Monday, January 29, 2018

KStars 2.9.2 Released!

Glad to announce the release of KStars 2.9.2 for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

In addition to the usual bug fixes and enhancement, we finally have proper cross-platform theming support! Most of the code was based on Digikam's theming code so Kudos to Digikam team for their great work!

Now Windows and MacOS users can enjoy the KStars dark theme in all of its glory!


KStars Dark Theme in MacOS


Furthermore, an automatic FOV for your sensor can be be displayed on the sky map along with the CCD name and the FOV dimensions in arcminutes. This feature, along with the DSS overlay, can make planning your astrophotography session very convenient!

Auto FOV
Ekos alignment module can now work with mounts using differential slewing instead of syncing, which would enable Ekos to operate some advanced mounts such as Paramount. Finally, Robert Lancaster made more improvements to the Star Profile tool to make it more user-friendly and efficient.
3D Star Profile

Thursday, January 11, 2018

KStars 2.9.1 is off to a fantastic start in 2018!

We're kicking off 2018 with a new fantastic release of KStars for Windows & MacOS. Linux users should wait a few more days to get the release in the official PPA due to Canonical's Launchpad downtime because of the Meltdown and Spectre CPU vulnerabilities discovered recently.

KStars 2.9.1 aka "Lancaster" release is primarily a bugfix release, but it brings with it as well several new features and improvements to existing technologies.

Over the holidays, Robert Lancaster made significant improvements to KStars and this release is named in his honor. Thank you Robert for your awesome contributions to KStars and Open Astronomy community!

MacOS users gained a few additional drivers with this release including Apogee, QHY, and Meade DSI support!

Set Park Position

Setting a custom parking position used to involve going to INDI Control Panel and tinkering with a few settings before it is saved and active. With KStars 2.9.1, it is now a very accessible action. Simply click anywhere on the sky map and select your desired custom parking position.

The mount shall slew normally to the desired location and save it as the parking position. It will NOT park the mount, it will just save that position as the desired position. To park the mount, use the parking/unparking controls from the toolbar or from the sky map as you normally would.

Additional PHD 2 Support


Robert Lancaster built upon his previous changes to PHD2 to add a PHD2 command request list so that KStars can keep track of what it has asked PHD2 to do. This allowed the addition of several additional commands that could be used to control PHD2. Now, users can use the Ekos Guide Module to change the PHD2 exposure time, change the DEC guide settings, and get information about the guiding pulses sent to the mount. Also, after changing the Connect/Disconnect code, the PHD2 connection seems to be more reliable.

Dither support was improved by using the timeout variable in the Guide options to control how long KStars will wait after issuing a dither command before continuing. And in a related fix, the Guide module will use the setting in the guide options “Dither Failure Aborts Autoguide” to control whether a dither issue will cause the entire sequence to abort. The last two changes were due to the fact that if PHD2 did not send back a response after dithering, KStars would not complete the sequence and if PHD2 reported a guide error, it would abort the entire sequence regardless of the setting in the guide options. This should all now be fixed. Also he added a PHD2 Lost Lock Timer so that if it loses track of the guide star but then regains it within 5 seconds, then it won’t abort guiding.

Drift Graphics Updates


Robert Lancaster made several improvements to the graphs in the Guide Module. These changes will work whether the user is using PHD2 or the internal guider. First, the mount corrections were added to the Drift Graphics plot so that the user could see not just the RA and DEC error, but also the corrections that the mount is making in each axis.

Since this graph naturally has a different scale than the guide errors, a separate axis was added along with a slider to control its scale independently of the other axis. A set of controls was added at the bottom left so that each component could be added or removed from the graph independently. A slider was added so that the user could scroll through the guide history, or click the “Max” checkbox to lock the graph onto the latest point so it will autoscroll.

Also buttons were added for autoscaling the graphs, or exporting the guide data to a CSV file, clearing all the guide data, and for scaling the target in the Drift Plot. Finally, a label was added to the guide graph every time that a dither occurred so the user knows guiding was not bad at those points.

New 3D Star Profile and Data Visualization Tool


Robert Lancaster created a new KStars tool based on some QT Examples that would plot the Pixel Data shown in any of the KStars Image Views so that the user can inspect the data in a new manner. This is particularly useful for astrophotographers who want to visualize the profile of a star they are considering focusing or guiding on, for scientists who want to examine a cross section of their data to understand the relative brightness of different objects in the image, and for imagers who want to visually see what is going on in their data collection in a new way.

