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Images Taken Through a NexStar 5SE with a Web Cam

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Astrophotos Taken Through A NexStar 5SE



This collection of lunar and planetary images were taken with my NexStar 5SE and a Celestron NexImage web cam conversion. Most of the images were obtained from movie captures (avi files) whose frames were combined with a Yorick program I wrote. The Yorick program reads in frames from a web cam movie, gives me the ability to select the area of interest, then crops all frames to this region. It then lines up the images and averages them.

If you can still find a Celestron NexImage, I can recommend it, but it has been replaced with the even better Orion StarShoot Solar System Color Imaging Camera IV.

These moon pics and planet pics give some illustration of what can be accomplished with the Celestron SCT telescope design. With their short tube and built in tracking motors and computers, setting up for solar system photography is relatively easy. The moon images are not representative of the best the telescope can do, but are pretty close to that. My first efforts gave less than I hoped for on Jupiter, though the Mars images are pretty close to what I expected, given that during the 2016 Mars Opposition, the planet was only 18 arc-seconds in apparent size.

These images were obtained while using the telescope in its Altazimuth mode. Photography in this mode is possible if exposures are kept to a few 10s of seconds, depending upon the azimuth and elevation of the target. Targets with very high elevations require exposures even as few a 5 seconds to keep image rotation to acceptable limits. I usually go for exposures of about 20 to 30 seconds to get enough frames for my Yorick program to work with, and at typical planet elevations for my location, this works well.

I find that with the digital web cam, the moon is an easy target. Even if the web cam is considerably out of focus initially, when the moon sweeps through the camera field of view it is obvious. I can then adjust the focus to get the best image to show on my laptop, which runs the web cam program and presents the real-time display. I happen to use lPuppy Linux and a program it contains to control my Celestron NexImage camera. However, the camera came with a CD that had a program and drivers to work with Windows.

For the Jupiter pics, Mars pics, and Saturn pics, I find that it is best to first focus the camera on something easily located before trying to get the planets into view. Getting planets to show up on the camera CCD is a challenge, given that with the magnification necessary to get good planetary photos, the field of view is very small.

I use the moon to set rough focus if it is up, otherwise a streetlamp or something similar at least a block or two away. It this way, when I sweep across a planet, it will at least be noticeable on the computer display, letting me complete fine focus and take my photographs. If I don't pre-focus on anything, I found I can sweep past a planet and not even see that it has passed through the field of view.

Best results are obtained by taking movies through the web cam, rather than taking individual pictures. This allows image stacking of dozens of frames, which gives far superior results. You can learn more about stacking images at my Celestron NexImage review page.



Click On Any Of The Following Images For A Larger View

The Equipment: Celestron NexStar 5SE telescope with NexImage camera and Edmund Barlow.
Albategnius crater with NexStar 5SE Moon, Albategnius region. NexStar 5SE with Celestron NexImage camera and 2x Barlow. Stack of about 80 frames. One of my favorite regions to view. Albategnius has an interesting floor, and though Ptolemaeus appears to have a very smooth floor, when shadows are right as in this photo, some variation in the floor of Ptolemaeus is visible. Also visible is the interesting floor of Glyden crater, below Albategnius.
Hyginus Rille with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Hyginus, NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage Web Cam, 2x Barlow, stack of about 80 frames. The long rill that intersects Hyginus crater is easily visible as is the rough and darker terrain below the crater.
Walther crater with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Walther Crater , NexStar 5SE with Celestron NexImage, 2x Barlow, stack of about0t 80 frames. The heavily cratered floor of Walther crateris evident in this view.
Lunar Alpine Valley with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Alpine Valley , NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage Web Cam, using 2x Barlow, stack of about 80 frames. This is another one of my favorite lunar regions, standing in rugged contrast to the apparent smooth terrain of Mare Imbrium. In the expanded image (click on image), an interesting shadow is apparently being cast across the valley from a tall peak on the upper side of the valley.
Heraclitus crater with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Heraclitus Region, NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage Web Cam, using 2x Barlow, stack of about 75 frames. The Heraclitus crater region shows very jumbled terrain, the result of multiple impacts over time.
Lunar Apennine Mountains with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Lunar Apennines, NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage Web Cam and 2x Barlow, stack of about 85 frames. These rugged mountains, partially ringing Mare Imbrium, are always a treat, no matter how big or small your telescope.
Copernicus crater with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Copernicus, NexStar 5SE with Celestron NexImage Web Cam, 2x Barlow. This image was from a batch taken on 6/16/2016. I was having operator error problems with the web cam settings, so the image is a bit washed out. As well, the sun/moon relationship wasn't optimal for the best contrast.
Tycho crater with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Tycho, NexStar 5SE with Celestron NexImage, 2x Barlow, stack of about 100 frames. The extremely ruggered terrain is shown in this Tycho crater image. The large and small mountain peaks in the crater's center are also visible.
Plato crater with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Plato, NexStar 5SE with Celestron NexImage, 2x Barlow, stack of about 100 frames. This image was also taking on 6/16/2016, and operator error limited the resolution a bit. A popular area with the dominate Plato crater, the Y-shaped Montes Tereniffe mountains, and the Straight Range.
Gassendi crater with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Gassendi, NexStar 5SE with Celestron NexImage, 2x Barlow, stack of about 60 frames. Not great seeing on this occasion, but still a moderate rendition of this fascinating crater.
Lunar Bay of Rainbows with NexStar 5SE Moon Image, Bay of Rainbows, NexStar 5SE with Celestron NexImage, 2x Barlow, stack of about 100 frames. This favorite in telescopes of any size shows the half ring remnant of a likely once gigantic crater.
Mars 2016 opposition with NexStar 5SE Mars, May 2016, NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage Web Cam, 2.5x Barlow, stack of about 100 frames. Notice the smudges near center, which are the rough terrain surrounding Ellisium Mons
Mars 2016 opposition with NexStar 5SE Mars, June 2016 ,NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage, 3x Barlow, stack of about 80 frames. The great dark area near the bottom is Acidalia Planitia. Margaritifer Terra is a major part of the dark area to upper left.
Jupiter with NexStar 5SE Jupiter, May 2016, NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage Web Cam, 2x Barlow, stack of 80 Images. A bit less than I hoped for, but the GRS is easily visible, as is some detail in the NEB and the SEB.
Jupiter with NexStar 5SE Jupiter, June 2016, NexStar 5SE With Celestron NexImage Web Cam, 3x Barlow, stack of 80 Images. In this image, the GRS isn't positioned to be visible, but some details in the NEB and SEB are visible, as is the obvious darkening of the planet's poles.

Personal Notes

Having successfully used my Meade ETX 90 to photograph the moon and planets, I was anxious to see how well I could do with the NexStar 5SE. I expected to do a bit better, but I also knew that the ETX 90 does a surprisingly good job with this type of photography.

As noted, the lunar and planetary images on this page were taken with the NexStar 5SE in Altazimuth mode. The total movie length exposures were kept to 30 seconds or less, giving me about 300 frames to select from for creating the stacked images. Contrast and sharpening adjustments were applied to the resulting stacked images.