Sunday, July 19, 2020

KStars v3.4.3 is Released

After 3 months of development, we're glad to announce the availability of KStars 3.4.3 for Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Let's check out the highlight of this release!

New Bahtinov Mask Focus Assistant

Patrick Molenaar added a long requested feature: The Bahtinov Mask focus assistant tool. Users can activate the new algorithm in the Focus module.

Focus Bahtinov Assistant Tool

It is useful for users who do not have a motorized focuser and prefer to focus manually with the aid of the mask. After capturing an image in the focus module with the Bahtinov mask algorithm selected, Ekos would analyze the images and stars within it.  if Ekos recognizes the Bahtinov star pattern, it will draw lines over the star pattern en circles on the center and on an offset to indicate the focus.

Autofocus on Temperature Change


Florian Signoret added support for triggering autofocus procedure when the temperature exceeds a certain delta threshold in the capture module. The temperature is sourced primarily from the focuser itself, and in unavailable, then it falls back to the weather station, if any.

Focus Logs

Doug Summers added a dedicated focus logger to help users analyze their autofocus runs to better understand their behavior and improve them in the future.

Camera Driver Restart

An experimental camera driver restart feature was added to the capture module. It should be used as a last resort option in case the camera driver is unresponsive. This feature commands the INDI server to only restart the camera driver without affecting any other drivers, so you don't have to shutdown the whole INDI server if one driver misbehaves. 


Restarting a camera driver might lead to quite a few complicated since it interacts with many subsystems in Ekos. Therefore, it is flagged as experimental in this release pending user feedback.

Mount Hour Angle Limits


Previously Ekos Mount module supported enforcing Altitude limit for the mount motion. The mount is active stopped if its slew or track past there limits. Chris Rowland added the Hour Angle (HA) limits to prevent limit the mount from slewing and/or tracking past there limits. This can protect the equipment in case of a runaway motion that might lead a pier collision.

Filter Names Editor


A simple, but convenient editor was added in Capture module to edit filter names. Previously, you had to change filter names directly in INDI Control Panel which was not intuitive for quite a few users.

Internal Guider Features


Hy Murveint contributed significant new features and improvement to the Ekos Internal Guider.

New Detection Algorithm: SEP MultiStar

This is a new guide-star detection, tracking & drift computation algorithm.


You can select this in the Guide options menu (click Options... in the lower right corner of the Guide tab), and then click on "Guide", and then choose from the "algorithm" menu. There choose the guide-star detector. (e.g. there choices include Smart, SEP, Fast, ...). Try SEP MultiStar. It is more stable in all three respects (guide star selection, detection and drift calculation). You may not notice much difference in a normal guiding session when things are going well, except, perhaps, better choice of a guide star.

GPG RA Guiding: New control algorithm for RA guiding.

Hy added a new guiding algorithm. This is for RA only--that is, guiding for DEC still happens, but using the existing guiding algorithms. This guider is based on the work in this PhD thesis and is the same as the well-regarded PHD2 guide algorithm known as Predictive PEC. You will see Copyright 2014-2017 Max Planck Society, now in the KStars credits for this system. It estimates the periodic error in the guiding system, and tries to fix it before it happens. This system should perform about the same as the standard guider for the first period or two of your mount's periodic error, then improve. When using this system, it's best to set in advance what your mount's worm-gear period is. For example, the Orion Atlas pro is about 480s. You enable this in the Guide options menu, in the GPG RA tab, and then checking "Enable GPG". There are other parameters you can change, but as indicated earlier, the main one to think about is "Major Period".

Graphics Improvements

  1. Added a guide-star SNR plot. This can be useful, e.g. when the SNR starts taking a dive, you know things aren't going well, perhaps a cloud is passing by.
  2. Added a plot of the RMS error (i.e. RA and/or DEC arc-second error RMS-averaged over the past 50 guiding samples).
  3. Separated the zooming for x and y axes. You can use '+' and '-' buttons below the x-axis to change the time scale of the plot (number of minutes plotted), and you can use the mouse scroll (same as before) to zoom in/out of the Y-axis. When you mouse-over the plot, you can see all the values for the different graphs.BTW, in case you didn't know (this isn't something I changed), you can change the amount of space allocated to the drift plot (the circle) and the drift graph by placing your mouse over the short dotted line between them and dragging left of right.

