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kenuck Silver Member Nikonian since 03rd Nov 2008Wed 12-Sep-12 06:39 AM
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"Astrophotography References for Beginners?"

Burnaby, CA

What are some good references for beginners to Astronomy and Astrophotography?

Has anyone used "A Beginner's Guide to DSLR Astrophotography" by Jerry Lodriguss?


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nrothschild Silver Member Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Nikonian since 25th Jul 2004Wed 12-Sep-12 05:12 PM
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#1. "RE: Astrophotography References for Beginners?"
In response to Reply # 0


Hi Ken,

I have Jerry's standard eBook. I don't have his beginners guide but I am sure it is "The Gold Standard" you are looking for. I always highly recommend his eBooks. His (free) site has some good excerpts from his books.

For astronomical software... I use Lunar Phase Pro for most of my lunar planning and could not live without it. Some day I'm going to write a post about how I use that software in my own lunar work.

For general sky mapping, I use SkyMap Pro V10 (an outdated edition but it gives me what I need). This is a rather expensive app ($140 USD) but as far as I know it is the best of the mapping apps. May be more than a lot of people need. I like the ergonomics, but it may also be the result of 10 years of use.

A free alternative to SkyMap or similar paid ephemera mapping software is Cartes du Ciel. At worst this is a great starter app and is probably more sophisticated than I realize simply because I have not spent enough time with it to find all the buttons . I've used SkyMap for over 10 years, since the early days and it's like old shoes for me.

Cartes is likely all most people here will ever need and the price is very right . Cartes is the "Gold Standard" of freeware ephemera software in the general astronomical community. It is available for Linux, Mac and Windows, and the source is available if you like to compile your own Linux apps

As far as basic references, I have a fairly extensive astronomical library but I put it together 10-20 years ago so I am not familiar with recent publications. Hopefully others will chime in with their favorites.

I actually like Norton's Star Atlas, probably because I used a contemporary version in the mid-70's in my college astronomy course. I still have that, plus a very recent version. Norton includes a set of mag 6 maps but is primarily a very comprehensive reference, which is why it was a required text for my college course. It goes into a certain depth on things that is difficult to find elsewhere outside of very advanced texts. On the other hand it presupposes no particular level of knowledge, therefore making a good all-round reference. A good addition to any library.

You might check out Sky & Telescope's online library/shop for paper references. They used to sell just about all the well known references but in recent years cut back their offerings. The next major source would be Willmann-Bell, especially for more specialized material (outside the scope of basic references).

I also treasure my 3 volume hardbound set of Burnham's Celestial Handbook. That is quite dated, written in the '60s as I recall, but he covers the entire sky, constellation by constellation. And in the case of what we can see with our puny telescopes, not much has been discovered the past 50 years . Some theories have changed, though.

Burnham is also a very good reference for binary pair orbital sketches although it is getting a little dated, especially with the faster moving pairs, now being 50 years into his future.

I think Burnham has a very good basic intro section in Vol 1, covering the basic terminology and the very basic celestial mechanics that all amateurs need to know.

Gary Burnham was sort of a romanticist and while his work is considered a classic reference and very credible (considering the era), he adds a unique touch of human interest that I think is missing from a lot of standard texts. Hard to explain but you know what I mean here if you've spent time with that reference. It's the most readable basic reference I own.

At it's core astronomy, in terms of basic references, is usually a dry subject written by academics and that's why I find Gary's work to be different, unique, and a "must have" in any astro library.

I got mine free (hardbound) when I joined the Astronomy Book club mail order deal decades ago, but I would rebuy it in a heartbeat if I lost it. I'm not sure if the hardbounds are still in print (and if they are - are probably rather expensive). Amazon carries it in softbound. But the way I used it, at home and in the field, I would seek out a hardbound copy. I have a thing about that hardbound set

Burnham's is a great book to pick up when exploring a new constellation, especially when it is first coming into view each year (as the "seasons" change). You will learn everything of interest - accessible with a backyard scope - in that constellation, and a lot of the astronomical background behind various interesting objects. I can't recommend reading it cover to cover only because it would take forever- it is a veritable encyclopedia . But if you have the patience...

If you are looking for paper maps, I like the maps produced by Wil Tirion. I think S&T carries them, as well as Willmann-Bell. Tirion turned star atlases into an art form. Although I prefer software based mapping (such as Skymap or Cartes Du Ciel) for day to day use there is something about those printed maps.

Tirion's Sky Atlas 2000 is available in the S&T shop in a somewhat bewildering variety of flavors- bound sets, loose sets, color/B&W. All based on the same set of maps drawn by Tirion that probably made him famous today, and still a standard set of maps. Physically quite big.

For paper star atlases I would start with something like a magnitude 6-8 atlas because it is less confusing. Although Mag 6 is technically limited to stars you can see naked eye, few people actually have the dark skies needed to do so. A mag 6-8 atlas also probably corresponds well with the finder on the Questar, which is rather small and limited in light gathering power.

The atlases such as Uranometria 2000 are not only very expensive (about $150 for the 3 volume set) but for a beginner can be quite confusing. Uranometria includes millions of stars you will never see in a small scope . Actual you can, but finding specific trees in that dense forest can be daunting until you are accustomed to working with simpler maps.

I don't think I own Tirion's Bright Star Atlas (I should) but I suspect it is a very good intro set of maps (atlas). It's inexpensive as those things go and has the Tirion "look" that I like (as does all his work). This is the kind of atlas you want for casual backyard work with a small scope like the Q.

On the other hand, if your interest continues, you probably have to own Uranometria at some point just because it was, at publication, a watershed atlas and will always be a modern classic. Same is true of Tirion's Sky Atlas 2000.

Before the software atlas age I went through two copies of Celestron's spline bound map. I really like that map because it is very durable (resists dew well), it's big enough but not too big, and it has just the right number of stars.

Despite that I about destroyed my first copy and then my sister, many years ago now, gave me a new one as a birthday gift (not knowing how much I liked it- she didn't know I owned it). They are often hard to find; Celestron seems to publish a small pile every few years. That or something similar (the mag 6-8 Tirion I suggested) works very well with my Questars.

One of the nice things about software atlases is that you can dial in the magnitude limit to match it to what you can see in any particular scope, or for the evenings work. It's like having a pile of paper atlases of various magnitude limits. It would probably work well on an iPad type thingie and without a keyboard there are probably fewer concerns with dew. Otherwise it is probably a good idea to cover the keyboards on any laptops used at night with some cling wrap.


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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Sat 15-Sep-12 05:46 PM
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#2. "RE: Astrophotography References for Beginners?"
In response to Reply # 0

Dallas, US

I got started with "Astrophotography for the Amateur" by Michael A. Covington, and would definitely recommend it to beginners. Tons of good information.


Mark Smith
Just like I previsualized it, more or less...

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