Windows 10 for astronomy, should you upgrade?

Recently I have been asked several times about using Windows 10 for astronomy or astrophotography. Many of you know that my day job is in technology. I am constantly being forced into looking at new technology no matter how well my equipment may or may not be working. Sometimes this gives me huge increases in productivity.  When I went from Windows XP to Vista itgave me the ability to search inside documents and launch programs fast from the Windows key which was awesome. Sometimes keeping current makes me buy headache medication in bulk. When I rant Windows 8 it originally would not run two desktop monitors, clobbered my searching, generally made me mad.

Using Windows 10 for astronomy

In July Microsoft began releasing Windows 10, the replacement for Windows 8. They have been heavily pushing this version with pop-ups on virtually all Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers enticing you to reserve your “free upgrade”. With the issues presented with Windows 8 it is no wonder they are really advertising the heck out of this release. Is it something you should run to, or away from when considering running Windows 10 for astronomy uses?

The first concern I have heard about from many people is usability, is it easier to use than Windows 8? If you found Windows 8 hard to use or confusing, you were not alone. Regardless of how good the operating system was, Windows 8 was a substantial departure in the way you interfaced with it from virtually all Windows versions since Windows 3.1. From the users I have talked to, and my own personal opinion is that yes, Windows 10 is vastly easier and more familiar to most Windows users. I think Microsoft did a good job keeping the elements that most users wanted and introducing new features. This is very important when using Windows 10 for astronomy as everything needs to be as easy as possible out in the dark.


After usability the next question is always how easy it is to upgrade. With few exceptions all of the Windows 10 upgrades I have seen have been lengthy, but smooth. I have seen a couple of cases where the upgrade went horribly wrong however this could have been because the computer lost power or was forcibly rebooted by a user who didn’t understand what was happening. The vast majority of installs were trouble free. Regardless of the odds, you should always make backups before you upgrade any software, particularly the operating system. If you are in doubt, take it to a professional and have them make an image so that if something does go wrong they can put it back exactly the way it was.

Compatibility with existing software is generally the next question with the worst problems I have seen involving antivirus. If you are using any of the major AV suppliers such as Norton, Kaspersky, or MacAfee and are using your computer in a home or small business environment (not using corporate class antivirus, not on a domain) then you will most likely only have to reinstall your antivirus after the upgrade to Windows 10. All these vendors have current versions that work with Windows 10. If however you are using corporate class AV then you should wait at least until mid December to ensure that you have antivirus that works as that seems to be when the vendors will be ready to roll out corporate protection for Windows 10. If you are on a business network and are unsure, contact your system administrator or person in charge of your network at your office and ask before upgrading. Again, if you are planning on running Windows 10 for astronomy you may not even run antivirus on your computer if it is dedicated to that use.

Another problem with compatibility is any software that relies on hardware drivers to provide a specific function. These include software to scan, print, or display high resolution graphics such as gaming software. One piece that did not work on one of my laptops that surprised me was Stellarium. It worked fine under Windows 7 but once I upgraded to Windows 10 it would not launch but instead displayed an error about my system not having OpenGL. This of course is not a fault with Stellarium but with the video drivers on my computer of which I have the latest version (both the latest version from Intel and the latest version from Microsoft failed). This laptop was originally designed for Windows XP and has been upgraded through Vista, 7 and now 10. That really did not shock me and I am not sure I will pursue the issue as this is not my astronomy laptop anyway. 


Fortunately if something goes wrong Windows 10 gives you 30 days to make up your mind as long as you did the standard upgrade and not a clean install. If you decide that Windows 10 is not for you, or that it simply will not work with your equipment, click the start menu (or hit the Windows key) and type “go back to windows 7” and you should see the “Go Back to Windows 7” system setting right at the top. Click on that and follow the prompts to get you right back to where you started. I will assume there is something similar for Vista but since all my upgrades were from 7 I have no way to verify that. 


