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Entry-Level Astronomy?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the getting-started-for-a-grand dept.

Space 358

brobak writes "I'm getting ready to move into a new home on a couple of acres of rural property a significant distance from any large source of light pollution. I've always been interested in astronomy in general, and I would like to put my dark skies to use by picking up decent telescope and learning a bit about the skies over my head. The overall budget for this project is going to be around $1,000. I am particularly interested in astrophotography, but I understand that that may carry me outside the scope of the initial budget. I've already signed up for my local astronomy club's next monthly meeting. I have been doing Web research, but I thought that the Slashdot community would be the perfect place to get opinions on entry-level equipment, websites, and books."

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Astronomy software (5, Informative)

jchillerup (1140775) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549585)

The first thing I'd do would be to install Stellarium [stellarium.org] . That'd enable you to "tune in" on stars, even in cloudy weather.

Re:Astronomy software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549687)

or even better cartes du ciel at http://www.ap-i.net/skychart/ [ap-i.net]

Celestia (2, Informative)

lobotomir (882610) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550051)

I would also recommend Celestia [shatters.net] , because in addition to simulating the night sky it lets you "travel" to points of interests -- the planets and nearby stars, so you can view them from different angles. Lively modding community around that one, too.

Re:Astronomy software (3, Informative)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550801)

While we're listing astronomy software: Kstars [kde.org] is great too.

And if you want to use a (web)cam on your telescope, take a look at registax [astronomie.be] .

How dark is it? (2, Insightful)

jdigriz (676802) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549593)

What's your Blortle number?

Web site (3, Informative)

tumutbound (549414) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549605)

Have a look at http://iceinspace.com.au/ [iceinspace.com.au] while it's run out of Australia, there are members worldwide.
'Where to start' is a common question there.

Well there's always... (4, Informative)

Artaxs (1002024) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549617)

... Google Sky [google.com] .

Re:Well there's always... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549649)

In the linked vid, Sally Ride opts to not shake hands with the chubby girl. :D

A Great Camera? (4, Interesting)

SpottedKuh (855161) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549623)

Now, I know that this probably won't be the kind of answer you're looking for, but here I go anyway...

Personally, if I had the kind of space you had, with no light pollution, and if I had the budget you mentioned: I would buy a high quality digital SLR camera. Obviously, if you're looking to photograph things that you need a telescope to see, this wouldn't be a good use of money for you. But, if you're looking to take shots of constellations and the moon and such, then a high-quality digital SLR with a tripod will work beautifully.

Plus, such a setup would allow you to take great photos of various weather phenomenon (e.g., thunderstorms). While it may not be the case for you, most of the people that I know that enjoy photographing the moon and the night sky also love photographing weather as well.

And, obviously, you'd then have a great camera for travelling and such.

Re:A Great Camera? (-1, Offtopic)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549643)

Hmmm, an SLR for travelling? Can anyone say (expletive) "American Tourist"?!?

Re:A Great Camera? (-1, Offtopic)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549671)

ROFL, way to skewer the American tourist!!!

Using SLR cameras..LOL!

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

SpottedKuh (855161) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549681)

Hmmm, an SLR for travelling? Can anyone say (expletive) "American Tourist"?!?

Or someone who enjoys nature hikes, away from the Americanized restaurants and such? Anytime I've had the opportunity to venture far from civilization on my travels (e.g., into a rainforest), I've always brought my SLR (an old non-digital one, which may someday be replaced with a digital, funds allowing). Photographing flowers, birds, and landscapes is just more fun with an SLR!

And no, I'm not American :)

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549759)

Seriously though, I do agree with you. There are circumstances where an SLR is a strong advantage. IE, taking breathtaking time exposures of the night sky or lightning strikes etc etc. However, the modern digital happy snap cameras do a fantastic job at taking pictures while travelling, they fit right in your pocket, and most importantly, when interesting stuff happens, you have it by your side. It's like using a howitzer when a pistol will do.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

tezbobobo (879983) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550233)

Coincidence I was reading about this today. To really capture the colour and nuances you mustt move th camera with the sky - strapped easily to a telescope is often the best way. I'd then start there.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550507)

I hate digital cameras period, I always want to take another exposure and the digital is always "recording image". The logic in the camera is always fighting against me, I struggle with the UI trying to change from exporure mode from shutter priority to iris priority, and the auto-focus is the work of Satan. I have a film SLR a Cannon FTB ql (35 mm film) and the only thing the battery is used for is the TTL exposure meter, and a Russian Lubitel II twin lens (120 film) that doesn't use any batteries.
If your even thinking about hooking a camera up to a telescope, the more automation the camera has, the more the automation is going to get in the way.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550679)

I hate digital cameras period, I always want to take another exposure and the digital is always "recording image".
I don't understand what you're saying. Did you mean to say that saving an image takes too long?
From what I understand, you are talking about a cheap digital camera. Indeed they sometimes are quite slow, but that's no problem for some people and if it is, then you should just buy a better camera. E.g. I'm totally fond of my Nikon D70s, it can take 3 photo's per second, you can control everything, and it's relatively easy to use.

I think you're either just too impatient to learn how it works, or else your camera is worthless. But saying that all digital camera's suck is just.. how to put it.. moronic.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550223)

Or someone who enjoys nature hikes, away from the Americanized restaurants and such? Anytime I've had the opportunity to venture far from civilization on my travels (e.g., into a rainforest), I've always brought my SLR (an old non-digital one, which may someday be replaced with a digital, funds allowing). Photographing flowers, birds, and landscapes is just more fun with an SLR!

Same here, I too love hiking and will bring my 35mm with me. Because of budget constraints I haven't got a dslr yet but hope I can get one soon. Even when I get one though I'll still carry my 35mm film camera, I'll just have two bodies to carry instead of one. I'd also like to get a medium format camera, and eventually a digital back for it.

Falcon

Re:A Great Camera? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549753)

Huh? I don't live in America, I see DSLRs on all kinds of travelers - I think people all around the world use DSLRs.

Re:A Great Camera? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550047)

Hmmm, an SLR for travelling? Can anyone say (expletive) "American Tourist"?!?
You can drop "American", I'm afraid. It's fashion these days that if you go on holiday, you carry an SLR. Without it, you're a nobody it seems.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

ktuluz (845038) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549769)

Yes i have been looking at getting into astrophotography, i went and brought a nice Digital SLR (canon 400d) b4 i even looked at telescope, its great for milkyway wide angle shots and moon etc. i this this is a good idea, now just to find a scope i can hook it upto

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

paganizer (566360) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549819)

I've thought about doing this sort of things a few times; i live in Paris, TN these days and light pollution is effectively zero.
What i considered doing for a while was using cheap scopes, webcams and software like astrostack to composite the images; I've seen images on the net that were produced with less than $500 total worth of hardware that are truly phenomenal, created by compositing the output of 4 60mm meade telescopes.
The nice thing is that all you have to do to make your images better is add more cheap scopes and cams.

Re:A Great Camera? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549821)

beginners astrophotography needn't be expensive. grab a copy of the latest version of 'registax' - it's free (beer or speech - i can't remember). use registax to sort out and clarify your avi (windows only, sorry folks) captures from whatevery digital video source you can get your hands on.

this means you can get the hang of the astrophotography thing with inexpensive gear like an ordinary webcam.

i started out doing the same. initial outlay was about fifty bucks for the webcam, and about 50 cents for the adhesive tape to fix it to my telescopes eyepiece.

(obviously, telescope and eyepiece are sold separately)

Re:A Great Camera? (2, Informative)

KarMann (121054) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550303)

...the latest version of 'registax' - it's free (beer or speech - i can't remember)....

As in beer, FYI.

What the heck, here's the link [astronomie.be] , while I'm at it.

Re:A Great Camera? (4, Informative)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550149)

Personally, if I had the kind of space you had, with no light pollution, and if I had the budget you mentioned: I would buy a high quality digital SLR camera. Obviously, if you're looking to photograph things that you need a telescope to see, this wouldn't be a good use of money for you. But, if you're looking to take shots of constellations and the moon and such, then a high-quality digital SLR with a tripod will work beautifully.

