I have spent years trying to master the hybrid art/science of deep sky astrophotography, attempting to capture
the color, texture, and fine detail in nebula, star clusters, and galaxies, which can range from a few hundred to
many millions of light years distant.  After an 18 year journey, though, I have finally come home, setting my
telescopic sites on our "local real estate"; that is, objects within the confines of the solar system.  While deep
space photography requires the tedious accumulation of many hours of data, solar system imaging is quite the
opposite -- owing to the brightness of the objects (moon, sun, and planets), individual exposures are only a
fraction of a second, and total integration times often measure just a few minutes. Rather than use traditional
CCD cameras, solar system imagers rely on relatively inexpensive webcams for data capture, taking short
video clips containing thousands of individual frames. Sophisticated software helps to cull the best from the
bunch, and these are "stacked" to generate master frames, which are then sharpened using "wavelets" and
other algorithms. Even the moon, a large target, can benefit from this approach, especially when trying to
image small lunar features.

Deep sky imaging is dependent on a dark sky (though narrow band filters help to eliminate even this
requirement) --  solar system imaging can be done during the daytime (duh...obviously in the case of the sun,
but also with the moon and sometimes the planets as well (!) -- however, day or night, the quality of solar
system imaging greatly depends on the local "seeing" conditions, or the steadiness of the air, especially if one
hopes to capture fine details that are 1/1000 the diameter of the moon.  It is rare to find geographic regions that
offer both dark skies and great seeing, and unfortunately, my backyard is home to neither. Maybe one day I
will have the opportunity to image the planets from a more desirable location. For now, my tiny piece of the
rock outside of Philadelphia will have to do!  Hopefully this list will grow larger in the coming months and
Our Solar System
Jupiter and Saturn were captured using
a color webcam hooked up to my 12.5"
reflecting scope. Short video clips (2-4
minutes) generate thousands of
individual frames, some sharp, most
blurry, as the steadiness of the air
continually fluctuates.  The best 25% or
so are stacked together -- the stacking
greatly increases the signal to noise

The northeast portion of the USA is
generally poor for planetary imaging,
and the situation is further compounded
when the target is at a lower elevation.
For instance, Jupiter was imaged at
about 60 degrees, but Saturn only at 30
degrees -- the difference in detail is
obvious. Saturn will climb high for
northern hemisphere dwellers, but not
for another 15 years!

The moon was captured with a
traditional CCD camera, not a webcam.
The moon's diameter is about 60X that
of Jupiter.

Click on any of these images for
additional views and commentary.
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