There are a couple of ways you can install Windows 10. The first is that little icon in your system tray that keeps telling you to reserve your copy. That method will download the entire installation to your hard drive and then prompt you to install it when it is done and ready. The next method involves making a DVD or USB drive to run the upgrade from. Simply visit the following website:

and follow the directions. You will need a USB drive that has nothing on it you want to keep (preferred, I recommend an 8GB USB 3.0) or blank DVD media and a DVD burner. I do all my installs now off a USB 3.0 drive and the installs are fast and easy.

If you plan on primarily using Windows 10 for astronomy should you try it? My opinion is that if you have a rock solid setup on Windows 7 and it is just for Astronomy/Astrophotography, then no. The reason is that there is nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose if in nothing else, time trying to get things working again. This includes the fact that I have found no compelling astronomy apps for Windows 10. Then again, it isn’t like there is much in the way of Microsoft astronomy software.

If however the computer is running Windows 8, 8.1, Vista or is dual purpose (astronomy and every day use) then sure. Just be sure you have excellent backups just in case, as you should have anyway. For me, my daily use machines are all being converted to 10, my one astrophotography only unit will currently stay at 7, and my astrophotography backup unit will probably be converted to 10 as the test bed for the primary unit.

One problem with Windows 10 that may affect your desire to upgrade is the Windows 10 broken search feature. In previous versions of Windows if you downloaded an exe file, it was added to the search index and you could hit your Windows key on the keyboard, type the filename and it would appear in the search results. Unfortunately that no longer works. I have an executable file that it has not found in weeks, reindexing does not help, and even pinning the file to the start menu will not cause it to show up in search results.

I verified this problem on other Windows 10 machines with other executable files in different directories and even found a thread about it online at Windows 10 broken search with some other additional quirks in the search. If you rely heavily on the search capabilities of Windows then Vista, 7 or 8 would be a better choice for you than 10.

Another issue is the Win 10 forced updates, and you can not easily turn off the automatic update feature. While this may not sound too bad there have been many times I went to leave my office only to have Windows start to install updates which I could not stop. Once I just left the laptop running in the passenger seat of my car updating because I have to leave right then for any appointment. If however you are using Windows 10 for astronomy forced updates may not be an issue for you.

The bottom line is that I think Windows 10 is a good step forward in the Windows ecosystem as long as they fix issues with the search feature and maybe do something with the forced updates. While more evolutionary than revolutionary it is what Windows 8 should have been and is faster and sleeker than either Windows 7 or 8. Even better, if you have Windows Vista, 7, 8 or 8.1 your upgrade to 10 is free!

If you are considering running Windows 10 for astronomy or astrophotography and are sure all your software and drivers will run, give it a shot.

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How to keep cool observing in the summer heat.

Unfortunately I have to start with a disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. What I present here is my opinion from my experiences. If you have any questions or health concerns you should seek the advice of a qualified health care professional.

I live in east Texas and we have a unique problem in that when it is hot, it is really hot. In the summer however, people really do die from the heat, and you can get heat exhaustion or worse without really any physical activity. So how so you stay cool while out observing?

The first thing is shade assuming you are doing solar observing during the day. This is the only difference between day and night observing. You absolutely need to stay in the shade. Most major retailers sell four post canopies for very little such as <<insert amazon link here>>. These are worth every cent you spend on them. I also recommend you use as little sunblock as possible as it seems to make it harder for my natural sweat to do its job cooling me off.

Two excellent hats for keeping your cool in the day

Two excellent hats for keeping your cool in the day

If you absolutely have to be out in the sun, wear a light colored breathable hat. I like the golf hats made by Nike, Under Armor and others. The wide brim hats with mesh around the top are also a nice choice.

I also find that a quality fabric shirt such as a Nike or Under Armor running type shirt that fits a little snug (not skin tight, not really form fitting, just not really loose) works far better than a loose or inexpensive shirt. I am not big on name brand clothes except for certain items, and shirts to keep me cool is one of them. I have tried several less expensive shirts from major sporting goods stores which claim to be excellent for keeping you cool and they all perform substantially poorer than the Nikes I generally wear. If you want to save some money you can find the Nike running shirts cheap at Nike outlet stores. They do not have to be running shirts, they just need to be the high end Nike shirts designed specifically to keep you as cool as possible. Remember that if you are out in the day, the color of the shirt is important as well, lighter colors reflect heat and dark colors absorb them. Wearing black is not a really good idea for solar observing in the heat of the summer.

