First, an explanation of what video astronomy is and is not!
Video astronomy is a form of astronomy that encompasses using video cameras to increase the observable detail over what is possible with an eyepiece. As new equipment has become available video astronomy has quickly evolved to the point where it is now being embraced as a new form of astronomy.
Video imaging offers a form of observing that mixes photography with traditional observing. Essentially, a video camera with Frame integration and or software stacking replaces the eyepiece. The camera takes many exposures (usually in under two to three seconds) and builds an image of deep space objects that normally require pristine non-light polluted skies, dark adaptation and skill with an eyepiece.
Video astronomy yields an almost live image and a similar feeling to using an eyepiece except the images are better and easy for anyone to view, requiring no experience. This form of observing also works in light polluted areas much better than visual eyepiece observation.
The video system can also utilize stacking and frame grabbing with minimal processing. Dedicated software allows for quick, amazing images if the user is inclined to record his almost live observations.
In essence, video astronomy is a combination of real-time observing through an eyepiece and photography. An observer can quickly view an object within minutes and then, equally quickly, move on to another object thus allowing the possibility to observe many dozens of objects per night and record them if desired.
It also allows anyone that is new to astronomy and unpracticed at viewing through an eyepiece the opportunity to see something live. Instead of a dim, fuzzy blob, people can see the detail and sometimes colors (depending on the equipment.)
Viewing in this live fashion brings with it a "wow" factor that allows the mind's eye to contemplate what is really being looked at. This is one of the factors that many visual astronomy purists point to when discussing their style of observation.
Scientific applications for video astronomy are also possible and have been utilized for years. Astronomers timing occultations and transits have utilized video. Hunting for comets, near Earth objects, supernovae and even Satellites can all be accomplished using video equipment. Astronomers can also collect astrometric and photometric data as well.
I first began using video to do Occultations many years ago with Hal Povenmire (who shared data with the US Naval Observatory.)
Unlike video astronomy that has different goals, long exposure imaging often takes many hours of capture time and even longer periods of post-processing on the computer afterward for just one image. While this process gives us incredible and amazing photos it is not for everyone.
In my observations and imaging I aspire to show an unpolished representation of astronomy. You can see my progress in imaging and observations. Mistakes and bad nights included. Bad nights do happen and sometimes its just best to shut down and try again another night!
Why indeed? That is a hard question to answer! As the oldest science, astronomy has been pursued by many people since the dawn of man. The attraction obviously has aspects of determining just what is life and our place in the universe. What is the Universe? Big questions! Really big questions!
"Astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience." -- Carl Sagan
Astronomy also has an aesthetic appeal. The beauty of the night sky and objects viewed in it transcend earthly beauty. Almost no one can look up and not be amazed, bewildered or effected in some way when presented with a brilliant, star-filled night sky.
People viewing Saturn for the first time, with their own eyes, always have similar reactions: comments on its beauty and how amazing it is. I have had that pleasure of being the presenter many times and I always get that type of reaction. My only idea of why that may be is it's unlike anything here on Earth. That reaction goes beyond aesthetics as well. We get a deep feeling that is hard to describe. It makes us aware of how we fit into the vast universe. We can feel very small and insignificant but, at the same time, very special.
For me, astronomy can be very inspirational. Enjoying the gentle rain of star light brings many beneficial aspects to my life. It offers simple escape from daily life. It humbles me to the limitless amount of learning and understanding (both technically and philosophically) done by those before me and on whose shoulders I stand. Appling what I observe to get the picture of the universe as a whole. Its growth, Its nature, and its future are a fascinating and satisfying pursuit. Using my imagination and my Mind's Eye and sharing with others is important to me.
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." -- Albert Einstein
Children seem to naturally have that inquisiveness and imagination that many adults seem to lose as they get wrapped up in running their lives. As adults it is easy to unlearn many things, including our interest in learning and questioning things. Ask a room full of younger children any thought provoking question and you will get many very interesting answers. Answers using imagination. As Einstein did. Present the same questions with a group of adults and you are likely to get just the opposite. Sadly many lose the ability to use imagination and critical thinking with time. I think that we may be un-teaching those abilities.
