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Using Ekos to -automatically- search for asteroids

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Hi everyone,
I was curious if the automation already available in Ekos could be put to use to search for asteroids. The idea was to use the scheduler to run a capture sequence on the same area of the sky three times at fixed intervals. Captured sequences could then be stacked to produced three images to compare to see if something had changed position between them. Additional fields could be imaged during the intervals, in a more or less continuous process. A swath of the sky could be scanned moving in RA direction, imaging several fields at different DEC at each RA before moving to the next RA, like this: 

I started trying to manually setup a job schedule to do this, but after a while it was obvious that it was not reasonable. I have now written a Python script that creates the scheduler file (.esl) to scan a given number of RA "columns" and DEC "rows" starting from a given RA and DEC (lower right corner in the schema). It considers the field of the camera-telescope combination and has parameters for the desired overlap between images. The scheduled jobs execute a capture sequence that is predefined in Ekos. Each field in a RA column is captured three times following the order: DEC1, DEC2 ... DECn, DEC1, DEC2, ...DECn, DEC1, DEC2, ...DECn, and then the telescope moves to the next RA column. Focusing is called once per RA column, on the first field (at DEC1). I'm attaching the script as a .txt file to this post (needs to be changed to .py), in case someone wants to try it. As a result of running the scheduled jobs, 3 folders are created for each field (named e.g. Field10, Field10b, and Field10c).

File Attachment:

File Name: scheduler.txt
File Size:4 KB

I wrote a SiriL script to process and stack the captures from each field found on those folders and to align the resulting 3 images for comparison.

Finding moving points of light in the images "by eye" proved absurdly difficult, so I wrote a script in Python that compares the images and presents the findings in a visual way. This is the output from a couple of known asteroids:

That is (391) Ingeborg, a fairly fast moving asteroid of about 15.6 mag. Images were obtained with a 115mm f/5.6 refractor equipped with an ASI1600mm-pro camera (each image: 3x 60 sec Lum subs). The animated GIF is saved by the python script. The color image is also output by the script (each image is a color channel, showing moving objects as aligned R, G, and B dots).

This is another one, (2363) Cebriones, about magnitude 17.75 (probably near the detection limits of my equipment). It shows the script does a good job at finding them.

I am attaching the image comparison script here too as a .txt file, for anyone to play with. Just be aware that I'm not a programmer (so my code is probably laughable at some parts... ).

File Attachment:

File Name: afinder_v4...06-2.txt
File Size:9 KB

Things that don't work well yet:
useless rant --> 1. I run INDI/Ekos/Kstars on a Raspberry Pi 4 at the telescope: There has not been a single night where something doesn't fails (if it's not a general crash, it's the solver taking forever, or the guider failing in some way ). 
2. I haven't found a way to make the scheduler wait for the guider to stabilize before starting the capture sequence. Clearly, after the alignment procedure, waiting some seconds seems to help. I think changing the capture sequence to 6x 30sec LUM subs night help with this.
3. Did I say I use a Raspberry Pi? The scheduler takes some time to load the .esl file. I wouldn't dare include more than 6 fields in the file (6 fields are 18 jobs...).

I'm looking forward to knowing if someone else is trying something similar and what has been your approach. It would be nice sharing ideas. 

Already a very long post. I hope it didn't come out too complicated because of my bad English.

Clear Skies,
The following user(s) said Thank You: Jasem Mutlaq, Rick Bassham, Gonzothegreat, Alfred, Arnaud, Rafa Barberá, Seitaro Sugawara
Last edit: 1 year 3 months ago by Ricardo Serpell.
1 year 4 months ago #76158

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I did find 3 asteroids (already known but not by me) by imaging an object over an extended period of time with multiple exposures.  The image sequence clearly showed 3 objects moving relative to the stable background stars.  So the process is certainly viable.  

Concerning the crashes of Ekos using a Raspberry Pi 4, that is what I use a Raspberry Pi 4 with 8 Gbits of memory, running EKOS 3.5.0.  However, I too had crash issues, especially during plate solving before I changed the operating system to 64 bit Ubuntu.  I found that the 32 bit operating system was not consistent in performing the plate solving operations and would sometimes crash.  I consulted with someone involved in writing the PHD2 code and we concluded that changing to a 64 bit operating system resolve the issues and it did.  I would suggest you explore that path as an option.

1 year 4 months ago #76184

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Thanks for your reply Ronald. How did you find the asteroids in the image? When I stack many subs, the rejection usually gets rid of transient phenomena...

Also thanks for the tips on the Raspberry. I do too use a model 4, but with 4GB only. I don't think I have memory issues, though. I connect to it using VNC and by how slow it is, I think it might be draining too much resources. I also think I might have some hardware problems, with the mount in particular (HEQ5-Pro). About a month ago the mount led started blinking randomly (not like when power hungry, but rather as if the power connector was loose), then the whole system crashed (Raspberry going offline and not coming back). And near the end of my last imaging session (two nights ago) suddenly was not able to guide (as if it had stopped tracking altogether) magically recovering the next minute... Might be the winter temperatures approaching.

Regardless, I'll have a look at my OS as you suggest. I'm curious now to see if it might help with other minor issues.

Last edit: 1 year 4 months ago by Ricardo Serpell.
1 year 4 months ago #76287

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Just an update on the asteroid hunting tests...
I made some changes to the image comparison script (the new version has been updated in my original post). Now the candidate animated images are stamped with the dates/times extracted from the FITS files. Also made some other minor changes that should make it more "sensitive", I prefer having false-positives than overlooking a possible find.

Here a couple of animations from the last session:
(790) Pretoria, 15.01 magnitude.

(663) Gerlinde, 16.52 magnitude.

(Magnitude info is from Kstars).

Clear skies,

The following user(s) said Thank You: Jasem Mutlaq
1 year 3 months ago #76396

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Very nice idea. This is a really nice contest .. Thanks for the information that you share with us.

Last edit: 6 months 10 hours ago by Bussell.
6 months 1 day ago #85005

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Lovely idea! How would such a tool be integrated into Ekos? We can perhaps add Siril integration to view the results afterwards.
Jasem Mutlaq
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6 months 1 day ago #85010

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