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ASTAP, the Astrometric STAcking Program, plate solver and FITS viewer


Download:

For MS Windows 64 bit:
For Linux 64 bit:
If you need 32 bit version, send me a request.

Additional:

Youtube:

Questions, feedback to the ASTAP Forum   Older versions:  ASTAP MS Windows, v0.9.29   ASTAP Linux v0.9.29 debian installer dated 2018-4-18

Index:




ASTAP introduction

ASTAP is a free stacking and plate solver program for deep sky images. This program can view and stack astronomical FITS images using an astrometric solution or star alignment. For the astrometric solution it can use either the internal solver or a local version of Astrometry.net The internal routine compares the star positions to align.

Main features:

  1. Stacking images including Dark Frame and Flat Field correction
  2. Native Plate Solver, command line compatible with PlateSolve2.
  3. Filtering of deep sky images based on HFD value and average value.
  4. Alignment using an internal star match routine,  internal Plate Solver or a call to a local version of Astrometry.net.
  5. FITS viewer with swipe functionality.
  6. Results can be saved to 16 bit or float (-32) FITS file.
  7. Export to 16 or 32 bit integer TIFF files for best preservation or  simple 8 bit PNG, BMP or JPEG.
  8. Mosaic building covering large areas using the astrometric linear solution WCS or WCS+SIP polynomial. 
  9. Background equalizing.
  10. FITS crop function.
  11. FITS header edit.
  12. Some pixel math functions and digital development process
  13. Available for 64 bit MS-Windows and Linux
This is a screen short of the stack menu. It contains several tabs for the file list and settings. File can be sorted on quality and values. Image can be visually inspected in the viwer by a double click on the file or using the popup menu.


Program requires FITS images as input, but it can also process PNG, TIFF or BMP files but only in 8 bit resolution. No import facility for DSLR raw files.



ASTAP is not:
A post processing software with advanced options like noise reduction and unsharp mask. It is only intended for convenient stacking of astronomical deep sky images.

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Program installation:

MS-Windows:

The installer will install it at c:\Program Files\astap . The single executable astap.exe can be used anywhere. 

Program works best using the internal alignment routine. Only for mosaics a plate solver should be installed

Linux installation:

The program is provide as an debian archive astap_amd64.deb which can be installed with the default installer.  Executable will be placed in /opt/astap

Program works well using the internal alignment routine. Only for mosaics a plate solver should be installed


Program operation:

Start the ASTAP program. (In MS-Windows astap.exe, in Linux astap)

Call up the stack window using the Σ button. Select the images, dark, flats, flat darks (bias)

Select the stacking method, average or sigma-clip-average.

For OSC camera images  select "Convert OSC images to colour". Select the correct Bayer pattern (4 options). Test the required pattern first in the viewer with a single image. The source images should be raw (gray)  without colour produced by  astronomical camera's.

Press the stack button.

Save result as FITS  ( IEEE float (-32) or 16 bit format), or export as 16 bit stretched, 16 bit or 32 bit TIFF.  The stretched export folllows the gamma and stretch setting of the display.



All the program settings and file selections will be save by leaving the program or click on the stack button.

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Mosaic building

This is possible with the internal Plate solver or local version of Astrometry.net. The reference of each pixel is the astronomical position. So stacking is not done against a reference image but against an position array set by the first image. If the oversize is set from the default 100 pixels to a  large value lets say 2000 pixels, the array is on all sides 2000 pixels larger then  the first image.  If the first image is 2000x1500 pixels, the stacking array will be 6000 x 5500 pixels large. So any following image will be placed in this 6000x5500 pixel array.  If the images are taken from different areas of the sky, the stacking will result in a mosaic as long the proceeding images are within this 6000x5500 pixels.


Here a suggested work method:
  1. Stacked method sigma-mean using the local Astrometry.net for solving. (option --downsampling 2)
  2. Mosaic option ON, oversize 2500 pixels. (The orginal tile images are 2328x1760 pixels)
  3. Crop the stacked result to about 5000x5000 pixels. 
  4. If required, applie the median-equalising filter under tab Pixel Math to equalise darker areas.
  5. Applied DDP (digital development process) under Pixel Math to strech the mosaic.
  6. Adjusted range and save as JPEG, 90% quality.
Here an example mosaic x 4 of M31 made with ASTAP:





Here an example of a mosaic build of DSS images:

The size can be reduced by a crop function (right mouse button) later. Making the oversize too large could result in memory overload.

