Trouble-shooting and Analysis

General Guide to Resolving Problems

The field experience with PHD2 since its initial release in 2013, involving thousands of users worldwide,  has shown that 99% of what people think of as "guiding problems" are not really that at all.  Instead, they usually come from two sources:
1) Operational errors made by the user
2)  Mechanical problems with the mount or the physical equipment riding on the mount

It's important to remember this when you encounter difficulties and can't get the results you want.  Operational mistakes can be avoided by carefully studying the documentation on the PHD2 web site (or in this built-in Help), following the steps described in the "Best Practices" document, and using the 'search' tools on the PHD2 support forum. YouTube videos, unless done by someone close to the PHD2 project, have wildly variable quality, often reflecting misunderstandings and sometimes producing a witches' brew of good and bad advice - so be careful what you watch.  One of the most common mistakes is to wildly change the PHD2 guiding parameters in a futile attempt to correct for mechanical problems that exist in your setup.  This only makes things worse. The default guiding parameters calculated by PHD2 reflect the parameters you entered in the new-profile-wizard, so they are already adjusted for your setup. You should be able to get reasonable results out-of-the-box if the equipment behaves and if you don't, you are probably dealing with operational mistakes or mechanical problems.  Although it is frustrating to be confronted with mechanical problems, it is important to isolate, identify, and understand them before trying to fix them or mitigate their effects.  Mechanical problems won't simply go away.  Even if they temporarily subside, they will inevitably come back to bite you.  And something that worked fine just last week or even last night may no longer work - that is the nature of hardware.

PHD2 or any guiding software is often the messenger of bad news because of the incredible level of accuracy required for guiding.  Modern guide cameras are capable of measuring movement on scales of just a few microns - as a comparison, a human hair is about 50 microns thick.  Until you have tried guiding, your equipment setup has probably never been tested or measured at this level of accuracy even by the manufacturers.  Beginners are often in denial about mechanical problems because the scope and mount apparently slew well enough, they seem to track the sky reasonably well, various planetarium applications can move them without complaint, and they look and feel well-made. Even worse, they were expensive!  But none of this matters when you're trying to get the full assembly of equipment to track the sky, hour after hour, horizon to horizon, with sub-arc-second accuracy.  Fortunately, most mechanical problems can be eliminated or reduced fairly easily or at least without great financial expense.  Most vendors are willing to help with the problems so long as they have been carefully documented and demonstrated - and PHD2 is an excellent tool for doing that.  For most people, the cost of eliminating problems comes from time spent doing trouble-shooting, lost imaging opportunities, and general frustration; but these problems are part of the hobby and most successful imagers have learned how to work through them.

If you're unfamiliar with the kinds of mechanical problems commonly found with telescope mounts, you can get a quick introduction here: Common Mount Problems    Also, many problems can arise from the way the imaging-related gear is attached to the main scope and mount - guide scopes, camera attachments, cable routing schemes, etc.  When these components sag, drag, or move around on their own, they create unwanted guide star movements that masquerade as tracking problems in the mount.  If you're unhappy with your overall guiding results, you should proceed in a careful and systematic way to identify the sources - flailing around in the dark is a recipe for failure.  Here is a quick blueprint for trouble-shooting:

1.  Be sure the parameters you entered in the new-profile-wizard were accurate - guide scope focal length, mount guide speed, and the camera pixel size if you had to enter it manually.  If you find mistakes, don't try to fix them manually - just re-run the new-profile-wizard.
2.  Be sure you have reliable camera operations that deliver consistent, reasonable-looking images of the sky.  If you have problems in this area, follow the procedures in the Camera Timeout and Connection Problems.
3.  Be sure the guide camera is well-focused and you aren't getting frequent lost-star messages when using 2-second guide camera exposures.  Tips for getting a good focus are discussed here:  Star Profile Tool .  If you're using imaging and guide cameras from the same manufacturere, be sure PHD2 is connected to the right one.
4. Get a reasonable mechanical polar alignment, one that is within about 10 arc-min of the celestial pole.  Doing this requires mechanical adjustments of your mount or wedge - you will be loosening fasteners and cranking knobs to get this done, it can't be done by software alone.  You can use a polar alignment scope, a high-powered eyepiece, another app that assists with polar alignment,  or one of the polar alignment tools in PHD2.  Great precision isn't required, "close enough" is "good enough".
5.  Concentrate on getting a usable calibration in PHD2, one that doesn't generate error messages or "alert" warnings.  If site conditions allow it, calibrate with the scope pointing in a declination range of -20 to +20 degrees and a right ascension (hour angle) that keeps the scope pointing well above the east and west horizons.   If you have visibility restrictions at your site, come as close as you can to the above goals.  If you get error messages (failed calibrations) or you see alert messages at the top of the display, follow the advice shown here: Calibration Problems.  It's important to get workable results in this step because the calibration is fundamental to all the guiding activity that will follow.
6.  Use the Guiding Assistant tool to examine how your mount tracks and behaves working on its own, without guiding.  Use the GA to measure the declination backlash and once the measurement session has finished, apply the recommendations you'll be given.  If you see  large, abrupt guide star excursions or other inexplicable results during the GA session, resolve those problems first.
7. Perform a series of 15-20 minute guiding sessions, still in the same region of the sky.  Do NOT modify any of the guiding parameters attempting to make things better.  
8.  Use the PHD2 LogViewer tool to analyze your results and develop a strategy for fixing the problems that have been revealed.  You can get help doing this on the PHD2 support forum.

