All Sky Camera

posted in: Astronomy, DIY, Electronic, Photography | 4

During winter, when the sky is clear, we can often witness northern lights above Whitehorse, YT. I wanted to capture these aurora events and share them with family and friends so I decided to create a camera that would live stream a view the sky on the internet.

 

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I borrowed the idea from AuroraMax but I didn’t want to spend too much money in the construction so I chose to use a small USB camera instead of a large and expensive DSLR. I was inspired by Martin Lewis all sky camera which he built using an ASI120 astronomy camera. This camera uses USB to communicate with a computer. The maximum length for USB 2.0 cables is around 5m. This means that your camera can’t be more than 5 meters away from your computer. This is somewhat limiting when you want to put a camera on a roof. Instead, I decided to bring the computer inside the camera enclosure by using a small but fairly powerful computer. i.e. a Raspberry Pi 2. I added a USB wifi dongle to transfer images from the computer to the wireless router.

 

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The enclosure of the camera consists of a 4″ ABS pipe with 1 end cap and 1 threaded end cap. A hole is cut in the top one to accommodate the lens and an acrylic dome is screwed over the lens. The bottom cap can be open to access the computer and camera.

Only a main power cable comes out of the camera. The maximum distance of the device is only dictated by the range of your wifi.

 

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The camera starts at civil sunset, captures a 5second exposure image every 10 seconds and uploads it to a page on this website. It stops the capture at civil sunrise. After that, it generates a time lapse video of the night and uploads it as well.

This is an example of what a time lapse looks like.

 

 

4 Responses

  1. Randy Flynn

    Hello Thomas,
    This is a very impressive build! I wish I had saw this before I started my build although I saw some similar. I too am using the ASI224mc with the stock fish-eye lens that cam with the camera. I have used a pvc weatherproof enclosure box from Lowes with an added acrylic dome, a thermostatically controlled brush-less fan and heater. At the moment it is usb wired to a desktop just inside my roll off roof observatory. I am having to use a program called HANDYAvi for camera control which works pretty well but I don’t seem to get quiet the clarity that you are, due to different codecs possibly. I would be interested to discuss your project more if you like. I have been in talks with CAMS and SkySentinel, both NASA network meteor monitoring projects. Currently they use CCTV cameras but seem to be interested in the progress of the ASI cameras. I would just forwarded information about swedish and croatian team that are using the ASI cameras with raspberry Pi’s much like yours. So my second build will hopefully be based on that since it will allow the collection of scientific data besides just imaging. Would you be interested in collaboration as I attempt to move forward with the CAMS and Skysentineal teams.

  2. Bryan

    Im wondering if this projects software can be made to work with imaging source cameras? or other ASI cameras?

    • Thomas

      Hi Bryan,
      In theory, this could work with anything producing an image. The only code that is specific to ZWO cameras is in capture.cpp. It uses ZWO’s function calls to talk to the camera but other manufacturers provide their own SDK so we could have a capture_qsi.cpp, capture_zwo.cpp, capture_imaging_source.cpp, etc.
      The only problem is that I only own a ZWO camera so I can’t test the software for the other cameras.
      Thomas

      • Bryan

        Interesting, thanks for the quick reply. I assume other ASI cameras can be added as well, I only saw a couple models when I looked in github.

        Ill try to play with it and my ASI1600MM (not that I would use that camera for an all sky!). Very interesting project, thanks for all your hard work!

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