I have always been interested in the sky, but never did much about it. Raising four children consumed most of my time and money. Now that my children are grown, I have more of these. The total solar eclipse of 1998 ignited my interest. I took the opportunity to travel to Aruba for vacation and to see the eclipse. It was wonderful. The experience of preparing to take photographs got me out on the web looking at astro sites.
When I came back, I prepared to buy a scope. I found Astromart and picked up a Meade 2080 8" SCT. I was amazed by the sights in the sky. However, I live in the Pittsburgh suburbs and the light pollution made finding objects difficult. I could only see a few bright stars in the finder scope. I could get within about 1 to 2 degrees using the setting circles, but then I had a hard time figuring out where I was on a sky map. The field of view in my scope was about 0.6 degrees. It would sometimes take me an hour to find one of the Messier objects. It was really frustrating, but great when I found what I was looking for. After about a year, I found an offer on Astromart for an LX6 fork-mount with the digital readout. I fit the OTA from the 2080 into the mount. The first night out, I saw more objects than I had found in a month. It was great.
I used this for a while and continued to get more interested in doing photography with the scope. I had some good luck taking pictures of the moon. I spend some time taking pictures of other things, planets, M42, etc. However, long time exposures were not possible using this scope. I did do some work with the LX6. This used a 60 Hz motor for the RA drive. I had been using an inverter to run the motor from a battery. I modified the inverter to be able to adjust the frequency so I could use it for guiding. But then I found that the periodic error was too big to correct out. This picture of M42 was purposely misaligned in declination to give the vertical drift. The horizontal drift was due to periodic error over the 8 minute period of the worm gear. This was measured to be about 50 seconds and is just too much to hope to guide out.
I decided I wanted a better scope for long duration photography. I had been reading lots of astro stuff and found that the Meade LX200 was my best bet, without spending lots of money. I found a used 8" through Astromart and bought it. It has been great for me. I could get the periodic error down to 6 seconds, and the residual was smooth and could be guided out. Next is to get an autoguider. I was able to get a used SBIG ST-5 for a good price. This was able to do imaging as well as guiding. I found the imaging part to be helpful for focusing and acquiring a guide star. I have got a few images, but still haven't got what I want, But I'm still trying. Here is one that is pretty well guided, the Andromeda Galaxy core.
Lately, I have been taking piggyback photos using an Olympus OM-1 on my LX200. These work really well from a dark site where I have gone for a few star parties. I have been able to take 30 minute exposures, needing only occasional guiding corrections. The best is the Milky Way in Sagittarius. Here is a copy with labels on the identifiable objects, note Mars and Neptune. These are better in the original, I have a great print at 11x14 that is still sharp. This was 30 minutes with a 28mm f2.8 lens using Kodak PJ400 film.
The next year I won some Awards for piggy back photos.
(More to come)