Calibration Backlash Removal

A backlash removal section was added to the "calibration dance". Before it starts calibrating DEC, the Ekos guider will now take 5 DEC steps, without measurement, to make sure there's no backlash in the DEC gears. This should improve the quality of the calibration, however, if you don't like this, you can remove it by unchecking "Remove DEC backlash in guide calibration" in the Guide options menu, in the "Calibration" tab there.

Calibration Plot

A Calibration Plot subtab was added to the right right of the Drift Plot.  It shows the mount positions recorded during internal-guider calibration.

Basically, if things are going well, it should display dots in two lines which are at right angles to each other--one when the calibration pushes the mount back and forth along the RA direction, and then when it does the same for the DEC direction. Not a ton of info, but can be useful to see. If the two lines are at a 30-degree angle, something's not going well with your calibration! Here's a picture of it in action using the simulator


The colored dots (same color scheme as the internal guider) shows the RA and DEC samples on their way out, and the small white and yellow circles show their return paths.

PHDLogView compatibility


phdlogview is a program written by Andy Galasso to analyze PHD2 logs. It's very nice. I've tried to have the internal guider output a mostly compatible log file so that if you installed phdlogview, you could use it to also browse your logs from the Ekos internal guider. A few things to note:
The logs are placed in a directory parallel to the standard KStars logs directory. Instead of logs, it is guidelogs. So, for example, on Linux you'd find them in this directory ~/.local/share/kstars/guidelogs/
You can turn on/off this logging by going into the Options menu on the internal guider tab, clicking on the Guide tab on the left and checking/un-checking the box labeled "Save Internal Guider User Log".

There are many features in phdlogview. Explore and look at Galasso's documentation for how to use it.

PHD2 Integration Fixes

Eric Dejouhanet significantly improved fault tolerance during PHD2 interactions. This includes the following situations.
  • Star does not move enough for calibration to complete. PHD2 may:
    • be looping instead of calibrating, while still notifying calibration.
    • abort but continue to send guide steps and frames.
    • => Fixed: calibration failures are now properly handled in that situation, and forwarded to Guide module.
  • Star disappears because of a mount glitch. PHD2 may:
    • declare star lost and stop without further notice.
    • => Fixed: star-lost notification is now properly handled, and will time out properly (and not restart).
  • Device disconnects briefly. PHD2 may:
    • declare device unusable, eventually after some time (camera timeout is 15s by default), requiring reconnect.
    • => Fixed: equipment dis/connection is now properly handled from both sides, aborts operations and is robust.
  • KStars/Ekos crashes while guiding and is restarted using the existing indiserver.
    • The currentCCD may be null when restoring connection, upon call to executeOneOperation.
    • AppState has to be taken into consideration to restore state as it was before the crash.
    • => Fixed: app-state polling improves robustness, requires up-to-date INDI build.
  • If Ekos is told the equipment is disconnected, it will consider an external cause and will not attempt to reconnect.
    • Ekos will not reconnect, to allow manual intervention is required on PHD2 side.
    • Ekos will detect reconnection and change state automatically.
  • However PHD2 v2.6.8 crashes when INDI drivers are killed, so no solution except restarting PHD2 in a loop (use systemd).
  • One issue remains in Guide, where the stop button remains enabled sometimes (regression?).
    • May not fix in the context of this MR.
  • One issue remains upon server loss, which triggers perpetual reconnect unless the end-user disconnects manually.
    • Issue related to state kept at disconnected.
image

New LED indicators were added for each stage as a visual feedback for the user.

Other Fixes


Check out the complete changelog for more details.

Monday, April 27, 2020

KStars v3.4.2 is Released

Glad to announce the latest release of KStars v3.4.2 on April, 27th, 2020 for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

This release brings even more stability enhancements to KStars in addition to better memory management, especially on embedded devices.

FITS Viewer Memory


Hy Murveit submitted patches to reduce memory usage of FITS Viewer tool, sometimes by up to 50%.