A good dSLR can be had for under $500 (Canon 350d/d40) new or even less used (KEH.com and fredmiranda.com (Buy & Sell forum) are good sources) and quality tripods start at $100.

That leaves the choice of lens - whatever you buy if you decide to go the camera / tripod route invest in a really good lens - it's better to buy a $300 body and a $700 lens then vice versa since your glass has a greater impact on picture quality than MP's and you'll want fast glass (the ability to shot at faster shutter speeds in low light). Your investment will pay off over time since the lens will stay with you when you get a new body. Don't get all wrapped up in MP - anything 6mp or above is more than adequate for virtually any shoot. Don't worry about the endless Canon / Nikon fanboy debates - both are great systems so pick one that you like, meets your needs and fits your budget; realizing that you investment in lens will pretty much result in a lock to one manufacturer.

I'd recommend holding of on a purchase until you attend a club meeting or too - you'll get advice there as well as a chance to talk about what you want to do and learn about other's rigs before you invest.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550269)

and you'll want fast glass (the ability to shot at faster shutter speeds in low light).

While fast, and prime, lenses help in some types of photography, for night shots what you really want is a shutter release cable for time delay, elapsed tyme shots.

whatever you buy if you decide to go the camera / tripod route invest in a really good lens

Tripods are very handy, I use mine about 10% of the tyme, but for shooting the stars what you want is a camera mount for your telescope.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550315)

Don't worry about the endless Canon / Nikon fanboy debates

For the most part. However, I have a Nikon D80, and there are issues [google.de] with this camera as far as astrophotography. It's a great camera overall, but the amp glow sucks for longer exposure astro shots...

Re:A Great Camera? (2, Informative)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550187)

Personally, if I had the kind of space you had, with no light pollution, and if I had the budget you mentioned: I would buy a high quality digital SLR camera. Obviously, if you're looking to photograph things that you need a telescope to see, this wouldn't be a good use of money for you. But, if you're looking to take shots of constellations and the moon and such, then a high-quality digital SLR with a tripod will work beautifully.

To stay within budget and get good exposures of the night sky, stars and planets, it's better to get a 35 mm film camera. Then get a mount along with the telescope, using the mount the camera can be attached to the telescope. Someone at Astronomy.com [astronomy.com] asks for advise on getting a camera and mount for $500. Here's an adapter and mounts [telescopes.com] for different cameras for less than $100. If there is already a camera then several hundred dollars is available for the telescope. However if a camera is needed as well, one can be bought for $300 leaving $600 for the telescope. Oh, and a high quality dslr won't fit in that budget, for astrophotography and high quality a fullframe DSLR is where it's at. And the cheapest fullframe DSLR I know of is the Canon EOS 5D [dpreview.com] which retails for about $3000.

Though I haven't spent much tyme researching it, I have done some because I'm interested in astrophotography myself. I've got the 35mm and have been looking at telescopes, unfortunately I live in a brightly lit city and know of no place where I can go to shoot the stars.

Falcon

Re:A Great Camera? (2, Informative)

Starwanderer (230199) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550725)

unfortunately I live in a brightly lit city and know of no place where I can go to shoot the stars
Try http://www.darksky.org/darksky/ [darksky.org] . Click on Dark Sky Finder version 3 and input your coordinates. It will show you the dark sky sites closest to you.

Re:A Great Camera? (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550777)

The big advantage with digital is that you don't have to develop the film. You can try as much as you want, and you don't have to wait days to get the result and then realise that it's underexposed (while still having to pay for the film. With digital, you can take a trial-and-error approach, without having to spend money on film.

It doesn't have to be a fancy camera, a webcam mounted on your telescope will get you quite far already. I've made a complete mosaic of the moon that way, 2000x2000 pixels with a simple toucam.

Re:A Great Camera? (2, Informative)

ookabooka (731013) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550253)

TouCam is dirt cheap and perfect for entry level astrophotography. Just google around, there's lots of literature on modifying/using the camera. I myself have taken some nice pictures of jupiter and moon(with filter) using a Toucam and 114mm maksutov-newtonian telescope. After you capture a video w/ the camera you can boot up registax to process it and make a compilation of multiple video frames for a nice still image. If you want to go for imaging deep objects like M31 or other galaxies, you will probably need to invest in a "real" astrophotography CCD.

One of the many sites about the TouCam [f9.co.uk]
Registax [astronomie.be]

Re:A Great Camera? (2, Informative)

De Lemming (227104) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550297)

And if you want to go this far, here are some articles on modding your digital SLR for use in astronomy (noise reduction for longer exposure times by cooling the CMOS imaging chip, removal of the infrared filter,...). I've not done this myself, so YMMV.

300D Peltier Modification [jupiter-io.net]
Canon Digital Rebel 300D IR Filter Removal Modification and Peltier Cooling Plans -by Gary Honis [ho8.com]

Go slow (3, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549629)

Hang out at astronomy clubs and go to their camp-outs and slowly glean more info before blowing a wad of cash. Maybe subscribe to Astronomy Magazine [astronomy.com] . However, don't be tempted by the ads to buy the Ultra-Mega-Scope. Work your way up slowly. And, purchase a good star map with all the common nebula's and galaxies marked. Also note that the best viewing targets tend to come out in the winter, so prepare yourself for cold weather.

Blackmail (-1, Offtopic)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549631)

...the French.

Why not binoculars first? (5, Interesting)

Starwanderer (230199) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549663)

Yes, $1000 is a rather small budget where astrophotography is concerned. A good mount alone can cost many times that amount. Please don't skimp on the mount. I assure you, few things in life are more frustrating and miserable than attempting quality astrophotography on a cheap, inadequate mount.

You can get a quality telescope for $1000, especially if you build your own. I grind my own mirrors because the mirror I make myself is quite a bit better than all but a very few of the ones commercially available. It's quite a bit of fun too.

Your best course of action would be to hold off on getting a telescope for now. Get good astronomical binoculars ($200 - $400) and learn the sky. Once you've done that, you'll have a much better idea of exactly the aspects of astronomy that interest you and you'll have some additional time to decide upon the right equipment. You'll also have more time to save some additional money for qualityequipment.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (1)

bataras (169548) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549861)

>>>I grind my own mirrors

ENTRY LEVEL ASTRONOMY, DUDE.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (3, Informative)

Starwanderer (230199) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549921)

Yes, entry level. A lot of amateur astronomers have ground their own mirror for their first telescope. It's not a difficult thing to do at all, although I'm sure it might sound as if it would be to someone who hasn't done it.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (1)

flydpnkrtn (114575) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550819)

I'm out in Iraq right now (Army) and I can say that your post has me interested in buying some "Astronomical binoculars." Buying a telescope and having it shipped out here is not really a good option.

Offhand do you recommend any particular brand?

Re:Why not binoculars first? (2, Interesting)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550073)

I grind my own mirrors because the mirror I make myself is quite a bit better than all but a very few of the ones commercially available. It's quite a bit of fun too.

Can you provide information on how the amateur grinds mirrors? What kind of equipment do you need?

Thanks.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (4, Interesting)

Starwanderer (230199) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550163)

Sure. It's not nearly as much equipment as one might think. The Stellafane ATM pages http://www.stellafane.com/atm/atm_main.htm [stellafane.com] are a good starting place to learn about how it's done. The best book I've found on the subject is How to Make a Telescope by Jean Texereau. Another fine set of books are Amateur Telescope Making - Volumes 1, 2, and 3 by Albert G. Ingalls (Editor).

Re:Why not binoculars first? (2, Informative)

tom17 (659054) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550227)

I just spent the last hour or so googling and investigating this since his comment. I love making stuff so this intreagued me.

There is plenty of stuff out there about it. Basically you start from a blank piece of plate glass or Pyrex (or portals it seems) and you make yourself the 'tool'- The tool is a convex shaped lump usually with small porcelain tiles on the working surface (A glass tool was traditionally used but this means using a second blank just for that so making your porcelain tiled tool is cheaper for the DIYer). The tool is made using the glass blank as a mould to get the approximate curvature for the tool correct.

