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ISSN 2042-2687

Practical Astronomy

Beginner’s Guide To DSLR

Astrophotography - Part 1

December 2009
DSLR Astrophotography
Binocular Observing Challenge
Holiday Gift Ideas
Astronomy Recipe Of The Month
Astro Imaging Start-Up Story
Practical Astronomy December 2009

In this month’s issue.. First Light


the December
A collection of target objects, for the holiday period issue of
The multi-wavelength project of a reader in Sweden Yet again,
more features
7 DSLR ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY - PART 1 and more pages this month..
Practical guide to this powerful imaging technique Please welcome especially our
new contributors, who have
written magazine articles and
9 READERS IMAGE GALLERY sent great images for the
Your astronomy images (have you sent one yet?) gallery. I put out a call for help
to the subscribed members ...
and YOU answered. Thank you
11 HOLIDAY SEASON: ASTRONOMY GIFT IDEAS very much (and keep it up!)
Some gift ideas for the astronomers in your life! This issue also sees the start
of a new guide to digital SLR
12 ASTRONOMY RECIPE OF THE MONTH astrophotography. Presented
in parts, it will build over
Sirius Pisces Oriental - a feisty fishy thing coming months into a very
Practical Astronomy how-to
13 INTERVIEW: SKYLIVE ROBOTIC TELESCOPE guide to this new and powerful
Interview with a reader, who’s a member of this project imaging technique.
There’s also the holiday season
14 ASTRO IMAGING: A START-UP STORY binocular challenge, a very
tasty fishy recipe and many
Entertaining account of Hugh’s first steps into imaging other features,
So, I do hope you enjoy this
16 SKY VIEW - DECEMBER December issue. Please leave
Maps of the Night Sky - Looking East, South, West, North a little feedback at..

Special observing sights not to miss this month

Sponsored By

Practical Astronomy December 2009 Practical Astronomy magazine is published monthly

online. ISSN 2042-2687
Editor: Kevin Brown Views expressed are not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. May include errors and
omissions. Trademarks are the property of their
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Telephone: +44 (0)1622 891151 ©2009 All contents copyright. No reproduction
without express permission.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 2

Binocular Challenge: 12 Targets In 12 Days?
Can YOU observe these selected objects over the Christmas period? Depending on your local sky conditions, modest
binoculars should be good enough. Do let us know if it works for you on the Feedback page. (password is BINS)

Here are twelve December targets for 3. Star Cluster Melotte 20 in Perseus
binoculars ... Close to star Mirphak (alpha Persei), you should
All should be observable with modest binoculars find this large scattered S-shaped cluster.
(say 10x50), given reasonably dark, clear skies.
But note that some will be Northern hemisphere

Please tell everyone how you are doing with this

binocular challenge - leave a comment on this
(password protected) blog post..

Just click to view the Challenge comments so far 4. The famous Double Cluster
(and get more observing tips). Use the password
BINS (with CAPS) to be let in. A related pair of star clusters (NGC 884/869), in
Perseus, but close to Casseopeia.
1. The Pleiades (M45)
The showpiece open star cluster in Taurus.

5. Auriga’s Star Cluster Trio

Small star clusters M37, M36 and M38, in a
rough East to West line in Auriga.
2. Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
The furthest naked-eye object.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 3

Binocular Challenge: 12 Targets In 12 Days?
6. The Appennine Mountains on the Moon 10. The Great Nebula M42 in Orion
An easy one.. Best around 1st or 3rd quarter.

7. Star Cluster M35 in Gemini 11. Star Cluster M34

Find this large cluster to the West of Algol (beta
Persei) in Perseus.

8. Star Cluster M41 in Canis Major

12. Mars
Only a point of light through binoculars, but the
planet’s red tinge should still be visible.

9. Star Mu Cephei (another red sight)

Called the ‘Garnet star’ by Herschel, this distant
and highly luminous star appears very red.

Don’t forget to let us know how you’re doing

(and also get some useful observing tips)..
The password is BINS

Practical Astronomy December 2009 4

Reader’s Project: Radio, Optical And Infrared
Space Observatory By Arpad Cserkuti, Sweden

In pictures.. Arpad Cserkuti’s very interesting

project to build a radio, optical and infrared
space observatory in Sweden.

