|Lodestar X2 and Lodestar LIVE in action|
I can't think of any other time in my astronomical adventures have I been so impressed by a relatively new product that my jaw dropped, but this is exactly what happened this night. The views Tom was sharing up on the screen were as good if not better than anything I have seen before on NSN, or any broadcast live for that matter. On screen was a monochrome image of M27, but oh so smooth, devoid of hot pixels too. The planetary nebula popped with detail, wisps of filaments and even the outer lobes clearly visible. Most impressive to me at least were the stars, as they were pinpoints of light, not pixelated or squarish at all. I thought now THIS is what I have been looking for in a live, assisted observing tool, so I had to know more. Take a look at the image below, this is my live screen grab of Tom's broadcast, and you'll see what I mean.
What Tom was using was not an expensive, high-end new astronomy video system, and it wasn't even an expensive, dedicated astronomical CCD camera. Nope, it was a guider, yes a CCD camera made for GUIDING. I'm talking about the Starlight Xpress Lodestar X2, their newest guide camera. The image was brought up using a free software that was recently released as well specifically for the Lodestar camera, and created for the very purpose of using the camera as an electronically assisted, live viewing tool. Well, I was impressed. No I was blown away actually. This combo is great for electronically assisted observing! Here are a couple more grabs from Tom's broadcast.
Beautiful stuff isn't it! But remember when I said that I was blown away and my jaw dropped? Well, this is the image that did just that.
I made it a point to grab not just the image on the left, but also the remainder of the screen to show a couple of things. There I am at the top of the user list (JohnTN), and you can see I asked a question of how many seconds this exposure was. Now if you're not familiar with NightSkiesNetwork, the person broadcasting can have audio so we can hear that person talking, but those joining in on the session to view are restricted to the chat session in their ability to respond. So Tom had said "30 seconds", and I made it a point to type that in the chat window there to ensure this captured image had the exposure time noted. 30 SECONDS folks. A fantastic Ring Nebula with central star, and even one other store in the center. This image alone, well not really, this and all the others, blew me away so much that I literally opened up another window, went to Oceanside Photo & Telescope website and placed my order for the Lodestar X2 Monochrome Autoguider right then and there.
Lodestar X2 Arrives
OPT folks never disappoint, and my product arrived on July 25th. It arrived in its own blue storage box and is a very simple setup including the camera, USB Cable (Not in pics), CDRom and guide cable.
|Lodestar X2 Monochrome|
One "got ya" that that ran into was that the Lodestar, with its 1.25" form factor, is not threaded for standard 1.25" filters. Nope, you'll need a C-Mount 1.25" adapter to be able to mount your 1.25" filters, so keep this in mind.
This camera works on Windows AND Mac, a big plus for me since I have a Mac and use this as my primary computer. For my Mac, that means I didn't have to install a thing, it worked right out of the box with Lodestar LIVE. When I need to run Windows only apps, I simply start up Parallels for Mac and run my Windows 7 installation. This is a easy thing to do, but I'm now happy that my system resources can all be devoted to the Mac, rather than sharing resources with a virtual machine. For windows users, a simple installation using the included CDRom or download from Starlight XPress website for appropriate drivers, and you're good to go.
Lodestar LIVE Software
Now lets get to Lodestar LIVE. Finding the beta download is very straightforward, if you're a member of the great Stargazers Lounge online forum. I would recommend you head on over to that site, sign up, and be kept up to date on the development of the software. Registration is free by the way for Stargazers Lounge.
I knew from previous posts there and on CloudyNights that this software was made specific for the Lodestar by Paul (Still trying to find out his last name) out of Kent UK. My hats off to Paul the developer for allowing us to check out the beta version of the software, you're awesome Paul! The software is super easy to setup, and there is one version for Mac and one for Windows, so everyone is happy.
On the Mac, simply download and run, that's it. For Windows, a tad bit more as you want to ensure you have the 2010 Visual Studio redistributables download and installed to your PC prior to setup, but it's just a click away. Paul, being the great developer he is, includes this within the ReadMe.txt file so you'll always know where and how to get it.
Once you have it downloaded, now the fun starts. And boy, oh what fun it was! The first thing that really struck me about the setup was just how easy it is to use. I'm not talking just how easy it is to setup the camera, being that it is USB and it was nice to have a single cable run to the telescope versus the need for a separate control cable, but how easy it is to acquire the object, and get a very nice image up on your screen in no time flat. Not a lot of tweaking settings at all, which means more time to observe, so a win-win in my book. Oh, and by the way, I put together a video here on my Youtube Channel a few weeks ago, so you can see for yourself just how easy this combo of camera and software is to get you observing.
Here are a few screen grabs from my couple of nights with the setup on a hot night back in late July. Due to the fact that the Lodestar X2 sits much closer to my Meade f3.3 Focal Reducer, I wasn't operating at the fastest speed possible, and thus the field of viewer is smaller than usual, but you'll get the idea anyway of this combos performance. All images are taken with my Celestron C8, using the Meade f3.3 reducer (but not operating at f3.3), and without any filters. My next series of images however will note the newest addition to my filter arsenal, the Baader IDAS LPS filter. I picked up this filter after watching and listening to other NSN broadcasters that promote its capabilities to deal with light polluted skies like mine.
You will notice information on some of these images below. I love the fact that Lodestar LIVE incorporates this capability to save just what you see to a PNG file and even puts object information on the PNG file if you chose to have information displayed there.
|Wanted to test how "deep" I could go with a 90s exposure, the highest "default" exposure in Lodestar Live.|
|I was please to do a quick 10 second test, and the Lodestar X2 did just fine with such a short exposure|
|Look at this M57! 3 stars in the nebula itself! Great detail.|
By far my favorite image above is M57, I was just blown away by the detail. Globular clusters look fantastic in this setup as well, and the nebula has plenty of wispy detail in them too. I have tons of other live grabs that I have captured with the Lodestar X2 and Lodestar LIVE since first light that I'll be posting up on a new series that I'm planning on adding to the blog that will be an observing report of sorts, so you'll have the opportunity to see for yourself the capabilities of this assisted observing combo as my experience with it grows. But as you can see so far, it's a real winner, dare I say possibly a "game changer"? Well, maybe not a "game changer", I don't see the Lodestar X2/Lodestar LIVE combo dislodging astronomy video products any time soon, but if you're looking for an assisted observing package that won't break the bank, you HAVE to consider the Lodestar X2 and Lodestar LIVE. Yes, it's that good.