Large/Abrupt Guide Star Deflections

Most users eventually encounter situations where the guide star appears to make a large, abrupt excursion away from the lock-point.  The great majority of these problems arise from neither the mount nor PHD2's guide commands.  Instead, they usually come from unwanted mechanical movement in the gear that is riding on top of the mount, especially the guide camera/guide scope assembly.  This is especially true if the large deflections occur in declination because the Dec motor is normally idle except for executing the very short, relatively infrequent guide commands it receives.  The unwanted mechanical movement usually comes from several sources:
  1. Tiny movements of the various components in the guiding assembly as a result of the changing gravitational forces while the mount tracks the target object
  2. Dragging, binding, or snagging of cables, especially those that are connected to the guide camera
  3. Wind gusts or less commonly, effects from camera filter changes, auto-focusing, or mirror movement
  4. Use of mount features for backlash compensation - these should not be used with PHD2 guiding
Before rejecting these things as likely sources of  problems, think again about the tiny measurement scales and tolerances described in the previous section.  With many guiding set-ups, a movement of only 5 microns can create an apparent tracking error (guide star deflection) of over 6 arc-sec, the equivalent of many star diameters. Every mechanical interface, every set-screw, every movable element has the potential to shift or move on its own by these tiny amounts.  Even when cables have been routed in a purposeful way, they may bind or pull in certain sky positions or after a meridian flip.  Cable ties or ribbed plastic cable guides hare small protrusions that can briefly catch on stationary parts of the mount.  For large Dec deflections, it's easy to determine if these things are coming into play.  Just use the PHDLogViewer tool to zoom in on the time of interest and see if the deflection was immediately preceded by a correspondingly large guide command in the direction of movement.  In most cases, you will find this didn't happen.  It can sometimes happen at the beginning of a guide session if you're using PHD2 Dec backlash compensation, but those events should disappear quickly.  If the abrupt deflections occur in RA, the analysis is less straightforward because the RA motor runs continuously.  But even then, unusually large, randomly space deflections are more likely to arise from the sorts of mechanical problems described here than from errors in the RA drive system.

Camera Timeout and Download Problems

In some cases, you may experience problems where guider images aren't downloaded or displayed.  In extreme cases, this may even cause PHD2 or other camera-related applications to be non-responsive (i.e. to "hang").  This is nearly always due to hardware, camera driver, or connectivity issues, with one of the most common culprits being a faulty USB cable or device.  It is highly unlikely to be caused by an application like PHD2, so you should begin your investigation at the lower levels of the system.

To help detect these problems and avoid “hangs”, PHD2 uses a camera timeout/retry mechanism.  This timeout value is set in the Camera tab of Advanced Settings and uses a default value of 15 seconds.  This means that PHD2 will wait up to 15 seconds after the expected completion of the exposure to receive the image from the camera.  This is a very generous amount of time and should work well for most cameras. When the timeout occurs, PHD2 will automatically disconnect the camera and try to re-connect.  An alert message at the top of the screen will advise you of the timeout event and whether the reconnection attempt was successful.  Regardless of whether the reconnection succeeded, you have a hardware problem of some kind that needs attention.

 Here is an approach you can use to reproduce and then identify the problem: 

  1. Make sure you are running the latest version of PHD2 – often a development version – and the latest versions of the camera drivers.  Some of the camera vendors issue frequent software changes that must be matched by corresponding changes in the software libraries used by PHD2.  When these updates aren’t backward compatible, you have no choice but to run the latest versions of everything.

  2. Confirm that the guide camera is basically functional - try using a short, direct cable from the camera to the computer and taking exposures with the native or test application that came with the camera.

  3. Repeat step 2 but use PHD2 as the application.  You can do this in the daytime by just connecting to the camera and looping 1-2 second exposures for a reasonably long time.  The PHD2 display will often be all-white in daytime operation, but as long as the looping continues with no error messages, things are going ok.  If you see problems in this step, it doesn’t mean it’s a PHD2 problem – it isn’t.  The difference is that PHD2 is using the camera in single-exposure mode whereas most other apps use it in video streaming mode.  The single-exposure mode involves more back-and-forth data traffic with the camera and can expose timing problems in the drivers.

