Available... now!

If you use any kind of automation in your image acquisition, you have already enjoyed its benefits in terms of exposure times. You probably have some kind of cloud monitor and automation software, and after setting everything up and checking it's running fine, you enjoy going to sleep.

But... what happens if the computer (probably running Windows) freezes? Or if the power fails? And what about the automation or image acquisition program getting stuck?

This recently happened to me (again) and, after a well deserved sleep, I found the observatory open and the CCD camera hitting the pier, and the mount controller displaying a message "Press any key to reverse..."

The only true solution to be able to sleep, is to have something supervising the observatory from outside, and waking you up in case of problems.

For quick download links, just click here

To check the new beta program, follow this link!

How about a smartphone?

With these elements, we have devised a system so you can go to sleep with confidence, the GNS ...

Good Night System

Let's see how it works:

First of all, there's a small PC software program to be installed in your observatory control computer; this program knows nothing about astronomy, ASCOM, CCDs, etc., think of it as a dumb assistant. It will just count down, and tell the smartphone app how things are going.

From our CCD control program, or automation software, or whatever we are using, we'll keep the PC software up to date of how things are going, allotting time for each task. This is automatically done by CCD AutoPilot 5, Sequence Generator Pro, and Maxpilote; other programs require the user to work a little bit (detailed instructions for integration with CCDCommander and ACP are included in the user's manual.

Something like this:
  • (start of session)
  • update GNS PC, with message "Starting up", and a timeout of 300 secs.
  • rest of initial tasks, such as open dome or roof, cool the CCD, etc.
  • (imaging begins)
  • update GNS PC, with message "imaging IC1396", timeout 10800 secs (3 hours)
  • slew, plate solve, re-slew, focus... take images
  • (end of session)
  • update GNS PC, with message "shutting down", timeout 150 secs
  • park mount, close roof, warm up CCD...
  • update GNS PC, everything finished correctly

... this is a very simple approach; you can go in any detail, updating the GNS for each image, for instance. You just have to calculate how much time each task should at most take, so if it exceeds that time, then something went wrong.

No need to nail down the time for each task - leave a comfortable margin, a few minutes won't hurt.

When the session is started and you go home, or disconnect from the remote PC session, you launch the GNS smartphone application. It will connect to the PC, update the status, and keep polling it until shut down. It will then either stop gracefully after the session finishes, or wake you up if:

a timeout is not met: covering problems where the PC is alive and well, but some of the astronomy software is not running, preventing the session to continue.

the communication with the observatory PC is lost for a user selectable number of seconds: this covers Windows problems, physical computer problems, network down, power failures...

the PC program sends an "immediate alarm": you may choose to be waken up if the observatory refuses to close, or after too many guiding failures, or detection of clouds...

- there's even a watchdog monitoring the whole process: if, for any reason, updates are not received during the watchdog period, an alarm will fire.

Provided the smartphone is powered (it won't sleep while GNS is running), you can really be confident everything is running. The worst things that can happen are:

- you're waked up by a wrong alarm (the network fails, but everything in the observatory is ok; or maybe you miscalculated a timeout).

- you're waked up by a true alarm but a bit late because you programmed a long timeout (like the IC1396 one in the example), and the automation software hung very soon after that. The PC is running fine, mind you, else a "communications down" alarm would fire. This can be solved going into finer detail (shorter timeouts) and should not harm in any case. 

... even in these worst cases your equipment will be as protected as it has ever been

Some more actual screens:


What kind of smartphones does it run on?

It is initially available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and also for Android phones and relatives. We'll migrate to other devices (Windows based, Blackberry...) if requested loudly enough.

How about tablets?

Well, it will run I guess (confirmed for Apple's iPad; most surely for Android ones), but will probably look a bit ugly. We'll look after that at some point.

Does it send SMS, emails, or what?

No SMS, they are not reliable enough; no emails either. Both systems, apart from unreliable, need the observatory PC up and running. The GNS uses sockets (TCP/IP) to communicate with the observatory computer.

We suggest to put the phone in "airplane" mode to avoid receiving calls or unwelcome SMSs.

- Is a free version available?

Yes, there's a free version whose purpose is to let you check if everything runs smooth. It will run for 30 minutes before timing out, and the watchdog will not be operative (it is used for the 30 minutes timeout, actually!).

-Is it expensive?

I don't think so; it is not as cheap as a the typical smartphone game app, as the market is not, by far, as big, but for about 20€ / 24$, you'll add a nice layer of protection to your astroimaging.

Can I purchase it now?

Yes - for all currently available platforms, see links.

The Windows program and the user's manual are also available.

Is there a beta test program?

Update 16 Oct 2015: new beta program, check here.

Why do you want to keep the PC module so dumb?

The key is to keep it simple, so we get rid of (most) problems. It must be reliable. If it were to check the mount position via ASCOM, many other elements and more complexity will make it more prone to fail, hang, or misbehave. This said, we could develop some "satellite" programs for integration with 3rd party devices or software, but then they will run apart from the main GNS module, just updating it in case of need.

Will it work with my current software?

Thanks to the efforts of their authors, it has native support in MaxpiloteCCDAutoPilot and Sequence Generator PRO:  for these programs your only work will be to check the relevant option!

By design, it works "out of the box" with CCDCommander, and with ACP

From MaximDL it can be partially used from the "autosave" sessions. 

From the AAG CloudWatcher software it is possible to launch a script in case of changes in the "safe" status - these can be used to update the GNS, too.

Please let us know if you'd like your favourite software working with the GNS - and it is not listed here.

Why is this limited to astronomy? I see uses in my IT job.

Well, it is not limited. Being an avid astronomer, I came up with this idea, but then I realized how useful it would have been in my past career as sysadmin. Contact us and we'll happily help you put it to work in other fields.

Download links:

iPhone, iPad and iPod touch Free app

iPhone, iPad and iPod touch app        
  Android Free version                          

Android 2.1+ app                                 

 User Manual 

Windows free software  

Update for SGPro users 


Version history:

May 23 2013: Initial release

Oct 23 2013: some improvements for CCDAutoPilot better integration, fixed a small problem with long messages leftovers. Apps v 1.1, Windows v.

Jan 9 2014: licensing policy changed, Apps version 1.2

Jun 29, 2014: small update, longer messages in the Apps, some features for Sequence Generator Pro. Apps version 1.3

Jun 22, 2015: updated for longer messages in the PC window, also support for local (PC) log files. Windows version

Oct 16, 2015: new beta program.

Smartphone apps and permissions

Lunatico's smartphone apps (GNSGNSFree, and the new Dragonfly app) do not require nor use any sensitive data or permission. None at all.
If the app requests unexpected permisions on installation, this is caused by the tool used to develop them (GNS-family apps), but in no case are these permissions used. Also future versions will have this fixed.
Not only that, but:
       * the apps will only use your Smartphone storage to save its own settings
        * they won't access your calls, contacts, identity... nothing at all
        * the only data they'll know about you is what you configure in the settings
        * ... and even that won't be shared with anyone. Ever.