In the last few weeks now astrophotography is driving me crazy and I cannot get any result at all. Apart from the lunar eclipse of May 16, which unfortunately we could only partially observe from Northern Italy as it happened too close to the sunrise and the moonset, I've been no longer able to get anything from the DSO photography and threw away entire nights on my terrace until dawn without any result.
Although the weather has been mostly sunny during the day, on most evenings the sky was slightly hazy due to the summer heat and in those conditions, with light pollution, there is no way for me to frame objects such as galaxies or nebulae, because as soon as I zoom in on the frame there is no longer any star to use as a reference.
Further, often in the evening there is a bit of breeze and the photos are irremediably blurried, because the heavy equipment balanced on the tracker is very sensitive to any imperceptible vibration.
When there are neither haze nor wind, lately there I always have some technical problem: sometimes power banks disconnecting for no reason, sometimes the star tracker wifi not working, sometimes I can't turn the camera the right direction since the DSO is in an absurd position, perfectly vertical above my head, and I have no way to point the heavy lens while keeping the frame centered and at the same time keep the gear balanced on the tracker; either, when I manage it, the star tracker cannot rotate correctly because the camera hits the tripod legs during the rotation and gets stopped.
I'm so spending lot of nights struggling with the stuff, the sky and the technology, and I go and sleep at dawn frustrated for the missed opportunities.
Last night I'm afraid that my ambitions as an astrophotographer received the coup de grace, at least for a long time to come.
The sky was finally clear enough, there was no wind and all the gear seemed to work perfectly: unfortunately, nova.astrometry.net, the only existing plate solver on the web, got in the way. Apparently it is definitely dead (or at least it's been down for at least twenty-four hours now). I waited until 2am hoping that it would get active again, trying in vain in the meantime to find an alternative solution.
Eventually I gave up and once again went and sleep, cursing all the gods in the sky.
The plate solver is a fundamental tool in astrophotography: it is a software used to locate and identify the visible stars in an image: if it is good enough it is able to work even with photos taken with the mobile phone. In other words, to know what you are framing and adjust consequently the orientation of your camera, you can shoot at the sky, load the picture on the plate solver and in a few seconds, or at most a few minutes, the plate solver returns your image tagged with the DSOs it's been able to recognize and the celestial coordinates of the shot, allowing you to understand what and where you shot at.
Without plate solver, astrophotography using just DSLR and star tracker is practically impossible.
Then, without the plate solver I am not able in any way to find the objects I want to photograph in the sky.
The only plate solver available on the web, very powerful indeed, is nova.astrometry.net which since last night appears to be inexorably down. When it's unavailable I don't know how to locate the photographs and I have no way of identifying and framing stars, galaxies and nebulae with my camera.
Alternatives, with my gear, are pretty limited and what is worse is that they are mostly available for Windows, while I'm on a Mac OS ecosystem.
There are some plate solving software that can be installed on PC, few of them available as an open source which require a bit of skills to deal with coding and source compilation, others more user friendly for a fee: they usually rely on good photographs to be able to solve the task. The web version of Astrometry.net is (was it?) versatile and powerful, and above all capable of locating images of any format and quality, like this one of my camera display, taken with my mobile phone:
Astrometry.net provides source code and libraries for its plate solver to be installed locally, even on a Mac, but base on what I have read so far it is out of the reach of my rusty technical skills.
I guess I have to go hunting for help, or my experience with astrophotography is destined to stop there for now, unless the web version resurrects.
Anger, frustration and anger.
Update: nova.astrometry.net is still alive after 24 hours!