Review of CCDSPEC spectroscope/spectrograph I posted on Stargazers Lounge 28/7/2018

I posted this review on Stargazers Lounge today https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/318409-ccdspec-spectrometer-review/?tab=comments#comment-3482357

Wow! Incredible! Amazing! I wish I had got one of these earlier.

I have seen this advertised at Astrofest over the last two Februaries in Kensington, London, and felt tempted but did not purchase one. Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a flyer I had bought home from Astrofest this year. I contacted Peak2Valley Instruments to find that there was one only left. Faced with the prospect of never owning one, I bought it….and I don’t have any regrets – quite the opposite! I wish I had bought this earlier. I have a Daystar Hydrogen Alpha Quark & a Calcium-H Quark. Nothing beats the H-Alpha scope/filter as an upgrade to your standard night time scope but if I had a choice between one of these CCDSPEC’s and the Calcium-H Quark, I would definitely go for the spectrometer. Don’t get me wrong = the Calcium Quark is a great bit of kit – it is just that the spectrometer gives a real sense of immediate satisfaction and opens up a new world of observation to its users. So if you own a hydrogen-alpha scope and now want something more, consider getting one of these if you can.

However – one step at a time. The spectroscope/spectrograph arrived neatly packed in an aluminium case. Dr Elliott had aligned and calibrated the QHY6 camera that came with it so this job was not needed. Good – because I would not have known where to start. This is quite different to other manufacturers.

It is housed in a beautiful yellow CNC-machined housing – nice enough to impressive my Takahashi-owning observing buddy Damian. Guiding is part of the design so does not need to be added separately. There is a place to connect an eyepiece separate form the camera. This differs from the ALPY-600 spectrograph which costs around £2000 by the time you purchase the guiding module as well as the spectrometer and connectors. This one was only a fraction of that cost.

After care from Dr Elliott has been nothing short of incredible. The poor soul has been bombarded with my e-mails and always promptly and politely responds with clear instructions and explanations. I wish every astronomer vendor was like this! He clearly knows his stuff and is happy to share his experience and skills with others.

In use – during the day it is incredibly easy to take a spectrum of any light – just point it at it. For the sun you point out the window at any part of the sky (just avoid the sun) and a lovely solar spectrum appears of your computer. At night, my first try disobeyed all the instructions in the manual -I used my Sky Watcher Pro 80mm scope on Manfrotto alt-az mount and hand guided for 30 second exposures of Vega and a couple of other stars. I also took a spectrum of the Moon and Mars – shorter exposures and equally as easy. It does not matter if the star slips on and off the slit – all you need is enough light collected and a spectrum appears as if by magic! I am sure it will work a lot better on my EQ6 tracking or guided and with my Sky Watcher Pro 120mm which is a proper match of F7.5 for the spectrometer but even with the wrong kit spectrums just kept appearing and lines matched up with those on sample spectrums off the internet – amazing! I am not used to stuff working first time when I use it – and straight out of the box. Dr Elliott needs to be thanked for achieving this, as some other spectrographs are not like this.

A word on hand guiding – a spectrum appears when the star is on the slit, so you know it has dropped off the slit in the eyepiece when the spectrum turns into a round star, so I just moved the star back on to the slit then.

The spectrometer can use any combination of cameras and a range of software. However, it comes with propriety software called PCSpectra which works well and is covered extensively in the manual. If you buy the QHY6 camera at the same time as I did then Dr Elliott will calibrate it for you – and even (as I have proven) help sort out the mess you make when you don’t realise the camera should not be taken off again and take it off to take a peak inside! We’ve had calibration files going back and fore like yoyos and all I can say is he has been a marvel putting up with the mess I’ve created…But then my history with astronomy equipment is a bit of a legend in our astro club.

Dr Elliott recommends using Nebulosity 4 to capture the FITS images – certainly they integrate well with the QHY6 and PCSpectra and purchasing Nebulosity helps to keep the system working “out of the box” so I would recommend it to any purchaser.

I have posted images of spectra and my experiences of using the spectrograph at https://roslistonastronomy.uk/category/spectroscopy/ccdspec-spectroscope

This is such a great piece of kit – and British made – that it is a shame that this is the last one available. I hope that there will be so many folks wanting to buy it that either Dr Elliott will make some more or someone will take up the mantle and continue to provide a UK-built spectrograph for UK astronomers – one that works just as intended and works for novices but is also a serious instrument capable of serious spectrometry work for advanced astronomers.

I don’t have any personal relationship to Dr Elliott or anything to gain from this review – I think I met him once at Astrofest……

Nightwatch event 27/7/2018 & successful detection of start of Perseid meteor shower at Rosliston Forestry Centre

On paper, the Nightwatch event was going to be particularly amazing this year. This annual event is an outreach activity organised by Rosliston Forestry Centre, where the astronomy group always has a presence. Many members of the public come to look through our telescopes, watch owl and bird or prey displays, go on a bat walk and join the moth group to explore the world of moths.

