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Telescope Basics

 

External Links that will provide excellent  information on Imaging


M. M. J. Meijer's website
(Web cam modifications and more)

Steve Chamber's website (Philips SPC900NC long exposure SC5 modification)
 
Image Acquisition

 

 

 

       Ok, so you  ask, how do I get started taking those incredible pictures of the planets, moon and other celestial objects?

At first I wasn't sure how to  get  started in this endeavor either but a search on the web turned up a number of groups who's members , I figured, could provide information to a novice on how to  get  started. Eventually  I connected with QCUIAG. This group specializes in unconventional imaging techniques using among other things, webcams.
 

So what  do you  need to  get started? Obviously you  need a halfway  decent telescope A GO-TO ( computer controlled  Azimuth/Elevation mount) option is helpful to  find your target and track it. A webcam to capture the images. A PC to  talk to  the webcam and to process the images. You  will also want to get a capture and processing program.

When looking for a telescope keep in mind that the telescope's power is in how much light it can gather ( see telescope basics for more detailed information) not its magnification capabilities. The bigger the opening (Objective) the better. If you  happen to live in the country where there is little light pollution go for the biggest aperture scope your budget can afford. Telescope prices vary  on the type and the aperture size and can go from around $200 for a starter scope to  thousands of dollars for a high end scope and mount.

If you  are reluctant to  spend a lot of cash on a new hobby, not knowing if it's for you  or not,  you  may want to start out with  a 114mm (4.5")  Newtonian ( reflector) telescope. It's relatively  inexpensive. 

I have a Meade DS114  (114mm f/8) reflector and so far it hasn't disappointed me.

WEBCAMS:

To capture the images some use digital SLR cameras such as the Canon digital Rebel to  mention just one. Others like myself use webcams that  have CCD  (charge-coupled device) elements instead of CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) devices (The DALSA web has a good comparison of  CMOS vs. CCD).

I purchased a Philips SPC900NC (Toucam Pro III ) webcam  locally. In order to use the camera on my  telescope I needed an 1.25" adaptor. Steve Mogg at web caddy has them available for the SPC900NC  webcam and many others.

To install the adaptor simply pry off the ring around the lens and unscrew the lens from the webcam. The adaptor screws right in place . I also purchased a F-WIN accessory which is a clear coated window mounted in a filter thread enclosure to protect the CCD from dust, etc. This has threads on it to allow you  to add other filters.

IMAGING:

     Now that  you  have a telescope, and a webcam, you need a program that  will allow you  some control over the webcam and capture  and process the images. Typically  you  would take a video exposure of your subject and  process that  AVI file to  combine the  video frames into one clear still image.

Though most Webcams come with  some sort of software that  will capture images as movie  files (AVI ) It is best to  get  a program that  is specifically  designed for the task at hand. One very popular program is called K3CCD  This  program allows allows you  to  set up  your camera and capture  the AVI file. It will also process that  AVI and produce a single stacked picture with  all the frames aligned.

Unmodified (out of the box) webcams are sufficient for imaging the Moon, Sun and Planets, To get  good pictures of deep space objects (DSO's)  such  as nebulae, star clusters and galaxies . however, requires a camera that  can takes long exposures ( in the 15 or 30 second range or longer). Most amateur astronomers modify their webcams to allow for long exposure . Steve Chambers has developed modifications for various webcams.
If you  have a Philips SPC900NC webcam you  can go to  Matthias Meijer's site where he describes the long exposure modification for that  specific camera.

Along with a long exposure (LX) modified camera your telescope needs to be on a decent mount preferably  an equatorial mount. An Azimuth/Elevation mount will work in a pinch. Get  the best mount your budget will allow. An equatorial mount, when properly set up, will track your target as it move across the sky , east to  west, without introducing field rotation. An AZ/EL type of a mount suffers from that  phenomenon.  However, if all you  have is an AZ/EL mount, don't despair. K3CCD has a feature that  nullifies the field rotation effect for the most part.

Above I mentioned K3CCD as a program used to capture and process images. Another popular program for processing is REGISTAX.

REGISTAX allows you  to align and stack AVI frames and also manipulate individual pictures. One extremely useful tool it has is what's called wavelets. It allows you  to  eek out all kinds of details in the image. The program is  a must have and it's free.

Additional software in my arsenal is WcCtrl which allows you  to adjust  the camera properties such  as shutter speed,  frames per second, brightness and a host of other parameters.

If you  want to  take picture in the RAW mode, you  need WcRmac. This program runs a macro the reprograms you  camera to  send the picture information back on the LUMINANCE channel and requires that  you  set up  the colors using  one of the above tool. Many say  that  the algorithm in the camera could mess up  the true image by compressing some data.

Both WcCtrl and WcRmac are free.

As a final touch, many use programs such as PhotoShop to finish processing the final image to  correct the color or sharpen the picture.

 

(More to come )

    

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