King of the Planets and the NexStar 6SE

Jupiter and one of the Galilean moons (not sure which) as seen on May 12, 2019 at approx. 2200

The above picture was taken Sunday night (May 12) using my Celestron NexStar 6SE telescope and the NexImage Monochrome Burst camera. I wanted to share a few things on this for anyone that is looking to get into backyard astronomy or armature astronomy or astrophotography. I really love my NexStar 6SE. I bought it direct from Celestron in September 2018 for around $800. It was a birthday gift to myself since I had longed for a reflecting telescope that could see the planets and the stars more clearly. I was not disappointed.

How did I choose my scope???

I antagonized over this decision for months. Should I get a Dobsonian, Schmidt-Cassegrain, Newtonian, or Gregorian? I didn’t really understand the difference between them and I wouldn’t expect someone else wanting to get into backyard astronomy to really understand them at first either. What I knew is that reflecting telescopes capture more light than refracting, or ones that use lenses, (think Galileo’s telescope) because the lenses on a refracting telescope absorb some of the light coming in, the more lenses the more light lost. One of the big things that drove my decision was the price and portability factors. I knew that I would want to carry this telescope (which ever I bought) to different locations to conduct viewings. I had a small refracting telescope that I used to project the 2017 Solar Eclipse on to a sheet of paper so me and my daughter could watch. I must, at this point, say that I do not recommend doing this with any telescope, I did it because I did not have a solar filter for my telescope, because this can damage the optics of the scope and your eyes if you happen to look through it. So I looked at several options and posted in some message boards asking for advice one particular point of advice I want to share with you only to say do not follow it. I was recommended to find a Dobsonian scope as my first serious scope. This is a terrible idea. Not because the scopes are bad, in fact they are wonderful scopes and have magnification power I would cream my pants over. The issue is that all the Dobsonian scopes I saw were priced in the $2,000-$3,000 and higher range and were too large to be portable. This is outrageous for someone who is looking to do astronomy in their spare time. To be fair I did see several that were much less but they looked like toy telescopes you would buy for your children and that wasn’t what I wanted.

Another factor I wanted was the ease of use. I wanted a scope that was easy and would help me learn more about the stars while also allowing me to view them. This need was met when I learned about the Go-To mounts. These revolutionary mounts use a computer database to move the telescope to the celestial object that you want to view all on its own. To do this you have to align the scope with the sky and give it a time and location to use as reference. This is really easy to do and there are several methods to use to achieve this, I have tried a few myself and recommend the 3 star alignment.

So why the 6SE? Well it met all my needs and desires. It was easily portable and a total length of about 18 inches, relatively light weight at 21 lbs (the tube), it had the Go-To mount, it promised great views of the stars and planets, and it was decently inexpensive (relative to other telescopes I was looking at). Plus it was sold by a company that specialized in these scopes so there was a trusted brand name I could (hopefully) rely on should I need it. I also debated the 8SE as its opening is 2 inches wider for more light gathering and detail, but based on everything I read about the comparison between the 2 telescopes was that the difference was minimal for hobby viewing that I was looking for and the price was a bit steeper at about $1,200. For what I wanted to do, which is just basic viewing and maybe some astrophotography, it wasn’t worth an extra $400 to get the 8SE, but from all the reviews I read about these scopes either one would be a great beginners tool. Also I had read, in several locations, that the higher weight of the 8SE could cause issues with the motor on the Go-To mount and that it worked but wasn’t ideal.

Okay but what about the picture???

Well I am glad you asked. After viewing some really cool stuff like the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Arcturus, Mizar, and Spica I decided that I wanted to try and get some pictures of these wonderful objects.

Cellphone picture taken through the NexStar 6SE
Jupiter and the 4 Galilean moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto

Okay so these were some cool pictures that were taken very cheaply with a cellphone camera. Problem is it was very difficult to capture these, especially Saturn OMG!! So I wanted something much easier to work with so I did my research on stacking and astrophotography, but again I didn’t want to break the bank doing this. As luck would have it Celestron was having a clearance sale on their NexImage Monochrome Burst camera. It came with a CD and all the programs you needed to capture pictures and videos as well as stack image to get a clear image. Plus at a price of $90 was easily affordable. They do make mounts that are made to fit cellphones and adjust so that the camera is just right on the viewer so that might be an option for some people, I haven’t bought one of these so I can’t really speak to it. I will say the only real downside to this camera is that it is not color. Celestron does have a color version but it runs up to $200 so it wasn’t what I wanted right out the gate if I couldn’t figure out astrophotography and if it was for me or not. Using the camera was really super easy and really straight forward. Essentially you take your computer outside with you plug the camera into the computer via USB cable and slide the camera into the opening of the telescope. Another issue I had with the camera, not really a downside, was that once you put the camera in the telescope it will act like a 7mm eyepiece. Meaning that the view is incredibly zoomed in. This makes it bit difficult trying to locate small objects on the screen but also means you can get really up close images of planets, so kind of a worthy tradeoff.

You mentioned stacking, what is that???

I am so glad you asked!!! Stacking is when a program takes a video file and removes all the blurry frames and then uses points of reference to get a clearer and sharper image from the combined frames. For comparison purposes I took these shots of the moon.

Unstacked snapshot of the lunar landscape
Stacked image of the lunar landscape

Both of these images were taken the same night and at nearly the same time using my set up with the 6SE and NextImage Monochrome Burst. As you can see in the pictures the unstacked image is great, but not really all that clear. You can see that it’s kind of blurry, and the details aren’t as sharp. In the stacked image the shadows are clean and clear and you can see the rises in the middle of the craters clearly from asteroid impacts. I really like both images and I am still learning how to do the stacking as well as working with my telescope. I am still very new at the whole backyard astronomy hobby but I do really love it.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask away!!

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