Below is a summary of the key equipment that I currently use:
I currently have 3no telescopes as follows:
William Optics Megrez 72 Refractor
A lovely compact refractor which gets a lot of use. It is the ideal travel scope and is great to take on holiday as it can be packed into a camera rucksack and used in conjunction with a decent camera tripod. Also well suited to solar observing (with suitable solar filter of course) and wide field deep sky observing. A great all round telescope. Good quality and well built.
Meade LX90 200mm SCT
My first serious telescope and originally bought from Telescope House complete with ALT-AZ mount which is no longer used. The telescope OTA has ACF optics and is a superb all round SCT telescope and it gets the most frequent use. The LX90 is now fitted onto a dovetail bar for mounting onto the Losmandy GEM and has a JMI Event Horizon electronic focuser and upgraded APM 60mm finder scope.
Celestron C11 SCT
This was bought a few years ago second hand through Astro Buy & Sell website and its procurement involved a trip up the M1 and a rendezvous in a MacDonald’s car park to make the exchange. The C11 has a carbon fibre tube and is FASTAR compatible. The increase in aperture makes for stunning visual observing of the moon and planets. However whilst it is a lovely telescope, it currently gets little use as it is hard work getting it out and setting it up in the dark each time and has a long cool down time.
Losmandy G11 German Equatorial Mount complete with the Gemini 2 GOTO system. An American mount from California imported / purchased through Orion Optics UK Ltd. The mount is a remarkably well engineered piece of equipment and has a reasonable load bearing capacity and good GOTO pointing accuracy and is ideally suited to my needs. I generally link the mount / Gemini system to a laptop which allows me to operate / control the mount from inside. The Gemini system is quite daunting at first but once you are familiar with the routine set up and configuration it is a very stable platform and is well supported on line and is fully updatable with new firmware etc.
I have a number of cameras that I use for Astronomy as follows:
Imaging Source DBK 41AU02.AS – This was the first purpose made ‘Astronomy’ camera that I bought. It is effectively a ‘webcam’ and is used for hi-resolution imaging the planets & the Moon. It is best suited for the Moon and Solar imaging. When using this type of camera, short video clips of approximately 1000 frames are recorded and then then the best frames are stacked and processed in Registax software which enables one to reduce the detrimental affects of astronomical ‘seeing’ thus improving quality of the image and bringing out the detail.
Mallincam Extreme – Frustrated with the limitations of my observing associated with light pollution in London, I came across discussions on line about the use of high sensitivity video cameras for use in Astronomy. The use of such cameras allows the near time observing of deep sky objects and the ability to view these directly either on a TV screen or laptop. Extensive on line research followed and this culminated in the investment of the Mallincam Extreme purpose built and highly sensitive analogue astronomy video camera. This was purchased through Jack’s Astro Accessories in New Orleans USA who is the authorised World wide dealer for the manufacturer Rock Mallin in Canada. After quite a learning curve, the use of the Mallincam has without doubt opened up a world of deep sky observing opportunities from my location despite the extreme light pollution and whilst the images that are captured are not in the same league as those taken by astro-photographers that is not my intent. I operate the Mallincam Extreme using Miloslick camera control software which allows full control of the camera from a laptop remote from the telescope.
Starlight Xpress Lodestar Colour & Lodestar X2 Mono – Relatively new additions, these camera’s are USB powered & primarily designed for guiding purposes in astrophotography. However these compact (just the size of a regular 1.25″ eyepiece) UK built camera’s from Starlight Xpress are extremely sensitive and have acquired a significant following of people who use them for near real time astronomy / video astronomy. The beauty of the Lodestar is that it is powered and controlled from the laptop by a single powered USB cable. I operate the Lodestar camera with the free Lodestar Live software designed by Paul Shears in Kent UK. As with the Miloslick software used with the Mallincam, the Lodestar Live software is intuitive and allows on the fly control of the camera settings and image processing to enable real time viewing and stacking of images on the laptop.
Observing planning software:
Stellarium Planetarium software is used for all observing planning, in conjunction with various reference books. Stellarium is free, easy to use and more than adequate for my needs.
I generally plan ahead what I intend to observe on a given night and produce a spread sheet of the targets, their coordinates and then programme this into the Gemini system during the course of the evening viewing.
Having done some research on the most suitable filters for use with video astronomy I eventually acquired Astronomik UHC and HA filters to improve contrast of nebula and reduce the effects of light pollution. Most of the images from 2014 onwards are acquired with either of these being fitted. When not using either of these I used a standard IR cut out filter.
In order to reduce the focal length of the telescopes for video astronomy so as to reduce exposure times and increase the field of view, I use various focal reducer combinations. At present I use the Mallincam MFR5 focal reducer with various spacers that allow a range of focal reduction to be achieved from 0.8 to as low as 0.4. This is trial and error and there are many variables. Adequate focal reduction also reduces demands on the mount / alignment accuracy.
When observing the Sun, I use a 2″ Lunt Herschel wedge and a neutral adjustable polarising filter in conjunction with the Megrez 72. This configuration is shown in the picture below.