Observing the IR radiation of the Moon

Infrared line scanners

These infrared scanners were originally

produced for the cement industry, to inspect the
inside of ovens. They do not produce the usual
display - only a line.

12 GHz dish for observing the noise radiation

of the Sun

The IR sign of the Moon

Practical Astronomy December 2009 5

Reader’s Project: Radio-Optical And Infrared
Space Observatory (cont.)

Antenna for 12 GHz and 400-600 MHz

Disassembled optical telescope (will be mounted
with the radio and infrared telescopes)

If you find this project interesting, please

leave a comment or question at the
feedback page. One click and you’re
there ...

Homebuilt dish for 400-800 MHz (not in use)

Next Month January Issue Out 17 December

• Readers projects from around the World

• DSLR Astrophotography - Part 2
• Image Gallery
• Astronomy Recipe Of The Month
• Plus much more ...

Practical Astronomy December 2009 6

DSLR Astrophotography (Part 1): Joining Camera
And Telescope At Prime Focus Words/Pics by Kevin Brown

Welcome to Part 1 of our guide to using a the camera and a standard “T” thread on the
digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera for other side (this is the 42mm diameter thread
astrophotography. The intention here is to which is widely used on many photographic
provide a very “Practical Astronomy” how- accessories).
to guide, which helps you get started with
this new imaging method. I hope you wi'
also achieve, the very enjoyable results I’ve had recently.

The first step

To take part in this astrophotography revolution,
you will of course need a DSLR camera ... They
are not cheap. However, the cost has come down
to a few hundred pounds or dollars - affordable Canon EOS “T adaptor”
for many people and well below the cost of the
dedicated CCD astro imaging devices, we have Telescope nosepieces
become (sort of) used to.

Plus of course, a DSLR can also do totally

excellent, planet Earth photography (unless you
have it specially modified for astronomy use).
Personally speaking, my Canon 1000D is
unmodified and I have been bowled-over by its
astronomical AND terrestrial performance.

Prime focus
Armed with a DSLR camera, there are many ways Nosepieces with T adaptors attached
you can use it for astrophotography. In this 1.25 inch, le( and 2 inch, right
article, I’m going to look at using the camera at
your telescope’s prime focus. This is likely to The next step, is to attach the T thread on the
deliver the most startling results, at the lowest adaptor to your telescope. Some telescopes
cost. have eyepiece tubes with external T threads on
the end, ready and waiting. If yours is like this,
Prime focus means using your telescope as the congratulations, you can screw the camera T
camera lens. So you remove the camera’s own adaptor directly to the
lens (this is the big capability of SLR’s) and attach telescope.
it to the telescope in the correct position.
If yours is not like this,
You are going to need an adaptor ... you will need a
nosepiece having an
T-thread camera adaptors external T thread on
Most cameras have a lens mounting mechanism one side (to take the T
which is proprietary to the brand. So you will adaptor) and a short
need to buy a camera specific adaptor. extension on the other
Thankfully, these are not expensive ... one for my side, to slide inside an Nosepiece and T ring on
Canon EOS camera was £12 ($18) recently. eyepiece tube. You can
Termed a “T ring” or “T adaptor”, it has the get these for both 1.25 and 2 inch eyepiece
camera’s lens mounting on one side to join with tubes. The T adaptor plus nosepiece, goes into

