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Technical question and philosophical question

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#1 chrisnardone

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 01:17 PM

I was talking about astrophotography with a non-astro friend. I was saying how I enjoy it, but sometimes don't enjoy missing out on sleep. He was suprised and asked, can't I just set it up and go to bed, then wake up to get my pics. I answered not without getting a much more expensive mount (for one thing). Currently I use a CG-5ASGT, and autoguide with ssag.

Which got me thinking: Where is the starting point for a mount that can be autoguided well enough that you can go night-night? :question:

Philosophically, at what point does one move from a person taking amazing photos to a person that knows how to operate some fancy astro equipment? :question:

#2 blueman

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 02:11 PM

Not sure it is all mount as the software is also helpful for this. But Auto-Guiding will make most mounts track well enough for this, but how long it can track before limits are reached is the big question.

I use a G-11 and an SBig ST2000xm with a CFW-9 filter wheel. With the CCD-Soft software, I can setup the mount on target, set the auto-guider and then set up the exposures for each filter in CCD-Soft and then go to bed and get up when they are finished.

The big thing is to choose the target and its position so that the mount can run for the time required, without hitting the limits.
Some mounts will not run much past Meridian, this is a problem for doing this. SO the mount is important in that regard, it must be able to track past Meridian if the object is going to move through Meridian during the exposures.

Of course, how long the exposure totals are will determine a lot of this. I usually have to have a total of 5 hours of RGBL to get a good photo. This can be done over a period of several nights if required, but I normally do it all in one night.

So, if you plan properly, you can do this easily. You can take your photo in the course of 2-3 nights if your mount will not track long enough in one night.

Hope this helps,
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#3 Lane

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 02:17 PM

I have a better question - what is point of doing that. Seems like it would be better to just buy pictures from someone else. There are people on the web shooting with extremely expensive equipment willing to sell their digital images. I am a visual only astronomer so I enjoy taking the scope out and looking through it. I always assumed that anyone doing astrophotography is interested in the process of taking the pictures. If not, then what is the point, you can buy much better pictures than you could ever take. It isn't like going to a national park and shooting pictures, where everyday there are changes and no two pictures are ever the same. The orion nebula tonight looks just like it looked last year and the year before and the year before and the year before ...

#4 Alph

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 03:11 PM

The orion nebula tonight looks just like it looked last year and the year before and the year before and the year before


Looks like we can agree on something. I also don't understand why people want to automate imaging. There are thousands and thousands of images out there available for free download. What's the point in buying Paramount ME - just to outdo someone else from the forum or to show off

#5 chrisnardone

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 03:21 PM

Wow, suprise answers already. I was hoping someone would say a $3k range mount, but still a little suprised. Also suprised with the other two ansewers.
I have a QHY8 on the way and wondered: will it feel the same to email pics to family saying, "shot this with my CCD" as it feels to say, "shot this with my Canon DSLR."

To think about saying: "programmed my equipment and woke up to this shot of M42" both appeals to me and also bothers me a little.

#6 DeanS

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 03:34 PM

If all you want is the pretty pictures, then right click away. If you want the satisfaction of doing it yourself than astro imaging is very fullfilling.

As for automation, I know many that do it, I am slowly learning and hope to be able to get some sleep while still collecting photons. It still requires a skill to set it up to work right so it is not really like cheating as some would have you believe. And anymore it seems the norm is to get many hours worth of exposures per object so sitting thru all that is not a good use of your time (like sleeping is).

I would recommend you download the trial copy of CCDCommander and give it a try. Very easy to get started. I use MaximDL, PinPoint, and the Sky6. You might be able to use some other software. And you will need the Ascom which is a free download.

I am assuming that you connected your scope to the computer with a planetarium program, if not get comfortable working with that first, then try the automation software as it runs using it too.

Have fun.

#7 Fred1

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 03:51 PM

The orion nebula tonight looks just like it looked last year and the year before and the year before and the year before ...


Actually, I've seen photos of the Crab Nebula taken over the course of 15 years that show definite changes. I wish I could remember what site they were on as I recall there are others, too.

