Thursday, November 5, 2020

2019 - 2020 Update

Sorry for the lack of updates, we have been busy out at Kumeu as always, after testing out the QHY Cold CMOS camera for Astronz, the Auckland Astronomical Society approved the purchase of a 16' GSO Ritchey-Chrétien telescope, we got the new scope onto the mount with the help of Grant Christie, Jonathan Green and Steve Hennerley, the brand new Astronz 40cm Ritchey-Chrétien astrograph is a significant upgrade for the observatory. It is named the "Menzies Telescope" in memory of Barry and Trixie Menzies, both long term members of the Society and both with a lifelong passion for astronomy. Unfortunately Barry passed away in 2014, and Trixie in 2018.

Sadly the collimation of the new telescope was quite far out and we never quite got it right before we started the 2019 Microlensing campaign, despite this our photometry was deemed useable and we proceeded to grab data on as many events as the weather allowed for, at this point we had a few new young society members who were keen to learn the ropes (literally in the case of having to open and close the dome which is on a rope pully system), Sasha Green, Tony Cooper, Janine Lawton and Andrew Marmont all attended mutliple nights of observering during 2019, our stand out moment came when in the late stages of the 2019 Microlensing campaign Andrew Marmont serendipitously discovered a plantery signal while taking normalizing data on an alert that had been called off, it was lucky he was manning the telescope that night because if Jonathan had been their he would probably have been on the priority target instead and we would have missed it, the signal was confirmed by the KMT survey with a 2x Earth mass planet thought to have caused the signal, so the entire Kumeu team was very excited with the news of the exo-planets detection, we are currently still awaiting a paper to be written for this event.

In 2020 sadly our work horse camera the ST-10XME CCD developed a fault that could not be fixed, the council has approved the purchase of a new camera and in the meantime we are borrowing Guy Thornley's SBIG ST-7XME, we only managed to get this camera on the telescope near the end of the 2020 Microlensing campaign but we did manage to cover a few events, the camera has a tiny field of view but we can plate solve and get good photometry so it's more than up to the task for the kind of work we do.

^ The field of view of the SBIG ST-7XME we can't even fit all the sculptor galaxy into our narrow field of view!

There wasn't as many alerts in 2020 this is probably due to the Covid-19 pandemic which is still raging across the world, we did manage to get the collimation looking much better in 2020, so our stars look much more round now, although the collimation can still be improved for sure, we are now looking forward to buying a new camera and to the 2021 Microlensing campaign, we will work over the summer on maintenance of the site and continue to teach new team members from the Auckland Astronomical Society who are keen to learn how to operate the equipment, with an active team of observers including AAS members that enjoy using the site to setup their own telescopes the future is looking bright for the Kumeu Observatory!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Progress at Last!

Over the last couple of weeks we've had some great progress at Kumeu Observatory, firstly Jonathan Green managed to get hold of the electrician and get the power restored, then with a stroke of luck on our side we had a decent run of clear weather around full Moon, so taking advantage of the clear weather Jonathan Green and Steve Hennerley managed to get the new QHY 168c Cold CMOS camera which is on loan from Astronz installed and in focus which was a bit of a mission, Steve had to 3d print a spacer to get enough back focus but we got there in the end.

<- The new QHY 168C Cold CMOS camera with a QHY 5 II offset autoguider currently on loan to Kumeu Observatory thanks to Astonz.

On one of the days Jonathan met up with Steve out at Kumeu he took a look into the neighbouring Wasp Observatory after all the storms we have had out at Kumeu, Auckland Astronomical Society member Nicola Gujer had asked him to check up on her gear in the observatory. On opening the door to the observatory Jonathan was confronted by a rather large rat! After scaring off the rat, Jonathan had a chance to inspect the observatory, unfortunately the observatory was in quite a state with rat excrement everywhere and a strong smell of rat urine. So after heading home Jonathan sent David Moorhouse an e-mail advising him of the situation at the Wasp, after talking on the phone David and Jonathan met up out at the Wasp on the weekend and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the entire observatory, after this task was completed Jonathan had a chance to talk with David about the future of the Wasp Observatory, David indicated that he had no plans to come back to Astronomy and indicated that he wished to sell his equipment, so now the Auckland Astronomical Society council will discuss the potential purchase of Davids equipment at the next council meeting, hopefully we can come to an agreement to buy Davids equipment and get the observatory back into regular operation.

