About Video Astronomy
The answer to poor Visual situations or the need to switch to very long hours of Astrophotography Imaging to see anything is 'Video Astronomy' which could be refered to as something along the lines of Instant Imaging.
But Video Astronomy is not Imaging as such. It is 'Electronically Assisted Observing'.
Video Astronomy is an aid, an assistance, an electronic visual Tool. It brings Astronomical Objects to us in full colour as close as possible to 'instantly'.
It's like having a magical Eyepiece that can see very faint objects, and in colour.
Video Astronomy has many benefits over both 'Visual' and 'Astrophotography'
Some of the Benefits of Video Astronomy are the ease at which the beauty of the night sky can be brought to Wheelchair bound and other Physically handicapped people, without having to struggle to get up to an Eyepiece;
To project objects onto a large screen for viewing by audiences at Observatories and Astronomy Outreach events.
And many Video Astronomers just like the instant gratification of seeing an object as near as possible to 'Live' in full colour on their own TV, Monitor, or Computer screen.
Doing 'Live' Video Astronomy broadcasting over the Internet, also known as 'Astrocasting', makes it possible for many people around the world to Log on and see objects instantly that they may never have an opportunity to see otherwise, whether due to disability, inability to access the sky, a desire to see objects in another Hemisphere, or whatever reason.
In most circumstances the observer, or 'viewer' can request to see certain objects to which the broadcaster can hopefully show them 'Live' and in colour.
Yes, viewers can look up all these objects on the internet and study fantastic Hubble Images
of the same objects, but there is something exciting and special about seeing them 'Live', especially if the Broadcaster offers objects at your own request. It's like having your own personal interactive Remote Telescope somewhere else in the world, when the Broadcaster can accommodate .
As a Broadcaster it gives great pleasure to be able to share your sky with the viewers, knowing that there may even be whole schools watching from some other time Zone on the other side of the World.
How Easy is it to do Video Astronomy?
Like most things, it can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it.
But yes, fantastic views of objects can be achieved in only seconds, and by using a very basic set-up of a suitable Camera, a Television, and an A.V cable.
On the Equipment page there is a long list of suitable cameras ranging from Webcams right through to specialised Systems.
But for now we are looking at how easy this can be.
This first illustration shows the easiest most basic Video Astronomy set up.
Place a suitable Analogue camera into the Focuser of a Telescope, plug in an A.V cable, and connect the other end to any TV with an A.v socket.
That's it! You are ready to see Planets, the Moon, and even Deep Space Objects right there on your TV.
Video Astronomy . . .
My passion in Astronomy is 'Live' Video observing and Internet Video Broadcasting also called 'Astrocasting', and my aim with this website, along with the assistance from helpful contributors, is to introduce you to the fascinating and exciting world of Video Astronomy.
Snake Valley, Australia
Although it can be pleasing when we look through a telescope and see the fascinating objects out there in Space, it has always been difficult to near-impossible to see the beautiful colours and details of far away Nebulae and giant Galaxies.
And with Light Pollution taking over our skies it is becoming even more difficult to enjoy Visual Astronomy.
One way around this obstacle is to devote many hours to Astrophotography, the capturing of a collection of long exposure Images.
But Astrophotgraphy also has it's drawbacks. The expense of the equipment, the need of fantastic seeing conditions, accurate guiding, very long hours of capture and many more hours of processing.
Now, lets use a Computer
This is also very easy. There re 2 methods and both are simple to do.
The first one I will mention is for Analogue cameras, and it's as easy as adding a device called a 'Video Grabber'.
A Video Grabber takes the incoming Analogue signal and converts it to a Digital signal so a Computer can read it and display it.
The Video Grabber is connected to the A.V cable at one end, and the other end plugs into a USB socket on your Computer.
After loading the driver for the Video Grabber, many Video capture programs will allow you to see the camera's image on your computer. Amcap is the most popular capture and video control program, but others work well too.
Here's how simple Analogue is:
The other method is using USB Video Astronomy Cameras.
As with all USB devices, simply plug in the USB cable at both ends.
These examples above are the easiest methods to get started, and many people are happy to stay at this level and not venture into more complicated programs, camera controls, or Broadcasting.
But it need not be daunting to move into the next level. The new capture programs available are really quite easy to use, and allow On-the-Fly processing to enhance the view of objects, and even total remote control of some cameras.
Again, it's a simple set-up. Purchase and download a Capture Program like Miloslick or AstroLive, or download a Free program like Sharpcap, or Gstar etc. To use total Remote Control for suitable cameras add one more cable into the mix.
After this, the most complicated bit would be testing different telescopes, Focal Reducers, Barlows, etc to find a combination that you like the most.
