In the Beginning…
The Big Bang theory, the prevailing cosmological model describing the development of the Universe, states that space and time were created in the Big Bang and were given a fixed amount of energy and matter that becomes less dense as space expands.
After the initial expansion, the Universe cooled, allowing the first subatomic particles to form and then simple atoms. Giant clouds later merged through gravity to form stars. Assuming that the standard model of the Big Bang theory is correct, the age of the Universe is measured to be 13.6 Billion years old. Ish. The vast majority of this majesty can be viewed from your back garden, with a suitably capable telescope.
There are many competing hypotheses about the ultimate fate of the Universe and about what, if anything, preceded the Big Bang; while other physicists and philosophers refuse to speculate, doubting that information about prior states will ever be accessible. Some physicists have suggested various multiverse hypotheses, in which the Universe might be one among many universes that likewise exist. Interesting stuff.
If you’d any sort of curiosity as a child I’m sure that, at some point, someone will have said something to you about space that blew your tiny mind. For me this happened sometime around Year 4 Primary School (or whatever your region calls the school time of being about 9 years old). My teacher at the time was talking about the Universe and she off-handly mentioned that the Universe was ever-expanding outwards. A little tiny voice in the back of my mind uttered: ‘expanding into… what?’ That was it for me, I was hooked.
…a Nerd Rises
Fast-forward roughly 20 years of watching endless documentaries and reading books about space; NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, and even the Indian and Chinese Space Programs (honourable mention to SpaceX; seriously, go and have a look what one man and his private company have achieved) and I find myself on a cold winters’ night with my house-mate dressed like this:
It’s about to be my first evening ever looking through a telescope with my own eye(s). I was actually surprising myself then and now that this was a fact, considering how interested I’ve been throughout my life. Darren (pictured) had owned Mimas (its customary to name your Telescope) for some time before I had met him and he subsequently moved in, but never before had the opportunity arose to ‘have a go’. Well, tonight was the night. Clear skies, cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey and zero wind.
This wasn’t a last-minute plan though. Careful consideration had been put in place (careful enough considering the volume of rum consumed). I had recently purchased a Canon EOS 700D and had been contemplating the mechanics of how hard it would be to connect the camera’s EF Lens mount to the focus tube of the scope itself… In the past, Darren had shot photos by the super technical sounding ‘Eyepiece Projection’ method, which is to say that he held his phone up to the eyepiece and tapped the shutter button. Highly variable results. ‘Prime Focus’ was the goal of the evening: to go direct from the Star’s emitted photons, to the mirrors in the Reflecting Telescope and finally onto the Camera’s CMOS sensor. No eyepieces, no magnification (save for the minor shift from the parabolic Primary Mirror) and all glory.
Clear skies, cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey and zero wind.
Dispense with the mixer! On the Rocks only!
The sun is beginning to set and a plan has been formed. Tina pointed out that I hadn’t used my 3D printer In a while and “would it be possible to print the adapter I needed?”Excellent idea! The 3D printer (Ultimaker 2 “Rachael”) is warming and a suitable adapter (EF to 1.25″ tube) has been designed and exported to .STL file. Ctrl+P and we’re away. I shall be holding a tangible object in under two hours from now. This calls for a celebratory Rum.
After many celebratory rums the print was completed and after VERY roughly knocking off the support material and sanding a few spots that were a little too tight; I couldn’t help but be impressed at just how well it fit both the EF mount and the telescope tube. It is however a completely printed item and it has a very significant weakness – 90 degrees to the axis that it was printed along. Like wood, its weakest along its grain. Stressfully, this is the axis that will be loaded when it’s in use…
But to counteract that worry, I looped the camera’s neck strap over the finder-scope bracket. Stress free.
To the Garden, at Headway Speed.
Finally prepared, organised and fully charged up, Darren and I head out into the icy yard with:
- 8″ Dobsonian Telescope
- Various Eyepieces
- EOS 700D (w/ custom adapter)
- MSI GS60 2QE Laptop
- Ironing Board
There may be one or two items on that list that you may not be initially familiar with regards to astronomy or telescopes. Chief among which is probably the ironing board. If you know a lighter, quicker to erect and more stable platform for the glasses of rum, batteries and a laptop, please feel free to drop it in the comments. And no, I don’t own a table before anyone starts.
In all honesty, tonight was not the best night to be star-gazing as the moon is a 96% Full Moon. Its overpowering light pushes the comparatively dim light of the stars out of the detection range of the camera and even our eyes. This somewhat dashes my hopes of looking at far off Galaxies and Nebulae, but ‘there will be other night for that’, I think to myself. The target for this evening then? The Moon of course! It’s a nice easy target (kinda hard to miss) and its bright to boot.
There’s not enough back-travel on the focus adjustment to bring the light from the moon into focus on the camera’s sensor! All is lost! It’s like Hubble all over again; almost there, but definitely fuzzy. $2.6Billion wasted!
Partially the fault of the home-made EF to Scope mount that is just a little too short and partially the fault of the focuser itself as it was never intended for use in astrophotography. According to a hurried and panicked internet search, the use of a x2 Barlow Lens (used to double the power of a given eyepiece), will shift the focus-plane forward a few millimetres.
Darren to the rescue – he owns a Barlow lens and quickly slots it into place in the telescope. Sadly, weight of the camera, adapter and now Barlow are now causing some slight weight related issues with the dual-speed focuser mechanisms and requires some fine adjustment. Cold fingers and fine adjustment are not usually synonymous, but we manage regardless.
After a few completely white images (far too over exposed). We settled on the final settings of ISO800 and 1/5 Second shutter time and this is the first prime focus picture that we’ve ever taken.