The designing, building and operation of the equipment I use to pursue the stars and beyond also adds a different, but equally challenging and beneficial, aspect to my astronomy pursuits.
It is a rare and wondrous thing when your interest and passion leads you to a place where you find yourself driven to pursue.
My Observing Philosophy
As a dedicated amateur over the years I have come to like and dislike certain ways of making observations and enjoying my pursuits in astronomy. Volunteering at public sidewalk events and attending large star parties has contributed to my style of observing as well.
I greatly enjoy visual observations and applying historical, scientific info on those observations. It gives a context as to what I am really looking at. I enjoy using my Mind's Eye with my real eyes.
Live video viewing (or video astronomy as it's commonly called) has been an amazing addition to my technique. It allows for sharing with other people and easy documentation of the observations I make. Sharing with others is a very important aspect for me and is much easier using live video or sharing images from the last night under the stars. Making live observations almost identical to visual observations more frequently, without traveling outside city lights and doing so with more comfort, is truly a pleasure as well.
I have grown to dislike complicated equipment and how it can interfere with the enjoyment of astronomy. Nevertheless, my current equipment has evolved and works exceptionally well but could be considered complex. I still aim to limit anything that comes between viewing and enjoying the sky.
Although I have chosen, at this stage in my astronomy pursuits, to have a home observatory with somewhat complex equipment I still feel much of that is unnecessary to pursue astronomy in general. One can explore astronomy and its many side avenues easily and without spending much money.
My Astronomy History
In 1994 the great comet "Shoemaker-levy 9 crashed into Jupiter occurred, spurring me to pursue a curiosity I had always had with the night sky. I purchased a small telescope and began a journey I am still enjoying today. Those days were fun but learning alone was difficult at times. I remember standing in snow for over an hour looking for Saturn. I did find it that night and, as with anyone who views it the first time, was awestruck. I also had a feeling of accomplishment for finding it. I could just imagine what it would be like to really discover something like that for the first time. After some success, albeit with some difficulties, I started looking for assistance. I found and participated in some local star parties located through Sky and Telescope magazine which helped a great deal. The internet was also just becoming useful at that time.
My next adventure in astronomy was to get a bigger telescope! Aperture fever had struck and my solution was to build my first telescope, a 6" reflector built in John Dobson's design. The telescope was a success and I found building one was also enjoyable. I used the new scope a few years and learned what worked and what didn't with the telescope and my observing style.
Aperture fever struck again in 2000 and I decided to build a 12" tracking Dobsonian telescope. It could be transported to my favorite dark sky site, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, in Florida. It was completed around 2001 and received heavy use in the years that followed. It was an amazingly fun telescope and was operated on a Dos system no less!
After a couple of partially successful imaging runs, including an occultation of Saturn using the Alt Azm styled telescope, I decided that I wanted to image and to do that I would need a Equatorial mount and system. I started putting a decent system together. Money was always an issue but I was determined to get a decent setup. I purchased a Losmandy G-11 mount, a Celestron C8" SCT optical tube and started using that at home and the preserve. As my finances allowed I added accessories and upgrades and continued to use the G-11 setup for years.
In 2009 I decided hauling gear hours away was becoming too difficult and opportunities to go out to the dark sky preserve were getting slimmer as well. So I built a backyard observatory. It was an interesting design using resources I had. It was mostly a success and I used it for about two seasons, learning again much in the process of what works and what doesn't. Life got in the way of my astronomy adventure at that point. Caring for my equipment in the non climate controlled observatory was becoming difficult. I decided to store everything for better times. I even pondered selling my equipment but, thankfully, never did.
So here I am today, full swing back into it! I was gifted a building and have been working on that for about a year. Be sure to see my page on the new observatory design and construction. I continue to explore the sky changing targets and topics as the feeling suits me.
My family thinks I'm a trifle out-of-plumb as they look out late at night and see me fumbling around in the dark doing God-knows-what in the strange building in the backyard with an odd red glow emanating from it. A canon appearing to be aimed at the neighbors! They don't get it. You can't blame them as they aren't astronomy enthusiasts. They haven't heard the call of the night.