The Deep Sky on TV

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Want to go deep, really deep? But don't want to fool with guide scopes or hyper-expensive CCD cameras? What about video? Beginning about a decade ago, amateur astronomers gained the ability to capture the deep sky on video in near real time. This was made possible by the very sensitive astro-video cameras sold (in the United States) by Adirondack Video Astronomy ("Stellacam") and Jack's Astro Accessories LLC ("Mallincam"). These vidcams are not just very sensitive to light; they can expose for much longer than the 1/30-second of the family camcorder. The latest Stellacam, the III, for example, can "integrate" for as long as the user wishes. The Mallincam Hyper Plus is limited to about a minute, but that's more than enough for most users. More than one minute means the telescope will probably need to be guided, and freedom from guiding is one of the attractions of deep sky video. How deep can these cameras go? The Stellacam II (Plate 78), which is limited to 12-second exposures, has easily imaged small 18th magnitude Hickson galaxies!

The bottom line on astrovideo? These cameras act as 3x (roughly) aperture multipliers. There's no longer any need to suffer from big Dob aperture envy when a Stellacam or Mallincam can turn a C11 into the equivalent of a 33-inch telescope. Admittedly, looking at a video monitor doesn't have quite the charm of looking through an eyepiece, but the experiences are actually similar. Most objects on video look surprisingly like visual counterparts. Globular star clusters, for example, don't have the burned out cores seen in many CCD images. Another great thing about video? Sequences can be recorded to videotape or DVD for enjoyment on a big-screen TV the next morning!

Deep sky video cameras are an absolute bargain when compared to CCD cams. Top of the line Mallincams and Stellacams hover around the $1,000 price point, and that covers almost everything. No expensive laptop is required. Yes, some kind of video

Plate 78. (Stellacam

II) The small but sensitive Stellacam II deep sky video camera is able to provide near real time images of deep space objects. Credit: Author.

monitor is required, but many of us make do with inexpensive portable DVD players. Most of these players can accept an external video input from a camera and can be powered by 12vdc. Even better, very usable ones can be bought for less than $150.

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