The Art and Science of CCD Astronomy

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The following section walks you through the basics of taking basic exposures in black and white the next section covers color. For specific steps with certain software packages, visit the Software Instructions section. Computerized telescopes are becoming increasingly popular.

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These telescopes make finding celestial objects extremely easy. However, there are still many non-computerized scopes out there, and even for users of goto scopes there are some tricks necessary for getting the exact picture you want. When you first start imaging, you will probably want to take pictures of the objects you are familiar with from visual observing. This will allow you to see your favorite objects in spectacular new detail. Eventually, you might also want to image the things you cannot see visually through your telescope. Below are general recommendations for aligning for CCD imaging.

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Most computerized or goto telescopes need to be aligned after the CCD camera is in place. Accurate focus is critical to obtaining high-quality CCD images. One of the many advantages of CCD imaging over film astrophotography is that achieving focus is much easier with a CCD camera. However, there are still some tricks to getting a precise focus.

The Art and Science of CCD Astronomy

Properly balancing your telescope is one of the most important steps in setting up to take CCD images. Improper balance is also one of the biggest sources of problems for imagers. Taking some extra time to understand the concepts behind balancing and to correctly balance your telescope will definitely pay off in the end.

While setting up your computer for CCD imaging is pretty straightforward, there are a couple tips and tricks which can prevent problems you might run into. Laptop Settings It is important to turn off certain power-saving features before beginning CCD imaging!

While this seems like a straightforward procedure, there are some tricks to assembling all the imaging accessories which will help you avoid problems during an imaging session. Accurate polar alignment is critical for CCD imaging. Field rotation, a trailing of stars near the edges of an image, can result from improper polar alignment. There's nothing that really competes with CCDs. For the really dim things astronomers look at, the number of photons of light coming from a source is so small that each one counts.

Out of every photons, a CCD can record more than 90 of them. Photographic plates can barely reach 10 percent. And your eyes? Their quantum efficiency is in the 1 to 4 percent range. According to lore , Smith and Boyle sketched out the design for the ubiquitous imaging device in an hour, over lunch at Bell Labs in October Working under the intense pressure applied by their taskmaster of a boss, Jack Morton, the pair had the device fabricated within a couple of months. George Smith took a photo of it, which you can see at the top of the page. The road, though, from the creation of the prototype to the development of an actual technology that could be used by scientists and photographers was long and hard.

Though CCDs would come to dominate astronomy, the device, as invented, was nowhere near high enough resolution to be worthwhile. With its poor signal-to-noise ratio, it was not immediately clear that the CCD was destined for greatness. It was so small and awfully noisy. Historians Robert W. Smith and Joseph N. Tararewicz note that "astronomers could not simply procure a CCD 'off the shelf' soon after the device's invention at Bell Labs.

Some astronomers, though, saw the potential for CCDs down the road. They were in Smith and Tararewicz's terms, "counting on invention. In the face of budget cuts in that threatened the installation of the still speculative, expensive CCD technology on the Large Space Telescope Hubble , an astronomer delivered an impassioned plea for the technology.

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The Art and Science of CCD Astronomy - Knihy Google

Hard work by hundreds of scientists and engineers pushed CCDs closer to reality over the next few years. Companies like Fairchild, Kodak and Tektronix, rather than Bell Labs, developed the technology into usable form. Military, scientific and consumer applications were all benefiting from the money being thrown at the CCD problems from different directions, but it was still tough. Still, scientists like Tyson persevered.


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After nearly a decade, he put his latest camera on the inch telescope at Mt. Palomar Observatory and was able to measure the distribution of the faint blue galaxies. That work became an important piece of evidence that dark energy — the mysterious force propelling the acceleration of the universe outward — actually exists.

Now, nearly every major astronomical observatory uses CCDs.


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They also remain the gold-standard for medical imaging , or really any type of science that needs to capture photons. Tyson's latest project is the Large Synoptic Sky Survey , which will incorporate a 3,megapixel camera.