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The stack menu:



Several objects can be stacked in one run. If classify-by-object is check marked, the program will stack all objects and save the results using the available darks and flats. If the classify-by-filter is check marked, the stack routine will combine the available filters to a RGB image. If only Red + Green +Blue image are available they will be combined in a RGB image. If Luminance images are available it will first stack the RGB colors and then apply a Gaussian blur on the RGB result. Finally the luminance image is coloured with the RGB result. The Gaussian value should be set somewhere between 0.5 and 1.5. The Gaussian blur is applied to remove noise in the RGB image. A minor blur will not be noticed but improves the signal to noise value of the final image.

Normally it is better to stack in two steps. First prepare the Red, Green, Blue and Luminance stacks. The run a stack again with the 
Red, Green, Blue and optional Luminance images. It is also possible to stack a colour image with an H-Alpha image.

Image file names containing "_stacked" will be by default un-checked to prevent they are reused
.

Images placed in the first tab will be organised based in the keyword
IMAGETYP. So assoon you click on the analyse button, dark and flats and flat darks/bias images will be move to the corresponding tab.

Pop-up menu has option to update a keyword of multiple files if required.



Results tab.

The stack results are reported in the results tab. By a double click they can be viewed the viewer. The number of files and exposure times are given. With the pop-up menu it is possible to copy the image file path to the clipboard for use in a file explorer.
 


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Master flat:         Typical setting 2x2 mean
Darks filter:         Typical setting apply Gaussian blur of 3.0 below sigma 5.0. No restore of outliers/hot pixels.
Stacked image:    Best option is "Sigma clip average". For only 2 or 3 images or when you are in a hurry "average"will do.
Convert OSC:     For one shot color cameras as QHY8. Set bayer pattern such that colors match in viewer.
Oversize: This could be 0, 100 or much larger for mosaic's   If  you want to  make a 2x2 mosaic, the overlap should at least the width of  the images.

The setting will be save if your either exit program or start a stack.

There are test button for dark and mean filter. They will be aplied on the image in the viewer.

Typical cold CMOS master dark:

Application of Gaussian blur under sigma 5:

Gaussian blur under sigma 5 and hot pixel removed:



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The alignment menu:

For alignment there are three options, internal star alignment,  native plate solver or a local version of Astrometry.net. For mosaic building you have to use the Plate Solver of Astrometry.net.


 Internal star alignment



This internal star matching alignment is the best and fastest option to stack images. It is not suitable for mosaics. No settings, fully automatics alignment for shift in x, y, flipped or any rotation using the stars in the image. It will work for images of different size/camera's with some limitations.

The program combines four close stars into a triangular pyramid ( and compares the six triangular pyramid dimensions with triangular pyramids of the first/reference image. It selects at least the six best matches and uses the centre position of the triangular pyramids in a least square fitting routine for alignment. 

There is only two settings relevant but normally you don't have to change them.

The following image shows the triangular pyramids used in an astronomical image:


Background info: A triangular pyramid (or tetrahedron) drawn from 4 star positions has six edges. The five shortest edges are divided by the longest side to scale them independent of the image scale.  The final triangular pyramid definition is then the scaled length of the five edges, the centre mean position and the pixel length of the longest edge. For pyramid matching the scaled five edges are used. There scaled lengths will be independent on the image scaling. This will give a number of pyramid matches. From the matching pyramids list,  the not scaled sixth edge is used to calculate the mean and standard deviation and outliers of more then 3 * sigma are removed. (three times the standard deviation). From the remaining list of pyramids, the central mean positions are used for LSQ fitting in two dimensions
.

For each star, the pyramid is constructed from the nearest stars. Some edges could overlap. Duplicates are removed. Duplicates could occur from four close but lonely stars. The pyramid selection can be demonstrated by the "draw pyramids"button in the alignment tab. You could reduce the number of pyramids drawn by the setting"maximum number stars used".



Astrometric alignment.
 
   Internal astrometric solver (plate solver). The works with the same four star pyramids as for the Star alignment option. The pyramids are compared with the U16 star database (to be installed in the program directory). It has the following settings:


At the moment the astrometry.net solver has the best sub-pixel accuracy. Use this one for mosaics.

