guide errors that cannot be addressed by PEC. In practice, MetaGuiding may not help much as long as you have PEC enabled and you guide aggressively, with corrections every second and an accurate, tight centroid at long focal length, as provided by off-axis guiding. I encourage additional experimentation with it to see if it helps or not for different mounts.

30.Launching MetaGuide from an Icon



The MetaGuide installation package associates the setup files with .mg extension with MetaGuide, so that launching from an icon will restore the full session settings of that setup. It may be beneficial to store a .mg setup file with each imaging session to keep track of what settings you used each time. Alternatively you can have a single folder with several setup files in it – corresponding to different OTA’s, different cameras, and different reducer/Barlow combinations. You can also launch MetaGuide from a command line, with the .mg file as a parameter.



31.Equipment Tips for Better Autoguiding

32.Good Vs. Great Autoguiding: Know Your FWHM


I often see people talk about how ‘great’ their autoguiding is with particular equipment – but without quantitative information, it is hard to know just what that means. Some people cite the displayed error of their guidestar while autoguiding, perhaps with values like 0.1” rmsd - but what does this have to do with the size of stars in the image, particularly when flexure may be producing oblong stars?


To me, the best measure of autoguide quality is the roundness and smallness, in arc-seconds, of stars in long exposure images – at least as long as one full worm period. An autoguide setup may be keeping the star roughly centered and even display excellent values for the guide error – but this can all be misleading if the centroid is not accurate or if there is flexure between the guide and imaging chips.


Stars may appear round and small, but when measured they may actually be 6” in diameter, instead of a more desirable 2”. Without measuring the FWHM of stars in 10-20 minute raw exposures (no processing other than calibration with bias, flats, darks) it is hard to know just from appearance just how good the guiding really is.


Widish field imaging with refractors can produce impressive, sharp stars across the field – but due to the short f.l. of the imager, those stars tend to bloat and mask underlying guide errors. This makes for a much easier setup with which to autoguide and image, particularly since refractors can be guided well with guidescopes, but the resulting stars may have FWHM in the 4-6” range, which is much easier to achieve than 2” FWHM with a long focal length SCT. The latter really does require good guiding. For this reason, I recommend noting and tracking the FWHM in your images. This will not only allow you to document and improve your autoguiding results, but you can share them with others in a quantitative way that can be understood and compared. When you get long exposure images in the 2” FWHM realm, you really are starting to guide well.


33.Analog Video Cameras Like the PC164C


There are several very sensitive NTSC/PAL analog video cameras used for astronomical applications such as meteor imaging and occultation timing. Although they are sensitive, they suffer a loss of resolution due to the analog nature of the signal, compression used to encode the signal, and the conversion of the raster scan to a rectangular pixel array in the image. Nonetheless, they can be used with MetaGuide through an inexpensive video2USB converter.


I have a Dazzle DVC-90 capture device that works with my PC164C (on my xp machine, but not with win7/64, which requires a more recent capture device). The main problems are numerous hot pixels, that must be removed using the hot pixel remover in MetaGuide, and the fixed video imaging rate. In addition, the more recent version of the PC164C, the PC164C-EX2, is more sensitive but has greatly distorted stars as shown in: http://www.astrogeeks.com/Bliss/OccultVideo/PC164C_EX_Compare.html.


Given these concerns, analog video cameras may not be ideal for collimation or autoguding – but they may work allright. One way to reduce the effect of pixel bloating and compression artifacts is to guide at long focal length – so the angular size of pixel-scale effects is reduced.


The main thing to look for in a video2usb capture device is that it support your operating system, and that it provide adequate resolution better than 320x240. Most nowadays output 720x480, which is supported by MetaGuide. You may need to set the camera size specifically to 720x480 to avoid getting noise at the bottom of the screen. For win7/64 computers, make sure the video2usb has drivers that work.


See more details on the usage of these cameras in the above section on Enhance, Crosshair, and Cleanview modes.


34.Usage with NexRemote, TheSky, and Other Applications


NexRemote and MetaGuide work well together with or without ASCOM. First connect NexRemote to the mount, and specify a virtual port for use by other applications – say COM 10. NexRemote should connect to the telescope over a real COM port, nowadays usually a USB2Serial converter. Let’s call that “real” port COM 5.


