Want to get the most “Big Bang” out of your buck? (I know, I know . . . groan.) My biggest piece of advice is: Watch the tutorials.
I’m the type of person who never reads instructions. I’m also the type of person who can be somewhat impatient. These two traits tend to be at odds with each other and do not bode well for me. However, when I first joined iTelescope I was careful to read about the basics and watch all the suggested instructions and video tutorials. Am I ever glad I did. It’s saved me quite a bit of money and allowed me to use some of the best deep field ’scopes available.
Using the tutorials, I first learned how to utilize Stellarium — a free astronomy program — to plan my imaging runs. Stellarium allows you to input specific locations, such as the three locations served by iTelescope, giving you the objects that are visible at that time as well as their altitude. That was a big help.
However, what really made a difference was learning how to image with the moon up.
Let’s face it: some of the telescopes have very high point rates per hour. And rightfully so: the equipment is top of the line and produces jaw-dropping quality images. So how can you — on a budget — afford to get on those telescopes? The answer? The moon. This is one time that the moon is an astrophotographer’s friend.
You’re probably already aware that the points on a telescope vary depending on the moon’s illumination. For example, if 75% of the moon is illuminated, you get a 50% discount on the rates. So, for example, take T11 (one of my favourite telescopes): with no moon in the sky, the rates are 199 points per hour. However, if 75% or more of the moon is illuminated, the rate drops down to 99 points per hour. That gives you far more time to image.
But, you may ask, how can you image with the moon in the sky? I mean, we’ve all seen the sky cam with that bright light taking up half the camera. It seems hard to believe that you can obtain any quality images with that thing hogging up the sky. Well, I am here to tell you that it is possible. The key is to make sure that the moon is far enough away from the target: at least 60 degrees. Of course, it’s also best to do narrowband imaging using the Ha, OIII and SII filters, but you can do some LRGB, if you’re careful; even if you’re an “amateur” amateur astrophotographer, such as I.
Take, this image, for example. I took this on March 1st. The moon was almost fully illuminated (I think it was about 83%). In fact, the moon was 90% illuminated for the 600s luminance I took the night before. I have to admit: I was skeptical. Even the preview image had me worried. But when I went to process . . . wow. It actually turned out. And the thing is, I’m a nebula person: I don’t have much luck with galaxies. But this is, by far, the best image I’ve done in a while. I’m extremely proud of this.
So take my advice: watch the tutorials. They’ll help you save some cash and allow you to use some of the most incredible telescopes available.
The tutorial for imaging with the moon can be found here.