Many people have used a webcam to do astrophotography before so I decided to give it a try. These are the steps I took and some mediocre results from night one.
Take a Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000.
Prise open the outer case and then unscrew all the nearly microsocopic screws with a jewlers screwdriver until the base circuit board is separated from the rest of the case.
I then used Araldite (2 part epoxy glue) to glue the cable to the back of the circuit board to hold all the fine cables in place. Once that set I used some Blue-Tak to stick the circuit board onto part of a broken star diagonal.
Make sure the CCD detector is as close to the center as possible. The Blue-Tak allows it to be recentered if need be and holds the circuit board well enough in place.
The stripes across the detector in the above was actually a finger print (gives scale to how small this all is) and destroyed the initial daylight tests. Cleaning it is not easy. I found the best result was one of those microfiber cloths that you use to clean eye glasses. Even that left a few unseen spots that are still visible on the movie capture, so try and keep the CCD as clean as possible.
Once the circuit board is attached it is all screwed to the back of the scope (Celestron Nexstar 5 that has seen better days but still has excellent optics and tracking).
NASA’s Astronomy Picture Of The Day always has interesting space related images and movies and is worth checking out on a regular basis. Here are two incredible recent movies APOD pointed to.
First up is this incredible HD solar prominence.
“When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011). This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Because SDO images are super-HD, we can zoom in on the action and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless. Sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping solar show.”
Make sure you click the fullscreen icon and select the full HD resolution to see this in all its glory.
Next is this footage of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft. As Cassini was approaching and orbiting Saturn it took thousands of images. A bunch of those images have now been carefully cropped, rotated, digitally tweaked etc to create this awesome movie. Again, make sure you watch this in full screen mode.
Powers Of Ten is a great short film from the 60’s (created by Charles and Ray Eames) that gives a unique perspective on sizes from the very large to the very minute. Quoting the video info…
Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only as a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward – into the hand of the sleeping picnicker – with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.
I saw this as a sequence of images in a book years ago, but never got to watch the video until now.
Most people consider the speed of light to be instantly fast. Even our own solar system shows light speed is far from instant. When you look at the moon you are seeing it as it was approximately 1.3 seconds ago. When you look at Saturn through a telescope you are seeing how it was approximately 80 minutes ago. The further you look away into space the further back in time you are seeing.
On the universal scale the distance to the moon and Saturn are nothing. The indicated dot in the above image is 13.1 billion light years away. Meaning the “gleam” from it took 13.1 billion years to reach us. According to all the recent measurements, our universe is around 13.7 billion years old. So that allows us to look back in time to when the universe (and the smudge) was “only” 600 million years old.
NASA has had funding issues for a while now, but missions and successes like this reach out to the general public and hopefully inspire a whole new generation of future astronomers to get into science.
I just finished watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos for the first time in years since it was first on TV. Surprisingly most of it is still relevant and they only needed to make slight changes in the update segments at the end of each episode.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in science and/or space. Or even for people who do not really have an interest in the universe beyond their own microcosm lives. Sagan had (RIP) a way of making science accessible to the mainstream. His famous Pale Blue Dot speech sums up his character.
The one thing that sticks in my mind from the Cosmos series is his comments of “and if we don’t destroy ourselves, then…” when talking about the potential for the human race in the future.