What Are Astrophotography Telescopes?

Benjamin Arie

Astrophotography telescopes are telescopes that are designed to be used with cameras. A telescope of this design allows professionals and hobbyists to capture images of distant objects, such as the moon and nebulae. Some telescopes are built specifically for space photography, while others are intended for general observation but are modified for astrophotography using camera adapters.

Though radio telescope arrays do not use optical methods to study an object, the data they gleam can be used to create a radar image of its surface.
Though radio telescope arrays do not use optical methods to study an object, the data they gleam can be used to create a radar image of its surface.

The history of astrophotography began in 1839 when an astronomer named Louis Daguerre took the first known picture of the moon. In 1850, William Bond and John Whipple became the first people to photograph a star. Astrophotography expanded rapidly during the late 19th century, and many astronomers used simple refracting telescopes to capture images of many different space objects.

Astrophotography telescopes are telescopes designed to be used with a camera.
Astrophotography telescopes are telescopes designed to be used with a camera.

Today, many amateur astronomers enjoy astrophotography as a hobby. Astrophotography telescopes used by amateurs are typically divided into two groups based on the intended use. The first group of telescopes is intended for "high-resolution" photography, while the second group of scopes is for "wide-field" images.

Astrophotography telescopes can be used with cameras to capture images of faraway objects.
Astrophotography telescopes can be used with cameras to capture images of faraway objects.

Telescopes built for high-resolution astrophotography typically have very long focal lengths. This allows the telescope to focus a small area of light into a crisp image. High resolution telescopes with long focal lengths are best for photographing images of nearby space objects, including the moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.

Astrophotography telescopes intended for wide-field images have very short focal lengths and large apertures. These features permit very faint and distant light sources to be captured. Images from wide-field telescopes are not as crisp or bright as those from high-resolution units. Wide-field astrophotography telescopes are suitable for producing pictures of objects far from Earth, such as nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies.

The mount or tripod that is used to secure an astrophotography telescope is equally important as the scope optics. Space objects can be over hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth, and photographing faint objects requires very long camera exposure times. During image exposure, even tiny amounts of movement in the telescope can cause the final photograph to be blurred. High-quality mounts for astrophotography telescopes allow a scope to be held in the proper position without unwanted sagging or wobbling.

The movement of both the Earth and other celestial objects can make astrophotography very challenging. Some astrophotography telescopes are mounted on special tripods to compensate for these natural motions. Advanced imaging telescopes use motors to track the motion of a space object, and allow long photography exposure times without blurring.

Space telescopes are known for their vivid imagery.
Space telescopes are known for their vivid imagery.

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