James Paulson's roll off roof observatory at the Sunridge Observatory site, taken in the summer of 1986, housing a 10 inch f/5 Cave Astrola Newtonian reflector telescope

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Equipment Myth

There was a time a few years back when I had a very nice roll off roof observatory with a 10 inch equatorial mounted Cave telescope all set up for dual axis control and off axis guiding, with an 80mm f/4 piggybacked refractor. My observatory was equipped with a heater, variable red lighting, and doubled as a darkroom for processing film and printing images. I had a modern 35mm SLR equipped with all the goodies at this time. I spent many hours under the night sky in my observatory doing both visual and photographic astronomy, using a star atlas and a list of objects that I wanted to target. This was so long ago that using a computer was not even really an option, except to print lists of objects with their co-ordinates on a dot matrix printer. I shot plenty of film with that setup using Ektachrome 800, Fuji 400, Konica 1600, gas hypered Tech Pan 2415, and Kodak spectroscopic film. I thought I had the ultimate setup. You can see it in the photo at the top of my blog.

But years before this there was a time when my primitive gear included an old 35mm camera that my uncle had given me. The lens on this camera could not be removed, and the shutter on it was broken. You could cap the lens, load film in the camera, click to advance frames, etc, but the shutter would not close. I was 14 years old at the time, but I didn't let that stop me from enjoying it. I fixed it to a home made mounting, waited for a dark sky, and carefully removed the lens cap, each exposure carefully targeted. My darkroom consisted of an old kitchen that was completely dark but had running water, where I carefully developed the film in a tray in the dark using chemicals that I had mixed before. My telescope for visual usage at that time consisted of a 6 inch f/8 on a home made mount with no clock drive, a pier with a vacuum cleaner pipe stuffed with a wooden dowel, and a base from an old canister vacuum. I also had a 50mm alt-azimuth mounted "Sears special" refractor. And a star atlas, a notepad, and a red flashlight.

So here I am tonite, taking stock of where I am at, and I can't help but reflect on what an amazing thing this is. I just purchased my first DSLR, the Canon XS, for doing digital astrophotography, along with a T adapter for doing prime focus. I have my Meade 6 inch Schmidt Newtonian mounted on the LXD75 AutoStar equipped GoTo equatorial mount. I have a custom made accessory bracket on my tube cradle where I can mount my camera for tracked piggybacking, or another refractor. Sitting on the Orion Paragon HDF2 tripod next to this gear is my 15x70 astro binoculars. A quick release shoe removes them from the tripod and my camera snaps in place, and I am looking at this thinking how cool this is to have this little setup with so much flexibility. In my eyes, I have never had a setup that I like so much. But it strikes me that I am using a setup very similar to what I was using at 14 years of age, except that the technology of it all has improved everything immensely. I no longer have to mess with chemicals. I see the results of my images in minutes instead of hours. I tell the telescope where to point. The exposure time and information is controlled electronically. I can piggyback with the scope and view with the binoculars. Or I can do wide field tripod mounted imaging and view with the scope. It's light enough to go with me so I am not fixed in one spot. And my laptop is connected via wireless to the Internet and loaded with plenty of software to help me under the night sky.

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't this where I started?

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