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It’s been around three years and five months since I started this blog. Over that time its been clear that to make the most of the limited clear skies we have in the UK you really need to be into automation. You need to build a system that will maximise the time you have available. I’ve built up an imaging setup that can run automated without much need for me to go outside besides opening up and checking it. Sorted, right?

Even with this type of setup in place imaging in the UK is very difficult. First of all you have to battle the elements: the skies in the UK are renowned for driving Astronomers to despair, the estimated percentage for clear skies is around 15%. Next up is everyone’s pet peeve: light pollution. I live in an suburban location just outside Edinburgh, and enjoy some of the finest light pollution my country has to offer. I’ve done battle with my local council, which eventually got me a shade on a street light that overlooks my Observatory. This has made a big difference, but the worst of it is being stuck between a lit motorway to the south and this monster to the north:

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Even being a good mile away from the bridge and facing the opposite way, on a cloudy night you can see a beam of LP projected right across my field of view. Not the best. Next problem is this field of view. I have two options where I live, in front and behind my house. Being N-S orientated, the back gives a north view, the front gives a south view. The front became the only option as most of the targets are in the southern part of the sky. This southern view is further restricted by trees and the house itself, with the meridian splitting the view, if you have ever mixed LP & sky gradients with mid-session pier flips you will know what a nightmare this can be.

Added to all this, the biggest trap in Astroimaging is gear lust. To improve your images you have to be constantly working on your setup. Buying, selling, building, having various development projects on the go and using precious clear spells to test these out. This got to the point with me that I had my head in the technicalities so much that I really lost touch with what I was trying to do. So many times I would get a clear night and then realise I had spent no time planning and researching what targets to go for, or learning about the night sky.

So, what is the solution to this? I’ve toyed with the idea of my own fully remote observatory in the UK for a few years, it solves the LP and FOV issues, but unless you can afford to have it hosted at a pro site, you are locked into an incredibly difficult technical challenge, and still have to deal with the UK weather.

The nice folks over at iTelecope.net have provided a great solution to this. Imagine being able to use kit remotely not in your garden but in the best locations around the world. Add to this being able to choose from a huge variety of scopes with different fields of view. They currently have 3 sites in operation: Australia, New Mexico and Spain. At each of these sites is a variety of research grade scopes that you can book time on or use when free. It opens up fantastic opportunities to see objects you can’t from the UK, and have access to them all year round.

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This is all based around a monthly subscription plan, where you buy points to use on the scopes. Each of the scopes have their own points per hour rating depending on how powerful they are. This can be expensive, but considering how much you need to spend to get into Astroimaging and the quality of the kit you can use, works out as being reasonably good value.

It’s the type of thing that’s not for everyone, as you don’t get to use any of your own equipment. For me, it’s the ultimate experience. I’m in the process of selling all my equipment to concentrate fully on this. The final point that nailed it for me was being able to spend the afternoon imaging in the southern hemisphere, then go out to the pub that night. No more tacking the elements, technology and giving up precious spare time! I’ve had more fun in the past month than I have since I started getting into imaging. You can the results in the past few posts. That says it all.

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