<- David Moorhouse inspects his equipment after cleaning up the rat infestation.

<- NGC 4945 captured from Kumeu Observatory, please note the collimation of the telescope had not been refined at this stage, although preliminary tests were encouraging to say the least.

The Trifid Nebula captured from Kumeu Observatory on the 8th of June, please note the collimation of the telescope had not been refined at this stage. ->

^ And finally on Thursday the 14th of June Steve Hennerley met up with Jonathan Green to work on refining the collimation of the 12' Astronz (GSO) Ritchey–Chrétien telescope, unfortunately the sky had clouded over by the time we were happy with the preliminary collimation, so we still need to put the telescope on a star and see if we will need to make any final adjustments. The weather has been quite frustrating since last Thursday but hopefully we get another clear patch soon, so we can continue the great progress that has been made so far.

Posted by Jonathan Green

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Storms and Setbacks

Sorry for the lack of updates, it turns out that the Ritchey–Chrétien telescope we installed had faulty optics so we ended up replacing that with another mirror cell that seems to be fine, we have also had a couple of nasty storms in Auckland recently, the first storm knocked the power off when a tree fell over the power cable that connects the observatory to the power grid and the second one damaged the shutter of the dome, the observatories neighbour Peter McLeod repaired the shutter quickly and for free which was very much appreciated by the Auckland Astronomical Society council, Peter has now also repaired the Dome from the rotting skirting and the mold and moss growing on the dome exterior the dome also has a nice new shiny paint job now.

<- Steve Hennerley and Andrew Buckingham replacing the faulty optics in the Ritchey–Chrétien telescope.

Moving forward we are looking to get the power restored then testing out the new optics with a new QHY ColdCMOS camera on loan from Astronz, hopefully we should be back in action soon.

<- Despite all the setbacks the one really positive thing that has been accomplished this year is the repair and restoration of the Kumeu Observatory dome, Peter McLeod did an exemplary job.

Posted by Jonathan Green

Monday, January 29, 2018


Sorry for the lack of updates recently, we had an extended microlensing season this year, our last microlensing target for the year was in Taurus and we took observations of that target throughout November, December and early January, we encountered all the usual challenges with frosting on the chip causing some frustration and missed nights, also during November we had a broken computer network so observations had to be taken using the computer in the dome which is never ideal, the target in Taurus was also fairly low in the sky for us, so not sure if our observations will be useful or not, although Subo Dong told me he was giving our data to his student to work on so we can only hope he can extract some useful data out of it and that Kumeu Observatory will get a mention in any papers written, we did have a pretty good run of weather during November and December so we managed to monitor the target with a daily cadence on almost every available clear night, including a lovely clear Christmas morning.

January hasn't been as good weather wise so far, it's been very hot with temperatures in the 18-20 degree range at night, our SBIG CCD can't cool down to -20 in these conditions, also means that the mosquito population has exploded so we either sweat it out inside the observatory or get eaten alive outside, work on the repairs to the dome have commenced with Peter constructing some scaffolding on the outside of the observatory, we also had an issue with the shutter when the elastic guide rope snapped one night when Jonathan Green was opening up giving him a fright.

<- The Dome scaffolding in place ready for the repair work.

Now that the microlensing observing campaign has finished, Jonathan Green, Steve Hennerley and Andrew Buckingham headed out in the daytime to take off the "Nustrini" C14 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and replaced it with a Astronz GSO 12' Ritchey–Chrétien telescope, we are going to have to find an adapter for the Optec Temperature Compensating Focuser and we will have to spend a few clear nights working to get everything setup and operational again, if the tests from the new optical tube are positive we may ask the council to purchase either a 14' or a 16' Ritchey–Chrétien telescope for the observatory as the "Nustrini" is really getting quite old now and is due for retirement.