For those are interested:  
Background info, how does the ASTAP plate solving works internally

Astrometry.net local solver:

   Some guidelines for astrometric stacking using astrometry.net:


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Pixel math.

 Several options including background equalising.



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Additional functionality:


Viewer:
The viewer has a preview function. After opening select Preview FITS files. The preview is displayed in the ASTAP viewer. The current zoom and position is maintained so you could study the corner of a series images on image quality.

The file open menu with preview selected:


ASTAP viewer screen shot:



If the image is solved it is possible to plot an deep sky overlay. See pull-down menu TOOLS:




Inspection on pixel level:


Conversion:

With the batch routine several FITS image can be "plate solved".   Raw images of OSC (color) sensors using a Bayer matrix can be coverted to color.


 
Command line options:

ASTAP can imitate PlateSolve2 and add the plate solution to the FITS header. Also PNG, JPEG, TIF, BMP files can be plate solved if an estimate of the center position is given. See  Usage as plate solver and command line options:.


There is a big variation in FITS file keywords and usage. If your FITS file is not read, please send me the file for testing.



Text entry option:

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CCD inspector

ASTAP has a CCD inspector under tools for median HFD value and Tilt measurement.  This will quickly show any focus problem in the corners:. The squares are 5 times the HFD value. 




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Background equalization tool:




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Local equalise tool:


Where to find:   pop-up menu of the viewer.

Objective: To removes local darker areas/ spots in a stacked image.

Usage: Select the area while holding the right mouse button down. Select the local equalising option. Darker areas will be partly leveled to the mean back ground value. Apply a few times.

Remarks:  No CTRL-Z functionality available. Save your image before applying.

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Usage as plate solver and command line options:

For images in the viewer:

The simplest way to solve an image is just to load an image in the viewer and hit the solve button. Some settings are available in the ∑  menu under tab alignment. 

The solution will be added to the fits header and center of the image will be displayed in the log ∑  menu. Click on the save button to save the FITS file with the solution. With the solution, the status bar will show the astronomical position of the mouse pointer.

Command line, ASTAP style

The program can be executed using command line options to plate solve images. E.g.  ASTAP -f  home/test/2.fits   -M  10  -m 15  -r 999 

The program will accept FITS files, JPG, PNG, BMP or TIF files.


ASTAP plate solver command line The RA,DEC, EXP options are intended for none FITS files.
Not required for FITS files having the values in the header.
command
parameter unit remarks
-h help info
-help help info
-f file_name
-M start_magnitude For a 10 seconds exposure
-m limiting_magnitude For a 10 seconds exposure
-fov field of view for image degrees No need to be accurate
-r Radius search field degrees Could be set at 5 or 10 degrees.
-ra center_right_ascension degrees
-dec center_declination degrees
-exp exposure_time_image seconds
-update update the fits header with the found solution
-annotateproduce a deep sky annotated jpg fileSame name as input file extended with _annotated
        

Preference will be given to the keyword values in the FITS header.


The program produces both a .wcs file containing  the solved FITS header only and an INI file using the standard FITS keywords.

Example of the INI output file:

PLTSOLVD=T                                     // T=true, F=false
CRPIX1= 1.1645000000000000E+003               
// X of reference pixel
CRPIX2= 8.8050000000000000E+002                // Y of reference pixel  
CRVAL1= 1.5463033992314939E+002                // RA of reference pixel (deg)                   

CRVAL2= 2.2039358425145043E+001                // DEC of reference pixel (deg)                   
CDELT1=-7.4798001762187193E-004                // X pixel size (deg)
CDELT2= 7.4845252983311850E-004                // Y pixel size (deg)
CROTA1=-1.1668387329628058E+000                // Image twist of X axis        (deg)
CROTA2=-1.1900321176194073E+000                // Image twist of Y axis        (deg)                
CD1_1=-7.4781868711882519E-004                 // CD matrix to convert (x,y) to (Ra, Dec)  
CD1_2= 1.5241315209850368E-005                
// CD matrix to convert (x,y) to (Ra, Dec)                                   
CD2_1= 1.5534412042060001E-005                 
// CD matrix to convert (x,y) to (Ra, Dec)             
CD2_2= 7.4829732842251226E-004
                // CD matrix to convert (x,y) to (Ra, Dec)

If ASTAP is command-line executed in MS-Windows it will be shown by a small ASTAP tray icon on the right side of the status bar. If you move the mouse to the ASTAP tray icon, the hint will show the search radius reached. To refresh the value move the mouse away and back.