  4. If you can’t trigger a failure in step 3, add the imaging camera into the mix.  Use your imaging application to loop exposures in parallel with what PHD2 is doing.  This will help expose traffic and bandwidth problems in the USB system.

  5. If no problems occur in step 4 over extended time periods, use the same USB cables and host computer that you were using when you first encountered problems.  If you’re already doing this, you need to consider other possibilities:

When you can replicate the timeout problem, the first place to look is the USB cable followed by the other USB components on your system.  Sources of USB-related problems include the following:

If you can’t isolate the problem at this point, there are a few other places to look:

a.      Throttle the USB usage limit of the imaging camera if possible – many of the drivers allow that.
b.     Bin the guiding camera unless that will result in an image scale greater than 6 arc-sec/px.
c.     Use sub-frames in PHD2 if the camera driver supports that.
d.  Don’t run other processor-intensive applications while imaging and don’t allow any of the planetarium applications to poll devices and other applications at high rates.

Calibration and Mount Control Problems

If you are just starting to use PHD2 or are connecting to new equipment for the first time, you may have trouble getting calibration done.  The best way to minimize this risk is to use the Calibration Assistant,  and beginners are strongly urged to do that. Calibration problems generally take one of two forms: 1) outright failures of the calibration because the mount didn't move far enough in RA and Declination or 2) cases where calibration completes but the results are suspect.  Both types of results are shown by Alert messages at the top of the PHD2 window.  For the situation where the calibration fails, there are, again, two likely reasons:
  1. Mount/connectivity problems or operational mistakes: These are the most common sources of the problem.  The best tools for trouble-shooting them are the 'Manual Guide' dialog or the Star-Cross test, both under the 'Tools' menu and described in the Tools section of this help document.  Simply use the directional controls in the 'Manual Guide' window to send commands directly to the mount while watching a star in the image display window.  Use fairly large guide pulse amounts - at least several seconds - so you can clearly see if the mount is moving.  Try to move the mount in all four directions and verify the target star is moving by roughly equal amounts.  If the mount does not respond, you know you have either hardware or connectivity problems to resolve - nothing to do with PHD2. Operationally, you cannot complete a calibration if you're pointing close to the celestial pole or if the mount isn't properly initialized, un-parked, and tracking at the sidereal rate.  If you're using a Shoestring device to connect to the mount, watch its indicator lights to see if the commands are reaching it.  Similarly, your ST-4 compatible guide camera may have indicator lights to show when guide commands are being received.  If you're using an ASCOM connection to the mount, be sure the COM port assignments are correct and you've selected the correct ASCOM mount driver for your equipment.  You can use some of the ASCOM-supplied tools like POTH to be sure the ASCOM driver is communicating correctly with the mount.  It is best to use the latest version of the ASCOM driver for your mount to insure pulse-guiding support is complete.
  2. Incorrect calibration step-size:  If you've used the new-profile wizard and have provided correct values for focal length, camera pixel-size, and mount guide speed, the "step-size" used in calibration should already be correct. You should confirm this, however, because beginners frequently enter incorrect values for these parameters.  If you've defined or modified your profile by hand (a bad idea) or have changed guide speed settings in the mount, you may need to adjust the 'calibration step-size' parameter in the 'Guiding' tab of Advanced Settings. The help content there describes how this parameter is used, and you should be able to resolve the problem quickly.  But if you've used the new profile wizard carefully and are seeing problems with too little or no guide star movement, the problem probably lies elsewhere.

Calibration Sanity-Checks and Alerts
It is also possible that the calibration process will complete but PHD2 will post a calibration alert message saying that some of the results are questionable. Again, the likelihood of getting these alerts will be minimized by using the Calibration Assistant (CA).  Even if alerts are triggered while using the CA, you will get a more specific explanation of what problems occurred during the calibration. In any case, the alert messages do not mean that the calibration failed or is unusable, but they are warning you that some of the results don't look quite right. Such a "sanity check" dialog will show an explanation of the issue and some details of the calibration results:

There are currently 4 things checked by PHD2 as part of calibration:
With any of these alerts, the relevant data field will be highlighted based on the type of message.  You can choose to ignore the warning ('Accept calibration'), re-run the calibration ('Discard calibration'), or restore your last good calibration ('Restore old calibration').  With the third option, you can defer calibration until later and start guiding with your last good calibration data.  If you see repeated alerts on the same topic and are convinced there really isn't a problem, you can use the 'don't show' checkbox to block future alerts of that type.  But you should be aware that the sanity-checking used by PHD2 works well for a wide range of equipment, and most users don't see these calibration alerts at all.