Nike running shirt on the left, store brand on the right

Nike running shirt on the left, store brand on the right

I have even tried wearing both shirts under my motorcycle riding jacket (a mesh jacket) and got exactly the same results. The Nike shirt felt substantially cooler than the others. The trick is that the material in the shirt needs to wick sweat (take the sweat off your skin and deposit it on top of the fabric). When this works well it is amazing. When it does not (think of a cotton t-shirt soaked with sweat) you can suffer a real health problem from overheating.

Nice compact fan available at Wal-Mart

Nice compact fan available at Wal-Mart

Next is moving air. Your body keeps cool by sweating. This moisture is removed from your skin (or shirt) by wind moving across your skin (or shirt) and evaporating that moisture. This removes heat and makes you feel cooler. No wind means far less cooling. I have found a small fan that moves quite a bit of air and does not make too much noise. This little fan on low has substantially increased my enjoyment of astrophotography during the summer.

No such thing as taking too much water

No amount of cooling is enough if you do not stay hydrated. Take plenty of water. A typical recommendation is to drink six or eight eight ounce glasses of water a day but this is for normal activity without a lot of sweating. All that sweat has to come from somewhere, and it all has to be replaced. When I am out at night in the summer where it can be up to 100F at sunset and not drop below 85F before sunrise I try to drink one 16.9FL OZ bottle of water an hour. Normally I carry six bottles in a cooler and a few more in the back of the car and I normally come back with an empty or almost empty cooler. As the night progresses and gets cooler I tend to sweat less and drink less.


You certainly can drink things other than water if you like, just remember that many of them may not hydrate you as well as water and some, such as alcoholic beverages, can actually dehydrate you. Be careful of the warning signs such as not feeling hot, feeling cold, not being thirsty at all, not going to the bathroom for an extended period, or feeling dizzy. If you have any of these symptoms, seek assistance immediately.

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Orion 2″ Multiple Filter Wheel review

I have been using this Orion 2″ multiple filter wheel available from Amazon for quite some time and it never really dawned on me to write a review of it. I suppose I never thought of it because it is just an accessory that happens to sit between the camera and the telescope and since it never gave me any serious problems making it just vanish from my thoughts. Well, not so much.

Orion 2" multiple filter wheel

The Orion 2″ multiple filter wheel does a lot; it houses four filters (Light Pollution, Ha, O3 and S2), it has my HOTECH SCA 2 Inch Field Flattener for Refractor Telescopes attached, and it supports my camera on the end of everything. Every image I shoot (except for spectra) is shot through this attachment regardless of which camera I use. I would say that makes it pretty darn important!

The filters I use in here include the Baader Planetarium 2″ Moon and Skyglow Filter, Baader Planetarium H-Alpha (7nm) CCD Filter, Baader Planetarium 8.5nm OIII CCD Filter, 2″ and Baader Planetarium 8nm SII CCD Filter, 2″.

I picked this particular wheel because I was ordering a lot of stuff from Orion anyway so it made sense to get it from them.I chose the four position so that I could have all four filters I knew I eventually wanted mounted inside.

The 2″ was perfect because when using a DSLR or full frame CCD you can get some pretty significant vignetting of the image with smaller filters, and besides, my focuser was 2″ already so it just worked.

I decided on manual for two reasons; it is far cheaper and I really did not see the advantage of the automated one when I will be right there and can change filter any time I need to in a second or two. Yeah, I am starting to wonder how nice it would be to just program in the sequence I want and let everything happen but I am already lazy enough, I don’t really need any help.

There are a few minor complaints however. My biggest being that there is nothing to tell you which way to turn the wheel, and it will turn either direction. Did I just go from filter 1 (the LP filter) to filter 2 (HA), or to filter 4 (S2)? I solved that problem by cutting out an arrow from a fairly stiff glow in the dark tape I purchased to wrap around my tripod legs.

