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Cameras

Cameras

CCD Imaging is the fastest growing segment in the hobby of amateur astronomy today.  Most amateur astronomers have at least dabbled with imaging in one way or another.  A large percentage of observers love it so much that imaging has all but replaced visual observations when they get out under the stars.

It is easy to begin exploring the universe with a camera these days and much less expensive than you might think. Many companies offer simple one-shot color imagers that cost no more than a decent eyepiece.  Of course, those who are willing to spend a bit more will be able to delve deeper and with better resolution.  This can be compared to purchasing a telescope with better glass or a larger aperture.

 

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Unlike a traditional film camera which only captures about 2% of gathered light, CCD cameras can collect up to 70%, making them amazingly efficient for astronomy applications.   CCD cameras use a small, rectangular piece of silicon called a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) to gather and imprint the incoming light of galaxies, stars, and planets.  The silicon chip is a solid-state electronic component composed of light-sensitive cells called photosites.  When incoming light strikes the photosite, the photoelectric effect begins and creates electrons for as long as exposure to light continues.  The electrons are then stored in their individual cells until a computer unloads the collection, counts the electrons, and reassembles them to create a big picture.

Most people have a digital camera of one sort or another these days.  Although you can use them to take images of objects in the night sky, astronomical CCD cameras are made exclusively for astronomy.  These CCD cameras are created with features that include a way to keep the sensor cool, attach the camera firmly to your telescope, and control your camera from a computer.  Companies like Kodak and Sony offer a wide array of sensors to camera manufacturers, which vary by physical size, total number of pixels, and the size of each pixel.

The majority of astro-imagers use “still” CCD cameras to take pictures of the planets and deep-sky objects, such as emission and planetary nebulae, galaxies, and globular star clusters (similar to those the Hubble Space Telescope acquires).  However, there are  other ways to record objects in the night sky.  One of the more popular methods is with a specialized video camera.  This tool can broadcast real time images of deep space objects to a monitor and function as a camera.  They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to use.  All you have to do is insert the camera into the telescope and turn on the screen.

If getting into the speciality end of imaging sparks your imagination, then take a look at our line of spectrographs.  Using spectroscopy, stars will produce a vivid spectrum with the colors spread out along its length like a rainbow.  Emission and absorption lines can be readily observed in many stars.  These lines can be used to identify specific elements in the star's atmosphere or ascertain a star's temperature.

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