Capturing images such as these can be obtained with a DSLR on a GEM Mount or with a dedicated Astro Imaging Camera. This is the "Big Leagues" of imaging. These dedicated cameras are to be used strictly for Astronomy. They can cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. They come in a variety of configurations such as One Shot Color (like DSLR's) or Mono. The latter will gather more detail but requires the addition of special filters for either Mono imaging or RGB (color) imaging. These cameras also come in a "cooled" version. Imaging cameras give off heat and this heat is detrimental to images. It creates unnecessary "noise" that transfers to the image. Cooled cameras have a cooling system/fan that lower the temperatures of the sensor thereby diminishing the amount of "noise" introduced and thus a cleaner image.
Guiding is another aspect of Astrophotography. When doing long exposures, your GEM mount will track the object across the sky. It will do this accurately for a few minutes. To track the object with tighter tolerances, you need need a Guide Camera. This camera attaches to another smaller scope which is usually connected to your main scope. This additional scope can be a simple small unit such as the finder scope that already comes with your telescope (see middle photo above). You get adapters to attach the guide camera to the finder scope and use free guiding software on your computer. Yes... a computer (see below for explanation). Your guide camera locks onto a nearby star and follows it tightly thereby allowing you to take very long exposures. i.e. 30' or more! This produces very sharp and concise stars in your image without star trailing.
Image Capturing is only one side to Astro Photography. Image Processing is an entirely other venture...and sometimes can be the most demanding. With Astro Photography, you acquire a set # of photographs. Length of image acquisition depends on many factors. Type of equipment, Light Pollution, Object, etc. You may only need to take around ten images at 1' each to obtain an image or it is sometimes required to get over one hundred and a total imaging time of 8 hours... or more! All depends on the object.
You then have to "stack" all of these images into a program that averages out and aligns them. It then produces one final image. You take this image and "stretch" it using many various techniques to achieve a final image. Depending on the subject, an image can be produced in as little as 1/2 hour or maybe 10 hours to a couple of days! But on average, you can probably produce a decent image in a couple of hours.
Fortunately, many of these programs are free. Some of the more popular ones are Deep Sky Stacker (free) and Photoshop (cost). But if you already have PS, you are good to go. GIMP is another free processing program that many like.
But with ALL aspects of AP, the one item that is an absolute must is patience.
Acquiring quality images takes time. There are a few factors that must be understood in achieving good images.
Weather - this is probably the most important aspect of imaging. Obviously cloudy skies are detrimental. Even intermittent cloudy skies are detrimental as you could be in the process of capturing an image when clouds cross your path.
Another negative is the Moon, unless your are imaging this. The Moon acts as a large floodlight in the sky washing out detail in many deep space objects. Although you CAN image during the moon, it is not recommended. You can use special filters to help but this is more of an advanced topic.
Light Pollution - A major problem around the world as mentioned above. It is well worth travelling to a dark site. Personally I travel over 4 hours to Cherry Springs State Park which is one of the darkest sites in the country. The views of their night sky will take your breath away. Naked eye galaxies are visible.
Many, like myself, do our imaging remotely. Our rig is outside while we control everything from inside. Usually with a laptop. This is very advantageous for imaging in the Winter and Summer.
You use special capturing software (free), guiding software (free) and a planetarium software (free and optional). You can now control everything from your laptop from the comfort of your home. You use the planetarium software to choose the object you want to image. The telescope will now automatically slew to that object and center it. You then program the software for not only the amount of images but how long to take each image.
Many imagers will program an entire nights session; sometimes photographing multiple objects. They program it all into the software (easy) and literally go to bed. In the morning, they have an entire nights images on their laptop waiting for processing. Gotta love technology!
The one negative about Astro Photography is, unlike visual astronomy, AP leaves nothing to do while imaging. If your object requires maybe 4 hours of imaging, you leave the rig alone for those 4 hours. Some imagers will look through another scope during that time or go watch a movie or read a book. Lots of options.
Astro Imaging is a very rewarding hobby. Many enjoy it for the mere fact that you can take one image of an object and see it immediately on their laptop screen. This is a good way to show a few people at the same time what you are capturing. It is also beneficial to seeing objects that you visually cannot see from your location with a telescope.
A good example is my home site. I live in a very heavy light polluted area. I am also surrounded by neighbors with security lights. I have a large visual telescope and I cannot see any of the fainter galaxies or nebulae. But imaging allows me to see almost anything I want. The camera is much more sensitive than our eyes and it will pick up even the faintest wisps of an object (within reason)...and in color!