The side of the filter wheelAs you can see in the above image the arrow is really easy to see, even when it is no longer glowing. If the wheel is in a weird position and you can’t really see the arrow, the tape is thick enough you can easily feel where it is pointing. I would have really liked it if they made it where the wheel only turned one direction.

The filter number window My second complaint with this filter wheel can be seen in the image above. I am not sure who thought it would be a good idea to have a small silver number in a little window but they were wrong. When the telescope is in a position where the wheel is near the ground facing down, and it is freezing cold so you are wearing a ton of clothing, you can not see anything but a blur. I have had to take a picture with the flash on my phone and then zoom in on that image to figure out what the number said. Sure, if you know you started on filter 1, and you know you moved two detents over to filter 3 you should be fine. This assumes no one is talking to you, pats you on the back because they are leaving, or a rustling in the bushes behind you startles you. Trust me, it has happened more than once.

Inside the Orion 2" multiple filter wheel

Other than those little complaints the filter wheel is very well built. This is not some little flimsy piece of plastic but is solid and fairly substantial metal. The interior is well built and holds everything as it should. It has always worked as advertised and without hesitation. As I get older I find myself wondering what an electronically controllable motorized filter wheel would be like but other than that I have no problem recommending this wheel to anyone.

Yes, it is a little expensive for a manual filter wheel (around $200 as I recall), but that money is spent in this case on a well built piece of metal that if cared for even a little bit should last you pretty much forever. Remember, you can help support this blog by purchasing items through links on it such as this Orion 2″ multiple filter wheel available from Amazon.

Thanks for reading my review of the Orion filter wheel!

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DIY light cylinder for taking flats; small, light, battery powered

My most popular DIY project which I think is now in at least two of my books is this one. Since so many people enjoy it I thought I would post it on the blog for everyone to use. Remember that this is primarily for inspiration and not really meant to be a recipe for one that will work with your scope.

Well since I have started really working on my post processing I have noticed the need to start shooting flats. The problem is, you must shoot flats without moving the camera, scope, focus, anything. This means they have to be shot on site, right before or right after shooting your lights.

There are a couple of problems with that. All the designs I have seen are large boxes, I don’t want to carry around a large box to the dark site and besides, something that large might disturb the dust bunnies and mess up the whole idea of flats. Next problem is if anyone else is there, flicking on a light could get me shot (this is Texas here, heh). So what do I do?

First thing I do is come up with a list of what it needs to be able to do, so here goes:

1) It must be easily portable, small and light. Anything heavy can mess up the scope’s setup.
2) It must be reasonably accurate. The light must be uniform in illumination.
3) It must be reasonably inexpensive, the EL panels I have been looking at run about $100, lets keep it under that.
4) It must be usable when other images are right next to me, no light leaks.
5) It must be servicable, meaning I can repair it, replace things, etc.

Off to Home Depot I go! I know they thought I was some terrorist getting bomb supplies, I walked up and down every isle grabbing weird items, putting others back, fitting things together that were completely unreleated. Boy did I get some weird looks! After about an hour I left with this:


This was two 4″ PVC sewer pipe connectors, a 6″ flashing connector for I think a stove exhaust vent, a can of PVC glue, two translucent lids, a 6″ plastic floor drain grill, and a bag of bolts.

Next stop, Radio Shack!


Here I found 4 white 3v LEDs, 4 LED mounts, a rocker switch, a 4 AA battery holder, and a project box. Next stop, Wal-Mart!


Left to right we have a box of male and female electrical connectors, some styrofoam plates, glue and some velcro.

Now its time to start working on stuff. The first thing I needed was a Proof Of Concept. For this I put things together and mounted it on the scope with just some clear tape and used one of those battery powered lights you press down on the top to turn on. That gave me my first flat:


This clearly shows I need flats. This image has been stretched and desaturated, it was brown (used an incandescent bulb). Next was to test out the batteries and LEDs:


Good! Now I know I can get them all lit up. Lets mount the battery pack to the top of the project box with hot glue:


Now we drill holes in the project box, four large ones for the LED mounts and two (well, four now cause I goobered!) smaller ones to bolt the project box to the drain grill:


Now we bolt the box on the grate and install the LEDs:


