I’ve finally gotten around to trying the new version of NINA, my preferred deep sky imaging software. The current major version is still in beta, but I am loving it so far. The biggest advancement is what they call their “advanced sequencer.” And advanced it is!
The new sequencer allows you to completely design how you want the software to control your equipment all throughout the night. There are a myriad of actions, conditions, and loops that you can use to define exactly how you want your telescope to behave while you are, hopefully, fast asleep. For example, I have set up my first basic advanced sequence for imaging tonight,
The first huge improvement for me is the ability to set a custom horizon. This lets the software know where trees, buildings, and other obstructions are from the view of the telescope. From this, the software can determine when targets are visible or not. So, I can make a sequence that waits for the first target to come over the trees. I can start this sequence hours beforehand even, and it will start as soon as it knows the target is visible.
You can also be more particular in the ordering of pre-sequence processes. Since I use an OAG, I need to have the telescope in focus before I can do a calibration in PHD. I can now set it to autofocus before guiding is started, where as you could not before.
For the actual imaging of the target, you can have multiple triggers, actions that may occur throughout the imaging sequence. These can include meridian flips, autofocus, dithering, and even plate solving every image to make sure it has not drifted too far, such as can happen when clouds appear and the guider begins to bug out. You can set the loop conditions to stop after a certain number of exposures, at a certain time, such as dusk, or even if the object disappears behind the trees.
Finally, I can have it park the scope and dome, warm the camera, and, thankfully, turn off the dew heater on the camera. All I have to do is wake up and close the dome!
With new software, there’s always a risk of things breaking or not behaving as expected. So far, the new update is working wonderfully tonight. This should make my deep sky imaging much more reliable and flexible in the future.