Roll Your Own All-Sky, Raspberry Pi Camera

As I drove home in the past, I spotted an incredibly bright meteor appear in the sky right directly in front of my vehicle. A large chunk of interplanetary debris must be heading to crash land close to home, I thought to myself. The next thought I had was If I had any information on the luminous streak and if, at a minimum, another person from my area also was able to provide such details, we may be able to triangulate it and pinpoint the location of any landing zone that could be. Indeed, I’m not the only person to consider this possibility. As I later realized, some people have discovered meteorites in this manner.

An example occurred in 2012 when a bright fireball illuminated skies over Northern California. Photos of the meteor were captured by a program named CAMS ( Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance)–an initiative that is a joint venture between NASA and the SETI Institute. These observations enabled the object’s trajectory and landing area to be calculated, and the reports of the event appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, followed by finding what was later popularly known as Novato Meteorite. Novato Meteorite.

CAMS is one of many of these projects that are looking for meteors. Another one is the Global Meteor Network, which aims to study the night sky using “a global science-grade instrument.” The network’s organizers even offer guidance on creating a suitable camera for the Raspberry Pi and provide observations that will assist in determining the orbits of asteroids that produced the meteors.

I was tempted to join in the movement, but after studying more about the subject, I found alternative ways of creating a camera that can be used to study the sky at night. Ultimately, I decided to create attractive pictures in color. Still, I also intended to contribute information to the Global Meteor Network, which utilizes black and white cameras due to their higher sensitivity.

The necessary components are the Raspberry Pi microcomputer (case not depicted) as well as the Raspberry Pi camera, which is a High-Quality camera with lenses, a dome-shaped camera cover five-volt battery, as well as a waterproof bulkhead connector, which allows AC-mains power to go into the enclosure (not depicted) that holds the camera. JAMES PROVOSTTherefore, I decided to create a new type of all-sky camera that is built on the Raspberry Pi but that uses the Raspberry Pi High-Quality color camera, following the example of a project dubbed the reasonably priced Allsky Camera.

The hardware required for this project comprises a Raspberry Pi or the Raspberry Pi camera with HQ and one of the specially-designed planetarium cameras manufactured by ZWO. To indeed “all-sky,” the camera should have an eye-catching fish-eye lens with 180 degrees of field of view. Since my house has trees surrounding it, I chose lenses with a smaller (120-degree) range of perspectives. A more modern Raspberry Pi 4 is suggested. However, I decided to use a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B since I already had it. I agreed to go to the US 60$ Raspberry Pi camera instead of the ZWO camera since it had more excellent resolution.

To keep this equipment safe against the weather, I put the Pi camera and an appropriate wall wart to power the Pi within an inexpensive, waterproof enclosure. The opening I made to accommodate the camera lens was covered with a clear acrylic dome for $16. This dome initial dome I bought was distorted, but I could purchase a better alternative. I also bought an inexpensive case of my Raspberry Pi (one that came with an air conditioner) as well as an extension cord that was long that was cut and then connected with an insulated bulkhead connector. This allows me to keep the device outside even during rainy days.

Following the guidance in an adorable tutorial video, I found it straightforward to set up the Allsky Camera software on my Pi, running it in a “headless” configuration without a monitor or keyboard. I connect wirelessly to it from my laptop via the local network via SSH.

The path of a meteor through the atmosphere could provide clues as to the position of any area that remains and can reveal the course of the body that is the source of the meteor within the solar system. This path can be determined by looking at images of the meteor’s trail captured with two cameras. The position of a glowing course of stars in the background in the picture is known as a plane, and the crossing of two planes determines the direction of travel. JAMES PROVOSTI powered everything up, but the camera wouldn’t function for any reason. So I went to the appropriate troubleshooting section within the project’s abundant documentation and attempted what was recommended there: to activate “Glamor” graphic acceleration on the Pi. There were no images, however. In the end, I found some modifications to the configuration file, which are required for the HQ camera of the Pi 3B, which allowed me to get a blurry picture of the ceiling in my office.

Through trial and trial, to achieve that, the autofocus on the camera is set correctly. As time passed, I learned to alter the plethora of options available within Allsky Camera. Allsky Camera software can be done by changing a settings file or, in a more convenient way, using the web interface that this program offers.

For instance, I was taught that I needed to reduce the resolution of images used in time-lapse videos to avoid having ideas saved at the quality of the native resolution camera (4,056 by 3,040 pixels), overpowering the processing and storage on my Pi. This required adjusting an existing configuration file; the other settings are altered through the Web interface. It allows users to see real-time images, browse through photos previously taken, and save and view time-lapse videos.

 This time-lapse video captures the night sky, changing to a rosy-fingered sunrise as recorded by this all-sky camera. SPECTRUM STAFF

I needed clarification on how well such a camera would work to catch meteors flashing by, given that the camera takes still images, not many-frames-per-second videos. My concerns were lessened after I captured images of the night sky above my home, a portion of which showed the aircraft’s lights passing by. The long lines of light in those photos indicated that the time of exposure is at a minimum of 10 seconds in length. I was sure that these trails were not meteors but aircraft trails because the streaks had parallel tracks (from light sources on the wingtips) and apparent pulsations from the strobes.

I’m hoping to catch meteors one day using this device. In that case, I could visit the mountains for camping during mid-August, when Perseids have been at their highest point. My family and I went on a similar trip a few years ago; however, I didn’t have an all-sky camera back then. Therefore, I returned home with just a few memories of nature’s fantastic display over our heads. The next time I’ll be able to see something that I can look at repeatedly!



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