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It's Not A Yes-or-no Response

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Posted by Daniel Johnson on January 26, 2003 21:32:23 UTC

For planets and the Moon, the answer is a clear "yes." If you want nice pictures of your Messier objects, most of them do require long exposures and guiding--we're talking 20 or 30 minutes, or for a few of the brightest ones 5 minutes. A digital camera does poorly at that, except in subfreezing weather, because after a couple of seconds lots of thermal noise enters. With my Nikon Coolpix 995 I have made a good picture of M42--one of the brightest Messier objects--at 4 degrees F! Temperature is the key, plus the ability to have your camera's shutter stay open longer than, say, 15 seconds. Those pretty pictures you see in Sky & Telescope take long exposures, a wedge for polar alignment, and lots of practice. If you want shots of more than a few seconds, polar alignment is a must, since even with perfect computerized tracking in altazimuth mode, the stars rotate around the center of the field. Even a series of brief snapshots (brief enough to freeze the field rotation) will need software to register and stack multiple short frames to get a longer exposure.
There may be one option for you--some of the new "digital eyepieces" can double as video cameras and capture a (monochrome) picture to your VCR. See the February 2003 Sky & Telescope.
The 8-inch LX-200, by contrast to the LX90, is a fine photography instrument, but only with the wedge and a guide scope and counterweights.

--Dan Johnson

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