In regards to Chris' philosophical portion of his post: I, too, am purely a visual user and I believe that much of the fun of this hobby for any person comes in the form of how one gets their enjoyment from their equipment, if any equipment at all. Many began just by looking up, naked eye, laying on their backs at camp sites listening to the more learned describe the stars and constellations. For me, it's not about fancy equipment. It's a fascination with traveling to places that in my lifetime I will never realize. Like waiting outside in my driveway at night for the Space Staion to fly over. It takes only a few minutes for it to pass, but if I forget and miss it, I'm saddened a bit. Yet, Thierry Legault has painstakingly captured the most impressive astro photo I've ever seen: the Atlantis Shuttle preparing to dock with the ISS silhouetted against the gorgeous backdrop of the Sun. I've looked at that photo often on his website. I've tried to catch the Station in my own scope during a pass and even though I know where it would emerge and the path it would follow, I still was way off in catchng even a fleeting glimpse in my scope's field of view. Legault explained at NEAF last year that he had only a 15 second window to take that photo and had to travel well outside his home in Paris to a specific location. He had to set up his fancy equipment in time to catch the window and hope that the approaching cloud cover would move slow enough so as not to destroy the opportunity.

Buying pictures are available of your favorite objects. But can one say that looking at a bought picture provides the same level of satisafaction as one gets from viewing a photo when there's a deeper understanding of the process and personal connection with the result?

I'm the crudest of carpenters, barely able to drive a nail straight, so if I need a table, I buy one. But a friend of mine is a superior wood craftsman. When he needs a table, a chair or a cabinet, he builds it, sands it, stains it and basks in the satisfaction of having a unique creation, even though it was something that arose from other existing materials, he combines and hones what's available to his own desires. I think at least as much can be said for those patient astrophotographers who make such beautiful pictures available for so many to enjoy. :salute:

#8 cvedeler

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 03:51 PM

I get more sleep doing astrophotography than I do when doing visual. I setup up to 3 hours of exposure, get it all clicking away and then can take a nap. Wake up, setup the next target, double and triple check everything, then get it clicking away and take another nap. Once I'm all done with all the light frames I stop the tracking and take a few hours of darks while it is still cool before the sun comes up or gets too high.

#9 Ted W

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 03:54 PM

Blueman is right about making sure the target matches any hard limitations of the mount. Primarily, as he has noted, the meridian flip issues associated with some GEMs is something to be careful of.

With autoguiding I can shoot all night with my mount. It's an LX200 fork so no meridian problems, and not exactly a high end system! I would say the biggest issue I have is with focus, since the focus point can change with temperature over the course of the night. Being there to periodically refocus helps. A work around is to shoot luminance up front and the color at the end of the night since detail in the color frames is less critical.

Lane and Alph,
When you love imaging, you have the desire to get the best results you can. Getting lots of data is key to this end, so being able to gather data all night long is desirable. Getting that final image the way you want it and being able to say I setup my equipment, gathered the data, and processed it to create this image gives a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The process is a creative outlet, the fact that there are other images of the same object available for free download misses the point entirely.

I enjoy observing and being outside (the Orion nebula looks the same in the eyepiece year after year too), but I wouldn't do it night after night, all night long while the scope and camera do their thing, particularly on work nights.

#10 Patrick

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 04:10 PM



The orion nebula tonight looks just like it looked last year and the year before and the year before and the year before


Looks like we can agree on something. I also don't understand why people want to automate imaging. There are thousands and thousands of images out there available for free download. What's the point in buying Paramount ME - just to outdo someone else from the forum or to show off



I think part of the desire for automating is because astrophotography is such a challenging hobby. If you've ever sat up half the night trying to work in the dark, mostly brain-dead, while trying to develop and implement a complex process to get an image of a really faint object, you'll understand why the person doing the imaging might want to make it a little easier. :smirk: And once that image is actually acquired and comes out looking good, it deserves to be seen and recognized as an accomplishment.

Sure, you can download somebody else's hard work and enjoy it I suppose. It's also possible to print out a certificate saying that you're a licensed physician, but it doesn't make you one. The fact that it's your hard work that created the image is what's important. You know all about the sweat and tears, agony and sleepless nights that went into capturing the image. AND, knowing that can make you REALLY appreciate seeing someone else's excellent work.

Give a guy a break please. Good astrophotography is difficult and not many of us are going to have a totally automated robo scope in our backyard and in reality it's probably not what we really want anyway, but if a little automation helps the process, why be critical? :shrug:

Patrick

#11 chrisnardone

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 04:12 PM

Fred1 I'm glad you made the carpentery analogy. I was going to mention why play golf instead of watching Tiger, but your analogy is better.
Excellent point about focus changing Ted.
DeanS I use PHD autoguiding software that came with the starshoot autoguider. Planned on using Nebulosity with the QHY8 when it comes. I'll look up the other software you mention...

Wow, CCD Commander looks impressive!