Then with the 'tool' you work through differing grades of carbide grinding pastes, then aliminium oxide paste until you get the curve close. Then for the polishing, you cover the tool in optical grade pitch (a gooey stuff from trees or something), and then use fine polishing compound that I have forgotten the name of.

Then you need to get the glass coated in a suitably reflective surface, usually aluminium it seems.

2 things that bug me about this. (Things I did not work out before getting back to work)

1. How do you make the 'tool' curved on a flat blank. I assume you need to do the rough cut first and I did not find anything about this.
2. Depositing the aluminium is apparently done by specialists with vacuum chambers, thus taking it out of the DIY realm. This bothers me. I don't mind buying premade blanks but it'd be nice if all the processes could be DIY.

I'm sure there are easy to find answers to those 2 points but I will find them if I ever try to make one myself - an intreaguing prospect when I have a house.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550267)

Ok my own post spurred my curiosity again and I clicked the link a few posts up. http://www.stellafane.com/atm/atm_myths.htm [stellafane.com]

* How do two Flat Pieces of Glass grind into Spheres?

        With the Mirror on top, the tool on the bottom, and coarse grit in between, we start grinding with the mirror overhanging the tool. We rub the center of mirror against the edge of the tool, and this wears a depression in the center of the mirror (the edge of the tool wears down also, so that the tool becomes convex (a "hill" in the center) and the mirror becomes concave (a shallow "bowl").

        As grinding progresses, we grind with more center-over-center strokes, which will cause the mirror and tool to become matching spherical surfaces.
So that makes it clear to me how you can do it with 2 glass blanks with one being the tool and the other being the mirror. Still doesn't explain to me how you do it with the porcelain tiles method. Unless there is enough thickness in the tiles to wear the tool down to the necessary sphericalness as well as the mirror.

I also forgot to mention the figuring process. The same link above also explains that the figuring is how you go from a spherical curve to a parabolic. I guess there is not much difference in shape if you can make these adjustments with the fine pastes & polishing compounds alone.

I so have to make me an 8" one of these babies. I do not have any astronomy gear yet and will, in about a year, be in a similar situation as the original poster with regards to getting started in astronomy and I just got my DSLR for that aspect of things. I wonder if making my own would be a worthy way of starting out...

Re:Why not binoculars first? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550655)

So that makes it clear to me how you can do it with 2 glass blanks with one being the tool and the other being the mirror. Still doesn't explain to me how you do it with the porcelain tiles method. Unless there is enough thickness in the tiles to wear the tool down to the necessary sphericalness as well as the mirror.
We are talking about a few millimeters difference between edge and center in most cases, so that is usually not a problem. You usually start with a flat tool on a flat glass blank and work your way to a sphere. Of course, the "faster" your mirror (= ratio of focal length f to diameter of mirror D is small) the more glass you have to grind through. If the tiles are really beginning to wear through, you can always make a second tool with new tiles, adapted to your momentary curvature. Typical f/D ratios are from 4 to 10. Larger ratios are easier and more forgiving, the difference between sphere and parabola is negligible for f/D > 9, albeit you have to live with a longer telescope (and longer focal lengths for your eyepieces).

I also forgot to mention the figuring process. The same link above also explains that the figuring is how you go from a spherical curve to a parabolic. I guess there is not much difference in shape if you can make these adjustments with the fine pastes & polishing compounds alone.
The difference are a couple hundred nanometers to a few microns in most cases. The tricky part is of course to remove the right part :)

Re:Why not binoculars first? (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550897)

Thanks! An extensive read of that stellafane site and your comments have made it all very clear to me now.

Defo gonna make one next year. I think I can manage an 8" f/6.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (1)

Starwanderer (230199) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550377)

Tools can be made of a number of materials. From the Stellafane http://www.stellafane.com/atm/atm_grind/atm_tile_tool.htm [stellafane.com] tool page:

Alternative backing materials have been used - a concrete disk is shown at below. Two 3/4" plywood disks, bonded together, can also be used. But for low cost, light weight and all around good durability, Plaster of Paris can't be beat.
They mention using plaster. I prefer dental stone, but the process is very similar. Some amateurs even aluminize their own mirrors as well, but most do not. It actually can be fully DIY if you want.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550619)

when you push the glass lens over the edge of the tool, gravity and the longer duration of contact causes the center of the lens to wear more than the edges, which causes the edge of the tool to wear faster so both the tool and the lens start out flat and are curved to an accuracy of a couple ten-millionths of an inch when your done.

A small GOTO telescope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550259)

although this will use up your budget on a small telescope (90mm or less apeture) (limiting the deep sky objects you can see) you'll find that you can set the thing up quickly and get it to point to things in the sky that you cannot see by eye. This will allow you to work out where things are.

When you're ready you can get a good motorised 6-8" reflector for less than $1000 with a good mount and this will open up the deep sky objects nicely.

Re:Why not binoculars first? (1)

monk.e.boy (1077985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550337)

Get good astronomical binoculars ($200 - $400) and learn the sky.

This is what I did a couple of months ago. I never expected cloudless nights, but I've had a few since buying the binoc's (I got 9x63). Take the advice, you'll see tons more through them than with your eyes, and you'll get really confused and frustrated when you can't tell what you're looking at. Get a sky map book, mine was 15 quid and has more detail than I can see with my shaky hands.

Just figuring out the constellations and various stars is hard - but rewarding! I can also see the andromeda galaxy and one of the Ms (M42 I think) and Pleiades looks pretty cool.

Now I can look at my map and find the object - which has taken me a while to figure out, I think I may be ready for a telescope. My first one will be a second hand that I can see the planets with. I think this would be most reward for money spent. I want to see Saturn and Jupiter. Oh and Mars.

It's a good hobby. Fun.

monk.e.boy

Try building a telescope (5, Informative)

Derwood5555 (828126) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549667)

When you go to your astronomy club's meeting, see if they have a group that builds telescopes. Building your own telescope is a great way to save a lot of money, plus you'll learn a lot in the process.

If you're lucky enough to be in the SF bay area, the Chabot Observatory Telescope Maker's Workshop is a great place to learn about telescopes, and also how to build them. They can guide you through the process, and its really not as hard as you might think. http://chabotspace.org/vsc/observatory/telescopemakers/ [chabotspace.org]

If you want to hold of on astrophotograpy for a while, I recommend picking up a Dobsonian mount telescope. They're a low cost design, and you can find 10 and 12 inch reflectors for $800. Also, they're easy to build, which goes back to the building your own comment earlier.
Dobsonians are not suitable for photography though. But, they are a cheap way to break into backyard astronomy.

Re:Try building a telescope (1)

crowds (1152203) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549789)

I couldn't agree more. Building your own Dobsonian telescope is not as great an undertaking as you might think, although i'm not sure how difficult it would be to build a mount for the camera. Also, if you are so inclined you might want to consider grinding the lense yourself. This takes about 10 hours or so, but I found it to be rewarding. John Dobson has a video in which he goes through all the steps.

Sorry, camera + dobsonian = nothing. (1)

robbak (775424) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549899)

As your parent stated, dobsonians cannot be used for photography. Photos need you to be able to rotate the telescope with the night sky over the several minutes needed for an exposure: for that you need an equatorial mount.
There are Dobsonian setups that can rotate the camera mount to compensate for the rotating earth, but these setups are for experienced persons with high pain thresholds.

dobson: newtonian reflector on dobsonian mount (2, Informative)

Janek Kozicki (722688) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550007)

Just a clarification, so you can compare what I'm talking about in my other post. A dobson is a newtonian reflector (has a huge mirror, and good brightness) with a dobsonian mount. Dobsonian mount is the cheapest possible. You cannot adjust it to the ecliptic plane, etc. Also such dobson is quite good for deep-sky (big mirror = big brightness), and terrible for planets (blurry view on high magnifications due to airflow turbulences and cannot track planet moevement on the sky due to cheap dosbon mount). Personally I'd advice against dobson, because after the initial enthusisam wears down, you get tired by the unconfortability of working with dobson mount. It's like using debian 4 years ago (eg. woody release) compared with comfort of using kubuntu today ;) So get a better mount if you can. But that's expensive too. Oh well, if you can't spend more than that $1000 you gotta buy just binoculars.

confused (-1, Offtopic)

Himring (646324) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549677)

Watch the movie "Signs." M. Night Shamalalamamans own perspective into astronomy/eti and all that. Trust me. You'll never view mel gibson the same....