Most of the above images were taken from my house. I could NEVER see these objects through my visual telescope. But with imaging, no problem.
So you can imagine what these images would look like if taken from a dark site...absolutely amazing!
To summarize, with AP you can start out simple with a DSLR on a tripod then move to a DSLR on a telescope. There are tons of accessories like auto focusers, field flattners, LP filters, Eye Pieces, etc, etc...All depends how seriously you want to get involved. And like every other hobby..............
The Sky's The Limit..... literally
Some Essentials & Fun "Toys"!
Jerry Lodriguss Beginners AP Book - A MUST have!
Astro Binoculars - The cheapest way to get into Astronomy. You won't believe what you can see with these. Inexpensive also.
Revolution Camera Kit - Insert the camera into the telescope and view your objects on the monitor.
Home Observatory's - These can be purchased on-line in many different styles and configurations. The bays are for sitting at a computer. Some people equip their pods with televisions so they can watch TV and monitor their imaging at the same time. Also there are roll off roof sheds available.
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Remote Control Imaging
Sky differences dependent
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ZWO ASI1600 CMOS Mono Cooled Camera
EQ6 Pro Mount
Deep Sky, Planets & Solar
What you expect
One of the enjoyable “spin-offs” of Astronomy is photographing what you see through your telescope.
But before I elaborate, let me preface with this...
Many people, that are not involved with Astronomy, are under the impression that the photos they see on TV or in magazines is what they will see when purchasing a telescope. TV reports are notorious for providing inaccurate information. Case in point…the other night I was watching my local news and the weather reporter noted that, “…you will be able to see Saturn tonight…” I am sure the majority of people were under the impression that if they looked up into the night sky, they will see Saturn with it’s magnificent rings. In reality, what they will witness is…nothing!
Oh, Saturn is there alright. In the northern hemisphere, it is usually visible January - October but it will appear as a large star. Unless you are knowledgeable in it’s exact location, you will not even see it as a star. Even with small/cheaply made amateur telescopes, it will appear as a large dot with some minor detail. When you get into the better/larger scopes, then you will see it as something like the third photo.
And what you see in the night sky is also dependent on your location.
This will be a good area to mention about Light Pollution.
Light Pollution - Unfortunately, this plays a major role in Astronomy. Whether you are doing Visual or Astrophotography, LP is extremely detrimental to Astronomy. The closer you are to major metropolitan areas, the worse it can be.
Houses, streets, security, parking lots, etc., all have lights that can wash out the night sky thereby making it more difficult to see objects.
You may have noticed how some areas you have visited, have more visible stars than in other areas. Rural areas have less light pollution making stars more visible. You may also have noticed how (at night) you may look towards the horizon and see a “glow” or whiteish fog. This is sky glow probably form a nearby city.
These detrimental lights cause your sky to be gray or even very light gray in color. Obviously we want our sky to be as dark, or black as possible.
As progress moves forward, so does light pollution. Only 50 years ago, the skies were much darker than today.
Even the Moon plays a major role in what we can see and image as it tends to represent a huge floodlight. Therefore it is highly recommended to travel to a Dark Site. The darker the better. You will be absolutely amazed at what you can see at a dark site… such as the Milky Way!
Please refer to this map to locate a darker site near you. http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html
But, there is good news for people even in high LP areas. You may be hesitant on purchasing a telescope since you may look up at your sky (with naked eye) and not see too many stars. But we are not interested in looking at individual stars. You want to witness Star "Clusters", Double Stars, Galaxies, Nebulas and Planets.
Additionally, telescopes can pierce through a lot of the "muck and murk" and give you spectacular views of galaxies and clusters.
Look at a portion of the night sky with your eye. Than point your telescope in the same area. Now look through the eye piece…amazing!
You can even enhance your views more buy purchasing special filters that will help reduce the light pollution views.
Views through a telescope are colorless. Your eye is not able to perceive color from the vast distances where these celestial objects reside. And thus, many feel disappointed and give up on Astronomy.
Also, many will see a globular cluster and instead of seeing millions of stars, they may see a small smudge like a fingerprint; devoid of detail or color.
But this is where education comes in. You need to familiarize yourself on the objects you are hunting. Some MAY look like smudges whereas other clusters you will be able to resolve thousands of stars in it’s tightly woven core. You just need to know where to look.