Practical Astronomy December 2009 7

DSLR Astrophotography (Part 1): Joining Camera
And Telescope At Prime Focus (cont.)
the lens fitting of
necessary. For the polar axis, there are movable
the camera.
counterweights which slide up and down.
Then, you slot the
But it's not so easy for telescopes having optical
nosepiece into the
tubes integrated solidly with the mount. This is
eyepiece tube (2
often the situation with modern telescopes on
inch diameter,
computerized go-to mounts.
shown right).
Balancing one of these, once you have attached
But what about a large camera, can be tricky and will probably
the balance? involve adding extra counterweights to the
Having joined optical tube. Take advice for your particular
camera and instrument.
telescope, the next
step is to make Focusing
sure its balanced The final part of basic set-up is to make sure you
on the mount. Inserted into draw tube can achieve focus with the DSLR camera. Some
For most telescope focusers have insufficient in-travel to
astrophotography (that is, anything other than allow the camera to reach focus, because they
imaging the Moon or star trails), you will need a have been designed for eyepiece use.
driven, preferably equatorial mount.
With telescope and camera on the mount, you It's easiest to check this in daylight. Point the
need to make sure it's balanced about both axes. telescope at a distant object, such as a high
If it's not balanced, undue stress will be placed on building or tree and make sure you can get a
the driving motors leading to damage (especially good terrestrial focus in the camera.
risky with plastic gear components in today’s
lightweight mounts). If you can't get focus, some telescopes use
removable eyepiece extension tubes - you may
Balancing is fairly straightforward with an be able to swap yours, for another of different
equatorial mount. For balance about the length. If you can't do this, then seek advice for
declination axis, you loosen the mounting rings your specific telescope - it may help to use a
and slide the optical tube up and down. You can barlow lens or focal reducer, inserted into the
also slide the dovetail bar in the mount's head if optical path between telescope and camera.

Once the DSLR camera is properly joined with
the telescope at prime focus and balanced on a
motorised mount, you are ready to do some
exciting astrophotography work! We will look at
this, in the next part of this guide.

See our YouTube channel for DSLR

astrophotography video tutorials..
Balance by sliding telescope rings and dovetail bar

Practical Astronomy December 2009 8

Readers Image Gallery
We welcome your images for publication. Beginner, advanced or expert, just send to:

Bubble Nebula by Chris

Date: 11th/12th October 2009
Time: 22:40 BST (start of the
last exposure on the 2nd
Camera: Modified Canon EOS
300D plus Astronomik CLS
clip filter.
Telescope: William Optics
Megrez 80II FD
Exposure: 10 at 240 secs,
total = 40 mins for colour. 10
at 240 secs, total = 40 mins
for H alpha. Total = 80 mins
The Bubble Nebula (NGC7635) by Chris Longhorn
Guiding: None ISO: 800
Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CS2, Noel Carboni's actions.
Chris comments: “This was taken over two nights; the first night was the colour data and the
second night I took luminance data through a H alpha filter. The luminance data was layered over the
colour data in Photoshop. This is a crop of the whole frame to highlight the Bubble Nebula.”

Rosette Nebula by Mitch Fry

Object: NGC2244, the Rosette

Exposure: 50 min combined (added)
image (30 sec exposures), unguided,
H-alpha filter
Telescope: Williams Optics 80mm
Camera: SBIG 2000XM

A full FITS file is available upon

Email and
your request will be forwarded to
The Rosette Nebula (NGC2244) by Mitch Fry

Practical Astronomy December 2009 9

Readers Image Gallery
We welcome your images for publication. Beginner, advanced or expert, just send to:

Iridium Flare by John Scouros

Misty Iridium Flare - shot with a Canon 450D

and Canon EF 50mm lens, on a home-made

Jupiter by Ade Swash

Jupiter by Ade Swash

Object: Jupiter, with a transit of moon
Ganymede visible.
Date: early October 2009,
Telescope: Celestron 9.25” SCT
Iridium flare by John Scouros Other equipment: 1.5x Barlow lens

Sharpless SH-115 Nebula by

Steve Richards

Camera: SXVF-M25C
Equipment: 8" Skywatcher
Reflector with Baader MPCC,
EQ6 SkyScan Mount.
Exposure: 42 subframes of 300
secs. each, guided with SXV
slave autoguider and Skywatcher
ST 80mm guide 'scope.
Processing: Captured and
stacked in Maxim DL using
SDMask, processed in PS7.
Conditions: Average seeing,
average transparency Sharpless SH-115 Nebula by Steve Richards