Declination Backlash
The most common source of calibration problems is declination backlash, which is present to some degree in most geared mounts.  Backlash can occur when the direction of motion on the axis is reversed. The telescope may not immediately start moving in the reverse direction, even though the motor is turning. The usual cause is loose meshing of the gears in the drive train. With many less-expensive mounts, it may take several seconds for the axis to start moving in the correct direction and this can lead to poor calibration and guiding results.  Consider the following example of a calibration review dialog:

The first clue to the problem is found by comparing the number of steps required for calibration on the two axes - 10 for RA but 42 for Dec.  This shows the mount was not moving consistently in declination, probably because the backlash had not been cleared.  This also explains the "wandering" behavior of the declination points (light green) when the guide commands were reversed from north to south. Finally, the computed declination rate is much smaller than the RA rate even though the guide speed settings on the two axes were identical.  In fact, this would have triggered a calibration alert dialog.  There are actually two problems to be addressed here.  First, the calibration result is poor and should be repeated in order to get a more accurate measure of the declination guide rate.  Second, the mount is likely to behave badly during direction reversals in declination even if the dec guide rate is correct.  The calibration can be improved by taking these steps:
Start looping guide camera exposures on a field with usable stars, preferably near Dec=0 and within 15 degrees of the celestial meridian
Using the hand-controller, move the mount north ('up' arrow) until you see the stars in the display moving
Start the calibration
Once this is done, most of the declination backlash in your mount should have been cleared and you will probably get better results from the calibration.  The underlying backlash problem generally requires some mechanical adjustment to the mount.  If the mount isn't using a guide speed close to 1x sidereal, you can probably get an immediate improvement by increasing the mount guide speed.  You can also try using a PHD2 backlash compensation setting, but this is not likely to work well if the backlash is large - more  than 3 seconds, for example.  If you can't correct the backlash or reduce it to manageable levels, you should consider choosing uni-directional guiding for declination. To do this, you determine which way the mount drifts due to polar alignment error and tell PHD2 to guide only in the opposite direction (see  Uni-directional guiding). This is controlled by the 'Dec guide mode' control on the'Algorithms' tab of the Advanced Settings dialog.  For example, if the mount tends to drift north overall, restrict guide commands to south-only. This is not an ideal solution, obviously, but you can still use reasonably long exposures and achieve good guiding results - many imagers choose to use this approach.   

Validating Basic Mount Control - the Star-Cross Test
If you are having repeated problems getting calibration to complete without alert messages, you should run a very simple test to see if the mount is responding to guide commands.  This test basically mimics what is done during calibration, but it is more direct and can give you a better feel for what's going on.  We'll call it the "star-cross" test.  The idea is to open the shutter on the main imaging camera, then send guide commands that should cause the stars in the field to trace out a distinctive cross pattern.  In other words, you want to get an image that looks something like this:

The angular orientation doesn't matter, that's just a function of how you have the guide camera rotated.  What is important is that the lines in the cross are perpendicular and have roughly equal lengths in each of the four directions relative to the starting point in the center.  If the image you get doesn't have this approximate appearance, guiding will either be impaired or perhaps impossible.  For example, consider the following poor result:

You can see the star has moved along only one axis  - only in right ascension in this example.  The declination guide commands sent to the mount did nothing at all.  Until this is fixed in the mount, you won't be able to guide in declination at all and will have to disable declination guiding to even complete a calibration.  There are  many other permutations of bad results, each suggesting a particular problem in the mount, the guide cable, or much less likely, the ASCOM driver for the mount.  You can safely assume it has nothing to do with PHD2.

Here are the steps for running the test manually:
  1. Set the mount guide speed to 1X sidereal.  Bring up the 'Manual Guide' tool in PHD2 and choose an initial value for 'Guide Pulse Duration' - start with, for example, 5 seconds.
  2. Start a 60 second exposure on the main camera.
  3. Send a 5-second pulse west, then two 5-second pulses east, then a final 5-second pulse west.  This should return the star to its approximate starting position.  You should wait about 5 seconds after sending each guide pulse to give the command time to complete before sending the next pulse.
  4. Now send a 5 second pulse north, then two 5-second pulses south, then a final 5-second pulse north.  This should again return the star to its starting position.
  5. Wait for the main camera image to download and see what you get.
You can use different pulse lengths if you want, perhaps using smaller values to confirm the mount will respond to them.  Just be sure the total exposure time on the main imaging camera is longer than the total  of guide durations plus a margin for error. On most mounts, the star will not return to its exact center because of some declination backlash - you can see that in the first example image.  But it should be fairly close or you'll need to look more carefully at how much declination backlash you have in the mount.  PHD2 also has a Star-cross Tool that will automate these steps for you.

