A New Allsky Camera Application

By Gord Tulloch

Over the last few years I have been using the Thomas Jaquin (TJ) allsky camera software with great success, as have several other members of the club. This software (available at https://github.com/thomasjacquin/allsky) allows you to set up a Raspberry Pi computer and either a ZWO or Raspberry Pi HQ camera and take awesome pictures of the night sky, like below. My only wish was to put the camera somewhere dark so I could get better images without the light pollution! Other members use these cameras to watch for meteors and use multiple cameras including mine to triangulate where they may have fallen.

Above: Aurora footage from Nov 4 2021

However the TJ allsky software has not evolved much in the last few years and in particular, still only supports a limited range of cameras. So, if you don’t have a ZWO or PiHQ camera you’re left with other options generally requiring a PC.

Recently Aaron Morris (AM) announced on CloudyNights[1] that he had developed a new allskycam software package that was compatible with the INDI protocol that would allow any INDI-compatible camera to be used with an allsky camera setup like the TJ software. The software released by Aaron was called INDI-allsky. Since then, Aaron has been busily adopting new features for the software, which we will discuss in this article.

Installing INDI-Allsky [2]is pretty much the same as installing the TJ software, where you open up a command line (scary I know!) and copy in the following commands:

apt-get install git
git clone https://github.com/aaronwmorris/indi-allsky.git
cd indi-allsky/
systemctl –user start indiserver
systemctl –user start indi-allsky

I imagine most users can cut and paste! I used a AstroBerry Server image (https://www.astroberry.io/) and the installer detected that I was running on that platform and configured itself appropriately, so I really can’t recommend using AstroBerry highly enough for INDI-Allsky!

The end result of this operation is a completely installed and functional allskycam with a web based user interface that looks like this:

INDI-Allsky Control Console Webpage

One of the things I liked most about the TJ software was an integrated web site template you could upload to a web server host, where the camera could upload its nightly data so anyone on the internet could see your data. Thankfully, INDI-allsky supports uploading it’s data in the same way so you can use the TJ website software to display your images. This is doubly convenient when you’re transitioning from the TJ software, since your allskycam images, videos, keeograms etc. are all continued without a break in the coverage.

Some features of the new software include:

  • Everything included in the TJ software – nightly timelapse videos, a startrail image for the night, keeograms (the nightly images at the meridian in a single image) as well as individual images
  • A Loop mode that will create videos of your current sky over 15 minutes (up to 4 hours) so you can see a video of your sky immediately rather than waiting on the software to generate a nightly timelapse video 
  • An SQM monitor that estimates the SQM reading for your sky
  • A moon mode that reduces exposures during moonlit nights
  • Meteor detection and annotation of images with trail
  • Star detection that uses machine vision pattern matching to detect and count the number of stars in an image (less stars means more cloud!)
  • A sorely needed Focus mode that generates images more often and implements a  Variance of Laplacian scoring algorithm on the image to assist with focusing the camera
  • Real time charts for SQM, exposure, and star data
  • Enhanced functions for selecting and viewing images (filter by time/date etc.)
  • Enhanced system monitoring and control

Since my observatory is run on a Raspberry Pi it was a natural fit to install the INDI-allsky software on it.  Previously I had to have an additional Raspberry Pi mounting inside the camera case but since the camera was being mounted on the observatory is was easy to run a USB cable to the computer inside the observatory. So far the software is very reliable, so I’m looking forward to some great images this winter. And, since I now have access to a star counter, I can use the data from the camera to help determine if my micro-observatory roof should be open or closed for business. Recommended! 

[1] https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/785514-new-all-sky-camera-management-software-indi-allsky/

[2] Complete instructions at https://github.com/aaronwmorris/indi-allsky/

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