Practical Astronomy December 2009 10

Holiday Season: Astronomy Gift Ideas

Budget Gifts Mid-Range For That Special Person

Celestron Binocular Tripod Celestron CGE100 XLT

Pentax 12X50 Binoculars Schmidt Cassegrain
Adaptor (click here for more
(click here for more info) telescope (click here for more

Bresser 10X50 Binoculars

(click here for more info)
Celestron 15X70 Binoculars
(click here for more info)

Canon 1000D Digital SLR

Camera (click here for more

Celestron Canon EOS T-Ring

Adaptor (click here for more

Hama Tripod - very useful and

actually very budget (click Meade Lightbridge 12”
here for more info) Dobsonian telescope (click
here for more info)

Canon Remote Camera

Control (click for more info)

Compensation disclosure: this page has affiliate links to show you interesting items from the Amazon
website. If you use these links to purchase, Amazon may pay us 5% commission (but you will not pay a
penny extra). Please consider supporting Practical Astronomy magazine in this way.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 11

Astronomy Recipe: Sirius Pisces Oriental By Kevin Brown

From a co'ection of recipes, specia'y created to inspire you for observing sessions this month!

Here’s a very full-flavored, Asian-inspired, spicy At the same time,

vegetable and prawn recipe (serve hot or warm fry the red pepper,
as a salad) peas and prawns
for 5 mins in 2 tbs
olive oil. If the
Ingredients (to serve 2) prawns are pre-
8-10 large prawns cooked, add for
half a red pepper last 2 mins only.
Add salt and black
a few mange tout peas
half a red onion
3-4 small sweetcorn (optional)
medium noodles
1 clove garlic
Cook the noodles
small slice of fresh ginger as per instructions
small green chili (to taste) (if dried, probably 3
2 tbs sesame seed oil, 4 tbs olive oil, 1 tbs rice mins in boiling
vinegar water). Then stir in
the dressing.

Method (15 mins)

Chop the red onion, chili,

garlic and ginger.
Serve with the prawns and vegetables on top of
the dressed noodles.

Coarsely chop the red

pepper, sweetcorn and
mange tout.

To make the noodle

dressing: Gently fry the
garlic, ginger, red onion
and chilli for 5 mins in
the sesame oil and 2 tbs
olive oil. Add 1 tbs rice Sirius Pisces Oriental
vinegar and season with finished and plated

Practical Astronomy December 2009 12

Inteview: Skylive Robotic Telescope
An interview with Alastair Leith

Here’s a short Q+A interview (by email) with reader Alastair Leith, about the SKYLIVE project he’s involved in.

AL. lol, you log on and wait your turn, usually an

Q. What is the Skylive robotic telescope hour or less to use it :-)
AL. It is a network of robotic telescopes based in Q. What can you do with the images
Sicily and Australia. They are accessible captured? Are they "yours" to do with as you
remotely from your computer desktop.
AL. Of course they are!
Q. What's your personal involvement with it?
AL. International coordinator and project trainer.
Q. How does Skylive compare to other
robotic telescopes available on the internet?
Q. Please tell us about the equipment AL. We are easier and more spontaneous. With
available? Skylive, you take control of the telescope
AL. [There are 6 telescopes.] It’s a combination yourself and take the images. Some others
of SCT LX200 and a Takahashi refractor. seem to offer little more than a Celestial DJ
Apertures range from 90mm to 16". Each is service.. “tell me what you want and I'll image it
complemented with CCD cameras. for you” type of thing. Takes the realness out of
the experience, I think. Plus, no telling how long
you have to wait for the images to be taken and
Q. How does someone actually use the sent to you :-)
telescopes remotely?
AL. They pay their subscription, then download
Q. Any final points you would like to make?
the control panel, login in and control the
telescope. AL. We are aiming for 24/7 astronomy in total.
Looking to expand further into Australia. Also
keen for more people to help, especially
Q. I believe there's a free and paid service.. programmers of Python.
what's the difference and how much does it
The other great thing with Skylive is its
AL. Free is where one can connect in and watch,
community. Though Italian based, it has a
and take a snap shot. Paid, you can run image
fantastic chat facility with devoted staff who are
sequences and control the instruments.
always happy to help.