How do Analogue Video Astronomy cameras work
In a world of Digital everything, the most sensitive Video Astronomy cameras are still Analogue, but that is because there are no USB Cameras designed yet suitable for very fast 'Near-Live' Deep Space Video Astronomy, however Digital cameras can be used for Lunar & Planetary work and manufacturers like Atik and ZWO are now bringing out a range of USB Video Astronomy cameras that are quite suitable for DSO's.
Analogue cameras allow us to view Deep Space objects in a near-live situation because of 'Integration'.
Choosing the length of an Integration, similiar to a Long Exposure from a Digital camera, but not actually one long time frame, but many many short frames internally added together. And this process is an ongoing repeating process unlike the single frame Image process of a Digital Imaging camera. We see Analogue integration as a continous Video stream.
Integration is selected by Sensup (x2, x4, x8, x16, x32 etc) or by seconds (2 seconds, 4 seconds, 10 seconds etc).
Modern advanced Video Astronomy cameras can actually go as high as 99 minute integration! But you will probably never venture much past 2 minutes so the benefit of the very long exposure is an unecessary inclusion in Video Astronomy but it makes for a great sales pitch.
The most common integration times range between 2 seconds and 90 seconds.
Similar to Long Exposure imaging, the longer the integration the deeper the camera will see. But unlike Imaging cameras, the high sensitivity of Analogue cameras allows them to capture in seconds what may take an Imaging camera 15 - 20 minutes.
So we see the object 'Near-Live'.
Here is an example of x512 Sens-up being set for the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud
Is there an easy way to see the Moon and Planets?
Yes! Solar System Viewing is as easy as plugging a Webcam or Planetary Camera into a Computer and placing the Webcam into the telescope Focuser.
There are a couple of Webcams suitable for Live Lunar/Planeraty observing but they are getting rare as they don't make them any more.
However Meade and Celestron make a similar product for only a few hundred dollars.
They are easy to use and give terrific results without having to buy the more expensive Planetary cameras.
All of the Video Astronomy cameras will also show Solar System objects.
All of these cameras, and other Video Astronomy equipment, are shown on the 'Equipment' page'.
The History of Video Astronomy
Gil Miles of the Sydney Amateur Astronomers uses Video Astronomy in 1961
Gil Miles observing the Moon from his backyard at Croydon, Sydney in about 1961.
(Picture courtesy of John Flavin and the Astronomical Society of NSW)
Today video cameras are everywhere, even on mobile phones and on compact digital cameras. Taking video footage of the Moon through a small telescope is easy to do and highly worthwhile as spectacular views can be obtained. More features can be seen than with the unaided eye and the features can be identified by comparison with a lunar atlas.
Video astronomy was much rarer back in 1961. Hence this image of Gil Miles, an early president of the Sydney Amateur Astronomers, observing from the backyard of his house in Croydon, a suburb of Sydney, is so intriguing.
In his professional life Mr Miles worked for CSIRO’s Radiophysics and he is likely to have obtained his technical expertise through his work.
The back of this picture is inscribed:
Armchair Astronomy! A prominent member of the Belfield Observatory group allows his motor driven equatorially mounted telescope to follow the moon while he views the lunar landscape per closed circuit TV. It is assumed that the TV receiver is taken indoors on colder nights GIL MILES SYDNEY
(With the compliments of Gil Miles. (21/7/61) Closed circuit T.V. attached to 10″ Cassegrain at Croydon, N.S.W. Australia)
A Personal Justification
An article submitted by Jim O'Connor
Up front, let me say that I hate fussing with equipment.
Not due to impatience, just that I am in the encyclopaedia under the topic "KLUTZ". Give me two pieces of hardware, and one will end up backwards, missing a component, or lost somewhere until I clean the garage. My wife and my observing buddy both laughed for months when I talked about getting a truss dob, imagining the nightly assembly comedy. And I have never had any desire toward imaging. Not to say I don't absolutely admire the work of practitioners of astroimaging. Their art is breathtaking. But I know I was not born with the genes nor blessed with the time that allows others the vision and ability to apply technology to extract the beauty from the gray blurs we see. Plus, on the personal side, if I can't see it in an eyepiece, it's not real, just a refinement of Forrest Gump. I am purely an eyeball at the eyepiece kind of person, becoming one with the view.
