Setting Up My Observing Laptop

For Christmas my wife got me an Orion StarShoot AutoGuider and I am really looking forward to trying it out. The weather Christmas weekend was a no-go for observing but hopefully we will have some clear skies over the New Years holiday. I decided to take some time to set up my laptop for observing. I have an older Dell Inspiron 6000 that is in pretty good shape. I replaced the battery in it about 6 months ago, and it is a pretty decent machine that should work well for my observing and guiding laptop.

The laptop is several years old and it was used for work, but I have not even powered it on in the last three months so the first thing I decided to do was reload Windows XP Professional and start with a clean slate. Why Windows XP and not Windows 7? Well a lot of the drivers and programs are not ready for Windows 7 yet, and I own a copy of Windows XP Pro. What I have seen of Windows 7 looks great, but XP is a pretty solid OS and I should not have any problems with drivers or getting programs to run on it. So I installed XP, loaded all the Dell drivers (sound, video, chipset, etc), and ran Windows update to install SP3 and all the latest and greatest updates.

After the clean OS install and updates I set up the wireless networking with my home network, I installed Avast Home Antivirus and Firefox. Installed the Xmarks plugin for Firefox so I can sync all my astronomy bookmarks with my desktop. I installed the TwitKit plugin in case I want to tweet while observing. I also installed the Adobe Reader since most of the manuals for my equipment, cameras, and software are available in pdf format.

Then I installed the drivers for my Celestron NexImage Solar System Imager and the Orion StarShoot AutoGuider. Both of them installed without issue. I installed AMCAP for capturing images with the NexImage and PHD Guiding to use with the AutoGuider. Tested the connections to the camera and autoguider, everything seems to be working well.

I installed the Hand Control Firmware and Motor Control Firmware update utilities for my scope from Celestron. Since the laptop does not have any external serial ports I also installed the drivers for my USB serial port. I tested the connection to my Celestron GOTO hand controller, no problems there.

Even though I will probably do my image processing on my desktop (more CPU and RAM – much much faster) I installed Deep Sky Stacker and RegiStax just in case it may be needed.

Stellarium planetarium software is installed for observation session planning and star charts for observation sessions. It is configured with my default observing location (my backyard) and my settings for displaying objects.

I installed the Astronomical Observation Log database program I found here. One of my New Year’s resolutions is going to be to better document my observation sessions. This looks like a pretty good little program that should help me do that. I have a notebook and a log book for logging, but I usually get caught up in observing, figure I will log it later, and just never do. I usually post something to SuffolkSky about my observations, but it is not really the same as (and should not substitute) a log entry in my log book. I am also going to try to come up with a good post template for my observing and imaging logs.

So that’s about it. I think I have everything on installed that I am going to need – at least for now. Pretty basic setup and it should work great for the purpose. Will probably pick up an inexpensive USB HUB that I can attach to the tripod to help reduce the number of the cables and a small folding table to keep things off the ground and organized.

Looking forward to a clear sky and I hope to observe and capture some images of Mars in January and maybe Saturn. Also, can’t wait to try out the autoguider and image some more deep sky objects.

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