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Ms. Patten - ASTR Lab Tech





    Most of these photos with the exception of the sun and moon photo I had to use a technique called stacking. Stacking required me to download a special program called deep sky stacker. There are other programs out there and I would urge anyone who is thinking about downloading one to use extreme caution. Free programs usually come with free viruses and mal ware. This also takes a lot of processing power. During this project my pc crashed and overheated many times. So be careful of viruses and malware, have a good computer, and hope for clear skies. Stacking can get technical but since I was just starting out I tried not to have ridiculous expectations and just went for it with the most basic approach and knowledge.


    With a Canon 60D, not too fancy, and a 100-400mm Canon lens I rented, I would find my object and begin shooting. I can’t stress enough how difficult it was to find what I was looking for with the exception of the bigger objects. I got so frustrated not being able to find what I wanted that I ended up just looking through the lens and panning the sky until I saw something that looked interesting. With that technique I was able to find most of my objects. Before I shot a bunch of pictures I would load one picture into a really great website that maps out what you are looking at to confirm I actually had something.


    Depending on what the magnitude was would determine how many photos I would take. For Andromeda I intended to shoot 400 photos as recommended by a more experienced astrophotographer but after shooting 400 and cramming them into my computer I found it couldn’t hold more than 100. If I could have stacked 400 you would clearly see the dust lanes of the galaxy.


    In addition to the lightframes, I had to shoot bias and dark frames.  After you shoot your regular photos, light frames, you put on the cap to the camera lens and with the same settings shoot 25-50 photos. Then I changed my shutter settings so the pictures would be taken faster and I took another 25-50 photos with the cap on. In the processing of the photos this helps the program weed out the hot pixels or noise that is created by the camera and atmosphere. No need to worry if you have to move your tripod, the programs accounts for adjustments and angle changes, which is why you cannot manually stack 400 photos, you will just end up with mess after only a good handful or two of pictures.


    Once the photos are taken and loaded into the program for stacking you have to wait. How many photos your computer can handle will determine how long it takes to process. With 400 photos it should take about 4-5 hours and if you unlucky like me on the 3t know why until you try a few more times.  Eventually I had to flip my laptop over and run a fan on high pointed at the base of it. When the photo is done being processed you are left with an exciting image. Whatever photo pops out can be made better with editing and there are many videos out there to help you learn a few tricks. This process is more trouble that its worth to some people but after I saw the Orion I was hooked.


    For the sun photos I had a special filter I put on so I could point my camera directly at the sun. Over the course of a month or so I took pictures of the sunspots moving and changing on the surface. Happy shooting!