Best advice I got (4, Interesting)

BuR4N (512430) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549739)

The best advice I got (now in retrospective) when starting out was to buy an telescope that was easy to take out and setup, the best scope is the scope you use often.

get an Apochromatic Refractor (4, Informative)

Janek Kozicki (722688) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549741)

$1000 is not much. I've been doing research quite a long time on what should I buy, to get the best possible view both for planets and deep-sky. You know - usually for deeps skies a newton with huge mirrors is good, while they are not applicable for planets, because newtons cannot produce big magnification with enough detail. While for planet viewing the refractors are the best, because they can produce big magnifications without the distortions of newtonians. But refractors have too small aperture to collect enough light for comfortable deep-sky viewing.

The best balance in this big_mirror/refractor conflict is an apochromatic refractor. Because - apochromatic means that the lens are covered with special layers that give about 96+% of light transmission (so it's better than non-apochromatic refractor, where some light is wasted on the lens and you don't see deep-sky objects clearly), and special layer eliminates light dispersion like in an optical prism (otherwise each color would go on a different path and the resulting picture of something looked more like a rainbow instead of beight sharp). And also as a refractor it's good for planets. But... this APO refractor has to have big aperture, or it won't work for deep-sky anyway.

Refractors have some other advantages - for instance you don't have unnecessary air flow between the lens because they are inside a tube. Newtons are much brighter (good for deep-sky) but air turbulence blurries the view on planets.

Oh, and forget about cassegrains, they are compact, that's true (the only advantage). But the view is terrible.

Well if you have just $1000 you gotta decide: (1) want to see distant galaxies (newton), or (2) view to see planets (refractor). But I suggest to spend a bit more cash and get APO refractor. Should be good for both.

You can look at those reviews I had bookmarked long time ago: http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=1260 [cloudynights.com] and http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=32&pr=2x6x17 [cloudynights.com]

You can consider Takahashi also, althought from my research it looks like TMB make better equipment, but you never know that for sure: http://www.tmboptical.com/itemsGrid.asp?cat_id=4 [tmboptical.com] .

Re:get an Apochromatic Refractor (1)

gomoX (618462) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550083)

No, apochromatic means solely that chromatic aberrations are corrected for (reducing dispersion as you stated above). I don't think transmission can be improved over whatever is specific to the glass in the lenses, but it sounds like you are describing a lens coating process in which flare and reflections are eliminated, thus producing better contrast and allowing you to see objects that are more faint, but not really improving transmission.

Re:get an Apochromatic Refractor (5, Insightful)

Astro Dr Dave (787433) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550137)

I'm a moderately experienced amateur astronomer, and a professional astrophysicist. I have a nice TMB 105 apochromatic refractor, and I would never recommend one to a beginner. Good apo refractors have impeccable quality, but they are not cost-effective, unlike a halfway decent 10" Newtonian (which will cost 1/4 as much, yet give far superior views).

Aperture is king. Aperture wins. You can never get enough aperture

My advice is to forget about astrophotography for the moment. Do not get a DSLR camera -- you will want a dedicated astro-camera with a cooled CCD sensor. You will also want a good equatorial mount (Losmandy, Astro-physics, or similar) which will cost at least ~$2000. Deep-sky astrophotography is expensive and for the moment, you're better served with a good visual instrument to get you started. (If you just want to take images of the moon and planets, you can get by with a webcam and a lower cost equatorial mount.)

With a $1k budget, you won't be able to do deep-sky astrophotography. Given your budget, the economics of astro-imaging, and the difficulty of putting a large telescope on a quality equatorial mount, your best bet is to forego imaging until you can save a substantially larger amount of money. In the meantime, get yourself a 10" or larger Dobsonian-mounted Newtonian. They may look cheap, but you will appreciate the aperture when viewing deep-sky objects.

Oh, and join a local astronomy club if you can.

Re:get an Apochromatic Refractor (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550743)

I might add that buying the best occulars, eyepieces, you can afford as they'll usualy be either a lifetime investment or a lifetime agravation.

Re:get an Apochromatic Refractor (3, Informative)

Phroon (820247) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550263)

$1000 is not much. I've been doing research quite a long time on what should I buy, to get the best possible view both for planets and deep-sky. You know - usually for deeps skies a newton with huge mirrors is good, while they are not applicable for planets, because newtons cannot produce big magnification with enough detail. While for planet viewing the refractors are the best, because they can produce big magnifications without the distortions of newtonians. But refractors have too small aperture to collect enough light for comfortable deep-sky viewing. The best balance in this big_mirror/refractor conflict is an apochromatic refractor.
You seem uninformed on the caveats of refractor vs. reflector designs. You have the basic ideas right, but your reasoning is a bit flawed, let me try. Refractors are a lensed design, the problem with lenses is that they do not bend all colors the same amount, that is their refractive index varies by wavelength. To correct this most telescopes use a achromatic doublet, which converges most colors except for the near purple end of the spectrum, resulting in a purple haze around the object your viewing. Recently the concept of an apochromatic has reached the consumer, in which a doublet or triplet with exotic glasses are used to focus much more of the visible spectrum than achromatic reflectors. This results in a perfect image with no obstructions in the objective (I'll get to this in a moment). However, the exotic glasses are extremely expensive, resulting in a small aperture for the money.

Reflectors, by contrast, are a mirrored design. Mirrors bend all light the same amount, so they do not have the chromatic problems. The issue with reflectors is that the secondary mirror has to be in the path of the light that hits the primary mirror, so there is a "shadow" of the secondary mirror and it's supports on the primary mirror. This does not create a hole in the image, but the secondary and it's supports do diffract light around them, resulting in stars that have a spike around them. The Hubble is a reflector design, and shares these diffraction spikes. Reflectors also suffer from coma [wikipedia.org] distortion.

What it comes down to then is Aperture vs Obstructions. Aperture (the size of the primary focusing element): Reflectors have much larger apertures than similarly priced refractors. A higher aperture allows you to see darker of objects, it allows you to use a higher magnification and increases how much detail is present at higher magnifications.
Obstructions: These lower the amount of light getting to the primary mirror and cause diffraction in the image. The reduction in light is acceptable for reflectors as they have a large unobstructed aperture. The issue is diffraction with bright objects, mainly planets and stars. For stars, it simply causes a starburst pattern in the image, but for planets the diffraction of the circular secondary becomes important because planets are extended objects with details. With stars this circular diffraction simply increases the brightness of the sky surrounding the star, but for planets this slightly blurs the image of the planet which some feel is unacceptable.

The telescopes you've listed are in the $10,000 and above range, very far above the poster's $1000 budget. I couldn't even find a mounted 80mm semi-apo (the minimum aperture I'd suggest for planetary viewing, let alone deep sky) for under $1000. For sub-$1000, a reflector wins over a refractor hands down simply because there are no apos in this price range. The aperture of a reflector simply destroys the possible advantages an refractor in this range due to the chromatic aberration on planets, plus you can do deep sky observing with a sub-$1000 reflector and still be happy with the planets you can see.

DOBSONIAN! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550515)

Ignore parent talking about relfectors and refractors. The Newtonian (not "Newton") is perfectly suitable for planets but it's true that a refractor is better because of the absence of the obstruction caused by the secondary mirror. All the stuff about turbulance isn't really relevant. Once the scopes cooled to ambient tempertatures there is no more turbulance in the tube.

Parent also has no clue about what an apochromatic lens is. Ignore what he says and look on Wikipedia for correct explaination.

You won't get sensible astrophotography for 1,000 so steer clear for now. Go for a Newtonian for the simple reason that you get more aperture for your dollar. That means more light and an ability to see dimmer objects. Your main choice will be Dobsonian (a simple azimuth mount) or an equatorial (complex and heavy but needed to for astriphotography). A /good/ equatorial could cost you a LOT more than a Dobsonian of the same aperture. So you choose: either pay for tripods and steel counter-weights (eq.) or pay for mirror diameter (Dob.). A Dob is /fast/ to set up so you're more likely to use it. It has no computer drives, etc, do you have to learn to find objects yourself (get "Turn Left at Orion"--it's by far the best book for learning how to find things up in the sky). There's a real sense of achievement in learning to track down a galaxy located 50 million light years away. The Meade LX5600XP-BLAH with computer-powered whatsit will find it for you in seconds and you won't appreciate it... And you pay for the electronics...

