Astronomy Software Troubleshooting

There's plenty of advice available on the Internet when it comes to getting a balky PC or Mac program to run right. Most of the problems amateurs have with astro-ware, however, don't involve getting a program to run; they are about getting a program to talk to a telescope.

The first step in isolating scope communications problems, as when troubleshooting any go-to scope problem, is to check the cables. If the software replies with a "telescope not found" message when the telescope link button is clicked, drag out the multimeter (a great tool for the modern amateur) and check the serial cable for continuity. Also examine those dratted RJ connectors for cleanliness and condition and do the same for the port on the telescope.

The most frequent cause of difficulties with telescope coms after cable problems is configuration. If the PC's com (serial port) is "com 3," and "com 4" is entered in the program's (or ASCOM's) configuration screens, nothing good will happen. To determine the correct com port on a Windows computer, open Control Panel, select System, Hardware, and Device Manager; then click "Ports" in the tree that appears. The computer's com port number will be listed. If a USB serial converter cable is in use, don't assume com 4 will always be com 4. Plugging the cable into a different USB port than the last time may result in a new and different com port number being assigned.

What about the well-known astro-programs that weren't mentioned in this chapter? What about CCDsoft, Maxim DL, and K3CCD Tools? These and other imaging applications appear in the next chapter, which concerns what some amateurs consider the most difficult—and most rewarding—pursuit in CATworld: celestial picture taking.


Does a chapter on astrophotography, celestial picture taking, belong in a general interest/beginning book about SCTs? Yes, because it's impossible to talk about Schmidt Cassegrains without discussing imaging. These telescopes were designed with picture taking in mind, and astrophotography is often a goal of prospective CAT owners. Of course, a single chapter is not nearly enough space for an in-depth discussion of imaging methods. An entire book the length of this one is needed. What I can do here is give a general overview of the imaging game and steer new CAT users to the type of gear needed—and the challenges that will be faced.

Astrophotography is not one thing, but many things. Some amateurs spend their time capturing the Moon and planets, some focus on wide-field vistas, and others concentrate on detailed portraits of individual deep sky objects. Amateurs engaged in these different branches of astrophotography don't just shoot different objects; they typically use very different equipment. The choice of target will determine what kind of camera, software, and technique is needed: "the right tool for the job." For that reason, camera/software choices have been broken into "Lunar/Planetary" and "Deep Sky" categories. There is one basic need all astrophotographers have in common, however: a good, stable telescope mount.

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