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Video Astronomy

Updated: Jul 17, 2018

One of my hobbies is amateur astronomy. My wife purchased a telescope as a Christmas present back in 2014 and I've been hooked ever since. The scope was relatively small (130mm f/5) but it was fun to see objects in space like galaxies, the planets, clusters and nebulae. However, living near the city presents problems due to light pollution. One solution was to go to a larger telescope. So I bought a 12" Dobsonian telescope. It allowed me to see deeper and fainter objects but many objects were still just gray smudges. I could see more detail if I took the telescope to a dark site like Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. But it's quite a chore to pack up the 12" scope and haul it across the country. I looked into even larger telescopes but the cost was prohibitive and their size makes them difficult to move. Plus, with the exception of planets, objects you view visually appear gray. This is due to the construction of our eye. At night, we use the cones in the side of our eye to pick up fainter light, but cones are primarily sensitive to green: red and blue don't register as well. So while hunting around for a soluton, I stumbled on Video Astronomy (also known as EAA - Electronic Assisted Astronomy).

Video astronomy gets it's name from the technology that was originally used. Early adopters attached small CCD (charge-coupled devices) security cameras to their telescopes and watched the sky through a monitor. It brought the sky to life, even in light polluted areas. It allowed you to see faint objects easily and in color. One just mounted the video camera where the eyepiece would go and used the telescope itself as a large lens.

Today, there are dedicated cameras that you can attach to a telescope that are relatively inexpensive and you can monitor them with a simple computer or tablet. In my blog, I'm going to show my current setup, what I installed on my computer to get it working, and some sample images of what I can see.

It's similar to astrophotography in that you're taking images with a camera and viewing them on the screen. But it's different primarily in the end goal. While you can capture the images you're seeing, to show friends and family, video astronomy is primarily intended to be viewed live at the telescope (or live remotely). The image quality is usually less than something done by an astrophotographer and a video astronomer's exposures are typically very short (seconds vs minutes). The hardware requirement for video astronomy is also much less stringent.

Below is a video astronomy image I captured. This is M57 captured with the Celestron 130SLT and a ZWO ASI185MC camera:


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