One benefit to using this test is that it reduces things to the absolute basics: will the mount move as directed or not.  It has nothing to do with PHD2 guide settings because they aren't involved in the test.  You may find it helpful to use the test results to communicate with the mount manufacturer or other users who understand your type of mount and its typical  problems.

Measuring the Mount's Behavior
If you're having trouble getting decent guiding results, your first instinct will probably be to try making wild changes to the guiding parameters in the hope of finding a magic solution.  This almost never works, and you're more likely to just make things worse.  If the default parameters from the new-profile-wizard aren't producing reasonable results, the fault is probably with the hardware and you'll need to determine the underlying cause.  Once you understand the cause, you can probably improve your guiding results even if no actual repairs can be made - but understanding the underlying problem is important.  To understand what the mount is doing, perform the following steps:

1. Use the new-profile-wizard to create a new equipment profile for the test, being sure the guide scope focal length and camera pixel size are correct.  Don't guess at them, look them up if you aren't sure.
2. Use an ASCOM connection to the mount if one is available and set the mount guide speed to 0.5x - 1x sidereal.  Disable any backlash compensation you have in the mount.
3. Use 2-second exposures and let PHD2 auto-select a guide star near Dec=0 with the scope pointing at least 45 degrees above the east and west horizons to minimize seeing effects.
4. Run the Guiding Assistant for 10-15 minutes and apply whatever recommendations it makes, particularly with respect to min-move values.  Let it measure your declination backlash.  You may need to use a large tracking region to avoid losing the guide star during this part of the process - just be sure there aren't multiple stars in the tracking rectangle.  The backlash test will move the star a long distance north, so choose a guide star that is nearer the southern edge of your camera frame to give yourself plenty of room.
5. Watch how things are going during the GA session.  If you bump the mount or something really unusual happens, stop the test and then restart it.  The goal is to measure the performance when things are running normally.
6. Do not change any of the guide parameters beyond what is recommended by the Guiding Assistant.
7. Take a careful look at the results shown in the Guiding Assistant table.  Each entry in the table can tell you something useful about the mount's performance.  These results are also written to the guiding log, so they are available for later analysis.
8. If you got calibration alert messages in step 3, you should probably remedy those problems before proceeding.  Guiding with a bad calibration is not likely to produce good results.  Also, if your polar alignment error is 10 arc-min or more, you should improve on that and then repeat the above steps.
9. Let PHD2 guide for another 10-15 minutes, just letting it run as long as there aren't gross errors from wind or other "mistakes."  Do NOT change any of the guiding parameters while this is being done.

If you want to analyze the results yourself, use the PHDLogView tool and the tutorial on "Analyzing PHD2 Guiding Results".  You should also consult the document on PHD2 Best Practices.  All of these references are available on the web site under the 'News' tab.  If you'd like some help understanding the results, post both the guiding and debug log files on the OpenPHD2 Google forum and we'll be glad to help you out.

Lost-Star Events

When PHD2 can't locate the primary guide star in a camera frame, several things happen:
  1. The screen will flash and a "beep" tone will sound.  The sound can be disabled if you wish (Advanced Settings/Guide tab) but the screen will always flash
  2. No guide commands will be issued and the next guide camera exposure will be started
  3. Lost-star event messages will be sent to any imaging applications that are connected to PHD2
  4. Lost-star messages will be displayed in the status bar including the reason for the loss - low SNR, low HFD, low-mass, or mass-change
Lost-star events occur when the object in the search region no longer meets the criteria for identification as a star.  It may no longer be bright enough, meaning that its SNR or its total brightness ("mass") are too low.  Or it may look too much like camera sensor noise, meaning that its size (HFD) is lower than your setting for Min-HFD.  If you are using "star-mass-detection" as a way to discriminate between mutliple similar stars in the search region, a lost-star event will be triggered if the star mass value changes by more than the allowed amount.  This feature is generally unnecessary for current versions of PHD2 and can be disabled.  In any case, the first steps in trouble-shooting will be to understand the reason for the lost-star events and whether they happened because of degraded sky conditions, mechanical tracking errors, or inappropriate star selection parameters.  For beginners, a common cause of lost-star events is poor focus of the guide camera, and you should insure that your guide camera remains well-focused using the procedures described in the Star Profile tool section.  Star Profile Tool

PHD2 doesn't invoke any sort of extended guide star recovery process - it simply keeps taking exposures and looking to see if the guide star reappears within the current search region.  This works well for brief or intermittent problems like clouds, wind gusts, or sporadic mechanical problems but it assumes that the tracking accuracy of the mount is sufficient to keep a guide star within the search region for a reasonable length of time.  As the elapsed time of the lost-star events grows, the mount will slowly drift off-target and a star that re-appears in the search region at a much later time is probably a different star.  In this case, PHD2 will resume guiding but the original astronomical target will no longer be centered and may not even be in the field of view.  Recovery from extended lost-star periods is the responsibility of the end-user or the imaging automation application, not PHD2.  Doing the recovery properly requires re-slewing the scope to its original sky pointing position, a procedure that PHD2 is not equipped to do.

