Getting the best out of old astronomy equipment
The summer is a great opportunity to get out our old astronomical telescopes and cameras and see what needs refurbishing.
Traditionally this is the time of year that astronomical observatories and telescopes get their annual make over, working out what needs refurbishing and what needs replacing. But I sometimes wonder if we ever get the best from our oldest equipment? Recently during a wonderful spell of lots of clear nights I had been doing a spot of astrophotography and imaging galaxies with my trusty Canon 50D DSLR camera, itself quite old now but does the job when coupled with any of the telescopes I have, which in recent times has been the StarGate 500.
But as we moved toward summer, many wonderful nebulae begin to present themselves in the Milky Way, including several red nebulae, which I know that the 50D doesn’t record very well at all. Indeed, you need a dedicated astro camera such as many we have featured over recent years or a modified DSLR camera where the filter has been taken out. As it happens my very old Canon 300D was still in my camera bag and what’s more, I’d had it modified by a good friend some years ago. Alas, the buttons have begun to stop working and I couldn’t review or change any of the settings so I stopped using it. Being an older camera, there was no live view either, but a thought struck me. It shares the same focal plane from lens to sensor with the 50D so I used the 50D to get set up and focused, then just swapped cameras. The 300D is stuck on bulb (that’s OK, that’s what I need), it is set for ISO 1600 (I can live with that too) and my old remote control still works to does the rest.
I then thought about my telescope and realised my old Equinox 80ED refractor doesn’t ‘age’ and isn’t used very much now, so put the two older items together on the AZ-EQ6 mount. I left it taking lots of one-minute images of the nebulosity close to the Garnet star – a target I’d seen others take but for some reason I had not. The results once stacked and processed means that an old camera and old telescope now look like they’re going to see lots of action over the coming months – as long as the weather behaves itself.
So don’t ignore any old equipment you may have in favour of new, sometimes you just need to make a bit more effort to get new life out of them and it may surprise you how much more you can get out of using them to their fullest potential.
In the meantime, check out the res of the website where there’s plenty of targets to view highlighted in this month magazine despite the summer light nights. So make sure you get your copy today regardless of what you use to view or image the wonders above us.
Paul Money is an experienced astronomer, BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Reviews Editor and author of the annual stargazing guide Nightscenes.