Astronomical Observing From the Red Zone

Tinkering in the white shadow of the Megalopolis

I like to do Astronomical Observing from my backyard, using binoculars. And have developed a diversion of going out back and sitting in my chair and taking in the sky night sky on most clear nights. For some unexplained reason, with my dyslexic mind I have taken a liking to star hopping,which is quite fun in the 4deg fov of the binoculars. The washed out sky, leaves just the important stars needed for navigation, and it is easy to locate Messier objects, and if not see them, at least detect their presence. On the occasions when I visit a dark site, I can very easily find, and locate dozens of objects, and spend my time observing instead of looking at charts.

In binoculars or a telescope planets are wonderful and the stars and are always pretty, like diamonds, ever changing and sparkling, observing star clusters even from my yard, is always a far more pleasing aesthetic experience than even Hubble images. Deep space objects are unfortunately a different experience, where any but the brightest are only faint smudges, or completely invisible.

( I live in a suburb outside New York City, on the light pollution charts I am in a Red Zone, which better than the white zone 5 blocks from my house.. they don't bother to further subdivide white zones, which get incredibly washed out as you get closer to the center of a large city, or a shopping center )

Battle between the octopus and the megalopolis

So for fun (when I have the energy) I do battle with the Megalopolis. And it does take some energy, I wheel out my 3 legged telescope from the garage, 8 sets of wires, and the hoards of attachments (camera,eps,finder, telrad ,dew heater, computer, software,polar scope,fan..). The neighbors take their kids inside, suspicious of the old muttering man staring at the blank sky, battling an invisible monster, taking pictures of invisible objects. Teenagers wait for me to fall asleep so they can loot the battle field. ... Getting a little carried away, actually no one other than my immediate neighbors notice. I have been observing with my telescope in the backyard for 12 years and has no one has ever bothered it.

The surprising thing is that with a camera, and a modest setup, some processioning software and, taking a lot of 30-90sec subs, I can get views somewhat nicer than the photos in my old Burnham's Celestial Handbook, Just about any object in the universe that passes through my small patch of sky I am able to get a decent view of. It turns out the Megalopolis while casting its light shadow on the sky, pushes you to get some unexpectedly nice results, and it is the Octopus of gadgets wires and cables that is more of a problem.

Some of My gadgets


I wrote this application to allow me to Observe DSOs using my DSLR, I enjoy watching the image develop out of darkness as the light is collected.

( this AstroToaster is a newer version of the Observing ToolBar for DSS, it is now a free standing application and does not need DSS to be runing )

AstroToaster is a freeware application for obtaining semi-live views of astronomical images using a DSLR, CCD (or any camera that can produce static astronomical images)

AstroToaster uses the Deep Sky Stacker (DSS) Processing Engine. It accomplish what DSSLive does, but using the full capabiblities of DeepSkyStacker. and has a Viewer with easy to use color and light enhancement tools.

- The camera drops image files into a 'monitoring' folder, and they are automatically processed and continuously stacked and updated into

a viewer window

- You can use darks, flats etc.

- Color adjustments, levels, curves are re-applied automatically to the refreshed image in the viewer

- It performs a complete align and re-stacking of the images instead of a running average

- It uses DeepSkyStacker's engine and settings, to perform the processing

- You can edit and tweak, stacked images from earlier in the session, while acquiring and processing a new image

I have found this to be a fun application for astronomy, you can download it from the Link below.

The effect of stacking and calibration on a Sequence of 10 one minute images ( detail of the Eagle Nebula )

Single Image (uncalibrated)

Single Image Calibrated

3 Images Stacked

10 Images Stacked

AstroToaster Download Page

Sim Picheloup's "couch Potato binochair"

This I purchased this in a kit from Sim, ( I don't know if he makes these any more, he was getting on in his years when I spoke to him )

It is kind of a semi - DIY kind of a thing, I was able modify and adjust it for comfort, and make very steady.

Ice Pack Cooler for my DSLR

I made this for using the camera in the summer, to keep the signal/noise values manageable in the images.

( I end up using all year long, because the consistent temperature allows me to get away with using fewer sets of Darks )

Needless to say the camera and everything else is well wrapped up in plastic liners and has desicants to keep things dry.

I have since upgraded with solid insulation and synthetic Ice with a phase change temperature of -15C, which keeps the sensor even cooler