Alert Messages

PHD2 will sometimes display alert messages at the top of the main display window.  These generally show error or diagnostic information that warrant your attention.  During normal operation, you probably won't see any of these, but if you do, this section can help you decide what to do about them.

Dark-library and Bad-pixel Map Alerts

"Use a Dark Library or a Bad-pixel Map" - using a dark library or bad-pixel map reduces the likelihood that PHD2 will mistakenly identify hot pixels or other sensor noise as a star.  If you choose to ignore this message, you'll be vulnerable to situations where PHD2 inadvertently switches from the guide star to a hot pixel and no longer guides correctly.

Format/geometry mismatches - dark frames and bad-pixel maps must match the format of the sensor in the camera being used.  If you've changed the camera in an existing profile, the existing dark/bpm files will not be usable and you'll see this alert message.  To avoid seeing the message, you should instead create a new profile when you change cameras. You'll still need to shoot new darks or bpms, but you can keep the old files for use with the original camera.  You might also see a format-incompatibility alert message if you have mistakenly connected PHD2 to the wrong camera - this is a particular risk when your guiding and imaging cameras come from the same vendor. You can completely specify the camera you are using for guiding in the Connection Dialog Specifying camera ids  . Unless you're connected to the wrong camera,, you should rebuild the dark library or bad-pixel map from scratch - more information can be found here:  Dark Frames and Bad-pixel Maps

ASCOM Alerts

When you first connect to a mount, camera, or other ASCOM-controlled device, you may see an alert message saying that a required capability is not supported by the driver.  One example would be lack of support for pulse-guiding by an ASCOM telescope/mount driver, something that can occur with outdated drivers.  In these situations, your only recourse is to update the ASCOM driver.  These drivers are generally available from the ASCOM web site or, in some cases, from the device manufacturer.  As a rule, the best practice is to use the latest versions of these drivers so you don't encounter problems that have already been fixed.

You might also see other alert messages associated with the ASCOM driver for the mount:
1. "PulseGuide command to mount has failed - guiding is likely to be ineffective."  This is usually caused by a bug or timing sensitivity in the ASCOM mount driver, and there is generally no way to know if the guide command was executed properly or not.  If you rarely see the alert and your guiding results are acceptable, you can probably ignore it.  Despite the alert condition, PHD2 will continue to issue guide commands, so you don't need to take any immediate action.  If you see the alert frequently, you should send us your debug log so we can help you communicate the problem  to the author of the ASCOM driver.
2. "Guiding stopped: the scope started slewing."  This is pretty self-explanatory, but the determination that the scope was slewing is something reported to PHD2 by the ASCOM mount driver.  Whether it was actually slewing isn't known to PHD2.  Assuming you didn't mistakenly slew the scope with guiding active, there is probably a timing problem in the driver.  If you want to sidestep the problem temporarily, you can disable the logic to check for slewing - go into the 'Guiding' tab of the Advanced Settings dialog, and un-check the box that says "Stop guiding when mount slews."  This will let you continue guiding, but the results might be suspect.  The debug log should provide the details needed to describe the problem to the author of the ASCOM driver.
3. "Mount is reporting invalid guide speeds."  Some new drivers don't follow the standards and report  nonsense guide speeds, often because they aren't using the correct units of degrees/sec. When this occurs, PHD2 will treat the reported guide speeds as "unknown" and will ignore them.  This degrades the accuracy of the PHD2 PPEC guide algorithm and otherwise reduces the effectiveness of calibration review and other diagnostic tools.  This is not a PHD2 problem, it must be fixed by the author of the driver.

Camera Timeout Alerts
Alert messages associated with camera timing/timeout problems are discussed above: Camera Timeouts

Calibration Alerts
A number of alerts may appear during the mount calibration process.  These are described here: Calibration Alerts

Maximum-Duration Limit Alerts
During normal guiding, you may see an alert message saying that your settings for maximum-duration limits in RA or Dec are preventing PHD2 from keeping the guide star locked.  If you've decreased these parameters from their default values, you should restore them.  However, if the limits are well above one second, this alert probably indicates you've encountered a mechanical problem that needs to be corrected.  In the simplest cases, you may have suffered a cable snag, wind gust, mount bump, or other external event that caused the guide star to move by a large amount.  In such cases, you simply need to correct the problem if you can and proceed with guiding.  But in other cases, the alert may be triggered by a steadily growing guide star displacement that is not being corrected at all.  For example, if PHD2 can't move the mount correctly in either the north or south directions, the cumulative uncorrected error will eventually reach a point that triggers the alert.  Or you may be encountering "runaway" Dec guiding because the setting for 'reverse Dec output after meridian flip' (Advanced Settings/Guiding tab) is incorrect. These sorts of problems will require some diagnosis and simply increasing the maximum-duration limits will not help.