Once NR is connected to the scope and the mount is aligned, connect MetaGuide to the mount either via ASCOM or the other modes. If you use ASCOM, you should select the celestron driver and connect through the NR virtual port, in this case COM 10.


For connection to TheSky and ASCOM, please consult the corresponding documentation from those sites. I use TheSkyX, and I select the ASCOM telescope in TheSkyX when I use an ASCOM drivers. This may be different if you use an older version of TheSkyX, or TheSky6.

35.Polar Alignment Using Quick Drift Measurements for Drift Alignment


Drift alignment is a standard method for polar alignment of a mount. It has a bad reputation for being time consuming and difficult, but is well known for the resulting accuracy. MetaGuide makes drift alignment much easier by providing quick feedback on the declination drift of a star as you adjust the mount.


Details of drift alignment can be found at many sites on the web, so I will summarize here how to incorporate MetaGuide in the process.


First, find a brightish star near the meridian and near the equator, and calibrate the mount with it. (You should only have to calibrate the guider once during this whole process.) Do not press guide, but let the mount stabilize for several seconds so the drift plot of the star looks steady. Now press ResetDrift to reset the measurement of the drift rate of the star. After several seconds, you can read the Dec. Drift rate just left of the plot showing X/Y drift rate. Although the RA drift rate may oscillate due to periodic error, the dec. drift rate should be fairly steady. (I recommend using Periodic Error Correction, PEC, for this process if it is available on your mount – but it is not essential). Note the sign and magnitude of the dec. drift and adjust the mount azimuth control a bit (by physically rotating the mount head – not using direction controls) while keeping the star in view. You may not need to recenter the star as long as it stays on screen, and you definitely do not need to recalibrate the guider (only the mount has changed – not the relationship of the guider to the mount). Press ResetDrift again and watch the new value of the dec. drift. If it is worse, you know you went the wrong way in your azimuth adjustment. If it is better, you are now on track to get the drift close to zero.


Once the drift of the low star near the meridian is minimal, move to a star low in the east or west and near the equator but probably on the same side of the meridian so you don’t have to meridian flip. Repeat the dec. drift measurement above, but this time adjust the mount in altitude, changing the up/down angle of the polar axis to zero out the dec. drift.


You may iterate this if you like, but just one iteration with an East/West star and a meridian star should get you well polar aligned with much less effort than squinting in an eyepiece trying to gauge star drift.


36.QuickCal, View Parity, and NSReverse


FullCalibration will always work to find the orientation of the guide camera, but the small added time it takes to move in declination is not necessary if a previous full calibration has been performed. QuickCal does a calibration based on motion only in RA, but you must have ViewParity and NSReverse set correctly or else the N/S corrections will be backwards. You could do QuickCal and press guide – and see if the N/S guiding is centering the star or pushing it away. If it pushes the star away, just press NSReverse and it should then work fine.


A more systematic way to do this is to use ASCOM to do a full calibration, and then make note of the values it finds for ViewParity and NSReverse. An equatorial mount may have different values of NSReverse on either side of the meridian. ViewParity, however, should depend only on the camera and number of mirrors. Normally, ViewParity is OFF if the number of mirrors in the optic path is even – i.e. a refractor or an SCT. But OAG introduces an additional mirror, so ViewParity should be ON with OAG.


37.Automatic Handling of Meridian Flips


Several things happen when you do a “meridian flip” with an equatorial mount. The main thing is that the guide view is rotated 180 degrees, but in addition some mounts may change the direction of the pulseguide corrections – and this needs to be handled. If you have an ASCOM connection to the mount, MetaGuide can keep track of these changes after a meridian flip so you can immediately guide without doing a new calibration.


The other thing that happens on a meridian flip is the 180 degree rotation of the scene. The Meridian Flip button allows you to do a meridian flip and immediately resume guiding without recalibrating.


MetaGuide is able to accommodate many different behaviors on meridian flip, but the user must first set the checkboxes appropriately for his setup – and save the new .mg configuration. Most users will want to enable Rot180OnFlip, and some users will also need to check NSReverseOnFlip.


You can test the settings easily by connecting to the mount with an ASCOM driver and calibrating on one side of the meridian. Then press Guide for a while to make sure it is all working – and also note the value of EastPierSide in the Setup dialog. Then switch to viewing an object on the other side of the meridian. When you open the Setup dialog it should indicate the EastPierSide value has changed, and if you lock onto a star and press Guide, the guidestar should not drift. If it does drift in declination you should change the value of NSReverseOnFlip.