The maximum zoom factor was hard-coded to 400% in the FITS View. However, it now dynamic (On Linux & MacOS, Windows in the next release). On systems with limited memory, the maximum zoom is at 100%, while if you have 16GB+ RAM available, you can zoom in up to 600%.

Testing Framework


This is an under-the-hood improvement in KStars championed by Eric Dejouhanet to standardize unit and GUI tests for KStars in order to ensure reliability and detect any regressions that might affect the code. While this will not affect end users directly, it greatly enhances KStars reliability in the long term.

INDIHub Support


Preliminary support for INDIHub project by Dennis Zaytsev. INDIhub is a global networks of telescopes powered by INDI. You can share your equipment with others, or can opt in for remote robotic operation to help in scientific studies. This is in the very early phases of development and the KStars team shall add more support to INDIHub integration in the upcoming releases.

Improvements & Bug Fixes

  • Correct bug in median computation
  • Re-enabled the Jupiter's Moons tool
  • Add a warning if the dust cap is missing instead of total abort.
  • Fixed KStars deadlock on disconnecting from INDI server.
  • Mount box layout corrected so that everything fits well into the window
  • SEP Focus improvements

Friday, February 14, 2020

KStars v3.4.0 is Released


Celebrate Valentines' Day with some KStars Love! Happy to announce the release of KStars 3.4.0 on February 14th, 2020 on Linux, MacOS, and Windows.

What's new with this release?

The Linear Focus Algorithm.


Hy Murveit continued to work on linear focusing algorithm. This is an alternative auto-focus algorithm available in the Process section of the Focus tab.



You can think of this algorithm as "slow and steady". It should be less sensitive to backlash and measurement noise, but will likely take more samples to achieve its minimum HFR than a successful polynomial search. If you are having issues with auto-focus, you should consider trying this out.

It takes regularly sampled HFR values, i.e. (mostly) moving the position inward by a fixed amount--step size in the 1st pass of the algorithm, and 1/2 step size in the 2nd pass. The polynomial algorithm varies the change in position. Linear rarely changes direction, and mostly moves inward. In its first pass it takes a number of samples inward to establish a V-curve and an approximate minimum-HFR position, then makes a 2nd inward pass looking for that minimum. It only samples the HFR after an inward move. When it needs to move outward, e.g. in between the the 1st and 2nd passes, it moves outward much further than needed, and then moves back in before capturing an image.

The system should be at rough focus before the algorithm starts. The most important parameter is the step size, which needs to be found experimentally. See the screenshot as to how it was chosen (step size = 25) for a Moonlight v2 focuser. Recommend that full-field and the SEP detection algorithm be used with it.

Faster Astrometry.net Solver


Robert Lancaster added an option to use Sextrator as the primary method to identify stars within an image. This has two benefits:

1. It removes the python dependency, which was a painful issue for MacOS users.
2. It vastly improves the solver speed, according to some early reports from our beta testers.



You can turn on the Sextrator option in Astrometry.net settings. 



You can see the astrometry.net solver in now noticeably faster and more reliable than before!

Improvements & Bug Fixes

  • Fixed a few memory allocation issues to reduce the process memory usage.
  • Fixed DSLR ImageToFITS loading when auto convert is used.
  • Fixed focus direction for relative DC focusers.
  • Improved reliability of setting snoop property for the active profile.
  • Fixed File name sanitization issues.
  • Communication with remote INDI Web Manager is now mostly asynchronous.
  • Align property labels in the INDI dialog vertically on top.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

KStars v3.3.9 is Released

We kickoff 2020 with a brand new KStars v3.3.9 release for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

This release incorporates the continued improvements to KStars base while introducing new long-awaited features in a few areas.

Stretch Controls


Hy Murveit implemented adjustable and fast stretch controls for mono and color images within the FITS Viewer. These allow fine changes in Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights clipping even for high resolution astro-photos.

Adjusting the controls do not change the underlying data, only the previewed image. After any stretch adjustment is made, the user can always revert to the automatic stretching again by clicking on the small wizard icon at the bottom right corner of the controls panel.


Experimental Linear Focusing Algorithm


Hy Murveit developed a new experimental linear focusing algorithm.  Linear focuser is a simple autofocus algorithm that always scans in, sampling at regularly spaced intervals. It may be slower than the other algorithms, but the hope is that by minimizing direction changes backlash will be minimized and the algorithm may provide more stable autofocus results.