If you buy a Dob you could eventually mount it on a Eq. stand and add a camera so it's an investment. I have a 8.75" and found that very suitable but a 10" or a 12" won't be /that/ much bulkier...

It's been a while, but..... (1)

tloh (451585) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549751)

When I was young in the early 90, I was madly in love with astronomy. I subscribed to and religously read a astronomy magazine for young kids called "Odyssey" that was published by the same folks who put out "Astronomy" and "Sky & Telescope" (Alas, they sold the title to Cobblestone not long after and it went downhill very quickly) Though I was just a kid with poor parents, I had dreams and invested a lot of thought and energy into fantasizing about how best to budget for my hobby (even though I had no budget). Back then, at a bare minimum, a decent telescope could be had for ~$200. When you add a stand/mount, eyepieces, etc. you're looking at ~$500. For astrophotography, you generally make use of your existing 35mm picture camera and what they call a T-adapter. It would have been wise to invest in a couple of filters also because they add tremendously to the polishedness of your final pictures.

Today, you're probably in the market for a ccd camera (or better). Since I haven't been following the trends for many years, things may have changed significantly. But in any case, I wish you luck, and lots of fun.

Automating the sky search (1)

or-switch (1118153) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549757)

Depending on how you want to approach your stargazing there are computer/scope combos where you align the scope, hook it to a laptop, select the feature you want to look at (if it's visible from your location) and it will hone in on it, show it on the screen, let you look through the viewfinder, and take pictures. I haven't seen an advert for it recently so I don't remember its name, but for a starter with some cash it could teach you how to identify constelations, pinpoint planets, etc. Some will think it's a copout to use a digital library and motorized mount to find what you're looking for, but used right it could be a good way to learn fast.

typical answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549767)

Ok, here is the classic answer. Forget astrophotography until you have a lot more experience. Go to your local club and look through as many telescopes as you can. Third, ask them all the questions you can get away with. Now go buy some decent binoculars, 7x50 or 10x50. Learn your constellations. (Really.) If you still want a telescope, you will probably already have figured out what you want. One thing I'll add, avoid one of those expensive apochromatic refractors as a first scope. Get something with more aperture, a cheap 8-10 inch dobsonian perhaps. Don't forget the eyepieces.

Check out the forums on cloudynights.com for more help.

Usability is paramount (1)

ChuckleBug (5201) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549779)

Just be sure that you aren't so driven by aperture lust that you get something too big and clunky to use. If you can anchor it in a fixed position, like a permanent observatory, go for all the aperture you can get. If you plan to move it in and out of the house, stay at about 10 inches or less. They get big and heavy *very* quickly. I'm happy with a 6 inch (150 mm), because I can take it places without wrecking my back or needing a new truck.

It seems a secondary consideration, but the smaller telescope you actually take out and *use* is far better than the light bucket that gathers dust because it's such a pain to set up and use.

What to look at... (1)

E++99 (880734) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549781)

One thing you might want to think about is what you're more interested in photographing... planets or deep space objects like galaxies and nebulae. That will inform the type of telescope your money will be best spent on.

OMG p0NN13zZAS!!!!!one11!!!!!!eleven (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549799)

Oh my fucking JEEBe3rs!!HAHAHAHAHAHAHHA
ROLFLMFAO
teehee
this is so funny

Slashdot knows astronomy? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549803)

WTF? We know nothing of astronomy! All we know is Bush Hating!!!!!!!!11

get a dobsonian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549809)

With your dark skies, it would be a shame to get anything other than a nice big dobsonian [wikipedia.org] . For $1000, you could get a 12-inch telescope, or save money on an 8- or 10-inch one and spend the rest on accessories.

If I were you, I'd go for an 8-inch to start, and plan to build my own if I really got into it.

Buy binoculars (2, Informative)

Uther Pendragon (444728) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549815)

Seriously, get a good (as in buy them from a proper telescope shop) set of binoculars and a decent camera tripod.

Both are useful outside of astronomy and until you know whether you are really keen it's not worth spending lots of money. They are also great to use as spotters while you are using your real telescope as they have a fantastic field of view.

I started with a pair of Gerber 10x50s which is getting to the limit of what I would consider comfortable to hand hold without a tripod. The tripod itself is a standard camera tripod with a binocular mounting bracket.

Then start out with something simple like: http://www.skymaps.com/downloads.html [skymaps.com] to see what you should be looking at in the sky and getting familiar with the sky.

Once you are happy that astronomy is right for you just have a go at lots of different telescopes that your local astronomy club members use and see what you like. Astronomy is a very expensive hobby, one that you might not like so just be careful

If you only have $1000..... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20549817)

A lot of people will say 'start with a decent pair of binoculars'.

I am not so sure. That's right if you're going to get into the hobby in a big way, but your problem may be that you don't know enough about the hobby to be sure. If that's the case, you really need to try it first. No advice is as good as personal experience.

There are hundreds of advice sites on the web - many very good and put together by experts. I also got the astrophotography bug, and thought I would see what I could do for about $250. I was quite surprised to find that you could do quite a bit, and you really understand what the big boy sites mean after you work on it yourself.

I went for a small, cheap, entry-level reflector, a Meade 4 1/2 inch, which I got from CostCo for $200, and made a lot of accessories myself. It will never be as good as the big boys, but I have learned enough for me to know what to get next if I want to progress with the hobby, and the scope is light, good enough for Moon work, or can be sold if I want. And I've had lots of fun!

So I think I have done well getting a telescope which a real hobbyist would turn their nose up at. I am just putting a web site together to describe it, but if it will help I'll put the (unfinished) site up now for you. It's at http://www.telescopes.hobby-site.org/ [hobby-site.org] and I can recommend the 'Remote Focusser' under 'Making Accessories'!

 

check out the specialist internet groups (2, Informative)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549829)

There are many astro (and astro-photo) yahoogroups.

They are well versed in helping beginners and will be able to give you advice and guidance on this fascinating hobby. They have their own experts who don't necessarily post here.

As a starter, get the book "Turn Left at Orion". Read it. This will set your expectations of what you can really see. If you are still enthusiastic, go ahead and take advice on what equipment to buy. Be aware though that there are as many opposing opinions as there are people willing to offer you advice (including this one). You will still have to choose which ones you want to adopt.

Good luck and clear skies

Budget too small (5, Informative)

Cecil (37810) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549837)

You're not going to have enough budget to pull off any sort of astrophotography that will satisfy you, so I would recommend you start saving up.

For astrophotography you absolutely *must* have an equatorial mount, it is simply impossible to do astrophotography with a stock altitude-azimuth mount, because while it can still track the sky as it moves, the view will rotate as it does so. With an equatorial mount, the view stays properly aligned even while it tracks the sky. German equatorial mount is the preferred mount for astrophotography. Even looking at just the mount you've pretty much blown your budget right there.

Secondly, you're going to want a high quality right-ascension drive motor. It's possible to get by without one, though tedious and limiting, but don't bother with a cheap one. The gearing is insufficient for astrophotography and will cause jerking and backlash resulting in awful pictures.

You'll also need to get a heavy duty mount and tripod, because a normal tripod is only designed for the weight of a telescope, not a telescope with a camera hanging off the end. You also need to make sure you've got a very sturdy, firm mount, because any vibration at all will ruin your pictures. Remember we're talking about huge magnifications and long exposures here, it's extremely easy to blur the pictures. Astrophotography is a challenging enough hobby to begin with. Inferior equipment can make it damn near impossible.

You'll notice I haven't even talked about the actual telescope yet. That's how important the mount and tripod is to astrophotography. So now that I've completely blown your budget, I'll try and be a bit more gentle on the telescope side of things. Probably the most bang for your buck in this case will be a newtonian reflector telescope. They're by far the cheapest type of scope per inch of aperture. Sort of big and unwieldy, and they require very precise and regular maintenance (called collimation). I'd recommend a bare minimum of 5" aperture, but as high as 8" if you can manage it.

