Smartphone Telescope Adapter – This article is provided by Simulation Curriculum, a leader in space science curriculum solutions and makers of SkyFi III wireless telescopes and SkySafari applications for Android and iOS. A computerized GoTo telescope in the backyard can automatically search for anything the beginner skywatchers might want to see.
But how do you find available objects when you observe? And what do you do if the newly discovered comet or asteroid is not in your telescope’s internal database? Maybe you want to see stars that are known to host orbiting exoplanets, but your telescope can’t find that star. One way to approach this problem is to connect your telescope to the astronomy application and control it wirelessly with your phone.
Smartphone Telescope Adapter
A number of vendors make hardware and software that allows you to direct a computerized GoTo telescope remotely. For example, SkyFi III’s Wireless Simulation Telescope Controller The new curriculum is integrated with the SkySafari 5 application and the company’s Starry Night desktop software to control many GoTo telescopes. Meade’s Stella Wi-fi Adapter is a branded version of the same hardware, and the company StellaAccess application has SkySafari under the hood. And Orion StarSeek and the corresponding StarSeek 5 application use the same Simulation Curriculum technology. These three brands can be operated.
Celestron sells the Skyportal Wifi Module to control its telescope. The suitable SkyPortal application was also adapted from SkySafari, but the pair of hardware and software was limited to the Celestron telescope. Celestron also sells a line of telescopes called Nexstar Evolution that has Wi-Fi hardware built in.
Recently, I took the SkyFi III Wireless Telescope Controller to spin – and I was impressed. In this edition of Cellular Astronomy, we will explain how this device works and what they are doing well, and offer some tips for utilizing most of them, whether your GoTo telescope is a beginner model or an advanced professional system. [Best Telescope for Money – 2017 Review and Guide]
Why is wireless?
Let’s face it – the computerized GoTo telescope, which finds and tracks objects automatically in the night sky, is cold and pleasant. But operating your telescope with a remote control takes it to another level. I recently tried SkyFi III Wireless Telescope Controller from the Simulation Curriculum. I previously used a WiFi SkyFi 2 device and a Bluetooth SkyBT device, so I was interested in seeing SkyFi III. My test telescope includes the alt-azimuth Meade LightSwitch system, a German equatorial mount iOptron SmartEQ and German Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro equatorial mount with SynScan hand controller. All three systems are easily controlled by the SkyFi III unit. Wireless telescope controls paired with the SkySafari 5 application offer some great benefits for sky observers of all levels of experience. Let’s look at some of them.
Computerized backyard GoTo Telescope has a built-in object database for you to choose from – including moons, planets, asteroids, brightest stars, and selected star clusters, nebulas and galaxies. Entry-level systems from Celestron, Meade, Skywatcher and other vendors usually store between several thousand to 40,000 astronomical objects, most of which are stars. Some of the higher semiprofessional systems have 150,000 objects in their database.
From time to time, when new comets and asteroids are found, dim stars explode when novas and new satellites are launched, the object database needs to be updated. Most GoTo systems have a way to attach a telescope to your computer to achieve this. But the process can be fussy, and sometimes frustrating, for beginners. And many veteran astronomers, including me, don’t bother doing it.
The SkyFi III Wireless Telescope Controller lets you operate your telescope with your mobile device, using the SkySafari 5 Plus application (or Pro version) for Android or iOS. The Plus version of SkySafari 5 contains nearly 3 million objects, including more than 31,500 objects in the sky, 16,000 asteroids and small planets, nearly 1,500 satellites, and more than 600 comets. When a new object is found or the orbit of an existing object is enhanced, the application updates its database automatically for you.
The Pro version of SkySafari 5 contains nearly 28 million objects. Now, there is clearly more here than your telescope can see – but the ability to call positions, descriptions, and the latest images for objects with a few finger taps is very useful. And if you trade to a more powerful telescope, the SkyFi III controller will migrate there. Supported telescopes and mounts are listed on this page.
