Superior stargazing with the PiFinder

The PiFinder is a Raspberry Pi-based open source project for the amateur astronomy community, created by Richard Sutherland.

It’s an all-in-one device that mounts on any telescope and uses a Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera to take photos of the night sky. The PiFinder figures out where a telescope is pointing to help observers find and view astronomical objects. A Raspberry Pi 4 takes care of image processing and logging, with the help of onboard GPS.

The self-contained design means you don’t need to fiddle around with laptops or tablets to read information gathered by separate sky-gazing photography rigs.

Community members have already built over a dozen units as part of the initial design testing. Richard hopes to produce PiFinder build kits so enthusiasts can make their own, as well as fully assembled units for stargazers who want to skip the DIY. He also has ideas for creating an even more compact version using Raspberry Pi Compute Module in the future. I suggest he trademarks ‘Pocket PiFinder’ now.

Golden State Star Party

Richard took the PiFinder to the spectacularly named Golden State Star Party last week. It’s a multi-night gathering of hundreds of amateur astronomy enthusiasts on a cattle farm somewhere in the wilds of California. Several attendees saw the PiFinder in action and committed to purchasing either a DIY build kit or a fully assembled unit for themselves, and even more people lapped up PiFinder stickers. (Nice to see that sticker hauls are also a priority among the astronomy convention-going crowd.)

Backlit keypad helps with night-time use

Grab the GitHub files to print your own PiFinder case and see where to order PCBs, or buy pre-assembled kits on PiFinder.io.

The Star Party PiFinders spent over 32 hours observing the sky over the course of three nights. They captured and processed over 115,000 images of the sky to determine telescope position. At least 65 objects were located in the sky, although Richard disappointingly reported zero cow sightings, despite the event’s cattle farm location: “I guess all the people and telescopes made them shy.”

6 comments

Jimbards avatar

The issue with this is, from an astrophotographers POV, as any attached capture devices mounted on your scope, if it isn’t perfectly aligned with the telescope, will be very misleading, especially for the inexperienced. Why would I buy a computer to do SPECIFICALLY what my go-to mount and plate solving can do???

Leonne avatar

I guess Jimbards that it applies to larger telescopes that have no go-to functionalities. A huge dobsonian perhaps?

Olli Rita avatar

That’s kind of narrow “POV”, my 1970’s 12″ Dob did not come with, nor does it have any electronics except a lens heater, and I’ve taken plenty of photographs with the old girl, they were not the digital type either, mostly black and white that we developed ourselves, but that’s another story in itself.

Tony Abbey avatar

This is a great project. I have many non goto scopes such as a Dobsonian and a Meade LX10. Star hopping can be very tedious, especially in a light polluted sky. Goto scopes can be tedious to set up. So this project is a total fix. I would like to experiment first with an RPi400 so need to use a USB connected camera.

Ashley Whittaker avatar

A 400 strapped to the side of a massive telescope would look AWESOME.

Dougal Tolan avatar

What camera API did you use?
Ive been wrestling with raspistill and libcamera, but neither seem willing to stop all automatic features.
With long exposure times and settings that are the same as last night and the night before, any pre capture frames are not welcome!

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