My Astronomy History, as of 11/15
I was first introduced to Astronomy as a kid. I got a 60mm sears refractor for Christmas when I was about 12 years old. It was cool for about 4 nights then I soon lost interest, at least until about 2 years ago. When we bought our first house one of the biggest considerations was to be in an area without too many neighbors and as close to nature as possible. We found a great house with neighbors on only the sides. Behind our house is a dry riverbed with no homes etc for a few miles, this gave us 4.5 seeing (which I didn?ealize how good it was but I?take the credit for now). Needless to say that once our balcony was built off our 2nd story master bedroom I thought it would be the perfect place for a Telescope. I went out and purchased the following scopes in about a 1 year period: Revised 11/00
4.5 Meade Eq Mnt Reflector Returned after about 3 weeks.
90mm Meade ETX Kept for about 6 months then sold.
90mm Meade ETX-EC Kept for about 3 months then sold.
Celestron C8 Deluxe Bought used from a friend.
The last scope was the one that got me into all of this Astrophotography stuff. Until that time I was just having fun learning the sky. I then started noticing all of the wonderful pictures people were able to take from their backyards using either cheap converted Quickcam digital cameras or not so cheap SBIG cameras. This is where that slippery slope started. I wish I knew then what I believe now but oh well, I probably wouldn't have learned as much either. Anyways, I first converted a used Quickcam to take pictures through the scopes EP's. This was OK for the moon but that was about it. I then noticed that people were actually buying and selling used equipment on E-bay. This is where I picked up my first used "serious" camera, a SBIG ST-5. The ST-5 was very easy to use and I learned alot! I soon found out however that in order to take decent pictures of DSO's, you need a good stable mount, a good tracking drive and most important of all, good polar alignment! The problems I ran into with the C8 was that although the scope itself was great for visual use, its use as a good CCD imaging platform was really not too good. The longest un-guided exposures I could get out of the fork mounted C8 with byers gears were about 30 seconds. This is OK for bright objects but for the ST-5 you really need 60 seconds minimum to get any real detail in most DSO's. I then started reading more about what people on the net were using
to take the great pictures that were on there web pages. The common threads seemed to be expensive EQ mounts, refractors and good processing techniques. I first decided to try an EQ mount. The only problem was that I could only spend about $700 and the good EQ mounts were $1200 minimum with drives. I saw a used CG-5 mount with the Celestron drives for sale for $450 so I thought I'd give it a shot. After following Jeff Detray's web page to clean and recondition the CG-5. The biggest improvement was to replace the cheap aluminum tripod legs with pine 2??4?? Once this was done I thought that it really was a pretty good mount (I later replaced the pine 2??4??gs with home made adjustable pine legs). The first thing I noticed was that an EQ mount is a million times easier to polar align then a fork mount. I also noticed that my pictures were sharper, but using these drives the best I could get was still only about 40sec exposures. Luckily I was able to sell the CG-5 with the drives and replaced it with a newer version of the CG-5 mount and the Vixen drives for the GP-DX mount. This was a great improvement! The newer CG-5 mount was smoother than the first, and the Vixen drives (although expensive) are very accurate! I was now able to take 60 to 90 sec images without guiding! I then sold my C8 Deluxe setup minus the OTA and the ST-5 and bought a SBIG ST-5c with a color filter wheel. Boy, taking color pictures sure is A LOT more work but the pictures are very cool in color so. Now I wanted to take wider angle pics! This is where the refractor search started. After doing research on the Internet, I decided on an Apogee 4??destar. This was a cool scope for the price! It was portable and had a large FOV. Problem was that the color correction was pretty bad so I didn?ven bother taking pictures with it. I kind of wish that I had now but oh well. In the end I ended up with a TeleVue 85mm. What a great scope! Not cheap though. But it is very cool. It is small, light (for my mount), has a large FOV, and takes nice sharp, contrasty pictures for its size. I then saw a great price on a used ST-7 with the Maxim/DL Software. I couldn?ass it up since I knew that the camera was a lot better that the ST-5c and the included software is supposed to be the best. Up till this point I had been using the included CCDOPS Software that comes with the ST-5c and Photoshop. Although this combo worked OK I had no idea how much better good processing with good software could improve the final images! Learning good processing techniques takes a large amount of time, effort and experimentation. Since my pictures up till this point tend to have a low signal to noise ratio (S/N) I have to experiment A LOT! The worst part is that every object needs to be processed differently (or at least it seems to be the case for me). I guess all I am trying to point out is that taking the picture, as hard as that can be, is only half the battle, you then need to learn how to process your images but in the end its worth the effort! This is my current setup as of 5/31/00. I have the CG-5 that has been re-lubricated and has replacement adjustable wooden legs. I use the Vixen dual axis controller with the Vixen drives. I use the TV 85mm for wide angle (F5.6 with the TV .8 Focal Reducer) and the C8 OTA for longer focal length work. The C8 is used at F5 with the 6.3 Celestron focal reducer AND the TV .8 reducer. I tried a Photon 127mm for a short time but I think the C8 takes better images and since it is lighter it also works better on the CG-5 mount. I am currently waiting for my COAA Telescope Controller Software / Hardware setup to arrive from Portugal. This is supposed to be equivalent to the Sky Sensor 2000 but at 1/3 the cost. I guess I find out in a week or so. This will allow me to take guided images which I haven't been able to do yet. I also will be obtaining a Color Filter Wheel for my ST-7 so the next couple of weeks should be very exciting!!