Deciding what to observe next can be a challenge for beginners who are still studying the sky. The SkySafari 5 application can show you at a glance what is happening now by activating compass mode and panning. Or, you can get advice on what to observe by accessing the Best Tonight list on the Search menu, by tapping the SkyWeek Sky & Oak icon on the main screen or by tapping the Night icon. The last is a list of locations, and rises and sets time, for large planets and satellites. Then, just select an object, and instruct the telescope to kill (the term for the movement of the telescope) to see it. We will discuss the method below. [SkySafari 5 Is Here: What You Need to Know to Choose Your Application Level]
One of my favorite benefits for wireless telescope control occurs during winter observations. After the controller is connected to your telescope, you can select and crawl onto objects using the stylus on your mobile or tablet, letting your fingers warm in your gloves. And if you need to go inside to warm up, you can turn off SkyFi III and turn it back on when you return; the telescope will stay in harmony and ready to use. If you are involved in an astronomical video or DSLR camera, SkyFi III will let you operate your telescope from indoors.
Read on to find out what is included in SkyFi III, how to connect it and how to control your telescope.
What’s in the package?
The SkyFi III Wireless Telescope Controller has the size of a small cellphone, and installing and activating a controller takes less than a minute. The built-in Velcro strap allows it to be mounted on a telescope. To allow you to connect to a telescope, SkyFi III has a built-in nine-pin D-Sub connector for serial connections and a standard USB-A port. The micro-USB port for charging lithium-ion batteries is also included. The unit must operate for 10 to 12 hours at a cost, depending on the outside temperature. An AC adapter that ends with a micro-USB is provided, but you can also charge SkyFi III from the port and a standard 5V USB cable (not included). The controller’s internal rechargeable battery allows you to turn it on without having to install a new battery or use an external power cable.
To turn on and turn off SkyFi III, you press a single large button. When you hold the button for 5 seconds, SkyFi III will be reset to its factory default. The red LED lights up when the unit is on, and the other LEDs are lit while charging. The third Data LED flashes when the battery drops below 25 percent (and also flash during the factory reset procedure).
With a USB telescope, a standard USB cable connects the USB Type-A SkyFi III port to the telescope’s USB Type-B port. With a serial telescope, you need a serial cable to connect your telescope’s RS-232 port to a standard DB9 PC serial port. Each telescope manufacturer may need a different serial cable. If your telescope vendor doesn’t provide it, you can get a serial cable for most brands from the Simulation Curriculum for $ 29.95.
Some telescope brands have their serial ports mounted, while others have them on hand control (usually at the bottom, next to a circular cable plug). Consult your manual. To avoid damage to the telescope or SkyFi III, be sure to use ONLY the telescope serial port when connecting the two.
Connect SkyFi III to your telescope
To get started, set your telescope, align it to the stars in the normal way and connect the SkyFi III cable. When turned on, the SkyFi III wireless telescope controller broadcasts an open local 802.11 network that can be used by your Android or Apple device, or your computer. (In previous SkyFi models, some Android devices cannot connect to the “ad hoc” network.)
On your mobile or tablet, navigate to the Wi-Fi Connection menu, and join an open network called “SkyFi.” Note that when your device enters the SkyFi III network, the device can only reach the internet through your mobile operator, not Wi-Fi.
Launch the SkySafari 5 application, and open the Settings menu. In the Telescope subsection, tap Settings. Tap Scope Type, and find your telescope in an extensive list (or select the Demo Interface to practice without the telescope installed). Then, exit this menu. Tap Mount Type, and choose mount style – most telescopes are Equatorial GoTo (Germany) or Alt-Az. Go to. Then, exit the submenu. To complete the settings, under the Communication Settings subsection, select Connect via Wi-Fi. I found that SkyFi Detection Automatic works on all my devices.
The SkyFi Web page button at the bottom of this menu page allows you to open and review SkyFi III settings when you enter the network. (You can do the same operation by connecting to SkyFi III from your computer and using the browser to navigate to the IP address 10.0.0.1.)
The main SkyFi Status page shows the battery charge level, device name (“SkyFi” is the factory default), the wireless mode used and the unit’s IP address and MAC address. To modify the SkiFi III settings, use the navigation tab at the top of the page.
On the Wireless Settings page, you can change the default network name if you have multiple SkyFy III controllers or observers near you that have one of their own. You can also enter a password to prevent other users from connecting to your SkyFi III and controlling your telescope. Change Channel settings if the connection to your telescope is unreliable due to radio interference. Click Apply Settings to save any changes.
