I did it. I bought a RisingTech (ToupTek) Sony IMX224-based eyepiece camera. Its a nice little low-noise cam that beats the pants off of the Aptina AR0130 color CMOS chip in my other ToupTek camera, as far as noise is concerned. I got it mainly to do Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA) which is sometimes all that is possible in a very light polluted environment.
I love the immediate display of a color image that it gives you. It lets you hop around the sky and see objects like dim galaxies and nebula without having to wait until you process the images to see what you’ve captured. There are various software packages that let you stack images on the fly and you don’t have to save any of the sub-images if you don’t want to. It creates the stack and you save one file in the end, if you like it enough.
I did a little of both keeping images for later and just looking at stuff and not saving the stack when moving on to other objects. It was fun and I actually stayed up all night doing it.
I plan on doing lots more of this EAA form of amateur astronomy in the future and I think the new camera was a good investment ($168.00 shipped from China, total!) It is inexpensive enough that almost any amateur astronomer can now afford one.
I was fooling around with the Toupcam from a red/white LP zone and trying to get Comet 41P to show up. I ended up using SharpCap and doing live stacking with between 10 to 23 x 8 sec exposures for each stack. Then, I combined those stacks in IRIS and aligned them on the comet. It came out to be a total of 18 minutes worth of exposure, albeit in a heavy LP zone. So, I got it to show up, but the color and faint details of the tail and coma got lost in the noise.
It was Friday, March 3, 2017 and the weather was iffy for imaging at my dark sky location. So, I decided to stay in town and try some short-exposure imaging with the Toupcam color planetary/guider cam I have.
I also wanted to try out an adapter I purchased for the Orion Star Shoot so that it can work with the Orion Ultra-Mini, 130mm, F/4.3 guider scope I’ve been using. This worked better with PHD2 than I thought it would. It seemed more accurate than the Toupcam with less dropped frames. In fact, I’ll probably leave this as the permanent guider setup.
For the Toupcam, I used a two inch extension on the TV-85 at F/7, but I still had to let the cam and extension hang halfway out the focuser to even reach focus. But, it was stable enough to try some simple targets like the Orion Nebula.
I used a software program called SharpCap for acquisition, dark subtraction and stacking. It worked well enough for M42, but it had trouble with stacking dimmer objects like M46, an open cluster with plenty of stars in it. I used IRIS to stack the individual frames manually for that one.
The last two images were tests of a relatively dim galaxies, like NGC 4565 and M64. I only got 16 frames for NGC 4565, so it is not too special. But, it shows the galaxy well enough to recognize what it is. Like the previous image, it was also stacked manually in IRIS.
For my M64 dim galaxy test, I accumulated 38 frames @ 8 sec each. It was also a test of using a video file format called .SER that was designed for astronomical imaging. It is like a video file. After I downloaded a SER viewer/player, which also let me export the frames out as TIF format, I was able to bring the data into IRIS and stack.
Images of Comets, Nebulae, Galaxies and Star Clusters