Note that you should not need to change the values of NSReversed or EWReversed – they will be figured out automatically.


MeridianFlips can also be handled manually, but you need to set EastPierSide manually prior to doing the calibration, and when you do a meridian flip you need to press the MeridFlip button to let MG know the mount has flipped. This can also be done by remote messaging from another app as described below.


But if you have an ASCOM connection to the mount the entire process should be automated once you first get the checkboxes set correctly. It should be calibrated for guiding at any declination and anywhere in the sky, and you can save the calibration in the .mg setup file, so that you can use it in the next session with UsePrevCal in the Setup dialog.


38.Shift Guiding for Comets and Asteroids



The Shift button allows tracking a comet or asteroid that moves slowly relative to the stars. Enter the rates of motion in RA and Dec (“/hour), from a planetarium program or ephemeris, for the object and guide on a star as usual, but with Shift enabled. The guide star will be tracked as usual, but with a growing offset that tracks the comet. If the motion rates are set correctly, the comet can be exposed longer and reveal sharp detail that would otherwise be lost.

High end mounts can track at different rates directly, without the need for autoguiding, but this would not work for mid-range mounts because of periodic error and dec. drift, plus gearbox and bearing noise in both axes. The shift mode of guiding combines the precision of autoguiding with a reference star, plus the accurately know rate of motion of the comet or asteroid. Slow comets can be exposed much longer with no loss of detail, and fast comets remain sharp even though the
y might be noticeably blurred in a 30 second exposure without shift guiding.



Shift guiding on a fast comet requires some effort because the guidestar will appear to move off the guide chip over time, while the comet remains fixed on the imaging chip (as desired). This means you need to leapfrog from one guidestar to the next as the comet moves along. This requires pre-planning with a planetarium program. It’s important to know the orientation of the tail in order to frame the imaging camera and then choose good guide stars.




This image was guided with Shift enabled, using E/N motion rates read from TheSky. Shift allowed longer sub-exposures while still capturing the sharp edge of the tail. This is comet C/2006 VZ13, and this is a very sharp image of the tail that can be compared favorably with others on the web. This used 2m sub-exposures, which would have been greatly blurred without shift-guiding.


39.Remote Operation with Windows Messages



MetaGuide is aware of numerous messages from other applications on a PC that allow it to work in concert with imaging software such as Astro Art. Astro Art supports a command of the form:

System.Broadcast(message$, wparam, lparam)

MetaGuide supports the following messages – all of which except SHIFT ignore the values of wparam and lparam (so values of 0, 0 are recommended)



MG_RemoteLock

Lock on current star

MG_RemoteUnLock

Disable lock, allowing lock on current brightest star

MG_RemoteGuide

Start guiding

MG_RemoteUnGuide

Stop guiding

MG_RemoteDither

Dither once

MG_RemoteLog

Start Logging

MG_RemoteUnLog

Stop Logging

MG_RemoteSetShift

Set shift rates via wparam, lparam (details below)

MG_RemoteShift

Enable shift guiding

MG_RemoteUnShift

Disable shift guiding

MG_RemoteMeridianFlip

Do meridian flip – rotate guide camera view 180 degrees

MG_RemoteNSReversed

Reverse N/S directions, as for equatorial mount on merid flip

MG_RemoteNSUnReversed

Disable N/S reversal

MG_RemoteExit

Exit MetaGuide

MG_RemoteMarkLog

Mark the log with two integers, using wparam, lparam

MG_RemoteSaveImage

Save an image, just like pressing the button



Remote commands allow scripted autoguiding sessions with a guidescope, as long as the guidescope is guaranteed to find a guideable star wherever it points. You would move the scope to the next object, lock on the brightest guidestar in view, begin guiding, and in between each exposure you would dither. If you move to an object that requires a meridian flip, then the appropriate flip commands should be sent.

A simpler cooperative application is to dither the guidestar between exposures, which must be driven by the imaging application since it knows when the camera is not exposing.

All commands can be sent with wparam = lparam = 0, except for MG_RemoteSetShift and MG_RemoteMarkLog. For that Shift, wparam and lparam map an unsigned integer to a signed, float value corresponding to the shift rates in “/hour. The mapping is:



float ewrate = (wparam-10000);

float nsrate = (lparam-10000);



The system broadcast command in Astro Art corresponds to the following code that applies to many programming environments:



UINT handle = RegisterWindowMessage("MG_RemoteSetShift");

WinPostMessage(HWND_BROADCAST, handle, wparam, lparam);

It may also be possible to use WinSendMessage().

