Darksky On Demand

Darksky On Demand

May 03, 2018

When I first saw Prism at NEAF 2017 I was excited.  I think the words that actually came out of my mouth were “where have you been all my life? ".  Here was a system that brings all the functionality I needed into a single package!

Up to that point, I had a dozen software packages installed – each to do a very specific thing.  While some of my software purported to “do it all”, it was mostly hype and I felt lucky if each package could do one or two things really well.  Until Prism, there really was no one-size-fits-all solution.


Prism has all the bells and whistles to make any pile of gear capable of rendering amazing images and… doing real science.


But there’s a catch…

It’s true that Prism is a HUGE toolbox – and we all know tools are only as good as the mechanic… it turns out I’m the mechanic!  That means I must learn how to use the tools. More than that, I need to understand foundational concepts of astronomy and my own equipment before the toolbox (Prism) really starts to pay off.


Not to beat the analogy to death but if you’re an auto mechanic and you have $10K invested in a Snap-On box and every ratchet and gadget-tool you can get your hands on – it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know a Honda from a Hummer.  You need to roll up your sleeves and read the manual – not just for Prism, but your own pile of gear.


We love the science and technology, astronomy and astrophysics… we can talk about the subject until those around us suddenly remember they have to wallpaper the trunk of their car – or something equally important.  How many of us actually read the “README” or help file that comes with our camera driver?  Have you ever tried to read through the ASCOM manual?  What about the Prism manual?


An embarrassing admission...

Not too long ago, I was getting ready for a night of observation with my Newtonian.  I’d spent the previous day collimating it to perfection, cleaning the mirrors, and generally laying out everything for a night of astrophotography… you know feeling of getting all the ducks in a row.  As dusk started to approach I prepared to take my flats.  I popped the aperture cover off, cranked up my camera and…   nothing.  Black image with a little noise.  I checked my connections, pulled the camera, checked that I’d taken the cover off. 


After two hours of general panic and blaming everything from my dog to cursing Prism – I sat down in my chair next to the telescope to try and get my sanity back.  My newt has a truss-rod OTA and from my seat I could see right up at the secondary mirror – there it was, covered by it’s protective silk bag.


You could say I had a moment. This wasn’t equipment failure, it wasn’t Prism or configuration failure... human error. It was just a blunder, an oversight. It got me thinking about other unintended results – mostly with Prism… How many times had I not fully understood what I was doing with Prism, and it cost me a night of observation?  The Prism manual really is a life-saver and I read and use it every chance I get. The other life-savers are the videos Hyperion (a la Hamza) has published - the most recent aboutAutomation.  One word: Invaluable!


I must admit – I’m still reading it all. Every time I come across an unfamiliar term or concept, I take the time to learn it.  Why? Because I want to be a good mechanic.


Look Prism is the best astronomy software, period…  it’s only limitations are my understanding of how it works.  I'm always learning - but Prism is the only software I usefor my pile of gear! (images below).




 The DarkSky Mobile Lab 


Inside the DarkSky Mobile Lab - It has a manual too!


 Illuminated Instrument Drawers


 14" RC with igus Triflex robotic conduit

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