Command line, usage as PlateSolve2 substitute:

Rename the ASTAP.EXE program as Platesolve2.exe and call it instead of PlateSolve2. The solution will be written to a  file with an extension APM at the same location as to original file. In the ∑  alignment tab you could set a conversion to FITS & binning to reduce the dimensions of the resulting file. Reducing dimensions is required to allow speedy display in a planetarium program such as HNSKY.

Example for APT:

Rename or copy astap.exe to platesolve2.exe. Then select in APT, pointcraft, settings the directory where this surrogate platesolve2.exe (=astap.exe) is located.

Note that APT saves the pointcraft image to solve to: .... TemporaryStorage\ImageToSolve.jpg

Set in HNSKY the FITS path to .... TemporaryStorage\ImageToSolve.jpg (This is the location where APT saves the pointcraft image to solve to)
After solving, either refresh HNSKY with space bar or move to map to the object or open the FITS file in the file menu.

  1. ASTAP loads the image specified  in the command line. (from APT)
  2. ASTAP solves the image.
  3. The solution is written to the APM file. APT will read it.
  4. If set in the ∑  alignment menu, the JPG is saved as FITS with binning as specified. The FITS file will also contains the solution and could be displayed in a planetarium program. Binning should be set such that the file dimension are near 300 or 400 pixels wide/height for speedy display in a planetarium program.

Example for SGP, Sequence Generator Pro:
For SGP, PlateSolve.exe is located at C:\Users\you\AppData\Local\SequenceGenerator\
  1. Rename Platesolve2.exe to something like PlateSolve2.exeorginal
  2. Place ASTAP.exe at the same directory together with th U16 database.
  3. Rename ASTAP.exe to Platesolve2.exe

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Installation of the external Astrometry.net plate solver:

MS-Windows:

Install a local copy of Astrometry.net (via ANSVR  or  Astrotortilla)   as the astrometric solver. Or alternatively if you have Win10, 64 bit Creation edition you use the new Linux sub-system


ANSVR: The ANSVR link contains a newer compilation of astrometry.net made for SGP. It runs as a Linux program under Cygwin in MSWindows. Follow up to installation step 9. The link you have to put in ASTAP is as follows:

C:\Users\user_name\AppData\Local\cygwin_ansvr\bin\bash.exe

Adapt "user_name" to the login name used in Windows.

The server program ANSVR is not required. Remove the ANSVR shortcut in the startup menu. Location:

C:\Users\user_name\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup


Alternative Linux sub-system in Win10 64bit Creators edition

Path for the astrometry.net solver program
ANSVR installation:
    C:\Users\user_name\AppData\Local\cygwin_ansvr\bin\bash.exe
Astrotortilla installation:
    C:\cygwin\bin\bash.exe
Win10 subsystem:
    C:\Windows\System32\bash.exe


Linux installation:
The single executable astap could be used anywhere. Standard directory could be c:/opt/astap but also at your home folder.

You need either a local copy of astrometry.net of Wine & PlateSolve2 

Installation of astrometry.net is described at installation. To get the source: sudo apt-get install libcairo2-dev libnetpbm10-dev netpbm libpng-dev libjpeg-dev python-numpy python-pyfits python-dev zlib1g-dev libbz2-dev swig libcfitsio-dev

Path to the astrometry.net solver program "solve-field" could be:

/usr/bin/
or
/usr/local/astrometry/bin

For PlateSolve2, install Wine first. Then extract PlateSolve2 at $HOME/.wine/drive_c/PlateSolve2.28   The separate star database UCAC3 could be extracted at $HOME/.wine/drive_c/PlateSolve2.28/UCAC3PS.  
PlateSolve2 requires the msvbvm60.dll to run. Try to find a copy and place it in $HOME/.wine/drive_c/PlateSolve2.28 or alternatively install winetricks vb6run
Run PlateSolve2 in Wine and set in menu FileConfigure Catalog Directories the path to the UCAC3 star catalog.  


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Send a message if you like this free program. Feel free to distribute !

Succes,  Han  K


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