Monday, September 13, 2010

Controlling My Telescope with iPhone/iPad App

When we moved to our current home, we were situated in a perfect place to finally purchase a telescope. We have a deck that overlooks our city, in a neighborhood that has less light pollution than most. In early April 1994, we ordered a Celestron 8 Inch CPC Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope.

We were fortunate to order our telescope, prior to the media blitz about the Shumaker-Levy Comet that was expected to hit the surface of Jupiter that July 1994. Once this news broke it was next to impossible to order any telescope during that year. We were able to see the impact of the comet on the surface of Jupiter. We spent the summer exploring the skies and learning about all the deep sky objects that were now visible to us through our new telescope. The telescope was perfect for amateurs as it required that we align on only two stars and using the hand-held remote we were able to have the telescope automatically slew to various sky objects in the database contained on the hand-held device.

As the years went by, we purchased Voyager software by Carina Software that allowed us to use an old PC to control the telescope. We had the old PC situated on an old TV cart that we rolled outside on the deck with cables connecting from the PC to the telescope. We eventually acquired the Mac version that came out a year or so later that enabled us to use our G4 Laptop to access and control the telescope, but also via a cable connecting the laptop and the telescope.

This past year I read about an app that could be used on our iPhone/iPads, that could work via wifi to control our telescope. It was necessary that we purchase a WiFi-to-serial adapter to relay commands from our iPhone or iPad, to the serial port on our telescope. The app called SkyVoyager is available in the iTunes app store and works with most goto type telescopes. Unlike bluetooth devices, SkyFi requires no pairing, and no special drivers. Its uses standard TCP/IP networking protocols. Because TCP/IP is the language of the internet, SkyFi can enable your telescope to be remotely controlled over the internet. This is a capability that bluetooth simply was never designed for. You can use SkyFi with your WiFi-enabled laptop or desktop computer, as well as an iPhone or iPod Touch.

This past weekend we camped at Bruneau Dunes State Park, one of the best places to view the sky in North America. Bruneau Dunes has a nice campground with electricity, water, showers and bathrooms. See: Bruneau Dunes State Park Info

Every year the Boise Astronomical Society hosts a star party at Bruneau Dunes State Park and Observatory, where amateur astronomers set up their telescopes and allow the public to view the skies. The Observatory houses a 25" Newtonian reflector. A number of portable telescopes are set up outside for public observing, as well.
We were able to use the app on our iPhones and iPads to successfully control the telescope. Viewing of Jupiter was exceptional. The skies were clear, temperatures mildly comfortable during the day and night and aside from a faulty plug wire for powering our telescope, that we were able to fix with aluminum foil and duct tape, all went well for viewing. We were also able to view the International Space Station as it made its way across the skies at approximately 8:47PM. We also saw several satellites and a shooting star.

The app SkyVoyager is a powerful planetarium program for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It's designed for both beginners and advanced users. It contains a database of 300,000 stars to 10th magnitude, and 30,000 deep sky objects, including the entire NGC and IC catalogs. It renders the planets and moons in detail, using NASA mission imagery, and includes a database of several hundred asteroids, comets, and artificial satellites.

It was simple to setup, connect and tap to control our telescope to view the many objects under the clear skies while camping. Check out the link: SkyVoyager

Note: SkyVoyager has been renamed SkySafari

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