Now I open the package of velcro and take the fuzzy strip and run it around the inside of the 6″ metal connector, on the opposite end of where it will mount to the drain grill as this will protect the paint on the outside of the dew shield. Next we glue the two 4″ sewer pipe couplers together and mount them inside the 6″ metal connector:


Here is the outside view:


After a little wiring, we cut the paper plates into two circles for difusers, here is the first one installed:


So I turn on the lights and there is a problem, the light is nowhere near even enough to take a flat:


But I am not as stupid as I look! (or feel sometimes), I had actually planned on this and so I install the second difuser in it’s place four or so inches in front of the first diffuser and I get this:

perfect light for taking flats

HA! Nice even illumination! Lets put it on the scope:

Set up to take flats

And take a flat to see how it works:

A nice looking flat

So a little information:

Size = 7.5″ diameter x 10″ tall/long
Weight = 2lbs 4oz with batteries
Cost = $60 buying everything except a little wire and solder
Time to construct = About 3 hours
Exposure for about 40% sat on histogram = ISO800 1/60th sec

Now since the light goes down the inside of the sewer pipe couplers, to leak out it would have to come back up the outside of the couplers, curve around the end of the scope, and go down the metal coupler on the outside. I don’t see much light doing that. After dark tonight I will give it another test and let you all know how it goes.

Hope you enjoyed!



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Difference between DSLR and CCD astrophotography

The difference between DSLR and CCD astrophotography cameras is pretty immense. Most people when searching for astrophotography equipment for beginners choose DSLR astrophotography because they either already have one or they are far cheaper to start with. When you go from DSLR astrophotography to a monochrome CCD you lose live view, but gain chip cooling. You lose color but gain sensitivity. You can lose pixels but gain resolution. Wait a minute! How can you gain resolution if you lose pixels? Easy, you no longer have the Bayer matrix turning every four pixels into one so your monochrome CCD in effect has four times the stated resolution. Yeah, I know it isn’t that cut and dried, but seeing the images from both it sure starts to ring true. Here is a DSLR astrophotography image of M8 taken with a 16.7MP Nikon D7000, 36 300sec lights and 25 darks:

M8 by DSLR I always thought this was a pretty good image for unmodified DSLR astrophotography, and it is.

Once I decided to switch to CCD astrophotography I started looking for a camera trying to find the best CCD camera for astrophotography. Out of all the choices out there for astrophotography CCD cameras I picked an Atik 383L monochrome as it fit my needs and budget the best. Now here is the same target, same telescope, same mount, same capture software, same processing software, but with only an 8MP monochrome CCD shooting through a 6nm Hydrogen Alpha filter. That’s right, HALF the resolution:

M8 showing Difference between DSLR and CCD astrophotography Something else I forgot to mention, this is only 4 480sec exposures and 4 darks. Yep, one fifth of the total exposure time and about one sixth the number of darks. I don’t even know what to think except CCD astrophotography rocks. Why exactly was it I waited so long to go monochrome? I have no idea.

So now the thing that people always bring up when looking at monochrome CCD astrophotography is to shoot narrowband or RGB with filters on monochrome takes three times as long because you have to shoot through three different filters. True enough, but when I can get results like these with one fifth of the total exposure time, even if I have to shoot through three filters it still works out to less time exposing to get better images. I am still working on combining the Ha, OIII and S2 together to make a single color image and unfortunately the night I took this image I did not get enough usable OIII or S2.

Sure there are lots of things still to work out when switching from DSLR astrophotography to shooting CCD astrophotography but with a start like this it sure looks promising.

Stay tuned for the results of the first color combination coming soon!

I hope you enjoyed seeing the Difference between DSLR and CCD astrophotography!