I started in astronomy about 20 years ago at the urging of my best friend and wife, after we'd been married for 25 years. She told me she was running out of ideas for holiday gifts, and unless I got a hobby, it was socks and underwear for the rest of my life. Fine, says I, socks and underwear are always welcome. Wrong answer. Shoemaker-Levy 9 was just making news as about to hit Jupiter, and all my life I was interested in astronomy so I went out and got my first scope, a 6" f/5 Newtonian-GEM, two years later a 10" SCT, ending up with a 14" tube dob. But after about six or seven years, I was growing bored. Faint fuzzies were losing their draw. Then I got asked to help with some public outreach at schools in Tucson, Arizona. I was a bit dubious; what could we show under city lights. But it turned out easily accomplished, and astronomy was reborn for me. I was now seeing old targets through new eyes.
I went from being a solitary, somewhat jaded observer to loving public outreach four to ten times a month with either my 10" SCT or 18" truss dob. Eventually, several years ago I took over the Grand Canyon Star Party when Dean Ketelsen, who started it, retired after 18 years.
Over the years, my wife had become an award winning high school science teacher, certified in five states in physics, chemistry, math, geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy. But we found early on that she could not see objects in an eyepiece. She had a cornea defect in both eyes. She could teach astronomy, but could never see what she taught. Then, four years ago the defect got so bad it was uncorrectable in each eye so she ended up with corneal transplants and artificial lens implants. Then the bad news. Still no vision capability in an eyepiece. When she first discovered that her retinas have a defect previously undetected, a folded membrane over her rod cells that make each eye see multiple images in an eyepiece that become a blur, she cried about it for a long time. For years she had operated one of my scopes at GCSP; if I put it on a planet or double star, she could see enough to keep the blur centered. But DSOs are an impossibility.
Then, last Autumn and again last February, during our regular outreaches in a county park, I had the same visitor come up to my 18" truss dob. She is bright, enthusiastic about astronomy, blessed with a vision of DSOs yet a reality of their relationship with the rest of the universe. And she is wheelchair bound. Such a delightful person to speak with. So, to see planetary nebula one night, and M104 at high power on another night, two companions lifted her up to my eyepiece, propped against my ladder. And there she was thanking ME for sharing the view.
And recently, I learned that children don't develop the ability to process solitary images in an eyepiece without external context of view until at least age five, sometimes as late as age seven, and yet we have them at our telescopes with their parents pressuring them to see something that they have no ability to process yet.
After the February incident, although a confirmed, virtually militant eyeball at the eyepiece as true observing, I started checking out live imaging. And my National Park Service counterpart immediately got excited and wanted to start publicizing that GCSP would now support handicapped access. Oh oh, better get moving. So I ordered a Video Astronomy camera. First light was on M13, the great Hercules cluster. I called my wife out to the back yard to see the 13" monitor view of the screen full of diamonds. She came out and stared at the screen, and said "So THAT'S what people are talking about!"
So we set up our video corner at the entrance to our setup area at GCSP, monitors facing to not interfere with the other 50 to 70 scopes. Bill McDonald who does weekly shows at Lowell Observatory did one night with a Video camera and 24" monitor (the original person seven years ago who began trying to get me into video in an era of ToUCam, CRTs, and AC power only - OK Bill, I caved in), Wayne Thomas did seven nights bringing two great cameras and an old security camera, forgot the interface to the scope for the good cameras so we duck taped an old .965 to 1.25" adapter to the old security camera and he used that on Saturn all week, and John Suscavage did four nights with another camera. And the response was frankly awesome. Mostly from normally gifted people who thought what we were giving to those who had no way to access the night sky was a special gift.
Each night my granddaughter ran my video on the 10" while I was indoors setting up the talks or out doing constellation tours. The final night she didn't feel well so my wife reclaimed her old job and did the Moon and Saturn. And had over 400 visitors in two hours. Each night we had an average of four wheelchair bound visitors, many mobility challenged and unable to climb the slight rise to the rest of the fifty or more scopes, many who, it turned out, have similar night vision processing problems as my wife, and uncountable children who could only see Saturn in the monitor.
While I still prefer the views in the eyepiece personally, to not provide a live video image as an alternative is to deny access to the wonders of the night sky to the physically challenged, optically challenged, and/or those who are just to young to process the image in an eyepiece. Access that we normally gifted people too often take for granted. When visitors leave my display with a hug, and at times in tears, or a child jumps up and down and says "Mommy I can SEE it!" after no luck at other scopes, that to me is priceless.
The other night I finally got time to branch out into exploring DSOs with a new camera. I stuck it on The Ring for seven seconds and called my wife out to see her second DSO. She stared for about fifteen seconds at the gorgeous red and green, and yellow overlapping layers, and said "Where has this been all my life?" and I think I saw a tear or two. Now that's also priceless.
Vice President - Tuscon Amateur Astronomy Association
South Rim Coordinator, Grand Canyon Star Party
(Printed with Permission)