Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Space Station From My Back Yard

One of the many great things about amateur astronomy is the countless number of things one can do. From simply lying on your back and gazing at the stars to measuring the flux from a cataclysmic variable star. My main interest is comets (for now), but I will often do something completely different. Especially after several nights of frustration in other projects.

I recently got the bug to try and photograph the International Space Station with my modest equipment. (After several nights of frustration in another project!!! :/)

The image above is the result after only my 3rd attempt. The first try gave me nothing but streaks of light across a few frames. The 2nd was better with a lot of frames showing something very over-exposed. This attempt was, to me, a complete success!

This may, and often does, seem like nothing at all to many people. You can't really see much detail. Some say, "Why is it so blurry?" Sure, it's no Astronomy Picture Of the Day, and it may not impress a single soul. But the satisfaction that this gives me is indescribable. Even a blurry, faint, unimpressive picture like this took more planning, study and patience than most people would ever believe. And seeing these images come up on my screen, knowing that these were taken FROM MY BACK YARD, is just so incredible. Now I can go back to my previous project, confident in my eventual success.

- How I did it -

Contrary to what I wrote above, this was fairly easy. The space station is now very bright and easy to find if you know where to look. The camera was a simple web cam, but with an adapter to mate it to the eyepiece holder of my telescope. Those can even be made easily with an old film canister. Probably the hardest part, aside from setting the camera's controls correctly, was following the space station as it passed over. I just looked through the finder scope and tried my best to keep it centered on the cross hairs. Of over 1600 frames, only 58 had the ISS in it! But that was enough to process with Registax to create the final image.