Its been some time since posting. The warmer weather is finally starting to loosen winters cold grip, and with it more and more opportunities for some observing. With my plans for this year in expanding my observing sessions to include more of an interactive format for the purpose of astronomy outreach, I decided to give astrophotography a try. I acquired a Meade LPI Lunar and Planetary imager and a Meade DSI II imager for that very purpose, and this past Saturday had my very first opportunity to play with them under the stars.
Meade LPI First Impressions and first light.
The Meade LPI has been out of new circulation for quite a few years now, but I found a used one at a reasonable price on Astromart. The reason I opted for the LPI was two main reasons. First, I read a very interesting story by Rod Mollise that he did back in 1996 on using the LPI for Binary Star measurements. Since double-stars are a very large interest to me now, I figured the LPI would fit my needs nicely to give this a try. Second, the LPI has the unique capability (without mods) to do long exposures, well if long exposures are up to 15 seconds that is. I have been researching webcam mods for quite some time, and with some work, you can turn some images into long exposure cameras as well. Not really wanting to chance modifying a camera, I decided that pursuing a used LPI imager for the right price is a great way to get into imaging.
The LPI isn’t my first foray into imaging. In fact, I bought my Celestron Ultima 8 PEC specifically to get into astrophotography. Those were the days of Pentax K-1000s’, hyperized film, and very long exposures where your sitting at the eyepiece of your off-axis guider painstakingly correcting the drives manually for any tracking errrors. After about 3 sessions, I resolved that it was not for me, and completely turned to visual observing, and have been enjoying that ever since.
In 2004, I purchased an Orion Electronic Eyepiece, something at the time that was fairly new device with promising capabilities. This device permitted you to see the Moon and planets on screen via a RCA jack (needed another device to connect to computers USB, I used WinTV device), but it was nothing like the view at the eyepiece, so after a few observing sessions with this device, and a very mediocre image of Jupiter obtained a few times, that device too sat in its box for many years. It wasn’t until just this past year, with the arrival of the Meade LS 8 ACF that I again got the astrophotography bug, and got this old device out for another round, and I’m glad I did. My very first night using this electronic eyepiece with the LS 8 ACF, and with significant help from an updated Registax program, I was able to produce a very adequate view of Jupiter (see my posts from 10/10).
With the knowledge that digital imaging has come a long way, and thanks to software such as Registax, one can obtain some nice planetary images with very modest equipment. I didn’t however want to stop at simply planets, thus my research on a capable webcam like camera for planetary imaging and binary stars, and my results turned me to the Meade LPI.
Now the LPI has some promising capabilities, but those remain to be seen in the coming months if it will fill the needs of a simple USB webcam device capable of producing pleasant views of the Moon, planets and even some double-stars. So I thought, if I’m going to be getting into some limited astrophotography, why not really get into astrophotography with the Meade LS 8? After viewing simply gorgeous images produced with a ETX-LS 6 by Warren on CloudyNights (rigel123 , http://www.rigel123.com), I decided to give the LS 8 ACF a try at astrophotography, and I’m so glad I did!
First night with the Meade DSI II on the Meade LS 8 ACF.
Now, before you read on, note that none of these photos are going to grace the inside of S&T or Astronomy any time soon, astrophotography is an art that I need many more nights of practice to get anything “acceptable” by amateur astronomers points of view, but I”m simply thrilled at how easy it was to use Meade’s Envisage (part of the AutoStar Suite) and the LPI and DSI II cameras.
The Envisage program comes with the AutoStar Suite, and was already on my PC. The drivers for both the LPI and DSI II were needed next, and with some initial issues (me trying to complicate a normally easy step of driver selection) I was ready to roll. Plugging the DSI II into the USB port, and starting up Envisage and I was ready to go. The Meade LS 8 ACF was already aligned and ready (its a LightSwitch of course!) with my first target of the evening, M42. I used the 14mm UWA to center it, and then swapped with the DSI II. A quick selection of “Live View” on the Envisage software showed 4 large donuts. Obviously the Trapizuim, but way out of focus. Focusing is certainly a critical step, and it took me quite some time of focusing, pausing for the vibrations to stop, re-focusing etc before I was as satisfied as I was going to get with the image of the stars on the screen. Now a very important step that I did next was to use the parfocal focusing ring that comes with the DSI II, and place on my 14mm UWA. I next took the DSI II out of my diagonal, and put the 14mm in its place. Moving the eyepiece physically up and down, ensuring NOT to touch the focus of the telescope, permits you to then select the appropriate point when the 14mm UWA eyepiece is focused to the image in the scope, then you tighten the parfocal ring at its lowest point on the eyepiece barrel, and now your eyepiece should be parfocal to the DSI II. Very helpful and crucial step IMO.
Swapping out the 14mm UWA for the DSI II, I now began the imaging session in full swing. Simply, what a blast! I was shocked that in just 11 seconds of exposure, I could clearly start to see nice detail in the nebula, I was hooked. Playing with the exposure times, going from 5.8 seconds all the way to 1.5 minutes, I was able to see on screen different aspects of the nebula. Shorter exposures permitted smaller stars, permitting me to easily discern the diamond shape of the Trapezium stars. Long exposures created larger stars, but pulled in more photons of the nebula itself, and filling the screen, even with hints of color!
The most exciting aspect of this evening was the fact that I did not expect to be able to see that detail so quick on the screen, and immediately my mind was racing with ideas on broadcasting my observing sessions with the DSI II. No, its not as capable of live views as say a Mallincam, but it can certainly render some pleasing view of deep-sky objects with 30 seconds or more of exposure times. Fun, fun, FUN!
The remainder of the night was familiarizing myself with Envisage, and different exposure times for a variety of objects (see the links to the photo stream below). I was quite pleased with the Meade DSI II, and even more pleased that I can now pursue astrophotography and limited live streaming with the Meade LS 8 ACF. So stay tuned for a dedicated series of articles focusing on beginning astrophotography with a Alt-Az scope such as the Meade LS 8 ACF. I also plan on focusing specifically on the long exposure capabilities of the Meade DSI II when used on a Equaltorial mounted scope, such as my Celestron Ultima 8 PEC. In the mean time, enjoy the link to my photos below.