#12 Luigi

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 04:32 PM

I want those authetic photons that orginated their travels from the object being observed to anihiliate on my retina. This requires being present and awake, neither of which are necessary for AP. I'll look other peoples photos.

#13 Alph

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 04:41 PM

the fact that there are other images of the same object available for free download misses the point entirely.



That’s a sobering truth at least for me. It stopped me in my tracks. I can understand passion of imaging something dynamic but to spend 50K to 100K on imaging an object frozen in our life time – I don’t get it. More importantly, my wife does not get it either.

#14 Jared

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 05:11 PM

I was talking about astrophotography with a non-astro friend. I was saying how I enjoy it, but sometimes don't enjoy missing out on sleep. He was suprised and asked, can't I just set it up and go to bed, then wake up to get my pics. I answered not without getting a much more expensive mount (for one thing). Currently I use a CG-5ASGT, and autoguide with ssag.

Which got me thinking: Where is the starting point for a mount that can be autoguided well enough that you can go night-night? :question:


If your CG5 is at the point that it reliably autoguides for an indefinite period of time, then you could probably do this right now--or at least come close. You just need a scope and mount combination that won't drop the guiding over the course of a few hours. Most of the better software packages, including CCDSoft and Maxim and probably others, will allow you to schedule out an imaging run, include filter changes, and some time between exposures for the scope to re-acquire and center the guide star. Your CG5 may be capable of this right now.

The trick is the Meridian flip. I'm not aware of an easy/low cost way to handle that. Unless you are very well polar aligned, you may need to re-center your object and you will certainly need to find a new guide star (or, even worse, rotate the camera to get the same guide star again). The meridian flip is going to be the limitation under most circumstances. Unless, of course, you are using a fork mount :)

Philosophically, at what point does one move from a person taking amazing photos to a person that knows how to operate some fancy astro equipment? :question:


I find that as you progress in astrophotography, where your skills are employed slowly shifts. As a newbie, just getting the image in the field of view of a small chip may be a challenge. Eventually that problem gets handled (either through improved skill on the part of the operator or with better equipment) and you start worrying about achieving better focus. Again, the problem gets solved either through skill or more equipment and your emphasis moves to tracking accuracy and post processing. The tracking accuracy problem eventually gets solved with an autoguider, an upgraded mount, or both (as well as a liberal application of skill), and you can start focusing on post processing techniques and (finally/for the first time) true artistry. You will start to look at composition, framing, color palette, which aspects of the subject you are going to emphasize, naturalness of the subject, etc..

I'd argue that it is only after you turn into the "person who knows how to operate some fancy astro equipment" that you are truly freed up to include some real artistry in your images.

Heck, you see the same in terrestrial photography. While you don't need to spend as much money in ordinary photography to get a technically excellent image, there is still a clear distinction between technical excellence and artistry. Most artists--at least the good ones--are also technically solid or they wouldn't be able to effectively communicate their vision.

I don't see that the ability to capture good data--whether it be achieved through equipment and automation or through sweat and hard won skills--detracts from the artistry of creating a superb astrophotograph.

Heck, you had the same questions raised when photography first appeared as an art form. Some people felt that painting might die out as an art form since a more "accurate" image could be captured with a camera than with a paintbrush. Others suggested that there was no artistry in photography--that it was simply a craft that could be mastered by anyone. Clearly, neither turned out to be the case.

My still distant goal as an astrophotographer is to show that it is just as much an art form as landscape photography or portraiture. In order to do that I must first master the craft and tools of astrophotography. I prefer the "sweat" method first in order to create a better understanding of the issues involved, but I have almost followed that up with the "money" method. Even the money I spend on my equipment--in order to free me up from the more mundane portions of astrophotography--comes from my sweat since I still work for a living.

Some of the other posters mentioned that one could download far better images of an object than can be produced by amateurs, so what is the point at all? They are missing the difference between technical excellence and true artistry. When I make my own images with my own data I am able to present the image the way I wish to--convey my own artistic vision (such as it is). I can choose the framing I want. I can choose the orientation I want. Must M42 always be shown with the running main oriented on the left? I can choose my own range of contrast. I can choose to emphasize the dust and gas around a galaxy, or to draw out the spiral structure. When I image an HII region, I can decide whether I want to downplay or emphasize the sea of surrounding stars. I don't agree that every image of a given object is the same simply because the object itself doesn't change much on human time scales. How I choose to present the image is the important piece.

#15 chrisnardone

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 11:15 PM

:thewave:
Awesome answer Jared. All great answers really. I don't expect any two people on this site to have exactly the same opinion. Strength in diversity and all that... Good stuff. But really awesome answer Jared!