Last night stool out in that it coincided with the date of one of our usual meetings, and at the start there was going to be a total lunar eclipse and many planets were on display.

In addition, the sky had been amazingly clear for weeks beforehand.

…….Until the day when it clouded over and we could not see a thing in the night sky during the event!

Good job I bought my mobile meteor radio kit along (telescope at the ready to go in car at home – replaced last minute when I looked at the sky) – worked well (thanks to Bob Williams in particular for his help here) – plenty of meteors detected – we are the start of the Perseid meteor show with the keep coming up in a couple of weeks. The kit includes small portable aerial, Yaesu FT-817 radio, audio cable connection to my windows laptop, Spectrum Lab software, all powered very successfully by Ed Mann’s power pack – the inclusion of in-built inverter and 240V sockets on the side is a real boon. The radio is 12V and currently I am running it through a power supply that plugs into 240V socket which is a bit ridiculous – must make a 12V socket version.

Nevertheless, quite a few people turned up from the club to meet members of the public. Plenty of scopes were on display. It stayed dry and we all had great fun.

This is what it means to observe in the UK. You’ve got to be interested in clouds.

Particular thanks are due to Damian who made the effort to attend in spite of needing to get up really early the following morning to catch the plane for his holiday.

Look at how dry the grass is! We have had a particularly dry summer this year.

Andy

 

Meteor detection screenshots from Spectrum Lab:

Spectrum of Vega using CCDSPEC and QHY6 camera

Manually guided, 30 sec exposure in Nebulosity 4 with QHY6 camera, Sky Watcher 80mm Equinox Pro on manual alt-az Manfrotto mount.

Before anyone asks, I could not find the Ring Nebula tonight in the guide eyepiece on the CCDSPEC!

From RIchard Walk’s book, “Spectral Atlas for Amateur Astronomers”, Vega is a Lamba Bootis Class star. Stars of this class are classified according to their H-Balmer lines approx. on main sequence within spectral types F0-A0. Striking here is a generally weak metal-line spectrum with the main feature of Mg II absorption at 4481 A (448.1nm). This line is shown well on my spectra of Vega below as are the H-Balmer lines.

The following is from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balmer_series):

The Balmer series is characterized by the electron transitioning from n ≥ 3 to n = 2, where n refers to the radial quantum number or principal quantum number of the electron. The transitions are named sequentially by Greek letter: n = 3 to n = 2 is called H-α, 4 to 2 is H-β, 5 to 2 is H-γ, and 6 to 2 is H-δ. As the first spectral lines associated with this series are located in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, these lines are historically referred to as “H-alpha”, “H-beta”, “H-gamma” and so on, where H is the element hydrogen.

Transition of n 3→2 4→2 5→2 6→2 7→2 8→2 9→2 ∞→2
Name H-α / Ba-α H-β / Ba-β H-γ / Ba-γ H-δ / Ba-δ H-ε / Ba-ε H-ζ / Ba-ζ H-η / Ba-η Balmer break
Wavelength (nm) 656.45377[2] 486.13615[3] 434.0462[3] 410.174[4] 397.0072[4] 388.9049[4] 383.5384[4] 364.6
Energy difference (eV) 1.89 2.55 2.86 3.03 3.13 3.19 3.23 3.40
Color Red Aqua Blue Violet (Ultraviolet) (Ultraviolet) (Ultraviolet) (Ultraviolet)

The familiar red H-alpha spectral line of the Balmer series of atomic hydrogen, which is the transition from the shell n = 3 to the shell n = 2, is one of the conspicuous colours of the universe. It contributes a bright red line to the spectra of emission or ionisation nebula, like the Orion Nebula, which are often H II regions found in star forming regions. In true-colour pictures, these nebula have a distinctly pink colour from the combination of visible Balmer lines that hydrogen emits.

Andy

Spectra of two stars in Cassiopeia with CCDSPEC

Not sure which two stars these are – I was grabbing two stars as the clouds came in……..

Although many of the lines are the same in both stars, there is are some significant differences – in particular the dip at 487.9nm on the spectrum for star I stands out.

Star I:

Star II:

Dip on star I’s spectrum not present in star II’s spectrum:

Spectrum of Mars & Moon using CCDSPEC

Using CCDSPEC, from Lichfield, clear in these early hours – sadly forecast to be cloudy tonight for the total lunar eclipse.

I am enjoying this spectroscopy lark!

Using tonight Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm on undriven Manfrotto mount – hand guided using 10mm eyepiece. Surprised to find I needed a focus tube extension tube to achieve focus – opposite to what I had expected.

Richard Walker’s book “Spectral Atlas for Amateur Astronomers” notes that the spectrum of Mars and the Moon are both reflection spectra from the Sun. In neither case does the planet significantly change the spectrum so both ought to look very like the solar spectrum – which mine indeed do.

 

Below is my first cosmological spectrum – of Mars at opposition.

And of the Moon (clouds partially covered it):

Spectra produced using MySpectra software:

Mars:

Moon:

Compare above to Dr Elliott’s sample spectrum of the Sun (actually clear sky – daylight = Sun):