NANO1 - Astronomy

News of our new camera reached photography heavy weights such as DPReview and Petapixel. Although we were caught a little off-guard, we are pleasantly surprised by and very excited about the buzz around the NANO1 astronomy camera. We’re trying our best to answer queries from emails and questions from the comments section of the blog.

 Astronomy imaging in the city? With the right subjects, why not?

Astronomy imaging in the city? With the right subjects, why not?

A few recurring questions appeared:

  1. What makes NANO1 an astronomy camera?

  2. How can a small sensor camera perform well in low light?

Today’s post aims to address these two questions. But first, we should take a step back and understand the environment that we live in vis-a-vis the activity of astronomy imaging.

TLDR?

  1. Light pollution is the key limiting factor for astronomy imaging and viewing. Being the smallest astronomy camera in the world, NANO1 is the easiest camera to bring to dark locations which will dramatically improve the images you take.

  2. The small sensor gives a 5.5x crop factor - allowing you to easily image bright astronomy objects from the city, such as the Moon and planets, using small lenses.

  3. Small sensors can also be mounted on telescopes in prime focus, giving the full field of view at F/2 aperture instead of F/10. 4 2/3 stops brighter, or 25 times shorter shutter speeds.

  4. A small sensors’ crop factor gives you telescopic field of view with small prime lenses, with focal ratios that lets you capture nebulae and galaxies in a fraction of the time.

Light Pollution

The global campaign against plastics, physical pollution and global warming has brought the world’s attention to such matters. Disposable plastic usage bans and carbon tax is appearing worldwide, but another important form of pollution is left out of the anti-pollution “spotlight” - Light pollution.

 Light pollution litters the world’s major cities

Light pollution litters the world’s major cities

Light pollution is defined as the - “brightening of the night sky caused by street lights and other man-made sources, which has a disruptive effect on natural cycles and inhibits the observation of stars and planets.”

Light pollution is a major problem worldwide. It’s estimated that over 80% of American’s can’t see the Milky Way from their residence due to light pollution. Milky Way is our Solar System’s home galaxy. What was once a shared experience that inspired folktales and stories is now alien to us. So alien in-fact, in the 1994 earthquake, residents of Los Angeles reportedly called the police when they saw the Milky Way for the first time due to the resulting power outage.

 Bright objects such as Planets and the Moon are easily observable and imaged in city environments. However nebulae and galaxies have much lower surface brightness. Note the disappearing “limbs” of Andromeda galaxy in bright sky conditions.

Bright objects such as Planets and the Moon are easily observable and imaged in city environments. However nebulae and galaxies have much lower surface brightness. Note the disappearing “limbs” of Andromeda galaxy in bright sky conditions.

Light pollution washes out the star light, particularly for objects with low surface brightness such as nebulae and galaxies. It is an issue that cannot be solved by increasing the size of the telescope or camera. It can only be solved by moving out of the light polluted zones.

With industrialization as it is, that means travelling 4-8 hours in the USA by car to reach a reasonable dark site. For us living in Singapore, it means leaving the country, crossing pesky immigration customs, where telescopes and camera equipment attracts a lot of unwanted attention.

 If aperture was the solution to light pollution, large observatories like this would be built in the cities.

If aperture was the solution to light pollution, large observatories like this would be built in the cities.

What has all of these got to do with NANO1 being an astronomy camera?

Since light pollution washes out the starlight and limits what we can see from the cities, getting the best images means travelling to the best dark skies. NANO1 is the world’s smallest astronomy camera - by bringing NANO1 to truly dark skies, you can get great images where your telescopes would not venture.

by bringing NANO1 to truly dark skies, you can get great images where your telescopes would not venture.

 TINY1 system versus typical telescope/DSLR camera setups

TINY1 system versus typical telescope/DSLR camera setups

If small cameras are so great, why do telescopes exist?

Telescopes are still the defacto choice for astronomy enthusiasts and for good reasons. The large physical size of the aperture (light collecting area) allows it to collect more starlight that gets converted to pixels on the image. More light = more data = better image quality. The large physical diameter of the aperture also increases the angular resolution for small objects such as planets and planetary nebulae. These are physical laws that the NANO1 cannot cheat.

The NANO1 is not designed to replace telescopes. It’s designed to work alongside telescopes.

While you can get great wide field images with the small M12 and C mount lenses on the NANO1, it can also be used with telescopes in a variety of ways.

NANO1 with telescopes: See 5.5x further

The NANO1 uses a 1/2.3” sensor which provides a 5.5x crop factor. Sometimes even telescopes require a little help with reach when it comes to planetary imaging because it is simply that small.