This change also introduces an interface that hides the implementation of the autofocus algorithm, and future changes may moved the other existing algorithms into this framework.

Linear focuser mainly works well when started near the ultimate focus position. It depends on the step-size, max-travel, and tolerance parameters, which should be chosen well. It may take more iterations to find focus than the other algorithms.


Piotr Zyziuk improve Focus Module in Ekos by adding autofocus support for DSLR's that use manualfocusdrive command by gphoto instead of rel_focus_position for example, Nikon Z6 manual focusing only works in the "liveview" aka "preview" mode (with mirror up). In "non preview" mode the focus motor is only controllable by the autofocus engine. This change should also be applicable to Canon cameras.


New western Sky Culture


KStars now includes an option for a new standard western sky culture, thanks to work by Edgar Scholz over at sternenkarten.com. The constellations from this sky culture are based on work by H.A. Rey. They are often more intuitive and easier to remember than the classical Greek and Roman inspired constellations. The new sky culture mixes the best more intuitive representations from both worlds in addition to completely new shapes painted by Mr. Scholz himself.

Aquarius in a different Sky Culture

Bug Fixes


  • Bugfix for re-connecting a weather device initializes the weather display.
  • Fix off-by-one bug in stretch.
  • Fix video streaming resize crash on Windows.
  • Fix minor EBN issues.
  • Account for exposure less than 0.001 seconds in the file name.
  • For windows, when index 1 is selected from the combo box it should be considered REMOTE.
  • Bugfix for re-connecting a weather device initializes the weather display.
  • Making the Columns in the Align view resize automatically.
  • Add markers for the documentation configuration pages, add some info about sky cultures
  • Abort plate solving when slewing is detected.
  • Fix crash when focused object is either asteroid or comet and the data is loaded.
  • Fix bug re filter-change-autofocus.
  • Reset guiding calibration if the mount moves and "Always Reset Guide Calibration" option is set.




Saturday, November 9, 2019

KStars v3.3.7 Released

KStars v3.3.7 is released for Windows, MacOS and Linux. This late autumn release packs a lot of new features and fixes across the board.

ASTAP integration


ASTAP is an astrometric plate solver, stacking of images, photometry, and FITS Viewer application available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux on multiple architectures.

KStars included support for solving via ASTAP in the Align module in addition to the existing astrometry.net solver. ASTAP employs a different method to solve images making it extremely fast  while at the same time requiring a smaller star catalog compared to other astrometric solvers.

You need to download and install the G17 Star Catalog for ASTAP to work locally.

ASTAP Solver

The error reporting was improved to show the overall error in arcsec. Furthermore, the Align module initial FOV is calculated from the camera and telescope parameters (no longer default to 0x0'). This make the initial solve with a wider search radius faster compared to a blind solve. Once the exact FOV is measured, the search radius is reset to the default value to expedite subsequent searches.

Observatory Weather


Wolfgang Reissenberger continued his outstanding work on the observatory module by adding a dedicated weather widget with live plotting for each parameter.


FITS Enhancements


Hy Murveit contributed further improvements to the FITS loading mechanism which resulted in speed ups during sequence capturing.

When capturing images, previously once the capture was complete, images were written to disk, then read back, then displayed in the fits viewer (if enabled), and finally the next image could be captured. This delayed the next capture by a few seconds.

With this change, the FITS data is displayed using (a copy of) the INDI blob sent to INDI::CCD, a memory buffer, and the FITS data is written to disk on a separate thread, which does not block the next capture nor the display of the INDI data.

Focus Module


Eric Dejouhanet Fixed HFR calculation in the FITS Data class, which was accumulating integer instead of double values.

This led to incorrect consolidation of HFR over multiple stars in the focus procedure and incoherent results in full-frame mode.


The UI received an overhaul as well to make the various settings more accessible. Each detected star HFR is now displayed next to it.

