|The CCD Camera (Charged Coupled Device, sometimes called a digital
camera) makes an excellent tool for astronomy. A surprising wealth of information is
captured in a single picture. This is in addition to bringing out much more detail,
contrast, and color in deep sky objects than the eye alone can see through the telescope.
Accurate photometric measurements of objects photographed can be made due to the linear response nature of the CCD. The brightness of a comet can be calculated simply by comparing it's brightness to a star nearby in the same picture. Similarly, a variable star can have it's changes in brightness measured by comparing several CCD images of it over time. The rotation of an asteroid can be calculated by the changes in it's brightness over time.
Astrometric measurements can be made by calculating the separation between two objects in the picture. The pixels that make up the CCD picture correspond to arc-seconds based on the field of view of the picture. This information, for instance, can be used to help calculate an asteroid's orbit, and location in the future.
Even the color pictures contain a wealth of information. The spectral classification of stars can be used to tell how massive it is, it's age, and more. There is even an attachment for the CCD camera that serves as a spectrograph. Using a spectrograph helps measure relative speed a distant galaxy is be moving, and what kind of chemical composition distant stars have.
Because of the mathematical information contained in the digital pictures, possible projects are endless. Below is a small list of some suggestions...
|Pretty Pictures||Thousands of beautiful pictures can be taken of an endless variety of deep sky objects. Color, Black and White, or even special filters can be used to produce different impressions of what a given galaxy or nebula looks like. Some people like colorful nebulas, or stately spiral galaxies. Others like tightly clumped star clusters, or prefer planets. What are your favorites?|
|The Messier Objects||A fun project with the CCD camera would be to make your own Messier Objects Poster. Back in 1781, a comet hunter named Messier made a catalog of objects he could see with his telescope that were not comets, to avoid confusing them with comets that he did find. The list includes 109 prominent nebulas, galaxies, and star clusters. Eventually someone came up with the "Messier Marathon" which is an attempt to observe as many of the 109 objects in one night, usually around March. Perhaps a personal photograph collection would suffice?|
|Planetary Patterns||Watch the seasons progress on Mars, or observe Jupiter's rotation, and it's moons change position every night. As the year progresses, each planet shrinks or grows in apparent size and brightness as it moves closer or further from the Earth. Saturn's rings slowly oscillate between fully visible and edge on to us over a span of years. What tickles your fancy?|
|Comets||Follow comets as they approach the Sun and Earth from the outer solar system. They start off so faint that they can barely be detected, and then slowly grow into the familiar fuzzy long shape that we are all familiar with. In some cases they even get bright enough to be visible in the sky with just your eyes. See the section below on "New Comets" for news on a comet that might be visible with the naked eye this year.|
|Asteroids||Track asteroids as they glide across the stars every night. It is even possible to calculate how fast they are rotating by measuring the changes in brightness relative to the stars around them! You can even submit your observations via the internet to a national database of observations on asteroids and other small solar system objects.|
|New Comets, Asteroids, Supernovas||The observatory has the same kind of equipment used to search for new Supernovas, Comets, and Asteroids, only smaller in scale. You can learn the methodology used by the large outfits, and use them yourself to try searching for new discoveries. You might even get lucky and find a new object! For instance, every year new comets are discovered as they approach the inner solar system and become bright enough to be seen. One such comet is "C/1999 S4 (Linear)" This comet was found last year, and might become bright enough to be visible to the naked eye this summer, in July 2000!|
|The Moon||The moon has always fascinated mankind. Surprisingly, the moon so large that it is somewhat difficult to take a picture of it's entireity with a CCD camera. "Mosaics" must be used, made out of a dozen or more small pictures carefully laid together to form the whole. If you were to make a mosaic of the whole moon, what phase would you take it in? You could even identify the landing sites of the Apollo astronauts with a bit of research.|
|Galaxies||Galaxies come in many different shapes. Edwin Hubble categorized them by their structure in 1926. Elliptical galaxies are egged shaped to nearly spherical. Spiral galaxies with even spiral arms winding out from a central nucleus. Barred Spiral galaxies where the spiral arms extend from a bar shaped nucleus. The last category is Irregular galaxies that have no regular geometric shape. Make your own collection of galaxy pictures and see how they compare to the standard categories!|
|Imagination||ANYTHING is possible! The telescope and CCD camera allow a multitude of observations to be permanently recorded with great speed and ease and then used for personal pleasure, or scientific measurements. The resolving power of the CCD camera literally puts the capabilities of a professional observatory in your hands!|
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