 Jupiter and its moons, captured with a 700mm focal length telescope with a DSLR. Credit: Dr. Baris Kececi

Jupiter and its moons, captured with a 700mm focal length telescope with a DSLR. Credit: Dr. Baris Kececi

 Saturn with TINY1 and 500mm focal length lens. Equivalent focal length of 3500mm. (We have yet to test the NANO1 with planetary imaging so far. The same lens will yield an equivalent focal length of 2750mm on the NANO1.)

Saturn with TINY1 and 500mm focal length lens. Equivalent focal length of 3500mm. (We have yet to test the NANO1 with planetary imaging so far. The same lens will yield an equivalent focal length of 2750mm on the NANO1.)

It might be possible to think that one can achieve the same effect by cropping, however due to the smaller pixel size on the NANO1 over DSLR systems, there is just more resolution with the image captured with a NANO1 using the same lens. That’s because more of the smaller pixels can fit over the size of the planet being imaged.

NANO1 with telescopes: 25 times brighter

NANO1 is such a small camera, it is possible to mount it in what’s known as a “prime focus” position on Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes greater than 5" inches. In such a configuration, we get the full light collecting power of the telescope.

 You really shouldn’t point an un-shielded telescope at the sun, but it was really cloudy (as usual in Singapore) and the sun was at the horizon and we took a “shot” at it. For the techy geeks asking, the central obstruction by surface increased from 14.2% to 19.2%. F mount adapter ignored in the calculation as it should have a dedicated mount instead.

You really shouldn’t point an un-shielded telescope at the sun, but it was really cloudy (as usual in Singapore) and the sun was at the horizon and we took a “shot” at it. For the techy geeks asking, the central obstruction by surface increased from 14.2% to 19.2%. F mount adapter ignored in the calculation as it should have a dedicated mount instead.

A relatively small Celestron C5 telescope in prime focus clocks in a 254mm F/2. After the 5.5x crop factor, we get roughly 1400mm equivalent filed of view on the NANO1. That is slightly more zoomed in than 1250mm focal length from the rear using a full frame sensor. It is a whopping 25 times brighter than the F/10 from the rear. A 5 minute exposure can be reduced to 12 seconds.

 It looks almost like Daft Punk’s Get Lucky music video. Screen shot from the video we recorded in the above prime focus setup. While we did not get lucky with the clouds, but we are heartened by the company of great astronomers thwarted by precipitation. “I must confess that I never before seriously faced the situation of having everything spoiled by clouds,” said William W. Campbell, after a failed expedition to observe the Crimea Eclipse of 1914 to prove Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  The softness of the image is caused by uncorrected spherical aberration in this configuration of the telescope. We hope to correct it with some optics down the line, or you could get one for the larger Celestron telescopes from Hyperstar.

It looks almost like Daft Punk’s Get Lucky music video. Screen shot from the video we recorded in the above prime focus setup. While we did not get lucky with the clouds, but we are heartened by the company of great astronomers thwarted by precipitation. “I must confess that I never before seriously faced the situation of having everything spoiled by clouds,” said William W. Campbell, after a failed expedition to observe the Crimea Eclipse of 1914 to prove Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

The softness of the image is caused by uncorrected spherical aberration in this configuration of the telescope. We hope to correct it with some optics down the line, or you could get one for the larger Celestron telescopes from Hyperstar.

The 16 times reduction in imaging time is especially useful for imaging in tropical areas with strong winds and frequent passing clouds. We’re still waiting for a clear moonless night to test this setup, hopefully at Andromeda Galaxy.


NANO1 with DSLR lenses

NANO1 paired with a DSLR lens can be a quick and portable way to get telescopic views.

 50mm on a full frame camera

50mm on a full frame camera

 50mm on a NANO1. Screen shot from video capture.

50mm on a NANO1. Screen shot from video capture.

The image of the Moon and Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel is taken with a Nikkor 50mm F1.4 AI-S. On the NANO1 it transforms into a 275mm F1.4 equivalent. The whole camera and lens setup takes up no more space than a typical 70-300mm kit zoom lens and weighs 415g. Such lenses are commonly available for 100-150USD. A great way to get a portable and telescopic field of view for city based astronomy imaging.

That will be all for today’s post. Thank you for reading.

*in a newsletter we mentioned that the shutter speed at prime focus decreases by 32 times. Technically the telescope is F10.2 from the rear and F1.9 at prime focus which corresponds to 32 times. We have changed it to a more conservative 25 times, accounting for increase in central obstruction.

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TinyMOS