Scheduler Updates


Eric Dejouhanet implemented customizable dusk and dawn offsets (D23869). This introduces two new Ekos options, located in the Scheduler option pane. Dusk (resp. dawn) offset will apply a positive or negative hour offset to today's astronomical dusk (resp. dawn) when scheduling observation jobs.
The dawn offset and the pre-dawn offset are cumulative, but the dawn offset allows an earlier or later dawn to be used both while scheduling and executing.

The resulting dusk-to-dawn interval is displayed in the Scheduler UI on the right side of the Twilight checkbox. If the Twilight restriction is checked, the modified dusk and dawn values will be used to schedule the observation job to night time.

If the Twilight restriction is not checked, the observation job will not depend on night time and the modified dusk and dawn will be ineffective in scheduling that job.

The dusk and dawn offsets can be modified from the Ekos Scheduler options, and the night time interval displayed in the Scheduler UI will be updated when applying the changes in that dialog.

Additionally, if the Scheduler is not running, jobs will be re-evaluated to take the new dusk and dawn values into account. However, jobs will only effectively update their schedule if the night time constrain them to do so, not if the night time restriction relaxes.

Guiding & PHD2 improvements


Robert Lancaster improved PHD2 integration with Ekos.

This update is intended to fix several PHD2 problems and provide several PHD2 enhancements.


Fixes an issue where if the user hits the stop button while guiding in the PHD2 interface, then the user restarts guiding from PHD2, Ekos did not pick up the guide state change since no settling occurred and the user didn't click guide in Ekos.
Fixes an issue where the guiding data was not put into the graphs if the user did not enter a focal length into PHD2. Formerly the solution was to put a warning in the Guide log, but users ignored that. Now this tries to set the current CCD, so the backup method can work the way it was intended to work.
  1. Fixes an issue when the user had external guide frames selected, they did not appear in the guide view, and instead loaded in the fits viewer.
  2. Enables the loop and capture buttons for PHD2 along with the corresponding functions to make them work. Works well if the camera is connected to Ekos, also works if its not, but it will not display in Ekos. A message prints to the log letting the user know why.
  3. Disables the binning combo box which was enabled accidentally.
  4. If the user has external guide frames enabled, this enables the tracking box so that the lock position in the image can be reported to the user, and it also enables the user to be able to click to change the lock position for PHD2.
  5. This improves Ekos's ability to recognize the guide camera by using PHD2's report of what guide camera it is using. Then Ekos can use this information to disable or enable the receipt of image frames as well as the option to use the SubFrame checkbox.
  6. Improves the communication about the various options and status for cameras connected to PHD2 and Ekos.
  7. Enables the SubFrame method for PHD2 cameras so that they can switch quickly back and forth between the Guide Star image and full frame external guide frames at the push of a button.
  8. After I cleaned up some of the old and no longer needed methods/code, Ekos now connects to PHD2 much faster.
  9. I added the option for the user to select autostar, or to have PHD2 use the star lock position chosen by the user.
  10. Removes the External Guide Frames option since this makes it obsolete
  11. Saves the subframe option between KStars sessions and sets Ekos to receive External Guide frames or not based on it.
  12. Removes all the setting and unsetting of external blobs for Linguider, which doesn't support INDI cameras anyway, so it was pointless.
Furthermore, the guiding module now shows directional guiding label to help see which directions are affected by the pulses.

Misc Enhancements & Bug Fixes


+ Added download time estimation to the capture module. (D25138)
+ Solved several issues with guiding & dithering in both capture & scheduling. (D25110, D25105)
+ Fixed gain setting in capture module. (D24417)
+ Fixed focus HFR-averaging issue. (D24352)
+ Connect Scheduler sleep timer to Simulation Clock scale change. (D24151)
+ Handling of aborts during parking/unparking of rolloff roofs corrected. (D24064)
+ Hitting a constraint sets a job to IDLE instead of COMPLETE so that it might be restarted later. (D24232)
+ Update OpenNGC to v20191019 (D24896)

Monday, September 9, 2019

KStars v3.3.6 is released

The KStars team is glad to announce the release for KStars v3.3.6 for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

This release is packed with many small quality of life improvements and bug fixes.

Intuitive Popup Menu

We cleaned up the popup menu so that mount actions are more intuitive. Took this chance as well to add some lovely Breeze icons to the mix.