Q. Once you've paid, how easy is to control a

The observatory also hosts free online meetings
telescope yourself? What options do you where presentations can be beamed direct to
have, for example over target objects and your desktop. True it’s in Italian; I am looking to
image capture settings? do one in English.
AL. Its a Go-To.. especially ace for nebulae and
galaxies. You can run sequences in all the main
filters - some people even do astrometry For more details, visit
To comment or ask Alastair more questions,
please use the Feedback Page
Q. Do you have to wait a long time, before
your "time slot" comes around? Or is it easy
to get time on the telescopes?

Practical Astronomy December 2009 13

Astro Imaging: A Start-Up Story By Hugh Collings

A reader’s entertaining and informative account of setting-out *om imaging ‘base-camp’ ...

A beginners guide to imaging Mine is just grateful that she can watch
Eastenders in peace and scan FaceTube
Now, I know what you’re all thinking ... without me pestering for the computer.

Here he goes with one of those guides, that is But it looked simple enough. Any fool could do
far too technical to understand past the 3rd it, I thought to myself. How true the second
sentence, but not so! word was to be!

Read on and I will explain … The deal gets done

So I offered a 5mm planetary EP (eyepiece) I
I’ve had about 8 years of visual astronomy had going spare and the chap accepted (God
behind me and still find that I’m learning new bless you Vinny!)
things and seeing new sights, so I was quite
happy. The LPI duly arrived in the post. I must say I
was a little disheartened.
I didn’t want to start imaging
I was not interested AT ALL in astrophotography Astronomy equipment usually comes in B-I-G
for three reasons: - boxes, but this was, well, small.

1. I could not justify the expensive equipment Inspecting next door’s chimney!
2. I really had no clue Still, I set it up in daylight and took some
3. I was intimidated by all those fantastic, exploratory shots of my neighbour’s chimney
professional looking shots that grace the during the day.
pages of magazines and websites!
It all seemed OK. The chimney was a bit too
Yep, I was a scaredy cat! close to bring into focus, but I thought I had it all
There was no way I, with my limited knowledge sussed out.
of photography (point and shoot) could hope to
compete with such talented amateurs. As the astronomy rule of thumb goes, get
something new and you are guaranteed cloud ..
Out of the blue, I came across a ‘For Swap’ post
on the Star Gazers Lounge website. Someone Moving on to Jupiter
was offering a Meade LPI webcam in exchange
Some days later ... it was finally clear, so I set
for WHY? (I didn’t know either, but apparently it
up my kit and focused in on Jupiter.
stands for ‘What Have You?’ as it what have
you got?)
Now the LPI is pretty easy to use. It slots into
the focuser and plugs into a laptop. Start the
But, webcams are REALLY easy?
laptop, launch Autosuite, focus on the object
I read a couple of reviews on the web and saw and start recording.
comments like ‘I had it working straight out of
the box …’ and ‘My wife, who was looking over It even sorts out the good frames from the duff
my shoulder, was completely amazed …’ ones and stacks them for you.

I should have smelled a rat with the second I set to work, recording 2 minute ‘videos’ of
comment. Whose wife is ever interested in Jupiter onto my old and slow spare laptop.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 14

Astro Imaging: A Start-Up Story (cont.) By Hugh Collings

I had the LPI connected to my trusty Soligor 152mm

Newtonian on a Tal motorised pier.

All went quite well and a couple of hours later, I felt I had
enough to be getting on with. I packed up and went in to
view my first ever picture of Jupiter ...

Apparently, I’m supposed to use a Barlow too!

Shall we try to persuade Hugh to write PART 2 of

this astrophotography journey? Personally, I think
so. Do you agree? Leave a ‘YES PLEASE HUGH’
comment on the feedback page to encourage him.

Click here and leave a comment on the December Hugh’s LPI Jupiter image (with sate'ite moons)
feedback page...

