A few weeks ago I found the equivalent of a shoebox full of old snapshots. As I was looking through an old backup of a filesystem from a computer I had long since parted with I ran across a directory, simply titled "CCD", circa 2003. A quick glance at the files of this lost directory I immediately knew what I had: these files, all FITS, and JPEG format, were astronomical image files, a reminder from the not so distant past when we first discovered the excitement of capturing night sky wonders with a CCD camera.
Mars - August 2003 - Image by Muir Evenden
Before the CCD revolution, Mike Petrasko and I tried our hand at imaging using traditional photographic processes by taking images on film, mostly wide field views of the Milky Way, Orion, and other areas that fascinated us. Our friend and colleague Harry Hammond took this to the next level with prime focus photography, a much more demanding endeavor (please refer to Harry's article Old Dogs and New Tricks). When CCD's became available (and more affordable!) to the amateur market it was something we embraced wholeheartedly: here was a way to get "prime-focus" quality images but without the long hours spent in front of a guiding eyepiece. Once I had a job well paying enough to afford the equipment, you can bet I did not hesitate to start the adventure, starting with a Celestron 8 on a Losmandy G11 mount and a kit camera CCD and quickly evolve into a Celestron 14 on a Software Bisque Paramount and an Apogee camera.
NGC 6946 - August 2003 - Image by Muir Evenden
So what I had here in our digital shoebox was a moment in time when we were getting our feet wet and honing our chops in the realm of CCD's and computers, and looking at these images now I think we can be rightly proud of our efforts. Of course compared to the achievements of what amateurs have been able to accomplish with the equipment available today our images may seem downright pedestrian, but that's OK as we don't expect to win a contest with these pictures but simply revel in the pleasure knowing that we captured this light from galaxies, nebulae, and planets, socking it away for future enjoyment. And what do you know, the future just arrived!