Sunday, January 20, 2019

It's About Time

It's really nice having a SkyWatcher Dobsonian telescope with Goto and tracking.

Just take the telescope outside, level the base and OTA, ensure it is pointing toward true north, power it up, enter the time and date, align it to a few, well known, bright stars in the sky, and then you are good for a night of astronomy. 

You ask, "Wait. You have to enter the time and date?  What's up with that?"

Yes, in this modern day of connected smart gadgets, telescope owners are still forced to engage in the archaic ritual of mashing keys on a membrane keypad to set the time and date on their telescopes.

SynScan telescope hand controller
To be fair, it's not that difficult to do, but it adds one more step to the setup process.  I've been using my GPS running watch for reference.

Garmin, an accurate source of time, date, and location
There is an expensive add-on module that will add automated time, date, and location capability to the telescope, but its cost/benefit ratio is really high!

So, what is a hardware/software tinkering astronomer extraordinaire to do?

I already have this really nice Bluetooth and Wifi enabled joystick interface box.  I opened it up and saw it still (barely) had room for a real-time clock (RTC) module.

DS3231 RTC clock module
The RTC module was only a few bucks, so I bought two of them.  It's always nice to have a spare!

A little bit of soldering, a little bit more software, and then I was finished.  This little code snippet shows how easy it was to actually send a time and date command to the telescope's hand controller.

Simple, huh?
I'm thankful that the protocol for communication with the hand controller is publicly documented.  Once you understand some of its odd conventions, it is pretty easy to use!

Now, if only the weather would cooperate so I can actually have an astronomy session.



  1. Pretty cool, but bummer about the weather. What's the watch in your image sitting on?

    1. The watch is sitting upon a book, "On Mars, Exploration of the Red Planet 1958-1978" by Ezel and Ezel. Awesome book!

    2. I was curious about the book as well. The cover art caught my eye. Did you get to star gaze last night? Or was there too much light from the full moon. I set my alarm for 11:45 to go outside and look at the eclipsed moon since it's been 19 years or so since I last saw a lunar eclipse.

    3. No stargazing last night, sadly. Too much wind. The telescope has a lot of surface area and too much of a breeze really shakes the optical tube assembly. I should have gone out around the time of totality, but I was asleep under a pile of blankets and warm cats.


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