Display Window Problems

New users often complain that the image displayed in the main window is extremely noisy or is almost all-white or all-black.  Assuming the camera is functioning and actually downloading images, the display issues are often caused by the absence of any usable stars in the frame.  For example, trying to test the camera indoors or in daylight will almost always create these conditions.  The appearance of the image display window in these situations provides no useful information and should be discounted.  PHD2 uses an automatic screen-stretching function that is intended to help you see real stars under a nighttime sky.  When no stars are present, the display will be stretched to show the range of minimum-to-maximum brightness values of whatever is in the frame - which is often nothing at all.  This is usually what causes the noisy/all-white/all-black display results.  You may also encounter display problems if the guider is not well-focused.  Focusing the guider can be a tedious process but it's critical to getting good guiding results.  A good technique is to start with a bright but unsaturated star and try to reach focus with that.  Then move to successively fainter stars to fine-tune the focus position using the PHD2 Star Profile tool to measure the size of the guide star.  Good results can also be obtained using a Bahtinov focusing mask or focusing tools in other applications.  It doesn't matter what you use, but just trying to judge focus by looking at the display is not likely to produce a good result.

Hot-pixel and Star-Selection Problems

With most guide cameras, you can encounter problems where clumps of hot pixels are mistaken by PHD2 as guide stars.  This can be especially troublesome  if you're using automation tools and  the 'auto-select' guide star selection is mistakenly choosing hot pixels.  For many cameras, a simple dark frame will suffice for reducing or eliminating hot-pixel problems, and dark frames should always be used as a starting-point.  But for other cameras, you will need to build a bad-pixel map and update it as necessary when you see changes in the locations and sizes of defective pixels.  Camera sensors change over time and may react to changing temperatures, so bad-pixel map maintenance is a small task you should be willing to perform.  Step-by-step instructions can be found in the Bad-pixel map chapter of this document.  These problems are different from transient hot pixels, which can be caused by cosmic ray strikes on the sensor.  Although cosmic ray hits can disrupt guiding, there's really little you can do about them.  

Since the recommended practice is to let PHD2 choose the guide star ("auto-select"), you should use the available UI controls to help PHD2 do the best possible job.  The Minimum-HFD property on the Guiding tab of the Advanced Settings dialog is probably the most effective tool for avoiding hot-pixel selection.  You should set its value to allow use of the smallest and faintest real stars your setup can produce.  You should use the Star Profile tool to measure a reasonable sample of legitimate guide stars for your system.  Then set the Minimum-HFD value to accept those stars while rejecting smaller bright spots that are really just sensor defects.  At the other end of the  scale, you should also specify the brightest pixel value your system will deliver - the ADU value that represents saturation.  By doing this, you will prevent PHD2 from rejecting stars that have a flattened profile but aren't really saturated. The saturation control resides on the Camera tab of the Advanced Settings dialog and is part of a control group labeled 'Star Saturation Detection'.  Choose the option for 'Saturation by Max-ADU value', then set the value for your system.  If you have an 8-bit camera, saturation will be around 255, while a 16-bit camera will saturate around 65000 ADUs.  If you don't know the correct value, you can just point the scope at a bright star, use a multi-second guide camera exposure, and again look at the Star Profile window.  One of the things you'll see in that window is the 'Peak Value' - that's the ADU value for the brightest pixel  and will tell you whether your images are 8-bit or 16-bit..  Using both of these controls is likely to produce much better results for PHD2 guide star selection.

