History (where did you start astronomy from)
I’m a shade too young for Apollo, but SkyLab and the Mars Viking missions got my interest up. My parents bought me a 60mm department store refractor that I used on the moon. In 1989, I purchased my first ‘real’ telescope; a 4.5″ F8 Dob.
Where did you hear about EAA?
On Cloudy Nights.
What are your expectations?
I have far exceeded my initial expectations, which were simply to see structure in faint galaxies and nebulae. Now, I pick out a part of the sky (my view is best from E to SSW) and using Sky Safari, begin exploring.
What do you already have?
I operate 2 systems concurrently: a Celestron CPC1100 with a 0.63 reducer and ZWO ASI294MC camera (55mm back focus length) and a Canon 70-200mm zoom lens (always at 200mm) with a ZWO ASI178MC camera riding piggyback on the CPC1100 for widefield views.
The system is mounted permanently in my SkyShed Pod observatory, which I control remotely from inside my home.
Budget (cost of starting kit, cost of current kit)
Budget is too personal to really address, however chances are that anyone interested enough in reading this, already has some or most of what they would need to begin.
My current system is probably approaching $10K, however it was pieced together over a long period of time. I’ve used the 294 camera with my Celestron NexStar 6SE and reducer with wonderful results, and the cost there, including telescope, would be well under $2K used.
How much is too much?
If your budget allows it, there is no “too much.” You can spend more on astronomy than the cost of a new BMW if you wish, however I do believe in a point of diminishing returns. Once you have an optical system that is resolving the finer details in the objects that you enjoy most (for me, it’s dust lanes in galaxies and detail in planetary nebulae), the only thing left would be to purchase the finest mount you can, to maximize your sub-exposure length.
In my specific case, I’m already there. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a thing of the past.
Decide on what interests you. As stated, my love is taking those faint fuzzies and seeing as much fine detail as possible. That is compatible with my other interest, which is planetary imaging. Both require as much aperture as possible. There is no substitute for it. Sub-exposure length cannot resolve detail that the OTA is incapable of collecting. The trade-off there is the Field of View: A C11 has a FOV that is TINY. At maximum I can see is approximately 2/3 of the moon’s diameter when using the reducer.
In my case, the solution was stunningly obvious. I had a very well corrected camera lens lying around, along with a Celestron piggyback mount for an SCT. I simply bolted it on top of the OTA and utilized the tracking in the CPC mount.
Get the best you can afford. Seriously. The upside here, is that it doesn’t have to be a $5K GEM. As stated, I’ve used a 6SE with no issues at all. As long as the mount tracks the sky, it can be an Alt/Az or EQ configuration. The better your mount, the longer subs you can gather, but in my situation, I never go above 10 seconds, and for clusters, 5 seconds is my sweet spot.
Even a humble SE mount can handle that.
Camera(s) and preferred targets and techniques.
For me, a huge part of what was missing from visual observing is color. Our eyes are pathetic when receiving color information at night. Every object that I viewed for decades was a shade of grey. Even M42 (the Orion Nebula) was only a dim green, and it is the brightest deep sky object that I can see from my location. So all of my cameras are OSC (One Shot Color).
With that in mind, everything has trade offs. The Bayer Matrix over the sensor of a OSC, reduces its sensitivity, so you need to decide how much color means to you.
Size matters in OTA aperture AND in camera sensors. Again, get the biggest you can afford. Use the available calculators online to match your scope with the FOV of a specific camera, and do your best to maximize it.
The one thing that I would never advise, is to use a DSLR. That is where I started, and I can honestly tell you from personal experience, that it’s not worth the frustration. They aren’t sensitive enough for the short exposures required in EAA, and the available drivers are simply too buggy and will cause levels of frustration that make chasing and rounding up cats seem like child’s play.
If a DSLR is all you have, then use the folder monitor camera in SharpCap and not the direct driver. You’ll be amazed at what you will see, until you graduate to a dedicated astrocam, and then you’ll see what you’ve missed by using a DSLR.
As for applicable targets, it’s the finest detail that excites me. Seeing the knots in a dust lane from a galaxy that’s 80 MLY away; the structure inside a planetary nebula. Resolving a globular cluster right down to its core.
Personal highlights also include seeing Pluto for the first time, and the moons around Uranus and Neptune.
Tip here – treat those planets as stars and stack them. Use short 3-5 second exposures with the lowest possible gain on Uranus and Neptune that allow them to keep stacking, and the moons will simply pop into existence when you stretch the histogram. For Pluto, a 5-8 second sub with a medium gain, will have you looking at it within 30 seconds.
What don’t you like about EAA?
There is literally nothing that I dislike about EAA. Because of EAA, I’m viewing objects that were traditional ‘faint fuzzies’ and enjoy the capability of pushing my system to depths that I could never have dreamed. My personal best so far, is a galaxy over 10 billion light years away, and magnitude 22.8,
From the observatory on my deck.
That I viewed in -28C conditions from the comfort of my living room, as I sat beside my fireplace.
EAA hasn’t rekindled my interest in astronomy, because in my life, that has never left. What it has done, is made it more accessible to me.