What Is All This Hubbub About EAA and White Light? What Is EAA?

 Image created with  AstroToaster  (Video by  Carl Smith. )

Image created with AstroToaster (Video by Carl Smith.)

EAA (Electronically Assisted Astronomy) is an exciting, emerging new form of astronomy that our club members are embracing at a quick pace.  EAA offers a hybrid form of observing, that mixes near-real time imaging (photography) with traditional observing through the use of specialized equipment. Essentially, a camera replaces the eyepiece, but instead of long-exposure imaging (what many imagers do to produce those stunning photos of deep space objects, but it often takes hours of capture time and then equally long periods of post-processing on the computer for many days after the capture), the EAA camera takes a sequence of very short exposures, and then a software program quickly stacks and stretches the images, using a few configurations/instructions preset by the observer, to yield often stunning views of objects. 

Hybrid of Real-Time Observing and Long-Exposure Photography

EAA truly is almost exactly a hybrid between real-time observing through an eyepiece, and long-exposure photography. An observer can quickly view an object within minutes, usually on a connected laptop, and then move on to another object quickly, opening the possibility to see many dozens of objects per viewing night.  We see this technology having a big impact on our outreach with the public, and folks that are new to looking at objects through a telescope. Instead of a dim, fuzzy blob, users can see the details and colors in dramatic fashion of these glorious objects.  To get an idea how it works, here is a very short video demonstrating live EAA in the field, and what a user might see in an eyepiece vs what they will see using EAA with CMOS/CCD cameras and a popular tool called ‘SharpCap,’

  Image by  Jack Huerkamp  using MallinCamSky.

Image by Jack Huerkamp using MallinCamSky.

A second video offers a better idea of the depth of images and colors possible using a DSLR and a tool called ‘AstroToaster:’ I’ve been assured by our advanced EAA members, these videos actually pale in comparison to the image quality our members are capable of producing currently, with deep detail and colors of deep space objects.

Now, unfortunately, EAA introduces a slight challenge to traditional observing and dark-sky imaging: in order to truly enjoy the full spectrum of the objects including color, EAA is best enjoyed on a full laptop computer screen. This means white light; a lot of white light. So for the time being, we are targeting specific events that will be EAA friendly (note the recent announcement regarding the RCA Star Party at Champoeg State Park on Saturday May 5, please visit the ‘RCA Organized Star Party’ forum for more details about that event). These EAA events will be targeted on non-new Moon time slots, as EAA is less sensitive to moonlight.  We have collaborated with OMSI, and Jim Todd has formally approved use of any/all EAA technologies at all OMSI events.

We have yet one more surprise and promise with this new advancement in observing: Mark Lowenthal, one of our more advanced EAA members is building a truly remarkable, social experience for many of our members that are unable to attend our star parties. Coming soon, using software and the internet, we will be able to provide live-viewing of objects, complete with social chat and interaction to request objects. For many of our members, the physical demands of moving equipment, and late nights involving risky driving, this will be a true we-awakening for them to be able to once again actively participate in the passion we all love so dearly. Stay tuned, this is still a work in progress, and we hope to have this capability available shortly for the community.