Keep out the Birds: Observatory Roof Motor Housing

I have had an ongoing problem with birds nesting in my observatory roof housing. It usually happens in the Spring and generally there are baby birds, so I let the babies grow up and then clean it out. This year I waited until a couple of weeks ago to clear it out. Then, when I am up by the observatory yesterday, I hear birds in the housing! That early move-in was the last straw. So now I believe there will be no more birds.

Here is a wide view of the Observatory. You can see the motor housing just under the upper roof.

In this view of the Observatory you can see the motor housing on the wall below the upper roof.

The problem is that there are two openings in the motor housing, allowing the birds to get it. I really don’t blame them as it is a very secure location for a nest. This picture shows the opening on the top which is the main entry point the blackbirds that were hanging out there yesterday.

The top of the observatory motor housing allows birds to enter and nest.

So, what is the solution? I carefully measured the dimensions of the opening. I made a paper model of a covering the the opening that would allow the chains to move freely but not have any opening large enough for a bird (I hope). I then cut that shape out of some 1/8 inch rubber sheeting.

Carefully cut rubber sheeting to cover the opening.

Here is the rubber sheeting over the opening. I believe the chain can move freely, although I have not tested it. It is easy enough to remove if needed.

The rubber sheeting covers the opening while still allowing the roof to operate.

I then took several pieces of wood and a large rubber strap to secure it in place. A little make-shift, but I believe it is effective.

The final fix in place with some wood to hold down the sheeting and a strap to keep it in place.

The rubber strap also holds a piece of wood over the hole on the bottom of the motor housing. All in all, it looks fairly neat from the outside.

The hole on the bottom of the housing is also now covered.

I hope I have solved the bird problem for the long-term. I expect the birds to keep trying, so we will see if my solution works. I also need to see how well it stands up to the Sun and the weather. It shouldn’t get a lot of direct Sun as it is on the north side of the building. But it will get rain and will get heat.

UPDATE: The damn birds managed to push the wood holding one side away so they could get in again. I added a second rubber strap and tightened the first.

I added another strap. I hope this keeps them out.

The pictures for this post were taken with my Pixel phone camera and processed with the new Adobe Lightroom CC. All but the wide picture were edited on my iPad. A first for mobile photo processing.

ASCOM Platform Installation Error on Windows 10

I am in the process of installing a new computer in my observatory. It is never fun going through the mass of software installations, etc. that accompany replacing what was a smoothly operating system. I’m replacing the old PC, which I built from parts from an even older PC I used at home, because the BIOS stopped saving its settings. It is probably the battery on the motherboard, but after 7 or so years it is time for an upgrade.

I bought a new HP Envy Windows 10 64-bit machine at Costco. All the installations (The Sky, Maxim DL, PinPoint, ASCOM, etc.) seemed to go fine at home. But I ran into problems with ASCOM when I was setting up the PC in the observatory and checking connectivity. When I tried to connect to the mount from Maxim DL, ASCOM brought up an error window and then did not have an mounts to select. The Astro-Physics setup program worked fine and connected to the mount. I ran the ASCOM diagnostics program, which reported that it had “Completed function testing run: 1559 matches, 2 fail(s), 5 exception(s).” It was not at all clear what the issues were.

So I ran the installer and repaired the installation. That did not change anything, I was still getting the same errors. The ASCOM Profile Explorer also brought up error messages and then didn’t work. I then ran the Profile Explorer as an administrator. And it worked. Running Maxim as an administrator also worked. Running as administrator, however, is not a good long-term solution.

So I went to the ASCOM Yahoo! Group (it is linked from the ASCOM Support page) and searched there. Success! I found a thread with my exact problem and, after figuring out Yahoo! Groups navigation, found a solution. Apparently the installer did not set permissions properly on a certain registry key. Here is what to do, taken from the wonderful people on that Yahoo! thread. But be careful, editing the registry can kill your computer.