40.Off-Axis Guiding with MetaGuide



The high accuracy of the MetaGuide centroiding works best when the guidestar is imaged at long focal length, and there is little flexure in the optics. This is the case with off-axis guiding. Off-axis guiding has a bad reputation due to people years ago randomly searching for a guidestar. This is all different nowadays with planetarium programs that allow custom field-of-view indicators (FOVI’s) that let you pre-plan the best guidestar near your object. If the OAG is calibrated and has direct readout of angles, then the guidestar can be literally dialed in prior to imaging. Instead of hunting for the guidestar, you just hunt for the object itself and roughly frame it – which will then make the guidestar appear on the guide video view. You can then calibrate using that guidestar and commence guiding after optimally framing the target object. Note that the guidestar should be well focused and not too bright or faint – based on studying its intensity profile and fwhm. If the guidestar is too faint, try using Integrate mode.

Off-axis guiding setup showing simple degree indicators.

FOVI view in TheSky showing selected guidestar and corresponding angle.

41.Log Formats



The Logging button starts logging in two separate files. Each file is given a unique name that combines the user name, scope description, date, and an index. One log, MG_XXX_XXX.log, is a simple log of 3 columns containing time, NS, EW (pixels) if not guiding, or time, sumE, sumN if guiding. The former is for passive logging of the star, e.g. for periodic error measurement; the latter can also be used for PE measurement, but is based on the actual autoguider response. The other log file, MG_Full_XXX_XXX.log, is a very detailed listing of values associated with the star, including the MetaGuide phase, amplitude, and corrections. The file has a header line at the top describing the contents in each column.

Note that units of arc-seconds are associated with NS/EW measurements, and units of pixels are used for X/Y screen coordinates.

The PECPrep log is for the EQMOD PECPrep utility, which allows diagnostics of the periodic error and more.

For users of the statistical package, R, the full log can be studied easily and in great detail. To load a full log file, use:

f = read.csv(“MG_Full_MyLog.log”, header=TRUE, comment.char=”#”)

then type:

str(f)

to see all the variables in the file.

A basic plot is the RA motion over time, using:

plot(f$time, f$ewdec, type='l')

There are many other powerful features of R that can be applied to MG logs.

42.Flexure Measurement



MetaGuide can measure small flexure and flop between two mounted telescopes by looking at drift and shift at the sub-pixel level. To do this, start two copies of MG on the same computer and associate each with a different camera. Under the covers the two copies will be communicating with each other. Then select the copy that goes with the longer focal length telescope, connect it to the mount, and calibrate it. The other MG need not be associated with the mount or calibrated.

Then press the Flexure button and a screen will appear as below

Now press Calibrate in the flexure dialog and follow the directions to move the telescope a small amount N/S and E/W. When the flexure dialog is calibrated, begin guiding using the long focal length MG that has already been calibrated and wait a bit as the flexure rate is measured. The radial dial indicates the instantaneous and averaged flexure rates.

To measure flop, place a star in the center of the field and zero the flexure measurement. Then either move the telescope and return to the star, or move to a different star and begin guiding again with the star in the center. The delta value shown, in arc-seconds, corresponds to the flop that has occurred.

Flexure measurement in realtime is particularly challenging since the slow motion on the sub-pixel scale is difficult to measure without noise. MetaGuide displays both the instantaneous values of displacement, along with a linear fit to the past several minutes of motion. Pressing reset will restart this calculation, and over time the flexure rate should stabilize.

It is very important to have the star autoguided and centered during the measurement, due to the precision required in measuring these small drift rates.

43.Developer Details


MetaGuide is entirely written in C++ with STL. The GUI components rely on MFC, but there is no use of .NET since MetaGuide is multi-threaded and delivered with most components statically linked – which I believe is disallowed by .NET. ASCOM is now accessed via late binding, which is the recommended approach. The only ASCOM command that MetaGuide uses to move the mount is PulseGuide, and it only moves the mount at the specified autoguide rates.


The video component of MetaGuide relies on the DirectShow environment. MetaGuide uses an in-place transform filter, GuideFilter.ax, to handle the core image processing routines in its own thread.