To see these faint objects, you may just need to amp up the magnification of the eyepiece. This is why many observers have multiple eye pieces in their arsenal.
Look at Jupiter with a 30mm eye piece and it will look nice. Place an 8mm eye piece in and you will see the Great Red Spot on the planet.
Bigger is definitely better in Astronomy…the larger the aperture of the scope the more light you will pull in and consequently a brighter/larger view and more detail. And in some cases, spectacular detail! Please don't misunderstand me. When I say 'larger scopes'...
I am not referring to anything like this. More like this.....
As previously mentioned, views through a telescope are colorless and some may be disappointed in what they are viewing since expecting to see images as they appear in magazines. Many of these photos are taken from the Hubble Telescope (See photos on right) and have amazing detail and color.
Luckily there is another way to see such color and detail... Astrophotography or AP for short.
This extremely popular method of recording astro objects can be as basic or elaborate as your time and budget allows. It can be as simple as taking a photograph, with your cell phone, directly through the eye piece of your telescope or as complex as using a specialized motorized mount with a dedicated astronomy camera with custom filters, guide cameras and computers.
The subject of Astrophotography is very lengthy and detailed and not the main topic of this site. The recommendation is to purchase a beginners book(s) on the subject and/or read about this fascinating aspect of Astronomy on the Internet.
One excellent web site that has a wealth of information is: http://astropix.com/
This site/books is authored by Jerry Lodriguss who has been involved with photography and Astronomy for over 40 years. The site has incredible information for both the beginner and experienced astrophotographer. You owe it to yourself to visit this site. And please take note of his books...especially the ones for beginner Astrophotography.
There are 3 basic types of Astrophotography:
Deep Sky, Planetary and Solar
Deep Sky - is the imaging of objects such as Galaxys, Nebulas, & Star Clusters.
Planetary - as the name suggests, is the imaging of the planets. This is usually done with cameras in video mode.
Solar - is the imaging of the sun. A special filter is required (over the telescope lens) to image the sun.
As previously mentioned, getting started in Astrophotography can be as simple as using your cell phone through your telescope eye piece. This is how many imagers started...like me.
I started Astronomy with an Orion XT10 Dobsonian Telescope. One of the first times I saw the Moon, I was blown away by the view. I felt as if i was hovering over the planet. The first thing I did, was take out my cell phone and attempt to photograph it. It tool some trial and error but was I able to achieve this: see photo to right.
From that moment on I was hooked on Imaging. Every time I saw a great view I wanted to take an image of it. Getting the cell
phone to hold steady at the lens was difficult. So I purchased dedicated cell phone holder. These holders cradle your phone and
attach directly to your eye piece allowing you to perfectly align and center your object. You then just snap away. However, I soon
found out that cell phone imaging has limitations. You can really only image very bright/large objects like the Moon. I attempted
Jupiter and although it did capture the planet, it couldn't expose the image properly to show detail. It looked like a bright white
dot. Star clusters are faint and require longer exposures and due to the Earth's rotation, it requires a tripod mount that can follow the
object...preferably an automated mount.
But the fascination of imaging took hold. The next step was to use a DSLR. This is one of the most popular ways to begin Astro Imaging. You can easily get started with mounting a DSLR onto a tripod and take wide field images. It is still highly recommended to read how to acquire this; although it is not that difficult it does require longer exposures. If your exposure is too long (20") your stars will begin to "trail" leaving the image blurry.
This leads me into the next phase of AP...attaching your DSLR directly to your telescope. Essentially you are using the telescope as your camera lens. This type of imaging is one of the most widely used forms of AP. But it also requires getting an Equatorial or German Equatorial Mount or GEM. The GEM mount is motorized and after some simple alignment procedures, will follow your object automatically; keeping it in the center of your view. This allows for very long exposures required for deep space imaging. Although a little more advanced, this also is not too difficult to master. You can also piggyback your DSLR & camera lens on top of your scope. This allows you to do wide field long exposure AP. But a GEM mount is an absolute necessity to achieve quality, long exposure photographs such as these:
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Normal city sky in distance. Than city had a blackout. Milky Way became visible.
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Hubble Telescope Images
C l i c k t o E n l a r g e
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Types Of Astrophotography
The information listed on this page is to present you with a basic understanding of AP.
Please refer to beginners books for more detail.
Basic to Elaborate