  1. Run Regedit (hit the Window key, type “run”, hit enter, enter “regedit”, hit enter, agree to changes)
  2. Back up the registry (File > Export, select a place to save and a name)
  3. Open HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE then SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node (Note these instructions are for 64-bit Windows)
  4. Right click on ASCOM and select “Permissions” You may be prompted to allow Regedit to reorder the permissions, that is OK
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the list of groups and select “Users”
  6. Make sure the box next to “Full Control” is checked and click OK
  7. Close Regedit and you should be good to go

In looking back, there are a couple of places where I could have found the error in the diagnostic and installation logs.

At the bottom of the installation logs, there is a section that starts with “Error List.” Two lines below it is this message, which points directly to the error:

Error RegistrySecurity - Subkey SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\ASCOM does not have full access rights for BUILTIN\Users!

There is also this section in the diagnostic log that points out the problem:

12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have CreatorOwnerGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have SystemGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have SystemSpecificAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have AdministratorGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have AdministratorSpecificAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have UserGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have UserSpecificAccess!

The Finalize Install log has these entries, which also point to the problem.

11:43:45.810 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have CreatorOwnerGenericAccess!
11:43:45.811 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have SystemGenericAccess!
11:43:45.812 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have SystemSpecificAccess!
11:43:45.812 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have AdministratorGenericAccess!
11:43:45.813 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have AdministratorSpecificAccess!
11:43:45.814 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have UserGenericAccess!
11:43:45.814 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have UserSpecificAccess!

My sincere thanks to the ASCOM Yahoo! Group contributors. I have memorialized their advice here so that it might be helpful to someone else.

Some Astronomy Progress

It has been a fairly crazy couple of months for me and all the others at my company. And there is much work ahead. This work led to missing a month’s post: There was no post for December 2014. But I won’t miss January 2015.

Over the last two weekends, I actually made some progress with upgrades to the observatory. First of all, it got a thorough cleaning. A movable roof does not seal tightly, so there was plenty of red Anza dust everywhere. It is now in tip top shape. Birds occupying the roof motor housing prevented any observing that first weekend of work. I was able to put the self guiding filter wheel on my new SBIG STXL-6303E camera. A step forward!

On the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I was able to test out the current set up. Everything worked fine even if I was forced to shut down early due to high winds. I also installed the filters (Astrodon LRGB, Ha, SII, and OIII). And I connected the camera to a computer and it worked.

The real tests are ahead, when I rebuild the setup of the last two years and get it tuned for easy use. That is many weekends of work. I am looking forward to it.

New Scope First Light Under Way

After many FITS and starts, I am finally capturing data with the my new telescope. I have had hardware problems software problems, and electronics problems. But finally I have data. I am currently imaging, so I hope I am not speaking to soon, I have all but the last few color frames of M 81.

Tonight did not start out too well. Having just replaced the entire wiring harness on the truck, it again has the “check engine” light on. I hope it is something minor. That did not set me in the best mood.

When I got things set up to start imaging, for some reason I was not getting any images from the camera. 20 minutes later I figured out that I had left the cap on the front of the camera, and didn’t see it because it is down inside of the mounting bracket.

The other thing that made tonight a little more difficult was that I am using a new computer. I resurrected my dead PC from a couple of years ago with a new motherboard so I would have a dedicated machine in the observatory. That meant that all the various pieces of software had to be configured to work. That took some time, but it is all working.

The Sky X works has been working more reliably on Win 7 64 bit than on XP Pro. Unfortunately my Lascar temperature logger does not work with Windows 7 64 bit so I still have the laptop in the observatory. Ultra VNC is working very well. I can fully monitor observatory operations from the house using my iPad.

I’ve been paranoid about dew all night, and the Telrad has dewed up a little bit. But the dew point is -3 C and the primary mirror is at zero, so I should not have any dew on the scope.

Just about another 40 minutes and I’ll be closing up and leaving the camera to take a bunch of darks. I sure do like the automation I do with CCD Commander, but that’s worth another post on its own.

8:30 AM Update. The dew point stayed below both the ambient and the primary mirror temperatures until I closed the roof. A that point the dew point shot up and I got dew and frost on the scope and on the primary mirror, possibly the secondary as well. It looked pretty bad last night but to day it looks ok. What it really means is that the dirt on the mirror will be hard to clean off.

The computer suffered a BSOD at a little after three am, so most of the darks I was trying to get were not captured. Hopefully this is not a recurring event.