Note that in order to use this feature, KStars must be built with the Data Visualization module installed. For the Mac OS X DMG, users can start using this function right away. We are working to get it into the Windows exe and Linux PPA very soon so that these users can also use this function right out of the box. But for now, Linux users would have to build from source with Data Visualizations installed to have these features.

To use the new feature, the user needs to select the View Star Profile Icon in one of the Ekos Module Views, or in the Fitsviewer. Then, the region selected in the green tracking box will show up in the 3D graph as shown above. The user will then have one of the following toolbars at the bottom.



At the far left, the sample size combo box will let the user select the size of the image crop shown in the graph. This option is only available in the Summary Screen, the Align Module, and the Fitsviewer. The second combo box lets the user control whether they are selecting an individual item, or a row, or a column of pixels.

The slice button will be enabled if the user selects “Row” or “Column.” It will put the graph in slice mode so that the user can see a cross section view of the image. Third, is a check box that will open up two sliders that will let the user drag the slider to change the selection.

This is extremely useful in the slide mode to change the selected point and to move the cross section around the graph. It is also useful in the normal view when in “Explore Mode” so that the user can zoom around the image examining the pixels. 


Then the user has the “Zoom To” combo box, which the user can use to zoom the graph to different preset locations. Next is the combo box that lets the user select the color scheme of the graph. Then are the HFR and the Peak checkboxes, which will both turn on the HFR and Peak labels on each found star in the image, but will also display one of them at the bottom of the screen. And finally comes the Scaling checkbox, which enables the Scaling Side Panel. In that panel are three sliders, one to control the minimum value displayed on the graph or “black point”, one to control the maximum value displayed in the graph or the “white point,” and a third that is disabled by default that lets the user control the cutoff value for data displayed on the graph.

This third slider is very useful to get really big peaks out of the way so you can study the finer details in the image. There is a checkbox at the top to enable/disable the cutoff slider.


And finally at the bottom of the sliders is the “Auto scale” button. This will auto scale the sliders as you sample different areas in the image. It will not only optimize the display of the data, but will also affect the minimum and maximum points of the slider.


If you disable auto scale, then as you sample different parts of the image, they will be displayed at the same scale. A particularly useful way to use this is to select an area of your image using auto scale, tweak the min, max, and cutoff sliders to your liking, and then turn off the auto scale feature to explore other areas of the graph.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

KStars 2.8.9 is released!

Here comes the last KStars release for 2017! KStars v2.8.9 is available now for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Robert Lancaster worked on improving PHD2 support with Ekos. This includes retrieving the guide star image, drift errors and RMS values, among other minor improvements and refactoring of the Ekos PHD2 codebase to support future extensions.


Furthermore, Robert added drift plot support to Ekos Guide module which provides a visual indication of the accuracy of the guiding.

The Ekos Guide module received further improvements to make it more straightforward to use with end users. The calibration button is now removed and performed automatically whenever guiding starts. The user can clear the calibration at any time to restart the process.

Meridian Flip support improved with various fixes to post-meridian-flip operations including autofocus. Filter Manager received several fixes to improve filter switching during various phases of the capture process. Users can also control when to run the In-Sequence focus check. By default, the check is executed after each frame, but now can be configured to be executed only after several frames are captured.

A minor but quite useful addition is the Meridian Line. It can be turned on so that users can get a visual indication on how close the mount is to executing a meridian flip procedure.


Enjoy the new release, and do not forget to report any bugs or suggestions over at bugs.kde.org.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

KStars 2.8.7 Released!

Another minor KStars release is now available for Linux, MacOS,  & Windows. KStars 2.8.7 brings several bug fixes and new improvements!

So what's new in this release?


  • Sounds! While KDE users on Linux enjoyed sound notifications since they were introduced in KStars, users on non-KDE desktop and on other OSes couldn't get the sounds. This is now fixed by using Phonon & libVLC. There is a known issue with the sounds being abruptly cut-off under MacOS, we are investigating this bug.
  • Fixed annoying issue with slightly incompatible frame sizes for DSLR captures. The frame size is now always subframed to the maximum resolution entered by the user when using a DSLR for the first time in Ekos.
  • GPS fixes: When a new GPS location is received, KStars will now explicitly changes the current location to GPS Location. The time is also updated accordingly with the GPS UTC & Offset values.
  • Fixed orientation of solved Align frames. Now all solved images shall rotate correctly in the KStars Sky Map to reflect the orientation of the captured image.

  • Various fixes for Rotator Control.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

KStars 2.8.5 is released!

