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The Minor Planet Observer
Palmer Divide Observatory

2007 Shoemaker Grant Recipient

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MPO Connections - Overview

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MPO Connections is a combination of many utilities all accessed through one interface. The main purpose of the suite is to control any supported mount and several popular brands of CCD cameras. In some cases not all features are supported for all mounts and/or cameras but the essential items of sending the scope to a given location and taking an image are implemented. Whether your work is asteroid astrometry or photometry, variable star lightcurves, or hunting supernovae, an automated imaging program can be easily setup and run. Let the telescope and camera do all the work while you sleep!

This is made possible by a powerful yet simple scripting engine that automates any supported mount/camera combination. With the script engine you can setup the CCD camera, take images of any number of targets, switch filters, focus the camera, and much more.


In MPO Connections, a script is a sequence of commands that the program can execute automatically. SmartScript makes scripting even easier by remembering previously entered commands. For example, the GoToAsteroid command doesn't require that you know the position of the asteroid beforehand. The position is computed at the time the command is executed. If you selected GoToAsteroid, the next TakeImage automatically modifies the default entries to match the number of the asteroid you selected. If you change the default time for the TakeImage command from 60s to 120s, the next TakeImage defaults to 120s. Every effort has been made to make script writing quick and easy.

Object Searches

Included in MPO Connections are two search routines that allow you to search several databases of asteroids, deep-sky objects, and galaxies for objects well suited for a night’s run. You can then export the search results to a text file that can be imported into the script engine, allowing you to quickly setup a script with the basic commands that move the scope to the target and take an image.


A blinker is provided so you can review images as soon as they come in. This is a great feature for supernovae hunters who can blink a just taken image of a galaxy against a reference image while script moves on to take an image of the next galaxy. It’s also great for confirming an asteroid discovery almost in real-time.

Simplified Focusing

Connections provides a focusing sequencer that takes an image, allows you to see that image and adjust focus and automatically – at a time-interval you specify – take the next image. The just taken image and previous image are displayed side by side so you can easily see if your focusing moves are in the right direction.

Auto Focusing

While Connections provides easy manual control over focusing, it also provides for "auto focusing". This is available to those who have an electric focuser that is controlled through the LX-200, e.g., Meade, JMI, etc. or via a separate serial port. This can be very useful during scripted runs to keep your images from losing focus due to temperature variations in long overnight runs.

With each new image, Connections computes a value that indicates the quality of the focus based on the size and profile of the star image. This figure is used to help assure a solid focus even if you’re not at the computer.


MPO Connections provides several methods within and without a script to keep your scope’s positioning within specified tolerances. The most basic method is to send the scope to a moderately bright star and have Connections automatically center the star. Since the position of the star is known, Connections can update the scope’s computer to keep it synced to its actual position.

A more sophisticated approach (AutoMeasure) takes a short image of the field. Based on the currently reported position, Connections generates an internal chart and matches the image to that chart. Once that’s done, Connections knows the exact RA and Declination of the image center and can update the scope’s computer. What’s more, if the intended and real positions differ by more than an amount you specify, Connections automatically moves the scope to the intended position. Not only will the scope know where it’s pointing but it will also be where you wanted.

Easy Database Updates and Conversions

The asteroid Minor Planet Center and Lowell asteroid databases provided with the Connections CD are updated daily and so quickly get out of date. If you have access to the Internet, Connections links you to these sites where you can download the latest versions. Afterwards, run the appropriate conversion program. There’s even a user-defined database to hold elements not yet available.


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This page was last updated on 01/19/11 05:14 -0700.
All contents copyright (c) 2005-2011, Brian D. Warner
Trademarks are the property of their respective owners