Webcam Astrophotography

An article in the December 2006 issue of Astronomy magazine about using cheap webcams for astrophotography got me quite interested.  After doing some research this evening, it seems like it can be a cheap and fun project to undertake.  I think I have my heart set on a Philips SPC900NC webcam, which goes for about $50-$70 on ebay.  It would require a telescope adapter which goes for $20 shipped on ebay.  My plan is to use this webcam and experiment much more fully with astrophotography than my past musings, which consisted mostly of taking an occasional film photograph of the moon or other easy targets.  By shifting to a digital medium, I’ll be able to experiment a lot more without the guess work of traditional film, plus the webcam is cheap compared to specialty cameras.

My first target will most likely be the moon, as its easy and provides a good starting point to developing the techniques, starting with single pictures, and then moving on to mosaics.   Images are  captured by  taking an AVI video for a length of time, using software to turn the AVI into a series of stacked images, and then combining the stack to reduce noise and provide a much clearer image.  I’ll be able to provide more details once I get going with the project, but two popular programs used for this kind of photography are K3CCD ($49.00 after 35 day free trial), and RegiStax (free!).  I hope to use my dad’s 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope for most of the images, however I’ll probably have to use something a bit smaller (like a Tele Vue 76) most of the time.  This might have to turn into a spring project to take advantage of warmer weather…

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