Then you have to figure out how to mount your camera to the telescope, which is a black art in and of itself. Duct tape is not recommended. For most SLRs and telescope brands you can find a suitable T-mount adaptor which will allow you to attach your camera in place of the telescope's eyepiece. For non-SLRs, I'm not sure. If you were thinking of getting an actual astronomy CCD camera (such as the popular SBIG brand) well that alone will blow your budget and then a whole lot more. Then you'll want a second one to use it as an autoguider. :)

Astronomy isn't cheap, but it is rewarding. Good luck and clear skies.

Re:Budget too small (3, Informative)

dargaud (518470) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550681)

Secondly, you're going to want a high quality right-ascension drive motor. It's possible to get by without one, though tedious and limiting, but don't bother with a cheap one. The gearing is insufficient for astrophotography and will cause jerking and backlash resulting in awful pictures.
I'm not sure if this really applies anymore. Nowadays with a digital SLR attached you can take short exposures (just a few minutes) where the defects in alignment and stability won't show, and then stack the images in software. As an introduction to astrophoto it beats blowing thousands on an arch-stable mount.

Without more info... (1)

Dr.EvilBetty (985966) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549849)

There's good news and bad news, as always. The good news is that with the price dropping on technology, you can find fantastic scopes that are quite inexpensive and will find just about anything you'd want to look at with the touch of a couple of buttons. Most will even interface with a laptop right out of the box. The bad news is, if astrophotography is what you're after, your budget is going to have to expand a bit or your going to have to find a good deal on a used setup. The problem with taking pictures is tracking, tracking, tracking. You need a scope mount that's able to track with very little vibration or drift and you also need one that can handle having the weight of a heavy camera body clamped onto it. CCDs have come down quite a bit in price and they are much lighter in weight but, again, they ain't cheap. A good place to get an idea of pricing would be Orion Telescopes http://www.telescope.com/ [telescope.com] . They sell just about everything and have a "wizard" that you can use to get you in the ball park on prices. If you weren't so interested in photography, I'd suggest one of the Dobsonian style setups; they are inexpensive, portable, easy to set-up and take down and give excellent view/price.

$1000 isn't a lot but it can get you started. (1)

tagew (912783) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549903)

Hi,

$1000 surely won't get you into astrophotography in a big way, but it's a start. I was in the exact same position a few years back and I decided to buy into a system that would let me gradually upgrade as funds became available. I got myself a pair of really nice and cheap 11x70 binos - best purchase yet. Then i took the plunge and got a scope that would let me advance slowly. Getting to know the sky and how to use a telescope will keep you busy for some time before you are ready for astrophotography.

Most importatly - get a decent mount. The Celestron CG-5 or Meade LXD75 seems to be a good choice. Second, go for quality over aperture if you want to do photography. I spent some $1100 on my scope and got a Celestron C6S-GT on a CG-5 mount, a wide field eyepeice and a barlow. The mount can carry much heavier equipment than the OTA I have, so it's future compatible once I decide to upgrade to a larger scope.

Since then I have spent approx $1000 on dew protection, powerpacks (which you will not need if you will use this in your back yard), software and recently $99 on the older Meade DSI CCD camera which will not produce 'stellar' results, but with your expectations set to match the price tag, it's a way to get started. Now if those clouds would only move away. /Tage Widsell

An SLR and a 10" Reflector (1)

RadicalRhinoceros (1145781) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549913)

Hi!

I'm an undergraduate astrophysics major, but I've had some fun with amateur astronomy before. I know this suggestion will fall outside your budget, but it will eventually be the most cost effective strategy. First, buy a decent SLR digital camera. This will allow you to take nice deep images, quickly check your focus, or download them for postprocessing and printing (all in color and without having to purchase filters!). You'll want to mount the SLR on a ~10" reflector (Cass or Newtonian, not a big deal). That should give you enough light for deeper objects. Try finding things used through your local astronomy club. Perhaps you'll find a good deal. But do check the optics before you buy anything. This should be everything you'll need for years of great imaging. Good luck!

Interesting Links:
http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~optics/Lucky_Web_Site/LI_Amateur.htm [cam.ac.uk]
http://www.astro.shoregalaxy.com/webcam_astro.htm [shoregalaxy.com]

Lets see.... (2, Informative)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549925)

I was an amateur astronomer for years before I switched to being just a computer geek (no dark skies where I live now). However, even if my Messier-marathon nights are over, I think I can still give some good advice. So, let us start with equipment. Since you really don't know what you are mostly interested in viewing, I would say get a 6" - 8" Newtonian reflector with a decent equatorial mount (you can find deals for much less than $1000), or if you want to stretch your budjet you could get a more compact Schmidt Cassegrain (again 6"-8" aperture). Go for either Celestron or Meade (with the latter probably being better but more expensive). This type of telescope will provide a rich viewing experience, for both planetary and deep space targets. It is also astrophotography ready (computerized or motor equatorial drives are usually standard).
So, at first I recommend "testing the waters" for astrophotography. Find a cheap, old, mechanican Canon, Minolta etc SLR. Start with that, and if you are still interested you can invest to a CCD camera in the future.
I can't recommend books, since been such a long time, except Stars and Planets by Peterson Field Guides which was a nice reference and gets updated once in a while. I was a fan of the Astronomy magazine for years. Sky & Telescope was also decent, you should certainly pick one of those up.
I have also skipped the part about telescope accessories, but I do have to go to sleep now, so you'll have to do with the included eyepieces for now... ;)

Don't go too far down the food-chain (1)

mbessey (304651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20549927)

Don't pick up a $100 telescope from Wal-Mart or whatever, "just to see if it's fun". That's a good way to frustrate yourself out of of a potentially interesting hobby. At a minimum, you need a scope with an equatorial mount (and you'll need to learn how to set it up). Trying to track things moving through the sky with an altitude/azimuth control is just way too annoying. For most photographic purposes, a motorized mount is necessary. These days, that probably also means you'll get a remote controller and computer interface.

Also consider webcams (1)

KingofSpades (874684) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550001)

I agree with the binocular advice.
Since you do not say if you are interested by planetary astrophotography vs. deep sky, let met add that a Webcam turns out to be a perfect device for planetary astrophotography.
Let me quote the following website (http://sctscopes.net/Photo_Basics/Webcams_for_Planets/webcams_for_planets.html)
"It takes a whole bunch of frames (i.e. photos) in a row, and all that's needed is software to accumulate the photos, decide which ones are good, and stack them together to create a good planetary photograph. During the recent historical Mars opposition, many astrophotographers created amazing photographs of Mars using Webcams."

Is there an "entry-level" for radio astronomy? (2, Interesting)

HarryCaul (25943) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550043)


If so, what would a basic setup generally look like? Any pointers to sites?

Re:Is there an "entry-level" for radio astronomy? (2, Informative)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550821)

A scanner capable of picking up along the 20cm band is a good start; this is the hydrogen band (H1) most commonly used in array radio astronomy for plotting the positions of strong radio sources. With a directional antenna such as a satellite dish it is possible to pinpoint "local" sources such as the sun and nearby microwave sources (such as ovens and wifi hotspots). Radio static is an indicator of background radiation from the Big Bang; analysis of this white noise is still keeping radio astronomers busy since its discovery.

I went through the same thing (5, Informative)

Phroon (820247) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550091)

I went through the same thing. I was fresh to amateur astronomy and didn't know what to do. My first warning: Don't spend to little on a telescope. $180 for a StarBlast [telescope.com] is the lowest I'd pay for anything decent (and it is, I drool over it as a quick 'plop down and observe' scope from time to time). Second Warning: Astrophotography is insanely expensive. As in 10+ times your budget. Don't do it. If you really want to do astrophotography take a camera, put it on a tripod, point at the sky, set it as wide as you can and expose for 15 seconds for digital, a few hours for film. The results are quite nice.