We will continue to make mount controls even more accessible, especially to users over VNC.

Live Debayering


The KStars Live Video window can now debayer frames in real-time, thereby allowing for color video streams.



FITS Viewer


A few improvements landed in FITS Viewer:

  • Updated Statistics display that can display value for each color channel separately, if present.
  • Faster loading times thanks to a performance patch by Hy Murveit.

Astrometry.net Config and Indexes


Robert Lancaster made huge improvements to the handling of Astrometry.net configuration management and indexes. This should make these features a lot more accessible to a wider pool of users.


You can edit the astrometry.net configuration file directly in KStars. Furthermore, you can easily add/remove folders that that contain the index files. Many users have the indexes files stored in external hard drivers, and with this feature, it is now very easy to add the additional folders so they get utilized by the solver.


This change is accompanied by changes to the index downloader. Now you can check all your collections, and you have the ability to download indexes to a particular folder in your collection. A green index file indicates that the file is available in the system and does not require to be downloaded.

Observatory Weather Info


Wolfgang Reissenberger continued his outstanding work in improving the Observatory Module. With this release comes weather data directly displayed in the module. Along with the configurable thresholds for Warning and Alert states, you can rest easily knowing that KStars can take the appropriate actions to protect your observatory from adverse weather conditions.


Meridian Flip


A small quality-of-life improvement to the Meridian Flip value. You can now toggle between Degrees (default) and hours. Many mounts indicate the meridian flip limit in degrees so we opted to make this as default.


Mount Control Motion Reverse


You can now reverse the direction of each axis of motion separately, in case you prefer to controls to behave in the way you expect them to in the Mount Control Panel.

Setting Coordinates Manually


The dialog now opens pre-populated with the currently selected object coordinates. You can easily switch between JNow, J2000, or your own custom Epoch.


Under The Hood


Yuri Chornoivan is the unsung hero of internationalization efforts in KStars. Many volunteers work in KDE internationalization effort and Mr. Chornoivan keeps a vigilant eye on KStars to make sure it remains accessible to the widest audience possibly globally.

Mr. Chornoivan replaced many obsolete functions in KStars with their up-to-date alternatives.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

KStars v3.3.1 is released

KStars v3.3.1 is released for Windows, MacOS, and Linux on all platforms (Intel/AMD and ARM). This is yet another maintenance release with a few new experimental features and addons.

MacOS Updates


Robert Lancaster cleared all the issues reported on astrometry.net problems on MacOS. After gathering the feedback of users with experimental releases on this dedicated INDI thread.

Astrometry on MacOS

Furthermore, DBus is now working again in this release which would make the Ekos Scheduler operational again under Mac.

New Observatory Module


Wolfgang Reissenberger developed a new Ekos Observatory module to manage the dome and weather-triggered shutdown procedure. This is the first iteration of the module with more expected in the upcoming months but it provides a compact and friendly interface to observatory management. Feedback is welcome.



Meridian Flip is gone!


Well, sorta of. Wolfgang Reissenberger removed Meridian Flip from the Capture Module and moved it to the Mount Module. This way the meridian flip can be controlled even if there is no active capture session going on.


So just set when you want the meridian flip to occur at the mount module. Remember that the setting is in Hour Angle (HA). 1 HA = 15 degrees, therefore 0.1 HA = 1.5 degrees West of the Meridian. 

Always use a positive value to ensure proper meridian flip takes place. Using zero could theoretically work but it is at the very edge where the decision to flip or not is made by the mount, so it's safer to use a slightly higher value like 0.1 HA.

Stream Window



Due to popular demand, the FPS control in the Stream window is replaced Frame Duration in seconds control. So a setting of 0.1 seconds would yield a frame rate of 10 FPS (1/0.1 = 10) if the hardware can support that. The duration can be set as low as 1 microsecond but only if supported by the driver and camera!


Other highlights:


  • Reset focus frame when mount slews.
  • Do not abort PHD2 guiding while suspended.
  • Switching to homebrew, python3, and astroy for plate solving on OS X.
  • Check if dust cap is detected before checking whether the camera is shutterful or shutterless.
  • Fix translation issue with Sun, Moon, and Earth designations.