Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA) means here real-time (or nearly real-time) viewing of astronomical objects (usually deep sky) with an aid of electronic devices. Typically the term applies to DSLR or CCD live stacking, sometimes also loosly to liveview or video with cameras and DSLRs or HDR Video with DSLRs using Magic Lantern. To me it is mostly Live stacking and what I choose choose to call “Lazy Casual Astrophotography“.

Atik Infinity EAA

Dachsberg 600mmTMB APO 127 x 15 s Infinity_m42_lin_pseudo HDR mit PSE 12

Electronically Assisted Astronomy comes with a moderate price tag, especially with the newest cameras. I use an Atik Infinity with my 80mm f7.5, 130mm f7 APO’s ot the two 203 mmm f/4 and f/6 Newtons, together with filters, reducer and flattener/reducer. The Atik Infinity is the first Atik Camera dedicated to EAA livestacking (to me different from “video astronomy”). It has both the speed and sensitivity required for this rewarding technique, and comes with a very good, robust and simple SW. The Infinity features a Sony ICX825 sensor embedded with EXview HAD CCD II™ technology and   6,45 pixel size.

Short Presentation
03192017-Electronically-Assisted-Astronomy-EAA.avi

Click on the picture right for a short Presentation of Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA). In the field I run the equipment usually with a small Lenovo X200 laptop. When I meet with visual observers in the field, they really like the color and details without need to collect data and rework them for hours (like for astrophotography) – it all works in seconds to minutes. EAA is  a compromise of course, semi-visual and I still do enjoy the view through their Dobsons – our eyes are the best camera(s).

Live stacking is a common-sense approach: you take a sensitive CCD camera that you already have for imaging (I have a also Lodestar X2 Guider), set for short exposures and connect to a laptop for real-time processing coupled with filters (CLS, SI II, Ha or OIII). The image is produced on the fly and improved with each new frame coming from the camera. If set for summing, the image will brighten with each new frame and the noise will diminish. Gradually the faint details will emerge … Easy!  The Infinity Software registers automatically incoming frames (including shift and rotation) and also capable of basic stretching and color balancing operations.

Livestacking Programs

Live stacking addresses a large segment of what I choose to call “Lazy Casual Astrophotography“.

For fast results and when I crave color views of nebulae and star clusters my choice is Color. On certain targets a mono camera is certainly better.

There are several options foe EAA Software:

  • Atik Infinitysoftware – for use only with the ATIK camera – ATIK Infinity Camera (C/SW) and the ATIK cooled Horizon Color CMOS with a Sensor D=21,9 mm.
  • Pauls Lodestar Live Beta renamed Starlight Live (now official Starlight Express Distribution) for Starlight Express Lodestar X2.
  • AstroToaster/DSS Live appears to be the most popular stacking/viewing add on for any camera.
  • Sharp Cap can capture video to AVI and SER format; capture stills to PNG and FITS and supporting Starlight Express and others native as well as Ascom drivers.

The Infinity Livestacker software is included with drivers in the core software, stable with all (but not more than) needed features.  Is in my homble opinion the leader of the pack.

DeepSkyStacker Live and AstroToaster (uses Deep Sky Stacker engine) are compatible with any capturing device (DSLR, CCD Camera) and any software as long as the captured images are created in a folder and are of a recognized file format (FITS, TIFF, JPEG and most RAW images). DSS Live is slightly cumbersome doing live stretching and colour adjustment.   The  Starlight Live is free, but works only with Starlight Xpress camera).

SharpCap is another easy-to-use but versatile Astronomy camera capture tool. It can be used with dedicated astronomy cameras, webcams and USB frame grabbers. A wide range of features makes SharpCap suitable for Electronically Assisted Astronomy) but also Planetary, Lunar, Solar types of astro-imaging including.