Alot has happened in the last 5 months. I aquired the COAA Telescope Hardware and found that in order to use it for Auto-guiding my ST7 I needed 2 laptops, one to run the CTC and the other to run the ST7. So it's up for sale. What I did do was contact Norbert Tackman (found on SBIG's web site) and have him modify my Vixen DD-1 controler to accept and drive the ST7 auto-guiding feature. It really works great! I can do 5 minute guided images (probably even longer) with my TV101 @ fl 400mm and 3.5 minute guided images with my C9.25 @ fl 1000mm on my new Vixen GP-DX mount. I guess I need to say that I have also upgraded from the TV85 to a TV101 and from the C8 to a C9.25. Mount wise I tried both the Vixen GP-DX and the Losmandy GM8 and for me the Vixen was the ticket! (02/01/01 note: I have to say that although the GP-DX is a better mount than the GM-8, it still is not quite enough for the C9.25, unless the C9.25 is being used at f5 or faster. The C9.25 should be used with a bigger mount, period! I have since stared using the C8 and have been able to get almost the same detail and sharpness with the added bonus of better overall images.) Very easy to polar align and since it has built-in manual controls using it for visual use is much easier, at least for me. An interesting thing that I have also been doing is while auto-guiding I am only doing it on one axis, the RA. The Polar alignment is so easy and there is so little periodic error (at least at the focal lenghts that I use) that it is not necessary to adjust in DEC. I figured trying to move the mount in one direction lessens the chance for unwanted mount movement and it seems to work great! You may be asking what happened to the CG-5? Well, I used it for auto-guiding a little with the TV101 and I found I could get very good results upto about 3 min but with the C9.25 the mount just wasn't going to cut it. I do have to say though that it will definately work with the C8 and work well! Anyways, for now I am very happy with my setup and choices. The TV101 is wonderful for wide field work and the C9.25 is great for close-ups. The best part is that GP-DX mount, I can literally be up and running with either the TV101 or the C9.25 in about 15 minutes which includes accruate polar alignment and shooting images upto 5 minutes long with a keep rate at about %80! Oh yea, I also have been using a color filter wheel (CFW-8) and it just adds to the WOW factor. That's it for now, check out the Guided Images page and the Unguided Image page for my latest work (or experiments!). Revised 02/01
Once again alot has happened during the last 5 months. I am currently using the GP-DX mount with the TV101 and C8 for imaging. The C8 has given me much better images than the C9.25 only because the C9.25 is just too big for the GP-DX, especially with all of the CCD equipment attached! I sold off alot of extra stuff I had laying around and am now the proud owner of an Astro Systems Telekit. It is an f6 12.5" truss Dob. Very nicely made (thanks Paul!) and I got a great deal! It is really amazing using a 12.5" Dob. The views are very much like the detail seen in my TV101 CCD images minus color. Way more detail than the C8 or C9.25 and razer sharp! It is really awesome. I actually have been spending more time just observing than taking pictures! Thanks for reading!