Cable Organization

After many attempts, I think I have found a decent solution to cable routing and snagging problems. It has really been a problem for me, inevitably ruining images as a cable dragged by something and moved the scope as it slipped loose.

My setup has seven cables up on the OTA and five on the mount:

  • CCD Camera — Power, control, and guider
  • Rotator — Power and control
  • Focuser and OTA — Power and control
  • Mount — Power, two control cables, guider, and hand paddle

The first three on this list ride on top of the mount and move; the final one is fixed but must connect to the computer like the others. The camera cables need enough room to rotate 180° in each direction. Each manufacturer has their own power plug size and power block, none provide a long power cable.

This has always been a mess.

I approached the problem with three ideas:

  1. Run the cables off of the counterweight end of the mount (From Mike Rice of New Mexico Skies, shared at the 2011 Advanced Imaging Conference)
  2. Enclose the cables in wire loom (From fellow LRE Astronomer Jerry K)
  3. Pass only AC power and a USB Cable to the mount (My own thought but confirmed from others at AIC)

Ideas one and two are confirmed. Idea three is disproven. I tried putting everything on the mount. This included a power strip, four power blocks, and a USB hub. There was no good place to mount everything that was both neat and balanced. Back to the drawing board.

I built a shelf that sits below the top of the pier. This carries hubs, power bricks, and a USB-Serial adapter relatively close to the mount. Starting from the camera, I started a careful tube of wires (idea #2) that travel down to the counterweight end of the mount. The cables run down the counterweight side of the mount so that they only move back and forth at the point they come off of the mount (idea #1).

This is shown in the following photograph (click on the picture for a full-size image, and apologies for the blurry image).

Camera to Scope

Wire loom controlling cables from the camera to the mount

I have mounted the CCD Camera power supply on the counterweight shaft itself. SBIG really needs to provide longer cables on the DC end of their power supplies. At this point the power cables and control cables split and go to separate attachment points on the mount. This keeps the weight of the cables constant. This part of the set up is shown here.

Scope to Control

Cables go from the Scope to the Pier

There is no binding and no stress on the scope or the camera from movement of the mount. Nothing snags or tangles. Altogether a satisfactory solution.

Here is a wide shot of the full set-up.

Full Setup

OTA and Mount

Survived the Quake

Last week there was a magnitude 5.4 earthquake northwest of Borrego Springs and east of Lake Riverside. It was only 25 miles from our house and the observatory. I was worried about the roof of the observatory jumping the rails.

During construction, there was a lot of discussion on how to protect the roof in windy conditions. We never thought about earthquakes which are probably a greater risk for a 3,000 lb roof. Nonetheless, we devised a good hold down mechanism for the roof, with steel flanges preventing any full derailment at virtually all open positions. The upshot of this protection is that we did not provide for any tie down of the roof.

Upon hearing of the earthquake, I became concerned that the shaking might derail the roof. While we had dealt with a move from the wind, I was concerned that the quake might have introduced movement we hadn’t anticipated.

All is well. As far as a nighttime inspection can find, we have no earthquake effect, let alone damage. It’s a good thing we didn’t take any lava home from Hawaii, so Pe’Lee is on our side.

First Light and a Quick Update

I just noted that it has been over two months since my last post. I have been meaning to post on first light, automation software, and a wonderful night of viewing and imaging. But I haven’t found the time.

Here is the first light image, NGC 7331 and the Stephan’s Quintet. Clicking on the images will bring you to the gallery.

Deer Lick Group and Stephan's Quintet

I took more data of M33. This image has data from 2008 and 2009, all from Lake Riverside.

M33 -- The Triangulum Galaxy

Finally, here is a pretty shot of the observatory with some major convection in the background. We did not, thankfully, end up under those storms.


Roof Opener Installed

After much waiting, the opener mechanism has been installed on the roof. At the press of a button, I can open the roof. The opener is an industrial vertical door opener. The roof is quite heavy, I would estimate at least 2,000 lbs, so getting the roof moving takes quite a bit of torque. I know from moving the roof manually, that once it is moving, it moves fairly smoothly, but starting it takes quite a shove. With the motor, it moves quite smoothly, fully opening in about a minute. The motor does have a chain-operated backup in case power is out or the motor is not operational.

