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New Astrophotography Hobby

I’ve picked up a new hobby, taking pictures of things in our night sky! I learn things faster if I write about them, so I’m going to share my experiences with this hobby to force myself to get better at it and to hopefully help anyone who might be starting with this as well. Just like I did with my electronics hobby.

I bought my first telescope about seven years ago and left it in the garage for most of its life. I would occasionally take it out to look at the moon or one of the planets in our solar system. I never really thought about taking any pictures until this June when Jupiter would be at opposition.

I dusted off my old Celestron 70 AZ refractor telescope and bought a cheap smartphone adapter to try to take a couple of pictures of Jupiter. I didn’t know what I was doing, and all I got was a black image with a tiny white blurry dot.

So I turned my telescope to the moon and took a couple of pictures.

Pretty cool! I started to get excited about this. I went back and did some research which ended with me buying a better eyepiece and a more precise smartphone adapter.

I tried to capture Jupiter again and, I saw the same black image with a not as blurry white dot with four smaller dots, Jupiter’s moons. So turned the telescope to our moon again and took more pictures.

The upgrades helped, at least for the moon. I went back to research again and this time spent many hours on YouTube and Astronomy forums. I found great resources such as https://astrobackyard.com/ and tried to learn as much as I could about this hobby. I also realized that this was going to be an expensive hobby…

I knew I needed to upgrade my telescope so after a ton of more research, I settled on a Celestron NexStar 8SE. I wanted to see Jupiter and Saturn pop out on the eyepiece and on the images I would take. I’m not sure how this telescope will work out for deep sky objects since it does not have an equatorial mount, but I figured I could upgrade to one later. I also bought a dedicated planetary camera, a Celestron NexImage 10, because I wanted to be able to show the planets to my kids on a laptop screen.

Once the telescope arrived, I read all the manuals, I had already watched all the related YouTube videos I could find and started to set it all up. I was struggling trying to align the telescope, partly because I was impatient and because I skimmed through that part in the manual. I ended up just manually moving the telescope to Jupiter and was blown away by what I saw.

I attached the NexImage camera, connected it to my laptop, and started to record a video of Jupiter. This was a pain since the telescope was not tracking, so I was only able to take a couple of seconds worth of video at a time. I also did not correctly configure iCap, the capture software.

I ended up processing the video with PIPP, which created a new video file with Jupiter centered on the screen from the video of Jupiter moving across the screen. I used that video in another tool named RegiStax 6 to create a single stacked image from the best video frames. This was the result:

Not as clear as I’d like, I did end up tweaking the colors a bit more in Photoshop, but I was impressed by what could be done with my poorly captured video of Jupiter. I did the same thing with Saturn:

The next couple of nights were too cloudy for planetary imaging, so I had time to plan my next session. I practiced aligning the telescope and realized it sucked and took too much time, so I bought a Celestron StarSense AutoAlign which does the alignment for you in a couple of minutes. I learned how to configure iCap and practiced using RegiStax. I was ready for the next clear night to try and capture Jupiter and Saturn again. I also started to look at equatorial mounts and what it would take to photograph a nebula or galaxy. It confirmed my initial thought that this was going to be an expensive hobby.

A clear night finally came, and I set up the telescope in my backyard. I spent about 5 minutes aligning thanks to the StartSense AutoAlign and then selected Jupiter in the hand controller. I was again blown away when I looked in the eyepiece and by how well the telescope was tracking Jupiter. I attached the NexImage camera and started to record again, this time with a bunch of settings tweaked in iCap. After capturing several videos with about 1000 frames each using different parameters, I moved to Saturn and did the exact same thing. I then packed everything up and went inside to process the videos.

I spent about an hour using PIPP, RegiStax, and Photoshop to create these images of Jupiter and Saturn:

These images are many times better than the first two I captured, and I know I can still do better, I just need more practice. There are so many different software tools that I can use to create better images, it is going to take time to try them and to get good with them. There’s also a ton of different hardware such as better cameras and filters to reduce light pollution. There is so much to learn with this hobby.

I got hooked already and am planning my next session with Jupiter again. This time I want to capture Jupiter’s great red spot. I also want to take better images of the moon and try and capture the Sombrero Galaxy. Hopefully, the clouds will cooperate with me sometime soon.

I’ve added a new Astrophotography page where I’ll keep all the images I’ve captured. I’ll start posting after each night I spend outside and will create some quick tutorials for how I use the various software tools to capture and process images.

I’m a total noob at this hobby and am probably doing something completely wrong. Please let me know in the comments if you have any advice.

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