For years I’ve had a dream. A dream of a smaller mount I could use for wide field imaging. A mount I could more easily port around, that would be small enough to even take on a plane if I wanted. A mount that could run along with my cameras and my computers all on one battery. The ultimate dream of high-quality, high-end, portable imaging.
Today, that dream is a reality. I have long lobbied Steve Bisque to build such a thing, using the Paramount design, only… well…. smaller. I owe this day to both Steve, and the Paramount MX. There is no way to overstate the importance of the Paramount MX. It was a significant redesign of the venerable Paramount ME. New control system, easier to build, fewer parts, and the same (if not better) legendary Paramount performance. What was learned from the Paramount MX, translated directly to the new Paramount ME II. Further more, with the Paramount MX, we began to creep into the portable market with a mount that was truly portable (as opposed to “luggable”), and, paired with our portable pier, it sure made star party duty an easier task to manage. The Paramount ME II extended the capacity of the original ME into larger, and more capable instrument loads, thus giving us a wide range of instrument capacities.
We’d learned a lot from this experience, and it allowed us to make mounts faster than before, and still maintain, if not enhance quality control. An investment in our new facility, new equipment and room in the machine shop, and the idea of yet another mount model became more feasible. Our dealers (as well as myself begging) have been telling us there was a gap in the market below the Paramount MX (now the MX+, with an upgraded motor and gear system) for a smaller mount. Something with a more modest payload capacity that could still handle the majority of portable imagers needs, and priced in a range a bit more accessible to the large and growing market of backyard and portable casual imagers.
A design was created, and over the summer prototypes were built (with the help of my son, who was an intern in Golden at the time!). Tom Bisque tested prototype #1 in the on-site observatory in Golden and was floored by the performance. Prototype #2 was mine! I flew to Golden in late July, picked up my son and we along with my other son on vacation from college headed for Grand Teton National Park. I managed a campsite a bit off the lake there with a less than ideal, but usable clearing in the trees. Polaris was not visible, but I had a good overhead swath of sky. Perfect for the Paramount workflow. TPoint is not troubled by the lack of Polaris.
The Paramount MyT is, more or less, a miniature MX. If you know how to use a Paramount, you know how to use a MYT. I put a Canon 60Da and a Robofocus-based belt system for autofocus along with a 200mm lens for wide field work. This system ran entirely off of a battery, with the DSLR running off the 12V DC power supply on the Versa Plate, and an external 12V DC battery to keep my laptop alive through the night. This whole system took less time to setup than the two tents for our campsite.
I did have to wait until twilight to do a TPoint run to refine my polar alignment. I did a run of 18 points to get my rough adjustment in first and then did a 50 point run to dial in the alignment to under an arcminute off the pole all while waiting on astronomical twilight. With a DSLR pixel scale of over 4 arcseconds per pixel, I had no problem with unguided exposures of 5 minutes. In fact, I went all night with over 50 such 5-minute exposures and I didn’t have to throw out a single frame. I should mention here that I did not have a PEC table loaded either. This mount has an astonishingly small periodic error. I dithered the unguided exposures with a custom script (you really should always dither DSLR images), and ended up with a very smooth and easily stretchable wide field image of the North American and Pelican Nebulae.
The very first night out, with a brand new prototype mount, and the operation and tracking was flawless. It really is the complete Paramount experience, but in a tiny… mighty… package. Our second date will be the topic of my next blog. I predict a long and fruitful relationship here ;-)