We also repaired the elastic guide rope for the shutter and replaced the last two old filters in the filter wheel of the SBIG CCD camera so we now have an all new LRGB set as well as a new Wratten 12 filter, with the councils consent Jonathan Green and Steve Hennerley also removed the bunk beds downstairs to make more room for an observation workstation, we are very happy to have done this as on removal we found Rat feces and urine marks in both beds and really those beds were a health hazard, there is also evidence that Rats have been getting into the roof of the observatory but with a pig farm on one side and a macadamia nut farm on the other we are probably always going to have a rodent problem, all we can do is set rat baits and hope to control the problem as best we can.

<- The downstairs room with bunk beds removed, plenty of space now for an observation workstation to be installed

So we still have plenty to do out at Kumeu, Andrew Buckingham also has a QHY ColdCMOS camera for us to try out although it's yet to arrive in New Zealand, we will need to work on the RC's collimation, do another pointing model, take flats, work out our pixel scale, field of view etc etc so plenty to keep us busy over the coming months, bring on the clear skies!

Posted by Jonathan Green

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Focus Issue Resolved

Jonathan Green, got out to Kumeu Observatory last week in an attempt to resolve the focus issues he reported last time he and Shaun Fletcher were out there, after consulting Grant Christie about the issue he came armed with some new settings to try, once he had inputted the new settings the TCF auto-focus worked and the camera didn't stop anymore although he still couldn't run through a v-curve due to not having enough steps to get through, in other words the auto-focus was hitting the step number 1 before completing the v-curve, so knowing that the solution for that is to set the TCF back to 3500 which is the halfway point and then manually focus the telescope until it's back to near focus, once that was completed getting the v-curve was simple and getting a decent focus was not a problem.

Of course to manually focus the telescope he had to un-lock the primary mirror so we will probably need to re-collimate the telescope, also by moving the mirror this has also shifted the T-Point model so we will need to do another pointing model as well, knowing that we also need to take the camera off the telescope to remove the old Wratten and luminance filters and replace them with the new filters provided to us from Astronz Jonathan decided to not attempt another T-Point model until the new filters had been installed, of course there was also plenty of clouds around on the night that also influenced his decision to not attempt a new pointing model as well.

Unfortunately Jonathan discovered a new issue on the night with our computer network, the computer downstairs won't communicate with the dome PC anymore or go online, so we can't currently check the cloud sensor online at the moment, Steve Hennerley is back from overseas now so after having a chat with him over the phone we diagnosed the problem and Steve is going to purchase the replacement parts to get the network back up and running.

Now that Steve is back in New Zealand we are going to spend some time this Spring / Summer really optimizing all our systems at the observatory including our Polar Alignment, the tracking speed of the mount, collimation and a few other jobs that we were putting off while the microlensing season was still underway, we also have been granted a budget from the council of the Auckland Astronomical Society to employ our observatory neighbour Peter McLeod to undertake repairs to the dome's base ring and skirting as well as cleaning and re-painting the dome, we get our mains power from Peters house so it's great that we have someone so close to us that is prepared to undertake all the work that needs to be done to restore the observatory to it's former glory, again a huge debt of thanks is owed to Steve Calveley for suggesting to us that Peter could do all the work that was needed and of course for letting us operate the Kumeu Observatory on his land.

<- As you can see from this photo of a Moon halo above the Kumeu Observatory, the dome is really in dire need of a good clean and re-paint!