44.Contact Information


MetaGuide users are encouraged to join the Yahoo group at http://ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/AstroGeeks. I can be reached at freestar8n at yahoo dot com. MetaGuide is of potential use to beginning amateurs and professional astronomers, and I welcome question and interest at all levels.


45.A Little About Me


I am a professional scientist with formal training in optics and physics. I have a range of publications and patents in a variety of disciplines and the list continues. I have always been interested in astronomy and optics, starting with a 3” f/5 refractor in the late 1960’s (Jupiter’s moons), to an Edmund 3” f/10 reflector (Saturn’s rings), to a home ground 4.25” f/5 reflector in the early 1970’s. I became interested in astrophotography and built a darkroom with used equipment, and shot hand guided (with guidescope) images of the sky on Tri-X and 103a-f hand-rolled film cartridges. In those days, Jack Newton was promoting Tri-X astrophotography and, with effort, getting faint renditions of objects like the Pelican Nebula. Somewhere I still have his astrophotography pamphlet from back then.


Later I used a range of telescopes including a 16” f/15 refractor on pendulum clock driven mount. I stopped amateur astronomy for some time, then got back into it with a Meade 7” Maksutov LX50, followed by a CGE1100, with which I did my first autoguided imaging using Guide Dog and Canon EOS with film. I felt that video with novel centroiding would help in many ways to aid collimation and document optical performance - and those same centroiding innovations would also improve AutoGuiding. That’s how MetaGuide came about.


I mainly live in a location surrounded by tall trees and I have a limited view of the sky, but lately I have been living in different places around the world, with limited imaging. Until I move to a new house I don’t intend to upgrade to high end equipment, particularly a high end mount. Instead I work with the limited sky I have, and I enjoy persuing novel methods that can get maximum performance from my equipment – and I have no problem departing from conventional practice, which is largely driven by anecdote. I think that mid-range equipment can get much better results with the right software and technique, and much of what is currently considered best-practice can be improved. The images an amateur can capture with mid-range equipment today are far beyond what I would have imagined possible in the 1970’s.


46.Examples

The following images were all taken with a C11 on CGE or CGE-Pro, using Off-Axis-Guiding with an SXVF-h9 CCD and Lumenera as guide cam.














Comparison of Airy patterns from a wide range of apertures. Thes are all shown at the same arc-second scale, and clearly show the improved resolution with aperture. Note that the refractor shows a smooth, round star, but it is in fact much larger, in arc-seconds, than the larger telescopes. This is an objective comparison that sums up a lot of the confusion regarding the benefits of refractors versus SCT’s.

C11 showing coma due to miscollimation

Now aligned

C11 with off axis 75mm aperture – at effective f/30.5

C11 with on-axis 5.5” aperture, showing enhanced ring

C11 with 75mm aperture and 3x Barlow, effective f/100.2

C11 with 3x Barlow, f/32.7

Mak 7” at f/50.6, nearly same f.l. as c11 with 3x. Note that both are nearly diffraction limited, but disk is larger for the Mak due to its smaller aperture.

Ranger with 3x Barlow, f/22.7

47.Acknowledgements


Many thanks to Andre Paquette for extensive beta testing. development of FlexRX, assistance in packaging the application, and the invitation to use the AstroGeeks site to host MetaGuide.

Thanks to Dave Rowe for valuable suggestions on the phase detection and coma calculation.

Thanks to everyone in the AstroGeeks group for helpful feedback and testing, and for pointing out the need for NetBook support

Thanks to the iodll folks at geekhideout for the dll that allows direct driving of the LPT port from C++.

Thanks to Shoestring Astronomy for providing low cost PC-Telescope adapters, and for prompt assistance in providing USB control.

Thanks to Mark C. Malburg for his Oscilliscope control on The Code Project, which was the basis for the scrolling charts.

Thanks to Chris Shillito of EQMod for direct import of MetaGuide logs into PECPrep

Thanks to AstroGene and TOGA for hardware pulse guiding support

Thanks to Signal 11 for hidapi, allowing easy access to USB HID devices

Thanks to the folks at QHY for helping MG work well with the QHY5L-II

Thanks to Jack Newton for pioneering amateur astro-imaging and technique in the 1970's

Thanks to Sam Brown for clear text and illustrations for beginner ATM's.

Thanks to ZWO Optical for support of their ASI guide cameras.



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