Greg Parker is a professor of electronics at Southampton University. He’s also a wizard. Like his co-author Noel Carboni. Real wizards, capable of obtaining images rivaling the best of Hubble’s using less than $US15,000 in equipment and more patience than any money in the world could buy. Their magic: A refrigerated CCD chip inside a special digital camera, a manually-operated dome, and some smart post processing in Photoshop.
These images will be part of Star Vistas, a book that will be published next year and will collect all their photos of space, taken since they met online four years ago.
The two alien Peeping Toms started to collaborate online when Neil–a Photoshop wizard with an astronomy inclination–helped Greg post-process his images of M33, the Triangulum Galaxy Messier 33, which is a member of our local group of galaxies along with Andromeda (M31, who they also got in their book) and our very own Milky Way.
Greg uses a 28 cm Celestron NExtar 11 GPS reflecting telescope with Hyperstar lens, an optical assembly that attaches to the telescope secondary mirror, turning it from a slow f10 to an ultrafast f2 astrograph. He also got an Starlight Xpress SXV-H9C one-shot colour CCD camera.
To increase the performance of the camera, he had to get rid of the noise in the sensor, which is produced by heat in long exposure times. This is achieved by installing a solid-state refrigeration system that lowers the temperature of the CCD 13º C less than the ambient temperature.
In addition to this, there is a last ingredient in the recipe: Parker moves the dome in his observatory by hand ever half hour, to adjust to the rotation of the Earth, which results in a moving sky.