taking pictures of the cosmos – astrophotography 101

I’ve always loved looking at the stars. Camping with the Boy Scouts in my youth, I learned the constellations and how to ‘navigate’ them for my astronomy merit badge. As an adult, living in a rural part of the country for several years, I was really able to appreciate the sky again.

In the summer of 2017, I came across a telescope at a church rummage sale. It was $40 and I figured why not jump on it. I did a bit of research on my new telescope; the Meade DS-114AT Reflecting Telescope with Digital Autostar. What does that even mean?

There are two main types of telescopes, reflecting and refracting. My reflecting telescope uses mirrors to bend light and send it to your eye. Refracting telescopes use a lens to bend the light to your eye. The 114 in the model name tells me that I’ve got a 114mm (roughly 4 inch) mirror. As it turns out a 4 inch reflecting telescope is a typical beginner scope.

Digital Autostar is the electronic mount that the main ‘tube’ is on. It’s a computer-driven system that can find the stars and planets for you. Looking at my scope’s Autostar, the battery pack had some frayed wires and needed a bit of TLC. Some elbow grease and a wire or two later, it worked! Looking online, a brand new Meade DS-114AT with Autostar is roughly $150. What a steal for just $40!!

Right away I was able to see the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, craters on the Moon, and even distant stars big and bright. Over the last few years, I’ve added more accessories. First came a new set of eyepieces to help me see things in more detail with my eyes. Amazon has a nice starter set of eyepieces that cover the basic range for planetary viewing.

Well, all that is just astronomy, not quite astrophotography. I tried to take cell phone pictures through the eyepiece, but that is much easier said than done. At the end of 2019, I got my first dedicated astrophotography camera, a ZWO ASI120MC-S. I’ll save the technical dive for a future post, and just say this is a great beginner camera. It slides right into the eyepiece slot.

Now I’m off and running taking pictures through my telescope, learning a bunch as I go. This is one of the first clear images I was able to process. It’s a collage of several pictures. The downside of my ZWO is the somewhat limited field of view. Other ZWO cameras have a large field of view, but as you can imagine, they get rather pricy rather quickly.

That’s my ‘brief’ inroduction to astrophotography. As always, that’s for reading!

-Peter

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