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Total Lunar Eclipse 04/15/14

Last night I was able to not only view, but image a total lunar eclipse. There are a lot more lunar eclipses than there are solar for us to view. That doesn’t make them any less amazing. The weather cooperated wonderfully as a front blew through earlier in the day making sure that the air was extremely clear, although cold. As the clock passed 1:30am the shadow on the moon started to grow. At first it was so dim you really didn’t even notice it. It took me looking at the moon through binoculars and at the images from two different camera’s before I was sure it had started.

total lunar eclipse progression It is interesting to watch a total lunar eclipse and see the progression on camera. Your eyes are amazing devices and compensate for the moon dimming where the camera does not. You sort of notice that everything is getting dimmer around you but it doesn’t really sink in until you have to adjust the exposures on the camera to keep things looking even. The so called “blood moon” looks almost as bright as the full moon, but it is tremendously dimmer. The lunar eclipse schedule is pretty quick and it is all over before you realize it. If you get the chance to watch lunar eclipse live, put aside at least an hour or more. Some last less than an hour and some last for three or more hours.

total lunar eclipse Once the eclipse is in totality it is hard to pull yourself away from looking at it long enough to check the pictures and make sure the exposure is correct. This is when you need your camera automated. You can automate higher end cameras by using a computer to control it or using a device that takes exposures on a set schedule or interval called an intervalometer. Some cameras, and even video cameras like a GoPro can take multiple exposures at a set interval without external control.

If you haven’t seen a total lunar eclipse in person you really should make it a point. The next two are October 8th of 2014 and April 4th of 2015 for a good portion of North America.

You can read more about a lunar eclipse at Wikipedia.

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Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography released

Here it is, Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography, finally! After almost a year the astrophotography book tons of people suggested I write is done and I had an absolute blast making it happen. Sure it was a lot of work, but it was also a ton of fun testing out theories and building projects. After all, if I can’t make sure it works I certainly don’t want to suggest you try it.

Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography Inside you will find a ton of information including a complete image processing walkthrough using only freely available software, tons of do it yourself projects and much more. If you are interested in astrophotography but just want to dip your toe in and not spend a fortune, this is the book to get you started. The book covers just about anything you need to know to get started, from budget telescopes, to the cheapest camera for astrophotography, DSLR astrophotography, astrophotography software and even software that will allow you to mimic  Photoshop on a budget. You can learn more about the book at and discuss it at Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography is available on Amazon or directly at and will be available in both print and Kindle editions.

Here is the description as it appears on Amazon:

Allan Hall makes learning how to photograph the night sky easy with his new book Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography. In this guide, you will learn the fundamentals of astrophotography – what it is, how it’s done, and how to do it yourself. Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography is divided into these three sections in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the basics of astrophotography.  
The first section of Hall’s guide focuses on understanding astrophotography. Amateur and professional stargazers know that one of the most important things to consider when viewing the heavens is light pollution. Light pollution is exactly what it sounds like – too much light in our environments makes it more difficult to get a good look at planets, stars, and other celestial bodies. If you want to get the best view and photo possible, you must find a location that has little light. This makes a huge difference. In addition to finding a good location for viewing and shooting, you will learn about camera basics, including how to mount a camera and focus a lens. Beyond that, you will read about various types of telescopes and what they do.  
The title of the second segment of this reference guide speaks for itself. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals of location, cameras, and telescopes, it’s time to put your knowledge to use. This section discusses how to find targets, as in how to find objects of interest to shoot. From capturing images to camera and exposure settings, you will learn how to make the most of your instruments and location by taking a great shot. This section also discusses making videos, image stacking, and image editing, an important aspect of astrophotography. Many of the celestial shots we see are time-lapse or edited in some way (to improve clarity and reduce visual “noise”). While it may sound difficult, this reference guide simplifies the processes by providing step-by-step instructions. 
For the handy home astrophotographer, this section includes information about do-it-yourself projects. From modifying your equipment (for example, improving your focus capabilities, modifying a webcam for astrophotography, and even adapting your laptop screen to function in the dark) to building add-ons, you’ll learn how to enhance your experience in your own home. Hall provides information about creating glass solar filters for your cameras and even making your own dew heaters.  
Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography is a great reference guide for beginners and amateur astrophotographers. If you have an interest in astronomy and want to capture what you’ve viewed through a telescope, doing so is possible from your own home. Hall’s comprehensive guide also provides ideas about where to start (as in, what targets are best to photograph), where to find more information about astrophotography, and even a glossary of terms. Indulge your hobby and learn how to improve with Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography.

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