The Serial Interface page allows the RS-232 port and USB SkyFi to be configured. The default only needs to be changed in the event that it is not possible to mount a telescope using different serial communication settings. The Firmware page displays the current firmware version. The SkyFi III Curriculum Simulation support page has a link to the firmware file to download and store on your computer. To update SkyFi III, just click the Select File button, select the file on your computer and click Update Firmware. My unit arrived with firmware version 1.3.2 (although version 1.3.3 is available).
Remember that you can always return SkyFi III to the factory default by pressing and holding the power button until the Data LED blinks quickly. [How to Photograph Sky-Night Objects with Your Smartphone]
Control the telescope wirelessly
To control your telescope with the SkySafari 5 application, tap the Telescope icon on the main screen. This will launch a menu with buttons labeled Connect, GoTo, Align, and Lock. Press Connect, and you will see a change in the button label to disconnect. (Disconnect tapping will turn off telescope control.) Once connected, the application display will migrate to show the sky where the telescope is directed. If you see a big difference, your telescope may not be aligned properly.
When the device is connected, the telescope’s slewing button will appear on the left and right of the screen, with arrows indicating left, right, up, and down movements. The slider bar at the bottom of the screen allows you to adjust the speed when the telescope moves when the directional keys are tapped (to move) or held down (for continuous movement). At the top of the screen, the status bar expands to show details about the coordinates of the telescope and the target object. To declare your appearance, you can hide this item by tapping the Telescope icon; the telescope is still controlled.
While telescope control is active, the application’s Compass function is disabled. But you can still swipe the screen manually to explore the sky. Tap any object to choose it; then tap the GoTo button, and the telescope will move to that object. Alternatively, you can use the Search menu. When you arrive at the Object info page, the GoTo icon will appear. When you tap it, the telescope will spin to observe the object. Note that you cannot “GoTo” objects that are under the horizon.
The ability of SkyFi III to find and center objects is only as good as the alignment of your telescope’s star, so be careful when setting it up. If, after GoTo, you still need to focus the object on your telescope, you can use the Align application button to eliminate errors. With objects centered on the eyepiece, select the same object in SkySafari 5 (by tapping it or searching for it). Then tap the Align application button. This must be true for every difference in the sky region. You may need to repeat the process after pointing elsewhere.
The Lock / Unlock button controls whether the application’s sky chart remains centered on the telescope’s position. I use it to refocus the screen after swiping around the sky to find the target.
Now you are ready to explore the universe! At this point, you have equipped your simple telescope with the ability to point to millions of objects. Check the SkySafari 5 Search menu to see if there are any comets available. (Those who are above the horizon will be highlighted in the list.) Do you want to see satellites through your telescope? Search listings for smart people who are passing by now. Your telescope may not be able to continuously track fast-moving objects, but repeated tapping of the GoTo button will bring them back to the eyepiece. Use a low eye lens to see a bigger part of the sky so they will still look longer.
The next time a weak star explodes on a nova, a near-Earth asteroid zipper or supernova appears in a distant galaxy, you will be able to aim at the target. The SkyFi III will help you get the most out of your equipment, and you might even be inspired to upgrade to a bigger telescope!
Beyond – see extrasolar systems and much more
The recent wave of exoplanet announcements has been interesting. Most of the planets found orbit simple stars that will not be included in the base database of the telescope. While your backyard telescope can’t see planets, it’s very nice to observe their stars and let the imagination soar. The star catalog of the SkySafari 5 application includes many of these stars. For example, last month, astronomers reported the discovery of an exoplanet of Earth size of only 11 light years, called Ross 128b. This orbits a cool red dwarf star named FI Virginis (in Virgo). The SkySafari 5 Plus app contains stars as the 11th magnitude – quite dim, but within the range of a medium-sized telescope. The star is in the dawn sky, but you can track other people at night.
The SkyFi III controller allows you to connect to a telescope from your computer. The SkySafari software runs under Mac OS X / macOS. The Starry Night Simulation Curriculum software controls telescopes directly on Mac, and through the Virtual Serial Port on Windows. You can also use the Stellarium desktop program to control your telescope through SkyFi III.
In the next Cellular Astronomy column, we will discuss how to preview the biggest celestial event in 2018 using the cellular astronomy application. And next year we will see how stars move and constellations change their shape over time, and much more. Meanwhile, keep looking!
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