I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy. When I was a kid, our family would go Christmas shopping every year down in Syracuse, New York. I’d look forward to it every year because it meant there was a chance that THIS year, I might end up actually getting a telescope from one of the many science stores that used to exist in the many malls down there. The telescopes these stores had on display were about as tall as I was back then and they looked like they were used by the professionals. My mind would race off into space just looking at these fine looking instruments and I couldn’t stop imagining what it would be like to someday have my own telescope.
A few years back, I started cross country skiing in the hills north of Ottawa during the night. The Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa are known for some of the nicest cross country ski trails in the world and quite often I would go out to ski for many hours all by myself. It was only a matter of time before I could keep my balance well enough while stargazing upward. After hours of fun I’d begin the long trek back to the car. I was able to gaze upwards to a moonless sky while my skis carried me down the hills towards the parking lot at the end of Lac Philippe. Finally, I decided there was no other way to see more other than to purchase a telescope, so I did.
My first telescope was a 6 inch Newtonian that I used on a Skywatcher EQ-6 goto mount. As soon as I started using it I realized two things. First, the planets were very small, and secondly, everything else was very faint. But was this ever cool! When I found out that it was possible to attach a camera to the telescope, my love for photography met my love for astronomy. Suddenly I had a tool to collect light for an extended period of time and record it all in a single image! It seemed simple enough. Just set up the telescope,polar align the mount, attach a camera, and take a 30 minute or so exposure. I had NO idea how much more complicated than this it really was. And so it began…
My initial images showed a great amount of detail I had not expected, and the images were not affected by tracking errors all that much since the focal length of my scope was relatively short. I was more concerned with the large amount of coma present in all my images. The Coma is an optical aberration which causes stars to look like they have a comet tail aimed away from the center of the image. When I finally upgraded to an 11 inch Schmidt Cassegrain, both the mirror flop and the tracking errors became painfully obvious in my images because I was now dealing with an extremely long focal length. I spent a great deal of time figuring out what was happening and I finally decided to upgrade the telescope to a Celestron 11 inch EdgeHD Aplanatic Schmidt. This new telescope had mirror locks and a focusser that was greatly improved. At about the same time, I also purchased a Losmandy G-11 mount and installed the O-Vision precision worm gear for better tracking. My periodic error was down to that of much larger and more expensive mounts and my stars were finally round, but I started noticing that noise was now the dominant obstacle in all my images. Digital SLRs mostly have CMOS sensors which aren’t actively cooled and because of this aren’t nearly as sensitive as cameras designed for astrophotography. I decided to upgrade to a dedicated astronomical CCD sensor based camera to improve my images. And so this hobby of mine carries me forward, endlessly reminding me how vast the universe is and constantly leaving me in awe as I look back through time and see what the universe looked like millions of years ago!