Oh! What Have I Got Myself Into? (or a Reader’s Letter

beginner’s path to astronomy enlightenment) I am now currently at this
My interest in astronomy started this year, because
of Venus back in September. 1. I have bought 10 x 50 binoculars and a star
guide. This advice was from the members at the
I live in Aberdeen in Scotland where we have one Moon watch. It’s good advice because if you find
of the busiest heliports in the world due to the oil astronomy is not for you, you can watch earthly
industry, so I assumed it was something flying in. sights when nothing is on TV, with not too much
As the mornings went on, I realised that what I cost to yourself.
thought was a star was actually the planet Venus. 2. I have been to an Astronomy Society meeting,
I began to look at other stuff and was amazed at which cleared up the myth that amateur
what I had been missing. This is when I informed astronomers are all bearded geeks with no life. I
my wife of another hobby (much to her delight), the was made welcome, hardly a beard, there were
warning being if that’s another lot of stuff that’s women too and I even came across another
going in the back of the wardrobe after a couple of newbie. They had a great talk on the eclipse in
times, it might be divorce! China and it was fun.
Having got her approval, I was now at the stage of 3. I am awaiting my first night viewing session with
where to start and what telescope should I get, as the society. This I hope will introduce me to the
everyone needs a telescope, don’t they? different types of telescopes and advice from those
I trawled the magazines and internet amazed at the more seasoned observers. The best bit of advice I
wonders offered, but in all honesty was getting have been given is to wait for a group night. Do not
frustrated and confused. It was made even worse buy a telescope until you have tried some out at a
by myself not having a clue about what’s up there group night, as we are all different. Doing this you
anyway!! will buy the scope suited to you, your needs and
I eventually came across Aberdeen Astronomical your wallet.
Society’s website which advertised a Moon watch
locally. I will keep you updated on my progress, if I am
I went along and navigated the hordes of kids allowed back by Kevin! [very welcome Ed, ed.]
flinging themselves around the Satrosphere (which
is a childrens science centre in Aberdeen) and was Wrap up warm and happy observing,
able to meet some of the members of the society
who gave me some good advice. Ed Walker

Practical Astronomy December 2009 15

Sky View Mid-December 9pm (lat 51N)

Looking East

These maps show the sky view looking in different directions at 21.00 GMT in mid-December,
for an observer at latitude 51 degrees North.
Further South? Objects are higher above your local horizon, but patterns are the same.
Local time zone not GMT? The view should be much the same at 21.00 hrs, in your local time.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 16

Sky View Mid-December 9pm (lat 51N)

Looking South

These maps show the sky view looking in different directions at 21.00 GMT in mid-December,
for an observer at latitude 51 degrees North.
Further South? Objects are higher above your local horizon, but patterns are the same.
Local time zone not GMT? The view should be much the same at 21.00 hrs, in your local time.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 17

Sky View Mid-December 9pm (lat 51N)

Looking West

These maps show the sky view looking in different directions at 21.00 GMT in mid-December,
for an observer at latitude 51 degrees North.
Further South? Objects are higher above your local horizon, but patterns are the same.
Local time zone not GMT? The view should be much the same at 21.00 hrs, in your local time.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 18

Sky View Mid-December 9pm (lat 51N)

Looking North

These maps show the sky view looking in different directions at 21.00 GMT in mid-December,
for an observer at latitude 51 degrees North.
Further South? Objects are higher above your local horizon, but patterns are the same.
Local time zone not GMT? The view should be much the same at 21.00 hrs, in your local time.

Practical Astronomy December 2009 19

Observers’ Delights December 2009

MOON Full New Full

2nd Dec 16th Dec 31st Dec (and

partial eclipse)

Date range 7-16 Dec, but

Peak 14th Dec 100 ZHR (meteors per Very favorable
GEMINIDS in the early hour) only likely within rich shower
METEOR SHOWER hours UT (GMT) 10 hours of peak See


Still very bright in Rising at Too close to the Sun for Still brightening
the South evening midnight by observation and now larger to
sky (in Capricorn). end-Dec observe. An
Just 0.5 deg S of evening object in
Neptune 19-21Dec December

DEEP SKY Starts ~ Ends ~

“WINDOW” 10th Dec 2009 22st Dec 2009 Make the most of it!

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Practical Astronomy December 2009 20