The Dark Side

After staying up a few late nights doing darks before going to bed I decided to take matters into my own hands and develop a utility to automate this tedious process for me. I know there are commercial packages out there that do this amongst many other things but I don’t own them and don’t need such sophistication.

I wrote this little tool called “The Dark Side” for CCDSoft V5 users that basically does nothing but automate the process of taking darks.

I have been using it for a few weeks now with my ST-2000XM and it seems to be reasonably bug free. In the spirit of giving something back to all the helpful people on Ron Wodaski's New CCD Astronomy group I am providing this version of the tool as a free download

How It Works

It creates dark sets in 1 of 3 ways

  1. Reads your color Settings from CCD soft and uses these to take matching darks at the same temperature, binn mode, times etc… You can edit the settings before starting OR 
  2. Has an editor to create dark sequences. These sequence text files can also be edited in tools like notepad. OR
  3. Point it at a folder of images taken. It analyses the images, temperature, binning mode etc.. and works out what unique darks are needed for each unique image set. You can also specify the number of darks per unique image set to take. (This is how I use it and makes darks a brainless activity. Just point it at the folder of images you took during the night)

 It has a few options that can be configured 

  1. Park mount before starting (Requires ASCOM compliant scope with ASCOM installed) 
  2. Start taking darks in x amount of time 
  3. Shut down the Camera turn fan and cooler when done 
  4. Brings Camera back up to 0 degrees slowly before turning of fan or cooler 
  5. Allows automatic shutdown of the PC when dark sequence is completed
  6. User configurable temperate tolerance setting. Ie if temp is within x degrees that light frame was taken, then start darks
  7. Reads auto save path from CCD soft to save darks, or allows you to specify your own dark library folder
  8. Specify a time to wait for Camera to reach specified dark frame temperature before aborting. Eg if you set a temp that is too low and camera cant reach that temp it will keep trying for x amount of time until temp is reached or time expires.
  9. Append your camera setting like exposure time, temp and binn mode to the dark file name.

Installation Instructions

  1. Navigate to your CCDSoft Installation directory. Typically C:\Software Bisque\CCDSoft Version 5
  2. If you don’t already have it, create a folder called “Camera Event Plug Ins” (Note: Spelling is important. 
  3. Unzip to a temporary installation folder on your PC 
  4. Run setup.exe
  5. When prompted for an installation location, select the folder you just created. In this case it would be C:\Software Bisque\CCDSoft Version 5\Camera Event Plug Ins
  6. Complete Installation…
  7. A program file shortcut is created in the star menu for the Dark Side. Use this to run the Dark Side. If CCDSoft is not running when you start The Darks Side it will Start CCDSoft and try connect to your camera, so make sure your camera is plugged in and turned on.

Quick Start Usage Guide

  1. Make sure your camera is connected and turned on 
  2. Run The Dark Side
  3. Build a dark sequence by either
    1. the editor, by typing in the values and pressing the ADD button 
    2. Reading settings from CCDSoft  v5 by pressing “Load From CCDsoft” button. Youcan then edit these settings by double clicking the line item. Changing the values and then pressing the Modify button c.
    3. Pointing The Dark Side at a folder of images to analyze by pressing the “Analyse Folder Button”. The Dark side will read the fits data of these files and work out what unique darks are needed. You need to tell it how many darks to take per unique set. I usually use about 9 per set to average. Once the folder is analysed the Sequence information will be displayed in the Dark sequence frame. You can edit this data by double clicking the line item. (The Temperate tolerance setting is used to determine what makes a new Dark Set. So if Temperature tolerance is set to 2 degrees, then if 2 images differ by more than 2 degrees, a unique set of darks will be created for each image.
  4. When you are happy with Dark Sequence settings, you then Press “Start Darks” button and go to sleep. There are a few options you may want to set before doing this: 
    1. Turn off PC when done: Forces the PC to shut down when darks are complete 
    2. Wait for Temp: Makes The Dark side wait the specified amount of time for the specified temperature to be reached 
    3. Turn off fan when Done: Causes The Dark Side when finished to turn off the Fan and Temperature Regulation before shutting down. 
    4. Auto Save path: Allow you to specify where the Dark Frames should be saved. Defaults to the Autosave Path specified in CCDSoft
    5. The exposure Sequence files can be saved, by pressing the “Save File” Button. This allows you to redo a dark library at any time by loading the sequence file using the “Load File” button

Release: 1.1 as of 01/06/2005

First Release: 1.0 as of 25/02/2005

Features added to version 1.1

  • You can now choose to append camera information to the file name of your dark frames. Eg

 Known Issues

  • none at this time