Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Autoguiding Here We Come...Hopefully...

I purchased a used Meade DSI (original) camera today. I have had one before when I attempted astrophotography with my Meade LX200 on a standard wedge. The inefficencies of the standard wedge made astrophotography a horrible experience and I sold it and the DSI I originally had in frustration. For the past few months I have been reading about how folks have been using the DSI as an auotguiding camera and started to regret my decision to get rid of the one I had those few years ago.

So, today I ordered one that I saw on Astromart. It has only been used a few times so seems to be in good shape. I'll need to get a longer USB cable as well as a more modern interface cable from my laptop to the LX200 (which uses a serial port for guiding/scope control). I am used to the camera itself so the learning curve shouldn't be too steep.

I am really hoping that this will make a difference with my astrophotos. The idea behind autoguiding is that you have the guiding camera on your guide scope, while you have your primary imaging camera (in my case the Nikon D40 DSLR) on your main imaging scope. The guide camera sends the image of a star field to your laptop, running guide software, which is in turn connected to and can drive your scope by sending movement commands to it. The guiding software sends corrective movement messages/commands to your telescope based upon the movement it detects from the guiding camera's field of view. In the meantime, you leave your imaging camera shutter open, taking your light frames while your scope essentially corrects itself using the guide camera and guide software. Awesome! This is really what I have been aiming for, having added the William Optics 66mm refractor to my 8" SCT some time ago to be used as a guide scope (see here).

Apparently the Meade Autostar software now has a guiding component but I am going to use the free PHD Guiding application. Lots of folks swear by it so hopefully it will work well for me too.

My near-term astro plans mostly revolve around preparing for the Messier Marathon at the end of the month. Still, I'll work on getting the guiding set up on the side and will then plan a trip to a dark sky site to try it out.

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