2Autoguiding Basics What is Guiding? Background Why is Guiding Required?Technical BlurbAutoguider SetupsHow it WorksAutoguiding AccuracyWhat I UsePHD GuidingConclusion/Tips/Closing
3What is Guiding?For an astrophotography image to be clear the target must be held in a fixed position within the telescope's field of view; any movement of the scope during an exposure would cause point sources of light to appear as streaks.Guiding is the process of assisting the telescope mount to keep a celestial body exactly centred while taking long exposure images. And is usually required when imaging dim Astronomical targets where long exposure times are necessary (e.g. 30 Seconds or more).Manual Guiding is the process of a person watching a guide star and manually adjusting the mount during long exposures.Autoguiding is an electronic tool or system used to automatically keep the celestial body being photographed from drifting across the field of view during long exposures.
4BackgroundBefore the availability of cheap and powerful Digital cameras and computers, guiding was accomplished by manually adjusting the orientation of an equatorial mount to hold either the target itself or a nearby guide star at a certain position. This method was:time consuming.difficult to carry out over long periods.prone to error (it took time for the operator to see the movement and react to it).If the operator pressed the wrong direction key it would ruin the whole image.Not very accurate.
5Background con’tFurthermore before the availability of cheap and powerful CCD and CMOS imaging devices people used film for their photo’s, film is prone to a few issues when used for Astrophotography:temperature quickly affected the sensitivity of the film (and is usually shot in cold locations at night).film suffers from a phenomenon called reciprocity (false colour shift).you cannot instantly see your results with film so hours of work manually guiding may have been for nothing at the end of the day.you were not able to stack or digitally manipulate your images to enhance the target objects like we can with digital media today.
6Why is Guiding Required? Astrophotography demands an extremely high level of precision that even modern computer-tracked mounts and GoTo telescopes cannot achieve.Even “the best” mounts, made with high tolerances, that are accurately polar aligned and running Periodic Error Correction programs cannot achieve the level of accuracy required and will show some level of error in the image being taken. The errors are the result of imperfections in:the drive gearsin other areas of machining of the mountplay in the ball bearings that permits their rotationMovement or Flexing in mount and bracketsMisalignment from the celestial pole
7Why is Guiding Required? con’t Since even “the best” mounts have these problems to some extent, affordable beginner-class mounts certainly have it. However don’t lose heart, there are ways around these issues and the use of an Autoguider definitely makes this easier. Here is an example of the difference between a non-guided and a guided image.
8Technical BlurbModern telescope mounts use a control system called an “open loop” controller (also called a non-feedback controller) this is a type of controller that computes its input into a system using only the current state and its model of the system. A characteristic of the open-loop controller is that it does not use feedback to determine if its output has achieved the desired goal of the input.This means that the system does not observe the output of the processes that it is controlling. Consequently, an open loop system cannot correct any errors that it could make and it cannot compensate for disturbances in the system.Open loop controllers are chosen as they are simpler to manufacture and therefore much cheaper to make and subsequently cheaper to purchase.
9Technical Blurb con’tTo avoid the problems of open-loop controllers, a feedback circuit can be introduced. The feedback circuit effectively closes the loop and creates a closed-loop controller.Closed loop controllers have the following advantages over open loop controllers:disturbance rejection (such as unmeasured friction in a motor).guaranteed performance even with model uncertainties, when the model structure does not match perfectly the real process and the model parameters are not exact (e.g. poor polar alignment)unstable processes can be stabilizedreduced sensitivity to parameter variationsimproved reference tracking performanceAutoguiding is for all intents and purposes a system that provides the components required to create a closed loop system and provides the above benefits.
10Autoguider SetupsAn Autoguider set up comprises the following basic configurations:Guide Scope and Camera - a small telescope oriented in the same direction as the main telescope, (Cheapest and most common setup).Off-axis guider – mounted on the main scope that diverts some of the light originally headed towards the Imaging device to the guide camera.On-Camera guider – An imaging camera with an integrated guiding chip.