Here's what my own experiences have taught me: Get a Dobsonian. With $1000 you can get a 10"-12" Dobsonian and still have tons of room for accessories. A dobsonian is very portable compared to a refractor and with near zero setup and takedown using it is much easier than a refractor too. 10" is a lot of aperture and you won't catch the "aperture fever" for something bigger for a while. The scope I eventually got is an Orion [telescope.com] XT10 Intelliscope [telescope.com] , but you may not want the computerization with your budget.

I found the people at Cloudy Nights [cloudynights.com] very, very helpful. They have reviews of lots of products as well as their forums and they tend to specialize in getting the most out of your money.

As far as books go, I use Nightwatch [amazon.com] by Terence Dickinson every night I observe just for the charts. Star Watch [amazon.com] by Philip Harrington goes well with Nightwatch as good place to find new objects for the beginner. A lot of people suggest Turn Left at Orion [amazon.com] , but I fount it to be a bit slow and the charts lacking in lower magnitude stars for their size.

Re:I went through the same thing (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550545)

Nonsense! The digital revolution has dropped the price considerably!

I work in GB Pounds, so I'll assume the budget is GBP500.

Simple web-cam astrophotography can be done with a cam costing about 5 GBP. It's good enough for the Moon and Jupiter/Saturn if you match it up with a cheap 114mm costing around GBP 120. You will get prety good images close to the terminator, and a lot of practice in using your hardware and stacking software.

You will need a laptop to store the images on - If you haven't got one get a cheap one off e-bay; perhaps GBP150?

The one thing this will impress on you is the importance of a good mount. If you can't point at it, you can't take a picture of it! A cheap scope won't have a good mount, but it'll be good enough. You will need remote control, mainly so that you don't have to touch the scope when taking the images.

Once you have determined that the hobby is for you, get a CCD webcam. That will be about 50GBP, and will be good enough to start to show the failings in your scope/mount.

That's cost you about GBP175 - GBP350 if you count the laptop. Well under budget, and you're taking pictures. You could have gone for twice the price on the scope, but I would recommend staying cheap until you know what you're getting.

Try to get something used (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550117)

1000$ aren't enough for astrophotography, but try considering used telescopes. You'll have to look around a bit, but used equipment is less expensive and, if it was kept in good condition (as it is by every serious hobbyist, as telescopes can be very delicate), as good as new equipment.
But really, 1000$ is not enough for photography, even if you don't do digital astrophotography.
I wouldn't recommend digital astrophotography for a start anyway, as these cams either have low resolution and large amounts of noise (webcams) or are horribly, horribly expensive (CCD cameras for astrophotography). Consumer-grade digital SLRs don't offer the long exposure times needed for quality pictures, so I wouldn't buy one sppecifically for astrophotography. If you are interested, try using chemical film with a decent SLR. If you don't already have one, they can be bought incredibly cheap today, as fewer and fewer people are interested in chemical photography. For astrophotography, unless you want to make measurments (in which case a professional CCD camera should be advised), chemical photography generally means less hassle and lower cost with the only premise being the non-instantaneous nature of the images.

Your local Community College should have a class (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550141)

assuming you live at all close to one. Sometimes it's listed under Physics.

Meade telescopes (1)

mjsottile77 (867906) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550153)

For a beginning setup, I would recommend a simple Meade telescope such as the ETX series (I have one of these). The telescopes are motor driven so they can accurately target and track objects, and have remote controls that let you program in coordinates to go seek out -- very useful when coupled with either a book of easy to find targets (like those star guides most bookstores carry) or software that lets you find interesting objects to look at. Personally I prefer, when looking around for pleasure, to use software on my computer to get a sense for what is up at any given time in the night, and then work with a book and a red flashlight (gotta have one of these - red flashlight won't hurt your night vision like a normal flashlight, or for that matter, the glow from a laptop screen). Software, although useful, takes some of the fun and challenge out of learning how to find things in the sky on your own. Besides, part of the fun of the hobby is getting to see everything in the sky that you look at while you seek out your target - using the computer to find things means you miss out on all those things in between the named objects.

You actually can get into astrophotography for a relatively low price. The only big requirements are that you get a camera that supports long exposure times and has a mount for a detachable lens (or, can be mounted onto the telescope above an existing eyepiece). You can buy eyepieces for the telescope that can attach to the camera to do photography through the telescope. Now, you won't be making pictures that are very high quality of things like nebulae and galaxies, but you would likely be able to practice and get used to the process on easier, bright and big targets like the moon. Taking a good, crisp picture of craters on the moon is no simple task, and that alone is easier than, say, getting a good picture of the Orion nebula. Once you choose a telescope, you should do some research on google to find a mount that fits the camera you have. You can likely come up with something to make a $300 digital camera work with your telescope if you do a little research. With $1000, a simple setup at home can easily be made to let you learn about the sky and take a few pictures to top it off. You won't be making anything that will be making it into Sky & Telescope, but you can set something up to learn enough about the process so that you can decide if a further investment into a better telescope or camera will be something you'll be willing to commit the time and effort to learning how to use. This is a hobby that takes time and effort, so it's wise to limit yourself to something simple and digestable early on so you can guage if you will have the patience to push it further and make a larger investment in a better setup.

One of the best pages I've ever seen (2, Interesting)

mambru (224456) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550169)

http://www.astroimagen.com/ [astroimagen.com]

The photos that this guy manages to take are stunning! He gives full details about the process and equipment. The web is in Spanish, I hope it won't be a problem.

How timely! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550179)

I just got into this, myself. First, I bought a pair of astronomy binoculars. They are 20x with 70mm lenses, quite inexpensive ($150) and certainly good enough to start with. They have a built-in tripod mount, which is not surprising considering the magnification (anything above 10x is likely too much for manual stabilization). I then purchased a piece of metal from the hardware store with some holes in it (a stabilizing bracket, I believe it's called), and some 1/4"-20 threaded bolts and thumbscrews. These are the same threading that a tripod uses, so bring a camera along to spot-check my numbers.

Attaching the metal to the binoculars, my digital camera to the metal, and the metal to an actual tripod, I was able to take -STUNNING- photographs of the moon during the recent eclipse. It didn't hurt that my girlfriend and I were coincidentally visiting Maui at the time so we visited the 10K foot peak at Haleakala. But to be honest, it would've been just as great from sea level as long as we got away from the street lights.

Now, to be clear: Yes, you basically just point the camera down the barrel of the binoculars, and yes it can be quite a challenge to get the alignment right at first... but keep trying. It will amaze you when it works. Make sure to set the camera's manual focus to infinity, and don't set the camera's exposure too long. At full optical zoom on the camera (3.8x) + binoculars (20x) I had to limit myself to the camera's version of ISO80 or the image would blur _from the rotation of the earth_. Another trick: set it to 5+ seconds delay for taking the picture. There'll be a lot of weight on the tripod and it'll be quite widely distributed so you'll need a few seconds as you pull your hand away for the contraption to stop vibrating and settle down. The magnification for the moon image was so high that it was nearly full-frame, and once I had the moon lined up I had about 15 seconds to take the picture before it started to move significantly out of frame.

There you go. Basic astrophotography with a bunch of stuff that you probably already have (digital camera, tripod), that you're going to want to buy anyways (cheap astro binoculars), and $5 worth of parts from the hardware store. Since I'm AC, I'll check back tomorrow if you have any questions relating to this. I highly recommend this trick as a way to whet your appetite for very little capital. You'll get stares and maybe a laugh or two until people see the results.

BG

PS - Check out you camera's manual. I discovered recently that my Canon point-and-shoot has the capability of taking up to a 15 second exposure. This isn't terribly useful at huge magnification because the image will blue so badly, but it makes for really cool pics when you're in a place so dark that you can see the Milky Way. Just set for "ISO400", 5+ sec exposure, give yourself a 10 sec delay to let the tripod vibration settle down, set it on a tripod pointing up, and press the button.

Buy a good pair of binoculars. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550225)

They give adequate magnification and a wide field-of-view.

You'll be astounded by how well suited they are for astronomy.

The best part is that if you don't cath the astronomy bug, you won't have blown all your cash on a telescope you'll probably never use again and the binos will be useful for other things besides astronomy.

Get a pair in the 7x50 - 1-x50 range... very good and inexpensive.

