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ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY

Astronomy is at the frontier of science and new


discoveries are being made each time you look up at
the night sky . Astrophotography is a specialized
type of photography for recording images of
astronomical objects and large areas of the night
sky . In todays world advances in technology have
enabled detailed stellar photography .
Astrophotography has the ability to image objects
invisible to the human eye like nebulaes , stars and
galaxies .

(THE MESSIER 74 GALAXY WHICH HAS BEEN PHOTOGRAPHED BY THE HUBBLE


SPACE TELESCOPE USING HIGHLY PRECISE REFRACTOR TELESCOPE )

EQUIPMENT INTRODUCTION
Telescopes :
Lets first review some of the terminologies which
are used while discussing telescopes for
astrophotography .
1) Aperture : A telescopes aperture is the diameter
of the main lens or mirror . Apertures are
important for two reasons :
a) Light gathering ability : the larger the aperture
the more light is gathered and concenterated
and dimmer targets can be observed .
b) Resolution effect : the diameter of the main lens
also determines the resolving power of the
telescope ( the smallest or closest objects that
can be distinguished from one another )

Amateur Astronomers should use a telescope


which has an aperture in the range of 80mm to
200mm .

2) Focal length : A telescopes focal length is the


distance the incoming light travels from the first
lens or mirror to the detector .
Refractor telescopes : 400mm to 1000mm
Newtonian telescopes : 1000mm to 1500mm
Compound telescopes: 1200mm to 4000mm
Beginners in Astrophotography should use
refractor telescopes because longer focal
lengths would also magnify the imperfections in
your system , especially instability and tracking
errors in your mount .

TYPES OF TELESCOPES
1) Refractor telescopes : refractors use lenses to
focus light . there are two types of refractor
telescopes
a) Achromatic refractors : in this two different
wavelengths of light of the visible spectrum are
brought to correct , aligned focus .
b) Apochromatic refractors : in this three different
wavelengths of light of the visible spectrum are
brought to correct , aligned focus .

Since they have short focal length , they give low


magnification and allow wide areas of the sky to be
imaged .

2) Reflector telescopes : they use mirrors to focus


light . They have larger apertures due to which

they give higher resolution.

3) Compound / Cadadioptric telescope : they use a


combination of lenses and mirrors . they are
much more compact for a given focal length .

Cameras :
Basic terminologies :
1)Pixels : Cameras for astrophotography capture
the image on an array of small light sensitive
dots , called pixels . The number of pixels is
one important factor .
The hubble space telescope initially had a
camera which was only 640000 pixels less
than one mega pixel ( currently it has been
upgraded to multiple megapixels )
There are two reasons behind this :
a) The raw number of pixels is not that
important has compared to other attributes
such as size of the pixel , that determines
how large a field of sky you can image and
how fine a level of detail you can record .
b) Since high end astrophotography requires
and extremely stable and accurate mount , it
is quite practical to use multiple exposures
of small side by side sections of the sky to
make up a mosaic image .

2) Image scale : image scale is how small a


piece of sky corresponds to one pixel on your
camera and is measured in arc-seconds per
pixel . image scale depends on your cameras
imaging chip and on your telescope .

Scale =(205*pixel size)/focal length


Image scale is a measure of the resolution you
are trying to record . smaller number indicates
higher resolution . the resolution that is
available to you is restricted by atmospheric
conditions turbulence , heat , shimmering , dust
etc. In normal conditions 2-4 is the maximum
resolution you can record .

3)Sensitivity : while selecting a specialzed ccd


camera for astrophotography purposes , one
should consider how sensitive the chip is to
light . The sensitivity of a ccd chip is defined
as the percentage of available photons that
get detected by the chip and turned into a
useful signal . The metric is named Quantum
Efficiency (QE) and is measured as a
percentage .

For example : if a camera has a QE of 65% it


means that 65 out 100 photons are detected
by the chip and are converted into signals . the
QE of human eye is 5% , which implies that the
specified camera is 13 times more sensitive
than the eye and can take long exposures to
gather even more light .

4) Noise : noise is the measure of degree to


which the chip in your camera reports photons
that werent there . Cameras usually face the
problem of amplifier noise : it is the heat from
camera electronics leaking onto the chipand
being detected as infrared light . cameras with
lower noise are preffered .
Noise tends to increase with temperature , so
dedicated Astronomy CCD cameras usually
have some kind of cooling circuitry to reduce
noise .

5)Handling colour : all of the imaging chips are


monochrome , that is they take black and

white images only . colour images are


produced by taking multiple exposures through
different coloured filters ( usually red , green ,
blue ) and then combining the images in image
processing software .
For example : narrowband imaging uses 3
filters , that pass only the specific
wavelengths of light associated with various
elements in their excited state , in place of the
usual RGB filters . This allows detailed
imaging of gaseous objects such as nebulae .

THE CONCEPT OF AUTOGUIDING :


Autoguiding is simple in concept :
During the long exposure of your main target , a
separate camera is trained on a single star , called
the guide star , and takes continuous short images
of the star and a small area around it .
Control circuits in camera , or software in a
computer , carefully measure the position of the
guide star in each exposure to determine if there is
any drifting .

If any drifting is detected , correction commands are


sent to the mount to move it back where it belongs .
The result is any drifting of the image is corrected
within a few seconds , and is not permitted to
accumulate . on average the guide star and hence
the primary target is kept stationary over a long
period .
Autoguiding will keep the objects in your image from
wandering more than about one pixel . So if your
photographing a galaxy that should be 500 pixels
wide in your image , it might actually be 501 or 502
pixels . you wont notice such a minor blurring of your
target .
Four requirements for Autoguiding :
1)Getting light from a guide star .
2)Selecting and attaching a guide camera .
3)Making guiding decisions .
4)Sending corrections to mount .

Guiding softwares :
Once images from the guide camera reach the
computer , special software is needed to track the
guide star , calculate errors and calculate
appropriate corrections .
There are several excellent softwares like PHD
( Push Here Dummy ) , Guide Dog , The SkyX(Pro) and
Maxim DL .

Summary :
So in summary what you need for Autoguiding is :

a) A camera with a built in selfguiding chip or a


separate camera for autoguiding mounted on
either a separate guide scope or an off axis
guider .
b) A computer running guiding software unless you
have one of the rare stand alone guiders .
c) A way to produce ST-4 guiding signals , either
from a guiding port on a camera or from a
dedicated guiding adaptor .

Note : Amateur Astrophotographers need not take


into account the autoguiding effect as they wont be
taking long exposures from the beginning .

CONCLUSION
Astrophotography is a very unique and interesting
form of photography and involves a lot of technical
as well as scientific knowledge . Astronomy
enthusiasts can take up this as their hobbies and
can explore the vast universe .

The most important aspect for an amateur


astrophotographer is the equipment specifications
and knowledge . one should research carefully and
accordingly select their telescopes or cameras .