Archive for July, 2020

Astronomy

One thing about frontier life is that you can’t always struggle against the environment. New Mexico is hot, dry, and high elevation. Being outdoors in the summer is physically taxing. What about the night though? All the isolation out here makes this one of the best places to go stargazing.

At the start of quarantine, I decided to buy a telescope – something to get me outside, away from screens, and a chance to quiet my mind. I got an Apertura 8″ Dobsonian reflector from High Point Scientific, mostly on the wonder of AstroBackyard’s review video. It’s a fantastic beginner scope, and the manual mount is forcing me to really learn the skies.

The moon at 80x.

Seeing the moon, even at 40x magnification, is incredible. There are so many craters! Finding the planets has been a really neat adventure: I can’t believe that I’m able to separate Saturn’s rings and see Jupiter’s moons.

Jupiter and the 4 Galilean moons.
Saturn and it’s moon, Titan.

I also got a cell-phone adapter for my eyepieces. It essentially lets me use the entire telescope as a gigantic camera lens. My Google Pixel 3a has an astrophotography mode that has helped get long exposure photos of the sky.

The Milky Way, shot in astrophotography mode on a Pixel 3a XL.

Another cool thing is the discovery of Comet NEOWISE. It’s not really visible from the city, so it’s been a good excuse to get out of town into the wild.

Comet NEOWISE.

As I get deeper into this hobby, I’m realizing that something I originally started to get away from screens might get me into more screens. The basic calculations around optics have led to a gnarly spreadsheet. The notion of astrophotography as data collection is mind-blowing. Digital sensors have evolved to where we are literally measuring the number of photons hitting a 3 square-micron pixel, down to the level of a single photon in 5 minutes. This is all possible with consumer hardware too!

I wanted to share some beginner resources that have helped me.

  • AstroBackyard review of Apertura AD8 — Trevor Jones has a great channel for astrophotography and conveys the wonder of it all well. This video really sealed my purchase.
  • Allen’s Stuff on choosing a beginner telescope — Allan Hall reviews
    pretty much every kind of beginner scope and the pros-cons of each.
  • A Beginner’s Guide to Solar System Photography — Particularly useful article focusing on alt-az mounts. A Dobsonian is a fancy alt-az mount and one of the big challenges is that stars do not track with that mount so your exposure times are limited.
  • Astrophotography with a Dobsonian? — Video demonstrating reaosnable expectations from a beginner with the same type of telescope that I have.
  • The Deep-Sky Imaging Primer -— Fantastic guide, university-course level of detail, far exceeded expectations and gave me a glimpse of just how engrossing this hobby can be. All of the author’s books are stunningly beautiful – his Sky Atlas is also great!

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