Itunes Astronomy Courses, free! (1)

Nine Yarder (1154809) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550313)

You can use iTunes to listen to free astromony courses. I highly recommend Astronomy 161 and Astronomy 162 by Dr. Richard Pogge at Ohio State. About 60 free hours of instruction you can listen to on-line or download to an iPod. There are other courses as well. They usually have an associated wed site for course materials.

1k ain't much (1)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550379)

As the other posts have indicated a good entry level astrophotography rig will run several grand. However, there is a lot of "obsolete" kit hitting ebay and astromart these days that can be made pretty capable. On your budget I would go with an old clock driven fork mounted SCT (ex. Celestron C8 [ebay.com] or Meade LX50 [ebay.com] ).

Telescope drive, pointing, tracking, guiding (1)

Chief Camel Breeder (1015017) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550401)

If you choose to get a telescope, as opposed to binoculars, it's vital to get one that points and tracks well. Otherwise, you spend too long finding targets. (This applies all the way up to 8m-class research telescopes.) Nothing kills the experience as much as not being able to find what you want.

If you get a telescope that you set up at the beginning of the night , as opposed to one permanently fixed in its own enclosure, then you need a drive system that is easy and quick to align. If you have to spend 2 hours each night aligning then it's too tedious. (Again, also true of research-level kit :-/) I believe that drives sold with good makes (Meade? Celestron?) self-align quite well and quickly; but beware of cheaper versions.

If you want to do long, timed exposures, then you either need a drive that tracks outrageously well (sub-arcsecond accuracy for best results) by itself, or you need a guiding system. A manual guiding system is an eyepiece with crosshairs (or a camera) coaxial with the main telescope. You continually tweak the drive motion to keep a bright star centred in the guider while the telescope itself observes something fainter. An autoguider (preferred) is a guide camera + computer that does it for you.

Quality of drive is as important as quality of optics for serious work and photography. It's much more important than the apeture of the telescope. A big telescope that doesn't point or track is useless.

From the point of view of someone who did the same (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20550421)

Hi,

I did the same thing as you basically... Looked at setting myself up for some decent observing. Many posts before me have already said this but here are the key things I would do in your position:

1.) Don't buy a telescope (yet!). Most amateurs are given this advice but ignore it and go out and get a telescope straight away. If you don't really know what you are in for then you will a.) be disappointed and b.) Not get anywhere near the best out of your scope.

2.) Join an astro club. You already have so that is cool! You will get to use telescopes there and learn how to properly operated and observe using them. They may also have an astrograph for astrophotography as well. You can use this with a simple SLR that has an open shutter or unlimited exposure time setting. You will be amazed at what sort of cool pictures you can get without needing any fancy equipment early on. The astro club guys should also be able to tell you how to get the pictures developed because that is almost as important as the taking of the picture!

3.) Buy a pair binoculars. A pair of 10x50's will do but if you want to spend a bit more there are plenty of other options. I have a pair of 9x60 Celestron bino's which are brilliant. They cost a bit more (not much) but they are excellent for observing. Don't go to crazy with size. To big and you will struggle to hold them steady. 10x50's work really well.

4.) Learn how to navigate round the sky. With Bino's and naked eyes this is MUCH easier than a telescope. Get some software to help you get bearings. I use Starry Night (http://www.starrynight.com/products.html)which I find good, although later versions were a let down. As others have stated, there are plenty of free options, but many of them are not as good as the cheap commercial products for actual observing. There are plenty of websites as well that provide up to date skymaps as well.

5.) Once you have spent time observing with the club and their scopes and your binos, look at getting a telescope. Do some research as there are tonnes of options. Basic rule I found was if you want to look at the solar system and planets get a refractor, if you want to do deep space stuff get a reflector. Remember its not the tube that does the magnifying, its the eye piece so eye piece selection as very important as well. Very very basic rule... There are tonnes of options and types of scope. But you DONT want to get a small toy one like a 90mm job. You need to spend at least $700 on your scope I'd say. Ask your club for advice on this one! If you want to do astrophotography, get a scope that you can mount a camera to and a tripod that can have a drive motor attached.

6.) Buy yourself a drive motor and camera mount for your scope and take your own photo's!

Hope this helps!

James

Low Buck, High Yeild (2, Insightful)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550443)

First things first... decide if you want the focus of the hobby to be the scopes or the stargazing.

If you're serious about the stargazing, forget the pricey glass. Get a decent set of binoculars and a few good books, and one of those plastic "Star Wheel" sky charts.

For the binocs, a basic pair of 10x70's will set you back a hundred and fifty bucks or so online. For the books, try Astronomy for Dummies and Left Turn at Orion. Also, your library will have back issues of Sky and Telescope - read 'em, and then visit their site. [skyandtelescope.com] They have star maps you can print out that shows what's worth looking at each month. Try not to be too put out by their over-agressive marketeering.

The learning curve will be steeper than a big-bucks robotic "Goto Scope" that aims and focuses for you, but with a nice lawn chair, some decent binoculars and a rough understanding of what you're pointing them at, a night under the stars won't fail to deliver a few thrills.

Once that gets old, then look into the big-money glass. Telescopes, on their own, are a pretty damn rewarding hobby, especially once you get into making and modding them yourself. But unless you really, really know what you're after, dropping a grand on glass isn't a good idea. It likely won't be anywhere near what you want once you understand what that is.

a laser pointer (1)

gol (635335) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550569)

Hi
This probably isn't the kind of advice you're looking for, but what the hell, this is an open forum.

I'm a total idiot when it comes to astronomy, but I still love stargazing.

Something that helped my motivation on particularly cold nights was having friends over to my house, where I could talk about some of the things I've managed to identify.

One of my most useful acquisitions was a laser pointer, mostly for helping point out stars and constellations to friends. If you've ever had the experience of somebody who knows what they're doing saying "see that there... no there... no look where I'm pointing" and been frustrated by it, then get a pointer. A reasonably cheap green one has a range of several metres, long enough for the casual observer to work out what it is you're referring to. If you don't believe me that this actually works, then borrow one and try it!

Start small... (3, Insightful)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550613)

A decent pair of wide field binoculars and a good sturdy tripod (20x60's weigh like 6 pounds so a tripod is a must). I recently picked up a pair of 20x75 Russian bins for less than £200 (US$400) and a surveyor's tripod for £30 (US$60). If you have an SLR camera with an M42 mount it wouldn't be a stretch to build a ring adapter for one side of the binocular and spot with the other side, you can get some good closeups of the moon and some of the brighter deepsky objects (LMC/SMC/M33/M42, etc.). Being in the middle of a city I found that film was getting a bit expensive particularly with a lot of shots being spoilt by streetlighting bloom, so I started to experiment with CMOS and CCD. I quickly came to the realisation that a supercooled CCD was far more sensitive than any film, and so went for broke and bought a cheap secondhand palmcorder. A freon cooling system later and I'm taking shots of the Pleiades cluster in the middle of a major metropolis!

Non budget-breaker suggestions (2, Informative)

baldeagle21b (1154811) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550659)

Either a Meade ETX or a small Newtonian on a equatorial mount for the scope. Either one will give you a motor-driven imaging platform that you need for any kind of astrophotography. For a camera suggestion, if you have a notebook computer, an inexpensive webcam ($115 or so), and a free program called Registax will get you into lunar and planetary photography without breaking the bank.

Astronomy Cast (1)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550843)

I'm vaguely interested in this stuff too. If you listen episode 7 and episode 33 of astronomy cast [astronomycast.com] (bottom of the page) the rather foxy Dr. Pamela Gay will give you lots of interesting advice.

I heartily recommend listening to all the other episodes too.

For planetary photography.... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 7 years ago | (#20550903)

...I used an Olympus OM10 film SLR and Bausch/Lomb 650mm* Schmidt lens. Awesome shots of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, I could even make out cloud bands in early dawn Venus.

*for SLR don't consider anything less than 500mm unless you're doing wide-field; if you can, get a Schmidt. Whatever you do, steer well clear of zoom telephoto, the lens systems in these things are just too lossy to be any use at all. Either way you absolutely /need/ a solid tripod and a shutter cable.
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