11Auto Guider Setups con’t All Autoguider setups have a camera that watches a guide star and checks for apparent movement. These cameras come in a wide variety of configurations from a:Web Cam (usually modified to attach to a scope and see fainter images)Dedicated Guiding Cameras (Such as the Orion Star Shoot AutoguiderAstronomical Video Cameras (Such as the GStar EX Range)
12Auto Guider Setups con’t This image is my set up in a side by side configuration, the scope with the black cover is the guide scope.I use the Orion Star Shot Autoguider Camera that connects to the Laptop via the USB port and to the mount via the ST4 Cable.
13Auto Guider Setups con’t This image is a schematic of the connections for the Orion Star Shoot Guide Camera.
14How it WorksThe guide camera is a simple CCD sensor that regularly takes short exposures of an area of sky near the object being imaged. After each image is captured, its controller measures the apparent motion of one or more stars within it’s view and issues the appropriate corrections to the telescope's (computerized) mount.Autoguiders require a controller to calculate the changes in apparent motion of the guide stars, these can be either a dedicated hardware based platform (Such as Sbig’s ST4) or via a PC with a guiding program such as PHD Guiding, Guidemaster, Guidedog, or general-purpose astronomical software such as MaxDSLR.
15Autoguiding AccuracyWhy is Autoguiding better than manual guiding? Simply put the guide star illuminates more than one pixel on the guide camera, as such Autoguiders are able to use the variations of light falling on each pixel to calculate where the star should actually be located. As a result, most Autoguiders have sub pixel accuracy. In other words, the star can be tracked to an accuracy better than the angular size represented by one CCD pixel. However due to affects such as atmospheric turbulence, the typical limit of accuracy is usually down to one arc second. An auto-guider can't make up for large errors in alignment, extremely poor mount performance, field rotation, or other gross errors in tracking.
16What I UseI personally use the Orion Star Shot Autoguider package and PHD with a Laptop. PHD is free, well documented and support is very easy to get from other users on the Internet. It also fully supports the ASCOM platform. Oh and did I mention it’s free?PHD literally stand for:PressHereDummySo it is easy to use.
17PHD GuidingThis is an image of PHD running and focused on a guide star. You can see in the graph on the right the level of the commands sent to the mount to correct for any variation in the guide star.PHD is as simple as:Chose your cameraSelect your telescopeStart the imageSelect your guide starClick PHD buttonWait to calibrate and start guiding
18ConclusionAutoguiding is an automated way of stabilizing and regulating the tracking performance of your telescope mount.Autoguiding has reduced the manual effort required when taking Astrophotos.Autoguiding will measure and correct for the inconsistencies in you mount to ensure it tracks the motion of the night sky smoothly.There is a lot of good and free software packages available for use to control your guiding set up.Autoguider setups come in a wide variety of flavors and costs, so find the one that fits your requirements.Autoguiding is very precise and can measure sub pixel variations in movement and measures the changes very frequently.
19TipsAutoguiding does have it’s limitations and is not a fully closed loop system, as such it is:Still important to make sure you have setup, balanced and aligned your mount correctly.Your mount is stable and does not have any significant malfunctions (such as excessive play in bearings or gears).Autoguiding require a stable and rigid mount so there is no flexing between the guider and the main scope.Ask people already doing AP for advice and guidance on how to use Autoguiders, There is a wealth of knowledge out there.Research before buying things to make sure you understand how they work and that it will work for your intended purpose and equipment.Test your equipment at home in the backyard before you go out to the Dark Sky site to avoid problems in the field.
20ClosingAs with all thing astronomy share your ideas and findings with others to help them along their journeyRemember you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a guiding system running as there are many tools that are very cheap or free to use, such as PHD.Please support these developers by making a donation if you can afford to, even $5 could ensure they are around tomorrow providing free software.Pray for clear skies Any questions???