Here is a wide shot of the whole set-up. The opener is attached to the observatory wall, and the track was welded onto the opener beam. There are some finish details to be completed. The track will be enclosed in a shroud of roof metal and the motor cover will be painted to match the walls.

Opener and Track

This shot shows the detail of the motor and attachment to the roof. The chain set-up is bolted to the roof, attaching into the steel studs under the roofing material.


Unfortunately, we had thick high clouds all weekend, so there was no astronomy. But opening the roof was pretty cool!

First Light

After much planning, regulatory hurdles, over seven months of construction, and one item still pending, the new observatory has seen first light. Last Wednesday I put the mount and NP-101 into the observatory and viewed the sky. I aligned the scope with no issue. My rough alignment of the pier adapter was almost spot on.

The viewing was good, but not excellent that night as the transparency was not very good. M27 was the first object I viewed. The shape was quite clear in the eyepiece. The Lagoon Nebula and the Trifid Nebula together in the 41mm Panoptic eyepiece were absolutely amazing. The Omega Nebula around M17 was great. Faint and small objects like the Cocoon Nebula or the Veil Nebula were not visible. It was great not to be bothered by the incoming light from the few security lights in the valley or the lights of passing cars.

I set up the imaging equipment on Thursday, but smoke from fires in Santa Barbara county (200+ miles away!) made serious imaging impossible. I did get the equipment working and that was a good expenditure of time. I started working with ACP observatory automation software on Friday. It took several hours to get through the set-up, and I ran into some issues in the wee hours of the morning, but again, very good progress in getting the observatory fully operational. It got quite cool on Thursday night, into the upper 40s by the time I went to bed, so being able to work in the warm room was a major advantage.

We had guests on Saturday, and Art and Tod wanted to see the observatory in action, and agreed that we could image and argue with the software rather than view. We still had some issues with the observatory control software, but solved some of them and the others are likely some configuration I have wrong at this point. We successfully captured 30 minutes of data of the Deer Lick Group and Stephan’s Quintet galaxy clusters in Pegasus. Color imaging would have kept us up too late so we settled for a nice black and white image. Click on the image to go to the gallery where you can see a larger version.

Pegasus Galaxy Groups

This first light milestone comes after almost all the work has been completed. The desk is in the warm room and we are just waiting on the automation for the roof. Here is a view looking into the observatory from the warm room with the new desk in the foreground.

Warm Room Desk

This shows the scope and mount with imaging equipment attached. The mount can carry a lot more weight than I have on it now. In fact, because the scope is small, the camera runs into the mount as the scope points close to the zenith. I may piggyback the NP-101 seen here on my C-11. That would put things at the upper end of the weight range but would also move the imaging train up and away from hitting the mount when it points to the zenith.

Scope and Mount

Great progress has been made and I am looking forward to getting things automated. The roof is quite heavy and can be manually moved, but motorization will be a good thing. And while I don’t plan to image remotely, automation will allow me to get a full night’s worth of data and a full night’s worth of sleep.

Almost There…

It has been a while since I posted an update. We are getting the final touches in place. The exterior is complete, the floor is down in the observatory, the rope lights are up, and the warm room has a workable floor covering. Under way: Roof automation and a desk for the warm room. And now for some pictures.

This view looks to the south. The area around the pump is now orderly and neat, a major improvement. Believe it or not, the old trapped-air water tanks were on top of six inches of dirt on top of the slab on the ground. Go figure!

View to South

This view to the east shows a bit of the house down the hill on the left.

View to East

The pier and mount adapter have been aligned to north. The foam mat flooring went down quite easily. At the bottom is close-by power access and the 2″ conduit that runs to the warm room.

Pier Close-up

I have been holding off putting the mount into the observatory because there are two construction tasks left. And this weekend was no good as high clouds came in both nights, with a strong east wind coming up on Saturday night about 4am. But I expect the warm room desk and the opening motor will be complete by the time we return from my parents’ place in Upper Michigan. I am planning some time off in August to get the scope in, aligned, and finally get to first light.