Video Astronomy by Chuck Real Chuck Real

If you were to mention the words video astronomy to someone they would probably ask “what’s moving up there….are you trying to catch a shooting star?” that’s probably the most common misconception of what video astronomy is.  The second misconception among unaware amateur astronomers, is that it is just another form of astro-imaging; taking beautiful portraits of astronomical objects.  Both are wrong…video astronomy is a relatively new tool used to enhance observing rather than astro-photography. It takes advantage of modern video technology to greatly enhance what is seen through a telescope beyond one’s wildest imagination.  It can do that in about the same time it would take to bring a target object into sharp focus through the eyepiece, a process appropriately referred to as “near-real time observing.”  The magic comes from the rapid multitude of images that is characteristic of video that are generated by the highly sensitive sensors used in nighttime surveillance cameras. The image stream is summed (integrated), which allows the accumulation of light from faint objects much like a long exposure from conventional camera, only much faster.

For the more elderly enthusiast, remember those wonderful black and white pictures of astronomical objects in books of the 1950’s and 60’s taken by large observatories?  With this new video technology, amateur astronomers are now able to gaze upon nearly equivalent images streaming from their own telescopes…in full color! Below are a few screen shots taken of such images taken by an astro-video camera through a vintage 1980’s 8” Celestron SCT. Be forewarned again that these screenshots are not intended to compete with high-resolution portraits, but they are remarkable because they show more than can be seen by the human eye through an eyepiece…and did so in less than a minute.

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Figure 1. Screenshot of NGC 253 Sculptor Galaxy. The image was captured during the July 2014 Star-B-Q at the Blue Canyon HGO site in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It was produced by 40 sec of integrated video taken through a 1980’s vintage C8 SCT.

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Figure 2. Screenshot of M57 Ring Nebula. The image was captured from a suburban Sacramento backyard, and resulted from 30 sec of integrated video taken through a 1980’s vintage C8 SCT.

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Figure 3. Screenshot of M51 Whirlpool Galaxy. This image was taken in Modac County during the 2014 Golden State Star Party.  It resulted from 45 sec of integrated video taken through a 1980’s vintage C8 SCT.

Because this is a relatively new way to enjoy astronomy, there is much to learn in this rapidly developing field.  To aid those interested in learning more, SVAS has created a new webpage dedicated to the exciting new field of video astronomy.  More in-depth articles on the technology and observing methods will be covered in a series of articles published in the SVAS Observer.