Posted by Jonathan Green

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Focus Issues

Last night was the 1st good night in a while so Jonathan Green and Shaun Fletcher headed out to Kumeu so Shaun could get some practice in, unfortunately we had an issue with the Optec TCF focuser, basically it would start the auto-focus run take one or two images and then just inexplicably stop, also at times it would try to move the focus to some crazy step number size like around the 200,000 mark when the maximum step size is of course just 7,000, I was at a loss to explain this strange behaviour as no settings have been changed in the downtime between clear skies and it was working perfectly fine the last time I was out there, so we tried shutting everything down a number of times to see if maybe we had done something wrong in the setup procedure but nothing seemed to work and we were hit with the same problem every time we got to the auto-focus process, thankfully we have an Auckland Astronomical Society council meeting tonight so I'll be able to ask Grant Christie about the problem and see if it can be resolved, I'm sure it must be something simple that is just eluding me at the moment.

Last night we also had a few visitors to the Observatory we had a local Kumeu astrophotographer who is just 16 years old come and take a small tour of the Observatory with his Dad, we encouraged them to join the society and to visit Stardome where they will be able to actually "look" through a telescope, we also had two society members use the observatory grounds as a dark site to do some deep sky astrophotography from, so it was a busy night out at the observatory indeed! Even though it was really a very frustrating night for myself.

<- Robert Patterson setting up his imaging rig

Posted by Jonathan Green

Monday, August 28, 2017

And Then There Were Three

Last week and over the weekend we had a couple of good nights, so with no current alerts on, Jonathan took the opportunity to complete Shaun Fletcher's training, now there are three people who are capable of operating the setup in the main dome of Kumeu Observatory, we will still be looking to train more members of the Auckland Astronomical Society so that we can ensure that the observatory will never become disused and derelict again.

Speaking about derelict, Jonathan Green also met up with the treasurer of the society Niven Brown on Sunday afternoon to show him the damage to the dome that Steve Hennerley had discovered before he went overseas, basically we have a bit of rot on one side of the dome, probably because the skirting was never replaced and is inadequate to protect the under side of the dome from the elements, David Moorhouse had mentioned this problem to Bill Thomas last time he saw him in the city, Niven took some photos of the damage and will circulate them to the council, so hopefully with the consent of the council we will be able to hire a builder to come fix the problem, we also want to get the dome cleaned up as well seeing as it looks quite grubby with loads of moss and mold on the outside of the dome, it will probably need treating with a chemical wash and perhaps could be re-painted afterwards as well.

< Screen shot of an image of the Trifid Nebula that I'm working on in PixInsight, I'm still learning how to use PixInsight but it's a fantastic program and I can really see why Rolf Wahl Olsen gets such great results using it.

Posted by Jonathan Green

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Internet and a Few Good Nights.

Sorry for the lack of updates, since you last heard from us, we now have the internet out at Kumeu Observatory thanks to Steve Hennerley, we also had a number of good nights last weekend, we didn't have any current Microlensing alerts on, so Jonathan invited Auckland Astronomical society members Shaun Fletcher and Carolle Varughese over to learn the basics of MaxIm DL, Shaun having his own home observatory and being an Astrophotographer picked it up really quickly and Carolle having studied Astronomy and having done a years worth of observations at Mt John Observatory also picked it up quickly, so we probably only need a few more nights of training to get these two up to speed, with no current Microlensing events to follow we do need to start thinking about new projects to tackle.

Another issue that has been discovered with the amount use of the dome is now getting is that the fibreglass sides are starting to really degrade and will require some maintenance, we will be bringing this up at the next society council meeting to hopefully devise a plan of action to repair the dome and perhaps even get the dome cleaned and painted at the same time as it's quite grubby after all these years.

<- M8 The Lagoon nebula captured and processed by Shaun Fletcher at Kumeu Observatory.

Posted by Jonathan Green

Friday, July 21, 2017

Crisis.....Averted... (but a lost night...)

On Tuesday 18th July, Jonathan headed out to the observatory to find beautifully clear skies perfect for some follow up imaging.  After getting set up and ready to grab some data, the remote connection to the dome PC from the bunkroom suddenly failed.  Checking upstairs the dome PC was no longer powered up - and - even worse, wouldn't actually power up.

Even the IT support favourite advice of "turn it off and turn it on again" (well unplug it completely) did not manage to solve the issue.  Unable to contact Steve initially, Jonathan headed out to make the most of the clear skies with some DSLR astrophotography.

