A lot has happened in the four years since the first edition of this book was published. Astronomical CCDs have gotten much bigger, much quieter and much more sensitive. WebCams have come into their own as imaging devices for the budding, as well as serious, amateur astronomer to capture high-resolution pictures of the Moon and planets. Also digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have come way down in price and are rapidly becoming a very popular way for the beginner to "get his feet wet" in astroimaging as well as for the veteran to easily take wide-field images of the brighter deep-sky objects.
New, high-quality filters are now available at a reasonable cost, that allow us not only to separate the colors found in celestial objects in order to create color images, but also to isolate individual spectral lines. These filters make it possible to isolate fine detail that would otherwise be lost in the background light.
The use of autoguiders is now commonplace, with the result that many as-troimagers engage in marathon sessions over multiple nights, creating images with many hours of accumulated exposure time. As a result, amateurs are going deeper than ever before in their quest for faint objects.
The imaging hardware is not the only thing that has changed. Computer hardware, following Moore's Law, has steadily improved its capabilities to the point where an 80-gigabyte hard drive and 500 megabytes of RAM are found even on entry level systems. This gives the software developer much more freedom to implement numerically intensive image processing routines without the problem of them taking all night to execute.
The art of image processing has undergone continuous growth as well, with
new techniques, such as wavelets, that remove noise and noiselessly enhance the details in CCD images. New ways of dealing with color give the user more control than ever in producing color images from a CCD camera or DLSR.
With all the growth in the field of astronomical imaging, it was time to update the text and write new software to take advantage of the new equipment and techniques that have become available. As a result, significant portions of the text have been revised, and chapters added. New techniques and methods are covered along with the use of some of the new equipment that has become available.
The software, originally written with a 486 PC having 16MB of memory and an 800x600 display as a minimum system, has been rewritten to take advantage of the current crop of entry level PCs with multi-GHz CPUs and hundreds of megabytes of main memory. This new crop of PCs allows routines to be written which were just too computation-intensive to be implemented before. More experience in using the tools in the hands of so many talented imagers has provided tremendous feedback on the techniques and methods implemented in the first version of AIP4Win. These suggestions, provided by the user community, formed the basis for the feature list of the new software. While keeping as much of the original user interface as was feasible, this second version is an entirely different creature under the hood. Gone are the 32-bit integers that were needed in order to implement processing in a speedy fashion. The use of floating-point math on the current crop of fast machines has facilitated the implementation of more powerful image processing techniques.
On top of the original book and software, nearly a year of writing, coding and testing have gone into the product you now hold in your hands. Enjoy!
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