Restoring a Working Baseline

Despite advice to the contrary, you may have made rapid, uninformed changes to your guiding parameters only to find the performance stayed the same or even got worse.  Before proceeding, you should restore the settings to their default values.  If you used the new-profile-wizard to build your profiles, the parameters will have been set based on the specifics of your configuration, and they are likely to be pretty close.  If you encounter significant guiding problems using those settings, you are probably having issues with the mount or other hardware. Blindly changing guiding parameters almost never solves these problems and quite often makes things worse.  You have several options for restoring the settings to their default values:
  1. On the 'Algorithm' tab of the Advanced Settings dialog, you can individually reset parameters by looking at the tool-tip for each field.  Hover your mouse cursor over the field and the default value will be displayed.  Note that this is not accurate for the min-move settings, which depend on your image scale.  This approach is best when you want to restore only a few settings.
  2. Click the 'reset' buttons on the 'Algorithm' tab for the selected RA and Dec guide algorithms.  This is the recommended approach for resetting all the guiding parameters.  The min-move settings will be reset to the values originally calculated by the new-profile-wizard.  If you subsequently adjusted those settings by running the Guiding Assistant, you should repeat that process.
  3. Run the new-profile-wizard, accessed by clicking on the 'Manage Profiles' button in the 'Connection' dialog.  Use the same camera and mount choices you already have and give the profile a new name.  If you want to re-use the dark library and bad-pixel map from the old profile, connect to the new profile and use the 'Darks' menu to import those files from the old profile.  Once you are satisfied with the new profile settings, you can delete the old one.

Poor Guiding Performance 

Once you've gotten everything running, you will probably get reasonably good guiding results almost immediately. You will have to decide what "good enough" means, and everyone's standard is likely to be different.  But if you find your imaging results are not acceptable because the stars are streaked or elongated, you'll need to take a systematic approach to correcting the problems.  It is often tempting to just start blindly adjusting the various guide parameters in an effort to make things better.  There is nothing wrong with adjusting the parameters - that's why they're there - but it should be done carefully based on an understanding of what they do and what problem you're trying to solve.  The PHD2 default settings are carefully chosen to produce reasonable results for most amateur equipment and locations.  Optimal settings are entirely dependent on the image scale, seeing conditions, and behavior of your specific mount.  In other words, they are unique to your situation - there is no magic "red book" of correct guiding parameters, and settings you get from other users may be completely irrelevant to your situation.  If you got started by using the new-profile-wizard, the default settings will already be tuned fairly well to match your image scale.  By using the Guiding Assistant, you can get more specifics about your situation - how the seeing conditions look and how you might adjust the minimum-move settings to avoid chasing the seeing.  You can also use either the Guiding Assistant or the Manual Guiding tool to see how much backlash is present in your mount, something that can be important to understanding your declination guiding results.

Log Analysis

Any sort of problem isolation or tuning will invariably require use of the PHD2 log files.  Both are formatted for straightforward interpretation by a human reader, and the guide log is constructed to enable easy import into other applications.  As mentioned in the 'Tools' section, applications such as PHDLogViewer or Excel can be used to visualize overall performance, compute performance statistics, and examine time periods when guiding was problematic.  With Excel or similar applications, simply specify that the guide log uses a comma as a column separator.  That said, PHDLogViewer is strongly recommended for log analysis and is the tool used by the developers to provide support on the PHD2 Google forum.

Guiding Log Contents

The contents of the guiding log will continue to evolve as new capabilities are added.  But the basic content is stable, and considerable care is taken to not "break" applications that parse it.  If you wish to analyze the log yourself, the following information will be helpful.  

The PHD2 guide log will contain zero or more sequences of calibration and zero or more sequences of guiding.  Each of these sections has a header that provides most of the information about the guiding algorithms being used and the internal parameters used by PHD2 for guiding.  At the start of either a calibration run or a guiding sequence, the last line of the header information defines a set of column headings.   The meanings of those columns are shown below:

 Calibration columns:

 Guiding columns:

All distance values are in units of pixels.  The header for the guiding section will show the image scale as it is known by PHD2, and that can be used to scale the pixel distance values into units of arc-seconds if desired.

Problem Reporting

If you encounter application problems that are specific to PHD2, you are encouraged to report them to the open-phd-guiding Google group: OpenPHDGuiding Group  You need to first establish a membership in the group in order to get help. Obviously, the more information you can provide about your problem, the more likely we will be able to resolve it.  Using the following guidelines will help in that regard:
  1. Try to reproduce the problem - if we have a clear set of steps to follow, we are more likely to find a solution quickly.  If you can reproduce it, try to reduce things to the minimum number of steps.  Remember, we won't have your hardware or computer environment when we try to reproduce it ourselves.
  2. Try to be complete about describing your configuration - operating system, equipment types, PHD2 version, etc.
  3. Upload  the PHD2 log files  from the session in which you encountered the problem - this is a critical step.  Use the 'Upload log files' function on the 'Help' menu to do this -- it gives you an easy way to select the relevant log files and then uploads them to our server without constraints on file size. Attaching log files to forum messages is discouraged and will often not work at all because of the file sizes.  If you can't reproduce the problem, try to estimate the time of day when you first saw it - this could help us find evidence in the debug log without having to sift through hundreds of lines of output.  If you request help on the forum without uploading your log files, you will usually be asked to do so, thus adding an unnecessary delay in getting help.