So here comes another minor release for KStars v2.8.5 just less than two weeks after 2.8.4 was released. KStars v2.8.5 is available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. In addition to the usual bug-fixing and enhancements, here are a couple of useful features for our users:

1. Log Manager

Users complained over the year that it was hard to get logs for Ekos & INDI to diagnose issues. Due to the complexity of Ekos & INDI, logs are absolutely necessary in order to diagnose any issues. With 2.8.5, it's now super easy to enable logs and they're all in one place. From the Ekos Summary screen, click logs to open the Log Manager and then select which specific Ekos module and/or INDI driver you want to diagnose. Start Ekos as you normally do and then all the logs are stored locally, even if you are using remote INDI drivers!


2. Filter Manager

While users were able to select filter focus offsets in previous version of KStars, it was only applicable in the capture module. Not only that, you were limited to locking a specific filter when running the focus module, but what if you need to lock the filter depending on what current filter is in use? What if you don't need to run autofocus on filter change for all filters, but specific ones? The Filter Manager is here to resolves these issues.


My primary motivation behind this is due to my recent imaging session with IC5070. I wanted to use Luminance filter as the locked filter for both Lum and Hydrogen-Alpha, and when using OIII/SII, I wanted Ekos to keep the current filter and focus with it. With the old system, you were limited to one locked filter for everything, but now it is much more versatile and configurable. Please test away and report any bugs to KDE Bugtracking system. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

KStars 2.8.4 aka Juli is released!

Less than two weeks after the release of KStars 2.8.3 comes another minor bugfix release. Download KStars 2.8.4 for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Major highlights:

  • Robert Barlow submitted a patch to add elevation information for all cities. The information was built from Google data. It closes Bug #382462. The elevation data is also now sent to the INDI drivers.
  • Stars and Deep Sky Objects labels are now zoom-dependent so they appear larger when zoomed in which improves usability.
  • Rotators are now fully tested and supported with Ekos capture and align module. In Ekos align module, use Load & Slew to go to any arbitrary target, and then have your rotator exactly match the orientation of the target in the image!
  • Fixed several issues with internationalization of some strings discovered by Khalid AlAjaji. Khalid also submitted significant translations for KStars in Arabic!
  • Jérôme Sonrier submitted a fresh new updated Daylight Saving rules. He is also working on getting rid of the static TZ rules in KStars and using the ones provided by the system.
  • Added PSF (Point Spread Function) convoluted star detection algorithm adapted from PHD2 to improve auto-selection of stars during guide module calibration phase.
  • Fixed bug in processing Load&Slew data when some keywords are missing.
  • Fix layout issues for RTL languages.

This release is dedicated to Juli, my lovely German Shepard companion for the last 7 years. She is accompanied here by Tommy when he was just a small puppy back then. Long live and prosper my good girl!


Monday, September 11, 2017

KStars 2.8.3 aka Tommy is out!

The bugfix release of KStars 2.8.3 is available for all major platforms (Note: MacOS version is delayed to 2017-09-13). In this version, we finally managed to release translations for Windows & MacOS users, thanks to the efforts of Hannah and Kevin over at Craft, and the KDE translation team.

KStars in Arabic
A major bug that was fixed is inaccurate asteroid and comets positions. After exhaustive troubleshotting with the aid of JPL Horizon ephemeris, the problem was traced to imprecise Earth ecliptic longitude angle. The Earth coordinates are important if we want to calculate positions of solar system bodies from a geocentric point of view. Valentin traced the problem to problematic VSOP87 files and promptly generated new data files that solves the discrepancy in Earth ecliptic longitude.

However, while that greatly improved the accuracy, it was still a bit off. While checking KStars Florence (1981 ET3) asteroid position against that of Stellarium, I noted KStars epoch of date position exactly match the J2000 position reported in Stellarium! This was not a coincidence, it turns out we didn't account for precession in KStars. After that is taken care of, the comet and asteroid positions are now accurate on the order of arc-seconds! This is a 100-fold improvement in accuracy from previous versions.


Several fixes and improvement to Ekos with fixes in PHD2 support along with the ability to disable streaming from remote cameras right from the guide module. Another issue that was resolved is the focus module always running autofocus even when the HFR is below the threshold. This was tricky to trace down as it was due to a switch of HFR algorithms when the HFR check is first requested. For those using domes, the align module now properly waits until a slaved dome reaches its target before proceeding with image capture. More over, the Mosaic Tool was simplified and now dragging the mosaic grid produces precise jobs for all orientations.

Numerous stability improvements from GSoC 2017 projects made it into the release. GSoC 2017 student Csaba Kertesz concluded the project and KStars is now much more bullet-proof than before.

This release is named after my lovely loyal German Shepard Tommy! Isn't he a good boy?

Tommy