Greetings. I was encouraged by a few folks at the astronomy park to post a write-up on a technique I used the other night to help me find and photograph the Whirlpool galaxy using my Canon 70D, it's EFS 55-250mm kit lens, and an iOptron sky tracker.
Summary: Using a mix of free and purchased software to plate solve the image from your camera and update a sky map to show where your camera is currently pointed. You then repeat the plate solving process each time you adjust your camera until finally getting your target in the frame.
Equipment and software I used: Canon 70D DSLR camera with the EFS 55-250mm kit lens, an iOptron skytracker on a heavy tripod, my laptop with Stellarium, Stellarium scope, Backyard EOS, ASCOM utilities, and Astrotortilla.
This post assumes and is intended for folks without a go-to or other controlled mount, who have been doing some Astrophotography already and who are experienced with installing and configuring software. This post is not intended to be a step-by-step tutorial, rather it is a suggestion of a process to use these materials to more accurately find your target.
You will need to install the software listed, there are many good tutorials out there on how to install these and how to configure them.
Once installed you will be using the ASCOM simulated mount appropriately called "simulator". The idea is that Astrotortilla will update the "mount's" position and Stellarium will report that with a crosshairs showing the center of the field of view of your camera.
Fire up Stellarium Scope and have it connect to your ASCOM instance of Simulator. Open Stellarium and verify that you have a scope crosshairs (you can also pick a random target and hit CTRL+1 to have Stellarium command the simulated mount to slew there. Verify the crosshairs move.
Next launch Backyard EOS and connect your camera per normal. Finally launch Astrotortilla and set it to use the simulated ASCOM mount, and set it to use Backyard EOS for the image source. Configure the exposure time as appropriate for the conditions and have it solve. Once the first solve is done three check boxes will go from grey'd out to clickable. Click only the first option "Sync Scope".
Click capture and solve and when it's complete observe Stellarium. The scope crosshairs should now be updated to your camera's position.
Continue moving your camera and plate solving to get your target into the frame. Once you are close go back to Backyard and max out your ISO and try taking a long exposure to see if you have your target in the frame. From there image as normal.
I was able to capture a very nice 2 hour exposure widefield of the Whirlpool galaxy using this technique on July 3-4
Normally I have to star-hop then start taking test exposures to find targets. Now I'm able to find my targets with a little less effort.
Of course shooting DSO's with such equipment really means I just don't own better equipment, and I have some on order. However I hope that this idea and technique can help out other budding astrophotographers who have maybe done some widefield work and are looking to take things another step up the learning curve.
Edited by rottielover, 05 July 2017 - 09:12 PM.