Guest blog: An imager’s take on the 2011 Advanced Imaging Conference

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Friday, November 11, 2011

Astronomy magazine Contributing Editor Tony Hallas joined me at The Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC) in Santa Clara, California, November 3–6. This was the eighth annual meeting of this group. More than 300 imagers from around the world attended, and 35 vendors shared (and sold) the latest in astroimaging gear. Below is his take on the event:

Astroimager and vendor Don Goldman chats with a customer at AIC 2011. // Photo by Michael E. Bakich
AIC was special to me for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it was the first time I attended as a contributing editor of Astronomy magazine. Also, several of the presentations were extremely pertinent to future endeavors with my telescope.

An early presentation by Mike Rice, founder of New Mexico Skies, that dealt with the care and maintenance of telescopes was invaluable. Of special note was his discussion of the corrosion problems that all telescope electronics are prone to. Mike pointed out that most of the plugs and receptacles made for use within the safe confines of a home environment, not out in the wet, corrosive air commonly experienced during a night of imaging. He recommended two products to prevent corrosion: DeoxIT G5 and DeoxIT G5 Gold. The latter is specifically for gold contacts. He also suggested fastening wire bundles to the declination arm of a German equatorial mount to avoid tangles. He concluded with some tips on collimation and answered many questions from the audience.

Mike Rice, founder of New Mexico Skies, gave a talk titled "The 'Hands On' Challenges of Building and Operating an Imaging Observatory and How to Deal with Them." // Photo by Michael E. Bakich
Astroimager Steve Cannistra gave a great presentation on wide-field imaging. He stressed compositional elements and technical considerations that are necessary for a successful outcome.

Not to be missed was a presentation by Seattle-based marketing director and imager Nick Risinger of what is arguably the greatest astrophoto ever made — a 37,440-exposure mosaic of the night sky complete with Hydrogen-alpha data. He also had his camera setup on display in the vendor area.

Jay GaBany showed how he creates his unique, extremely deep images that reveal impossibly faint detail. He records these data using his camera and telescope, and he adds a healthy dose of compositional acumen.

Another presentation that I found extremely useful occurred on the last day of the conference. Paul Jones, founder of Star Instruments, with help from astroimager Richard Simons spoke about how to collimate Ritchey-Chrétien optics by analysis of the star shapes in the corners of your CCD frame. If all the stars are perfect, your optical system is aligned, but, as happens so often, some of the stars might be distorted by coma and astigmatism due to bad collimation. Essentially, a poorly aligned primary will result in comet-shaped stars, and a poorly collimated secondary will result in astigmatic stars. They offered diagrams and solutions along with a way to keep track of which adjustment does what. Without that, an imager would quickly become frustrated!

R. Jay GaBany's talk, "Awakening Your Astronomical Images" was well-received by AIC attendees. // Photo by Michael E. Bakich
This year’s AIC offered many excellent workshops for all levels of imaging, including basic CCD image processing, how to use narrowband filters, how to automate image acquisition, and a “get your feet wet” introduction to PixInsight image processing.

Add to all this excellent meals and camaraderie, and it’s no surprise that AIC 2011 boasted record attendance even in this “down” economy. I look forward eagerly to next year’s event.

To see more than 100 images by many AIC members, visit Astronomy magazine's AIC online photo gallery.

You'll find Michael Bakich's previous conference blogs here (#1), here (#2), here (#3), here (#4), and here (#5).

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