Astronomy from the inside by Ian Candler
Ian Chandlers Moon Mosaic taken from indoors.
I have been physically disabled for a number of years and now find myself pretty much housebound, I am no longer able to enjoy my hobby outside so have had to find ways to work around the problem. In the past year or so I have been forced to re-evaluate my astronomy due to my physical health taking a down turn. Suffice to say we don't need to go into the specifics of what's happened to me, but this has lead me to challenge some accepted conventions and throw a few of the "thou shalt nots" out of the window altogether.
So what's this all about? What do I mean by astronomy from the inside? Well just that. Astronomy from within the confines of the four walls you call home. Most who can no longer get outside to do their astronomy, usually feel they have only one option open to them, automation. Whilst it is the ideal solution, its not usually practical for most due to the expense involved. Lets face it in order to set up you will need:
A GOTO mount
An electric/computer controlled focuser
Both guide and main cameras
Software to control all of the above
As you can see seeing obtaining change out of £7-8,000 would be a challenge. So what's wrong with using your existing set up from within your home? With a little thought and modification it can be fairly easy to achieve.
Up until now you will have most likely at some point seen or heard mention that astronomy from indoors is unrewarding or not to be recommended due to some or all of the following:
You can't use a telescope or binoculars to look through closed windows, especially double glazed ones.
You cant look through open doors or windows as the heat from the room rushing out will create bad "seeing".
You cant look through anything that has a radiator below it due to heat rising from the radiator.
To those conventions I say "rubbish".
I will not claim that there aren't inherent problems but they can be overcome with a little thought and application ,astronomy from indoors can be just as rewarding as it is when we can get outside. So lets deal with them one issue at a time:
Its just not true, whilst looking through a closed window will introduce more glass in the light path it will not necessarily introduce distortions. Just make sure your windows are thoroughly cleaned inside and out and all lights inside are turned off to prevent reflections. Use both a dew shield on your telescope and a blanket over your head to reduce any stray light.
I will not dispute the scientific facts of convection and convection currents, but if you turn off the heating in the room you intend to view from and open the window or door well before hand the room can cool to ambient temperature (or near enough) thus it ceases to be such and issue.
The same applies here, if you turn off that radiator sometime before hand it ceases to be such an issue.
So now we have dealt with those issues what else do you need to know or what else will help you?
If you use a reflector or Dobsonian then you are going to need a different OTA (unless you are using a 150mm or smaller short tube reflector), there is no practical way that I know off to get a telescope that size working indoors. However SCT, Maksutov and small refractors however are fine.
Changing from a large astro tripod as used on the eq5 and eq 6 type mounts, to a pedestal is a great idea, you still keep the stability, but without it taking up as much room.
Lightweight alt/az and EQ mounts are great as is a robust photography tripod for small refractors.
Binoculars on a tripod are another good idea, even large astro ones up to 80mm or more can be comfortably used from indoors.
Designating a spare room to use can be a good idea if you have one that faces in the desired direction, that way you can leave the heating at low level in there and have everything left set up and ready to go, I myself use my bedroom and have everything set up permanently.
If using the open window or door method, make sure you have both a comfortable seat to sit on and warm clothing as it can get cold, I myself use one of the thermal microfibre blankets over my shoulders, that and a pair of furry boot style slippers keep me as warm as toast.
Last and not least, I would recommend obtaining the approval of your significant other and agreeing a site that wont cause problems or discomfort for them.
Obviously target wise you will have to pick objects that are within confines of your view point from the window or door, this will mean targets cannot be too high in the sky, but limiting as this sounds it really isn't that bad, with most objects falling within your field of view at some point in the year.
In fact I myself found the limitations I faced forced me to spend time just "browsing" the sky, looking for points of interest and enjoying some of the wide field views. It also prompted me to start taking a look once again at our closest target, the Moon.
One of the luxuries I allowed myself for viewing the Moon was a pair of bino viewers, I really can't recommend them highly enough, the lunar surface becomes a whole new adventure with a pair, and yes you can use them with even a tiny little telescope such as the William optics ZS66SD.
Other highlights that have drifted past my window to the heavens recently have been Jupiter and M42. Even after all these years I am still mesmerised by the sight of M42, and the extra glass hasn't diminished its attraction or beauty at all.
By now I am hoping this has gone some way towards opening you minds to new possibilities, but I bet you didn't imagine I would mention astrophotography at all, let alone state you can still do it. Well you can!
Of course now we have to deal with a few new problems as we need an EQ mount to be aligned properly, but have one main problem, no access to the Pole Star. There are two ways around this:
The first is to align your mount outside before bringing it indoors, but make sure one leg is pointing towards magnetic North when you do so. When you bring your mount in make sure it's level and that same leg is aligned with magnetic north again, you now have a rough polar alignment that can be refined using the drift method.
The second way is much the same really except you set the latitude on the mount to your latitude, and align the mount due north using a compass, you can now refine the alignment by once again using the drift method.
I have to admit so far I have just taken lunar images in the main, though M42 will be targeted as soon as the weather permits.
Just to prove my point, below you will see a two frame mosaic of the Copernicus and Mare Ibrium areas of the Moon. This mosaic was taken with the equipment in the picture below it and with that equipment in the same position, i.e. looking out of that open window. Please also notice there is also a radiator under that same window, thus proving my earlier point.
I hope that after you have read this it will encourage those less able not to give up hope or their hobby and maybe those who thought they couldn't do this hobby as they cant get out, to have a try.
Just remember we are only limited by the scope of our imagination and ingenuity in defeating any obstacles faced.
Ian Chandlers observing equipment set up in his bedroom - window faces due south