The following night Jonathan and Steve managed to hurry along the Auckland Astronomical Society council meeting members with a view to getting out of the meeting and up to the observatory as quickly as possible - with a spare computer power supply in hand.

Almost as expected (remember Murphy?).. the PC powered up instantly...

The challenge was working out WHY the PC had failed because having unreliable equipment is certainly going to have a negative effect on our efforts.  Out came the power supply tester (Steve's a professional IT nerd so has these things lying around...) and everything looked good... fearing the worst... the "intermittent problem"... Steve reconnected everything and powered up again to start some additional diagnostics.

One common cause in the PC world when something goes off suddenly and won't power back up (even with a "power cycle") - but then does some time later (maybe many minutes later) - is that there has  been a short circuit, power surge or "overcurrent" problem somewhere on the motherboard or power supply.  Most IT techs have seen this most often when an errant screw accidentally makes its way (purely by itself you understand) onto the exposed boards of a PC.  The protection circuity (such as polyfuses) kick in and power is removed.  It is common not to instantly come back on when the fault is removed.

The hunt was on - for insects in the power supply, "errant screws", possibilities of electrical surge (though the surge protector was still functioning).  Nothing was obvious ... so case back on and stand the PC back up.

At that point the probably cause of the issue was suddenly staring us in the face... the bright blue power LED (which is normally covered loosely with black electrical tape) was off... whilst the PC was on.  Jonathan was certain the light was on the night before when he was setting up and checking inside again, it was still connected.

It seems likely that the blue LED had failed, which in turn had tripped protective circuitry on either the motherboard or the power supply.  The mystery solved, we could be a lot more confident it wasn't going to happen again, and we took the opportunity to do something that should have been done when Steve built the PC - disconnect the Hard Disk and  power lights completely to protect the darkness of the dome.

With that resolved, and the skies clearing, Jonathan and Steve set out to grab some images of a new high priority microlens target OB171186.  Joanathan managed to get 28 300 second images over the next couple of hours - though had a few problems - the strange and as yet undiagnosed mount disconnection (from an earlier blog post) and an issue plate solving a number of (most of) the images in PinPoint.

Light Curve from OB171186
Steve processed the images next day for upload and managed to get the astrometric solution by reducing the number of star used for the solve and also narrowing the intensity range used for matching in the PinPoint settings.  This seemed to do the trick.  Steve also ran the images through a tool called PySIS - which uses differential image analysis to generate a photometric light curve.

Posted by Steve Hennerley

Monday, July 17, 2017

Action Stations!

On Saturday the 15th of July Jonathan Green and Steve Hennerley were at Kumeu Observatory, after some advice from Grant Christie that the microlensing target OB170019 was still viable, we took just over an hour's worth of data on the target, Grant had advised that we didn't really need any more than an hour so we were kind of stuck for new projects as there had been now new microlensing alerts for a while, that day Jonathan Green had signed up for the Center for Backyard Astrophysics (CBA) in the hopes of finding some more projects to take on, he had copied down a few Cataclysmic Variable targets to attempt to image, so we attempted a few of the targets but found that each of them was only just above the noise level, so not knowing if that would be useful or not we decided to take more images of OB170019, unfortunately the clouds started rolling in about this time and we couldn't guide for 5 minutes anymore so we decided to pull the plug on the night and headed home with the idea of doing some research and finding some new projects to pursue when we don't have any more microlensing work to do.

On Sunday the 16th of July we finally had a new microlensing alert so it was action stations! Only one problem the forecast for that night was for increasing clouds! We decided to give it a go anyway and just hope for the best, Steve arrived 1st and found the sky was half clear and thankfully our target was on the clear side, so he opened up the dome and got to work, he captured 14 300 second exposures of our target OB171317 before Jonathan arrived, after a few cloudy patches we got back to work but it was slow going with passing clouds causing our guide star to fade more often than not, Steve headed home and Jonathan stayed on to keep imaging for as long as possible, we got to 27 300 second exposures of our target OB171317 although thin clouds may have affected a few of them.
Jonthan imaged the target when gaps allowed until 1:30 am when this cloud bank appeared in the West, it didn't take long after this photo was snapped for the cloud bank to move over our target and even though Jonathan stayed on at the observatory until around 3 am he never saw another opportunity to collect more data, so after calibrating the data we had collected he headed home and sent the files to Steve for submission to MicroFUN, hopefully we get a few more breaks in the clouds tonight to grab our normalizing data as apparently our target has already faded considerably.