#16 Lane

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 08:20 AM

It just seems to me that most astrophotographers given a choice would prefer to spend all their time in the house at the computer tweeking photographs. They treat the process of acquiring those photographs as just a complicated bothersome task. I see the guys at our club set up a shot push a button and then sit down and chat with their buddies for 15 minutes. Why aren't they spending that down time looking through a second scope or scanning for meteors or ever bothering to just look up at the beautiful stars above. They don't seem to care about any of that. I over heard a couple of them last year talking about robotic mounts and how great it would be to have one. Then they would not even have to drive up to the site, everything could be done from inside their house over the web. I love astronomy and get a great feeling just being under dark skies, so I just can't get my thinking wrapped around this kind of attitude. I suppose being into AP is really more about being a photographer than it is about astronomy.

#17 Ted W

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 09:40 AM


Lane, it's probably best not to generalize like that.

You've heard of McNeil's nebula, discovered by an astrophotographer? That's astronomy. I spend some of my time each month gathering and submitting data on asteroid orbits, also astronomy. This is impossible to do with adequate precision without a camera, and automation helps to maximize the volume of scientific data collected.

I also love doing visual observation, naked eye and with binoculars while imaging. My experience is that this is the norm for most people interested in astrophotography, rather than the exception.

Alph, I hear you. If the wife isn't on board, you wont be spending much for visual or imaging work. The cost of good eyepieces adds up in a hurry!

For reference, I got my camera used for $1500. Filter wheel and an old laptop added another $1000. Scope and mount used for $2000, but I would need those for visual use also.

#18 Lane

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 10:25 AM

Ted, I didn't say "all" I said "most" and it sounds like you fall outside of that "most" category. You use your camera for what sounds like interesting pursuits, but do you really think most other astrophographers are doing that? I think not. I am not really trying to put anyone down either if that is what you think. I would just like to understand it. I see the fun in going out with your scope and camera and working hard to capture that perfect picture. But then along comes more and more automation. Automation that will eventually leave you with nothing but the end result, the photograph. I like to take pictures on vacation at national parks and other places and then manipulate those pictures in adobe photoshop when I return. I guess I could give my camera to someone else and ask them to go on vacation for me and then when they get back I can get the pictures from them. That is how I view this automation of astrophotography, you eliminate the fun part and have only the results.

#19 Charlie Hein

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 12:05 PM

Hmmm... Lane, it seems to me that in order to understand this you may need to ditch some preconceptions about it. The first one that comes to mind for me is the notion that automating the capture of the images somehow removes the fun from the process. One person's idea of fun could quite literally be another person's idea of the perfect torture!

My wife totally supports my astronomy hobby - but she would not enjoy it herself. She's of the opinion that once she's seen Saturn (for instance) she doesn't really need to see it again. It just doesn't "do it" for her at all. Although she may never change her opinion in this regard she is both very supportive and genuinely proud of my astronomy persuits. She is my biggest astrophotography fan, and will be the first one to show off my work to others. This is totally because she knows how much *I* enjoy it. You see? Fun for me, not so much for her.

Here's another example - how about guys who like to manually guide their rigs while taking photos? I know guys who dearly love this aspect of the process and would not consider doing it any other way. As for me, even though I've always loved observing, I think I'd rather have bamboo shoots driven under my fingernails before I'd willingly sit for hours manually guiding my astrophotos. It's difficult, almost invariably painful (you must crouch in whatever position that the telescope gives to you and this is invariably in the most cramped position imaginable), and can be easily avoided by just a little bit of automation.

Most of the guys in my club are astrophotographers. I know of many occasions where we've headed out of town to dark sky and ended up waiting the whole night for the sky to clear just hanging out with each other. For the majority of these guys a big part of the fun of astrophotography is the comraderie that takes place while their rigs are busy collecting photons. You won't hear many of these guys calling that wasted time either, even when they're totally clouded out.

...and speaking of clouded out skies - that makes the idea of a completely remote controlled observatory located somewhere that has pristine skies pretty attractive, too!

#20 alanon

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 01:03 PM

I am just now starting to acquire the equipment to do AP: however, I am first, and foremost a visual observer. I guess that puts me on both sides of this discussion.

I have been a visual Observer for many years, and find the joy of being out under the sky with my equipment very satisfying. I will probably set up to do both AP and visual on any given night. (at least that is the plan) To me it is the learning and accomplishment that drives me to even want to go through the somewhat frustrating learning curve to accomplish this new discipline of astronomy.