Post Processing

PDE12 HDR technique

Normally I use PixInsight for Potst-Processing, which is divided into four main sections—Preprocessing, Linear Post-processing, Nonlinear Post-processing, and Special Processing. In the picture on the right I used Pseudo HDR with Photoshop Elements – overlay of a highly stretched picture and a low one over a blured mask.  In PSE 12 it is not possible to work on the mask directly, but I used an adjustment layer on a sharp mask and blur it with brush and gauss filter. Photoshop Elements does support layer masks, but only with adjustment layers. An adjustment layer always comes with its own built-in layer mask, which is one of the reasons why they’re so useful. Well, what we can do is to “borrow” a layer mask from an adjustment layer, and “share” its layer mask with a normal layer. Of course, almost any CCD camera will do for live stacking, some even use DSLRs, but very sensitive cameras will do best.

Electronically Assisted Astronomy – Practice

  • Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA)  ie. digital image capturing with Live stacking addresses a large segment of what we call EAA
  • For fast results and when I crave color views of nebulae and star clusters my first choice is my Infinity Color. I have a S/W Lodestar X2 guider too.
  • EAA is trying to establish a very real gap/need in the market. I choose to call it “Lazy Casual Astrophotography with near real time imaging experience at the scope without sacrificing resolution/quality and overcome light pollution.
  • Having done standard imaging (with a DSLR) and casual imaging for many years I don’t think EAA will replace the high end cooled CCDs anytime soon.
  • EAA is useful to check if post processing is worth it.
  • Atik Infinity SW has no hot pixel removal as Starlight Live with Lodestar X2 and iis Image acquisition seems slower (although appropriate comparison due to the RGB matrix) or even 60Da
  • In summary, EAA/Imaging user experience addresses both the inexperienced user as well as an experienced imager looking for a more casual experience.

With two or three cameras, tree tubes and filters, there are lots of combination to get the right Field of View (FOV) and sensitivity for the different Deep Sky objects and one needs to plan ahead. Sometimes I use Newton and APO simultaneously. Distance of the reducer is critical.

 

Scope Reducer Needed T2M48 FW T2M48 Ext EOS Distance Camera Focus
ASA 65 5.5 20 5.5 -21 11 44 Canon APS
LP 55 5.5 20 5.5 -31 11 44 Canon APS
None 55 0 20 5.5 -25.5 11 44 Canon APS
None 55 0 0 0 0 11 44 Canon APS
Lens 55 0 0 0 0 11 44 Canon APS
N f/4 ASA 65 10 11 44 Canon APS OK
APO F/7.5 LP 55 0 11 44 Canon APS OK
N f/4 ASA 65 5.5 20 5.5 21 0 13 Ininity
APO F/7.5 LP 55 5.5 20 5.5 11 0 13 Infinity OK
APO F/7.5 None 55 5.5 20 5.5 11 0 13 Infinity OK K Adpt
None Lens 55 0 19 0 12 11 13 Infinity
ASA 65 52 0 13 Ininity
LP 55 42 0 13 Infinty
APO F/7.5 None -12.5 0 12.5 LodestarX2 L+K Adpt
Guider 60 mm   f/4 None -12.5 0 12.5 LodestarX2

 In order for EAA to work as observing tool it needs to be fast and easy to setup (e.g. no guiding, short exposures) and fast to acquire images (i.e. short exposures, sensitive) but guiding still helps.

20160827 60a NCG6599 Cirrus Nebula

Therefore choosing as sensitive camera as possible is a good choice. I already have Starlight Xpress Lodestar X2 B/W which I use for guiding, it is a very sensitive little camera and it works with Starlight Live, so I tried. To make it even easier I acquired the Atik Infinity which I do like.  IMHO live stacking is the most promising EAA approach, very natural, very versatily, quick, and as close as possible to observing/imaging.

On the left there is the first try with an 60Da and narrowband filters. I took this images from my office a few days ago, on what has been the worst  “White Zone” background.  I started to use narrowband filters and dial the camera ISO down to 400, just to keep my histogram below 1/3 using a 15 sec exposure.