Posted by Jonathan Green

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cloudy Nights at Kumeu

Since the last night imaging at Kumeu, we have had a run of some really bad weather, on Sunday the 9th after attending Neil deGrasse Tyson at Spark Arena I headed out to the observatory in the hope of clear skies but even with other parts of Auckland clear Kumeu was still under a pretty constant blanket of clouds, after waiting I drove home to find Coatesville clear but you could still see major clouds in the West. On Monday the 10th after attending the Auckland Astronomical Society meeting I headed out again in the hope of clear skies but it was raining on arrival so I attempted to wait out the clouds and rain by occupying myself with cleaning up the observatory but with no luck it was still heavy cloud when I left around midnight, I'm happy to report we have submitted all our current data to MicroFUN so all we need now is some clear sky to get back to work although fortunately there has been no new microlensing alerts in the meantime.

^ As you can see from this image of the cloud sensor graph clear patches have been few and far between, it's been frustrating because other parts of Auckland have looked relatively clear.

Posted by Jonathan Green

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Night of Two Halves

On Monday the 3rd of July, Jonathan Green decided to miss going to the Auckland Astronomical society meeting and head out to Kumeu instead, after a weekend of rain and clouds it looked like things were finally clearing up, after arriving around 6:15pm he opened up the dome setup and got a focus of a FWHM of 1.7 arc seconds per pixel ( not bad for having only just opened the dome ), he then got onto taking the normalisation data that we need to submit our latest microlensing data sets, so he started by imaging Ogle-Bulge-2017-1161, which was the priority target, he managed almost three hours worth of data before hitting the hard stop before the meridian crossing, this was the first time he had let the mount hit the hard stop, it made a beeping sound and he found when he tried to send it home that somehow the computer had lost communication with the mount.

Fortunately it was precisely at this moment that Steve Hennerley turned up, we resolved the issue with the mount and a few other issues we were having before getting back onto our target, we finished imaging Ogle-Bulge-2017-1161 after collecting three hours worth of data so hopefully that will be enough for normalisation, Steve headed home around 1 am and Jonathan stayed behind to continue imaging, he got started on the Ogle-Bulge-2017-1135 target, the first half an hour was plain sailing but the next 8 300 second images he took, took Jonathan until just after 3 am to grab, that was because we had big clouds coming in, he had to close the dome a few times out of fear of a downpour, the wind had also picked up by this stage so he could only grab one or two images in the brief gaps, after 3 am the situation deteriorated so he packed up and headed home around 3:40 am, so we only ended up getting just over an hours worth of normalisation data on the Ogle-Bulge-2017-1135 target so I'm not sure if that will be enough, after Jonathan made it home he sent all the calibrated image data to Steve Hennerley via the We-Transfer file transfer service to be prepared for submission to MicroFUN.

Obviously there has been a lot of rain over the weekend and things are starting to get a bit more muddy outside the observatory, it was really wet on the night as well with the humidity at a 93% level, Jonathan was very happy to see that at the end of the night we didn't have any sign of dew on our corrector plate so he thinks that the dew shield has proven to be the only thing we really need to keep the dew off, this is just as well because when you have to run the dew strap heater this adversely effects the images.

^Looking down the dew shield at a clean corrector plate after a nights observing in 93% humidity, note also how well baffled the dew shield is, David Moorhouse really did a fantastic job constructing this dew shield!

Posted by Jonathan Green

Time Zone

All times on this page are in New Zealand Daylight Time in winter GMT +12 or summer GMT +13.