High Resolution CCD Imaging

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Brian Lula

Using telescopes as small as 75mm aperture, amateur astronomers are now producing stunning images rivaling those of professional observatories of just a few years ago. The public has been fascinated by the dramatic and colorful highresolution images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, yet recent amateur astronomical images have been no less inspiring. Over the last few years the art of amateur imaging has made a quantum leap forward with film-format-sized CCDs, professional-quality large-aperture telescopes and sophisticated image-processing techniques all arriving on the scene. Just as important, amateur astronomers have learned how to master them.

This chapter discusses high-resolution deep-sky CCD imaging, which is one of the most technically challenging aspects of astrophotography. Fundamental to producing stunning color CCD images is fully understanding what contributes to acquiring the best possible images. The bottom line is that the better the raw image, the better the end result. Like any skill or craft it becomes easier as you understand the requirements, prepare your equipment, practice and then experiment with the techniques. The inspiration will be the many images acquired as you advance along the learning curve. These images will reveal the heavens as you've never seen them before.

To become proficient at this facet of CCD imaging we will address the following questions:

a. What is high resolution?

b. How do I prepare for high resolution?

c. Why is "seeing control" important?

d. What demands does it place on equipment?

e. What demands does it place on acquisition?

Figure 8.1. Bubble Nebula, NGC7635. (Ha)(Ha/R,G,B) image of 180:30:30:30 minutes total exposures, respectively (3 minute individual exposures for the RGB, 5-minutes for Ha) using a 3nm Ha Custom Scientific Ha filter for the luminance frames and Custom Scientific RGB filters. The 180-minute Ha image was combined 50/50 with the R frame in Maxim DL to provide an enhanced R frame using the discrete Ha emission. Image calibration and color combination using MAXIM DL (RC Console for Sigma Combine and pixel cleanup within Maxim DL), AIP for Lucy Richardson deconvolution on the luminance, image registration using Registar, Ron Wodaski's gradient removal, luminance layering in Photoshop for final color and star shaping processing. Equipment: RCOS 20-inch f/8 RC and Finger Lakes IMG6303E CCD camera with all images acquired in 2 x 2 bin mode for an image scale of .92 arcsecond/pixel in 3 arcsecond seeing and magnitude 4.9 suburban/rural skies.

Figure 8.1. Bubble Nebula, NGC7635. (Ha)(Ha/R,G,B) image of 180:30:30:30 minutes total exposures, respectively (3 minute individual exposures for the RGB, 5-minutes for Ha) using a 3nm Ha Custom Scientific Ha filter for the luminance frames and Custom Scientific RGB filters. The 180-minute Ha image was combined 50/50 with the R frame in Maxim DL to provide an enhanced R frame using the discrete Ha emission. Image calibration and color combination using MAXIM DL (RC Console for Sigma Combine and pixel cleanup within Maxim DL), AIP for Lucy Richardson deconvolution on the luminance, image registration using Registar, Ron Wodaski's gradient removal, luminance layering in Photoshop for final color and star shaping processing. Equipment: RCOS 20-inch f/8 RC and Finger Lakes IMG6303E CCD camera with all images acquired in 2 x 2 bin mode for an image scale of .92 arcsecond/pixel in 3 arcsecond seeing and magnitude 4.9 suburban/rural skies.

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