As far as the remote execution of the hobby is concerned, I say why not if that is what some like. If you just like to lay on ground and just look up, or remotely operate your rig from somewhere else to acquire those beautiful photos we all stair at in amazement it is all the same love of the sky that drives us.

It always amazes me how much we tend to cubby hole ourselves in this hobby. Refractor or reflector? And if you are one or the other then we sub divide even further to Achro or Apo; Dob or Equatorial Newts. Our entire hobby tends to require a persons involvement be placed in a niche.

I personally look at astronomy as a whole, and appreciate the vastly different ways that we all add to the overall experience. It ends up a buffet of different choices that make a well rounded hobby. (read obsession)

I forgot the name of the company or group that does this, but I may yet decide to rent time on those remote telescopes like the new one down in Chili. I think "how cool is that" instead of "I am missing the experience". I someday want to see the Southern hemisphere's sky personally. I think that if I do get that chance I will take my Dob because there is just too much I want to look at to focus on one item in the given time I have. If I can do some High tech peeking in the meantime.... :shrug:

Perhaps this new desire to do AP will blow over and nothing will come of it. Perhaps it will end up being my driving force. I don't know. What I do know is that I will have tasted another dish on that buffet, and be all the more full for it. :cool:

#21 Lane

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 01:24 PM

Well guys those are good responses, I will leave it alone now. Happy photo shooting.

#22 Patrick

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 01:42 PM

Why aren't they spending that down time looking through a second scope or scanning for meteors or ever bothering to just look up at the beautiful stars above.



I suspect some of those guys have been observing for years which means they've already seen a lot of stuff...again and again. Astrophotography becomes a branch of the hobby that keeps their interest up and at the same time gives them time to socialize with others who share the same interest. Automating the imaging process becomes another branch of the hobby...it's all good. ATMing and astrophotography have long been associated with amateur astronomy.

Patrick

#23 Fred1

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 04:40 PM

Didn't Levy and Shoemacher discover the most awesome comet event of the last century as amatuer astrophotographers? You know the one I mean.

#24 Jared

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 04:43 PM

It just seems to me that most astrophotographers given a choice would prefer to spend all their time in the house at the computer tweeking photographs. They treat the process of acquiring those photographs as just a complicated bothersome task. I see the guys at our club set up a shot push a button and then sit down and chat with their buddies for 15 minutes. Why aren't they spending that down time looking through a second scope or scanning for meteors or ever bothering to just look up at the beautiful stars above. They don't seem to care about any of that. I over heard a couple of them last year talking about robotic mounts and how great it would be to have one. Then they would not even have to drive up to the site, everything could be done from inside their house over the web. I love astronomy and get a great feeling just being under dark skies, so I just can't get my thinking wrapped around this kind of attitude. I suppose being into AP is really more about being a photographer than it is about astronomy.


You could ask the same question about many of the recent technological changes in amateur astronomy--I won't call them advances. When digital setting circles first started to become popular people wondered whether they were really a good idea. They allowed you to bypass some of the learning process of star hopping and analog setting circles. Wouldn't someone who was really interested in astronomy want to learn those skills? And continuously use them? Then goto alt-az scopes came out. That change allowed the amateur to completely bypass polar alignment and moving the telescope at all! Just type in the object, and it appeared.

As it turned out neither of these changes was "bad" for amateur astronomy. For those who weren't interested in the mechanics of finding an object (heretofore an integral part of amateur astronomy) they removed an unpleasant burden. Different people are interested in different parts of the hobby. I still prefer not to use my goto systems when doing visual astronomy, but to each his own.

I think your observation is accurate, though. Most astrophotographers do seem to be more interested in the process of building the image out of the data than they are in the process of data capture. At least, this is true once they reach a certain level of proficiency. Don't worry about it, though. It's just another part of our wonderful hobby. It's also the way professional astronomy has been pursued for some time now.

#25 mischief

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 07:45 PM

My $0.02 - For philosophical question: an alternative to doing your own astrophotograpy with whatever way you want to do it; if you don't want to lose sleep or spend a lot of money, you could go to the Slooh website and take "pictures" of objects their telescopes go to and download them to your computer or if you pay more, you can plan your own observing session. Or you could go to LightBuckets website and plan your own observing session, download the photos they take in FTS format and process them. However, my thoughts (my $.02 on the subject is); :refractor: I would rather have the photons hit my eyes or my camera than hit one of the roboscopes that you would use at Slooh or LightBuckets.

As I said, just my $0.02
Dorothy






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