Building an Allsky Camera

Thomas is a YuKonstruct member who loves looking up at the night sky. You might remember his previous post on building a telescope from scratch. Recently, the Klondike Visitors Association purchased one of the allsky cameras he developed and had it installed in Dawson City. It is the first camera in the Yukon Astronomical Society’s future Yukon Allsky Camera Network!

Like a lot of people, I love watching and taking photographs of the northern lights. I always have a hard time getting back in the house and going to bed because I feel that I’m missing out on a great show. “What if there is a geomagnetic storm in the next 15 minutes?” Still, I can’t spend every night outside in the cold. On top of that, I have a day job that requires me to have at least one eye open during 8 hours.

In order to keep my sleep pattern happy and reduce my fear of missing out on the activity above my house, I decided to build a camera that would make a short movie of the entire sky and send it to my website in the morning so that I could watch how active the aurora had been during the night.

 

Northern lights are large colorful curtains of light stretching across the sky. It’s quite hard to fit them in the frame of a single photograph. Some people stitch multiple pictures or use wide angle lenses in order to capture the whole show. But individual pictures don’t show the way the aurora borealis flows, unrolls, dims and pulsates. Taking a serie of images and making a timelapse video was the only reasonable way for me to capture the whole information.

In order to build such a camera, I decided to use an astronomy camera (ASI224MC). It has a USB connection and is extremely sensitive to low light. I slapped a fisheye lens (180 degrees) on it to view the entire sky. My first thought was to place the camera outside and run a cable to the house computer through a window. I quickly realized it wouldn’t be very practical and it would anger my roommates to pay a huge electrical bill if I left the window open for the entire winter season. Instead, I decided to bring the computer outside. A Raspberry Pi was perfect for the job. It is small but it’s still a computer with enough power. I created an enclosure from a 4” ABS sewer pipe and ran an extension cord to it. That was it for the prototype. I had just built an “all-sky wireless camera”.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The software part was probably the most time consuming. First, I had to re-learn C++ in order to modify the example code that was provided with the software development kit of the camera manufacturer. Then I had to find a way to stitch all the thousand images from the previous night into a short video. Then I had to automate this video generation, archiving and uploading. After some trials and a few fails, I ended up with a fully automated camera that posted a new video everyday based on the time of sunrise and sunset. The only downtime was caused by construction workers cutting the fibre cable down south or the occasional critter frying itself on an ATCO transformer.

In the end, since I wanted to share that project, I posted an Instructable on how to build your own wireless allsky camera. The popularity of the post lead me to share the whole code on GitHub with an very permissive open source license.

Since then, a lot a people across the world have built their own allsky camera based on my design. Recently, the Klondike Visitors Association in Dawson City purchase the first camera produced by the Yukon Astronomical Society.

Coding for Artists

Want to use code for animation, visual design, audio, or any other medium? This is the place to start. This introduction to programming for the artistically-inclined will give artists and designers the tools to begin incorporating interactive or generative elements into their practice.The workshop is designed to get participants comfortable enough with programming to start exploring a broad range of topics on their own.

Participants will need to bring their own laptop or request one by emailing info@yukonstruct.com ahead of time. Before the workshop, please download the latest version of Processing from processing.org and complete the Getting Started tutorial, to ensure Processing runs properly on your machine (https://processing.org/tutorials/gettingstarted/).

About the instructor: Edward Keeble is a software developer and artist who once upon a time built interactive installations for companies like Canon, Honda, Chrysler, AT&T and others. He now writes code for a tech startup and builds weird blinky things in his spare time.

Cost: $60
Min 3, Max 4 participants

Canada Learning Code

Canada Learning Code is coming all the way to Whitehorse to learn about some of Canada’s iconic species at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. They want to hear the sounds they make and how we can work together to protect them!
Code an animal soundscape together with Canada Learning Code and YuKonstruct, and then participate in guided observation and experiential games as we learn more about the Boreal Woodland Caribou.
This FREE  event is aimed at kids aged 8 to 13 years old who want to learn to code in a fun way, right in the middle of the action. Please register so we can save a laptop for you.
Not in that age group but still interested? Please send an email to adria@yukonstruct.com and we’ll fit you in if there’s space!
**Transportation will be included to and from the Wildlife Preserve so please meet at YuKonstruct at 135 Industrial Road for the pickup and drop off.

CONTACT US

NORTHLIGHT INNOVATION
  2180, 2nd Avenue, Whitehorse
  (867) 457-0150
  info@yukonstruct.com

HOURS OF OPERATION
NorthLight Innovation
Mon – Fri: 9am to 5pm
Makespace
Wed – Sun: 1pm to 9pm
Cospace
Mon – Fri: 9am – 5pm

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